History

Ptolemy the Geographer
   Ptolemy, who gave Greek astronomy its final form in the second century A.D., did the same, and more, for geography and cartography. His massive work on the subject, which summed up and criticized the work of earlier writers, offered instruction in laying out maps by three different methods of projection, provided coordinates for some eight thousand places, and treated such basic concepts as geographical latitude and longitude. In Byzantium, in the thirteenth century, Ptolemic maps were reconstructed and attached to Greek manuscripts of the text.

Click Here for a link to a site providing his full text and interpretations of his maps.

Heritage of Classical Geography: Ptolemy and Strabo
   Two works that used the term "geography" have survived from classical antiquity to the present. The one that has played the largest role is, without a doubt, Ptolemy's Geographical Guide. This work has had tremendous influence throughout history. Columbus, Vasco de Gama, and Magellan referred to it during their individual travels. Ptolemy realized the usefulness for map drawing and the aim of geography, according to him was "to record, through drawing, all the known parts of the world". He was interested in the dimensions and shape of the surface of the planet. His geography was cartography and he intentionally left out all else which did not connect with that aim.
   Strabo's geography was indeed very different from that of Ptolemy. He did not restrict himself to the location of things but rather covered maybe more than the field of modern geography. His aim, according to Marcel Dubois, is to shed light on the influence which physical environment exercises upon man, and to show how extensively human activity depends on geographical circumstances.
   Though Strabo was far from Ptolemy's idea of cartography as geography, there is a common link between the two. It is not a secondary or tertiary link, though. It is of primary significance in that they both have the same starting point. They both discuss, in their initial writings, the classical Greek tradition. So, though they seem to diverge beyond this, the initial drive stemmed from the tradition which is the common foundation.
   The text of Ptolemy's "Geography" was translated into Latin by 1406-09 by Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia and dedicated successively to Popes Gregory XII and Alexander V. Maps based on this translation followed independently within less than twenty years. By the middle of the century, increasingly opulent manuscripts of the "Geography," mostly from Florence, had become fashionable as conspicuous displays of wealth; and travellers and explorers as well as scholars read them. The pages displayed here, from a splendid pair of related manuscripts of text and maps, shows the coordinates, longitude and latitude, for locations in Greece.

Ptolemy's Goal
   The introduction to Geography states what Ptolemy wanted to accomplish, which includes an explanation of the principles of cartography such as giving coordinates to places around the world and geographic features as well as recommendations for making world and regional maps. He then starts his coverage of the world with Europe in Books 2 and 3. He goes on to cover Africa in Book 4 and covers Asia and summarizes his findings in Books 5-8. Geography included 26 colorized regional maps as well as one map of the "known world". Ptolemy stayed away from orthogonal (or cylindrical) world mapping in favor of three other projection types.

Importance of Ptolemy's Geography
   Ptolemy's work has been discovered and used through the ages by several noted people around the world. Arabic writer al-Mas'udi, while writing around 956, mentioned a colored map of the Geography which had 4530 cities and over 200 mountains. Byzantine monk Maximus Planudes found a copy of the Geography in 1295, and since there were no maps in his copy, he drew his own based on the coordinates found in the text. The first Latin translation of the Geography was made in 1406 by Florentine Jacobus Angelus, and since this, various translations in other languages have been made available to people all over the world. However, the most important discovery of Ptolemy's Geography may have been made by Christopher Columbus. Columbus obtained one of the first Latin editions of the book (an edition printed in 1475) without the maps. We know that he definitely considered Ptolemy's distances while he was creating his own maps since his text of the Geography has some annotations in it and bears his signature (this text is currently in Madrid). In fact, scholars believe that Ptolemy's information may have encouraged Columbus to make his famous voyage.

Ptolemy's Reference to the Decapolis
   "Coele-Syria and (the) Decapolis, (the) cities of which are: Heliopolis, Abila, known as Abila of Lysanios, Saana, Ina, Damascus, Samoulis, Abila, Hippos, Capitolias, Gadara, Adra, Scythopolis, Gerasa, Pella, Dion, Gadora, Philadelphia, Canatha."

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