The Story of Geographical Discovery - How the World Became Known
by Joseph Jacobs
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The Story of Geographical Discovery

How the World Became Known

By Joseph Jacobs

With Twenty-four Maps, &c.


In attempting to get what is little less than a history of the world, from a special point of view, into a couple of hundred duodecimo pages, I have had to make three bites at my very big cherry. In the Appendix I have given in chronological order, and for the first time on such a scale in English, the chief voyages and explorations by which our knowledge of the world has been increased, and the chief works in which that knowledge has been recorded. In the body of the work I have then attempted to connect together these facts in their more general aspects. In particular I have grouped the great voyages of 1492-1521 round the search for the Spice Islands as a central motive. It is possible that in tracing the Portuguese and Spanish discoveries to the need of titillating the parched palates of the mediaevals, who lived on salt meat during winter and salt fish during Lent, I may have unduly simplified the problem. But there can be no doubt of the paramount importance attached to the spices of the East in the earlier stages. The search for the El Dorado came afterwards, and is still urging men north to the Yukon, south to the Cape, and in a south-easterly direction to "Westralia."

Besides the general treatment in the text and the special details in the Appendix, I have also attempted to tell the story once more in a series of maps showing the gradual increase of men's knowledge of the globe. It would have been impossible to have included all these in a book of this size and price but for the complaisance of several publishing firms, who have given permission for the reproduction on a reduced scale of maps that have already been prepared for special purposes. I have specially to thank Messrs. Macmillan for the two dealing with the Portuguese discoveries, and derived from Mr. Payne's excellent little work on European Colonies; Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin, & Co., of Boston, for several illustrating the discovery of America, from Mr. J. Fiske's "School History of the United States;" and Messrs. Phillips for the arms of Del Cano, so clearly displaying the "spicy" motive of the first circumnavigation of the globe.

I have besides to thank the officials of the Royal Geographical Society, especially Mr. Scott Keltie and Dr. H. R. Mill, for the readiness with which they have placed the magnificent resources of the library and map-room of that national institution at my disposal, and the kindness with which they have answered my queries and indicated new sources of information.

J. J.




COAT-OF-ARMS OF DEL CANO (from Guillemard, Magellan. By kind permission of Messrs. Phillips).—It illustrates the importance attributed to the Spice Islands as the main object of Magellan's voyage. For the blazon, see pp. 129-30.

THE EARLIEST MAP OF THE WORLD (from the Rev. C. J. Ball's Bible Illustrations, 1898).—This is probably of the eighth century B.C., and indicates the Babylonian view of the world surrounded by the ocean, which is indicated by the parallel circles, and traversed by the Euphrates, which is seen meandering through the middle, with Babylon, the great city, crossing it at the top. Beyond the ocean are seven successive projections of land, possibly indicating the Babylonian knowledge of surrounding countries beyond the Euxine and the Red Sea.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO PTOLEMY.—It will be observed that the Greek geographer regarded the Indian Ocean as a landlocked body of water, while he appears to have some knowledge of the so ces of the Nile. The general tendency of the map is to extend Asia very much to the east, which led to the miscalculation encouraging Columbus to discover America.

THE ROMAN ROADS OF EUROPE (drawn specially for this work).—These give roughly the limits within which the inland geographical knowledge of the ancients reach some degrees of accuracy.

GEOGRAPHICAL MONSTERS (from an early edition of Mandeville's Travels).—Most of the mediaeval maps were dotted over with similar monstrosities.

THE HEREFORD MAP.—This, one of the best known of mediaeval maps, was drawn by Richard of Aldingham about 1307. Like most of these maps, it has the East with the terrestrial paradise at the top, and Jerusalem is represented as the centre.

PEUTINGER TABLE, WESTERN PART.—This is the only Roman map extant; it gives lines of roads from the eastern shores of Britain to the Adriatic Sea. It is really a kind of bird's-eye view taken from the African coast. The Mediterranean runs as a thin strip through the lower part of the map. The lower section joins on to the upper.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO IBN HAUKAL (from Lelewel, Geographie du mon age).—This map, like most of the Arabian maps, has the south at the top. It is practically only a diagram, and is thus similar to the Hereford Map in general form.—Misr=Egypt, Fars=Persia, Andalus=Spain.

COAST-LINE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN (from the Portulano of Dulcert, 1339, given in Nordenskiold's Facsimile Atlas).—To illustrate the accuracy with which mariners' charts gave the coast-lines as contrasted with the merely symbolical representation of other mediaeval maps.

FRA MAURO MAP, 1457 (from Lelewel, loc. Cit.).—Here, as usual, the south is placed at the top of the map. Besides the ordinary mediaeval conceptions, Fra Mauro included the Portuguese discoveries along the coast of Africa up to his time, 1457.

PORTUGUESE DISCOVERIES IN AFRICA (from E. J. Payne, European Colonies, 1877).—Giving the successive points reached by the Portuguese navigators during the fifteenth century.

PORTUGUESE INDIES (from Payne, loc. Cit.).—All the ports mentioned in ordinary type were held by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century.

THE TOSCANELLI MAP (from Kretschmer, Entdeckung Amerikas, 1892).—This is a reconstruction of the map which Columbus got from the Italian astronomer and cartographer Toscanelli and used to guide him in his voyage across the Atlantic. Its general resemblance to the Behaim Globe will be remarked.

THE BEHAIM GLOBE.—This gives the information about the world possessed in 1492, just as Columbus was starting, and is mainly based upon the map of Toscanelli, which served as his guide. It will be observed that there is no other continent between Spain and Zipangu or Japan, while the fabled islands of St. Brandan and Antilia are represented bridging the expanse between the Azores and Japan.

AMERIGO VESPUCCI (from Fiske's School History of the United States, by kind permission of Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin, & Co.)

FERDINAND MAGELLAN (from Fiske's School History of the United States, by kind permission of Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin, & Co.)

MAP OF THE WORLD, from the Ptolemy Edition of 1548 (after Kretschmer's Entdeckungsgeschichte Amerikas).—It will be observed that Mexico is supposed to be joined on to Asia, and that the North Pacific was not even known to exist.

RUSSIAN ASIA (after the Atlas published by the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1737, by kind permission of Messrs. Hachette). Japan is represented as a peninsula.

AUSTRALIA AS KNOWN IN 1745 (from D'Anville's Atlas, by kind permission of Messrs. Hachette).—It will be seen that the Northern and Western coasts were even by this time tolerably well mapped out, leaving only the eastern coast to be explored by Cook.

AUSTRALIA, showing routes of explorations (prepared specially for the present volume). The names of the chief explorers are given at the top of the map.

AFRICA AS KNOWN IN 1676 (from Dapper's Atlas).—This includes a knowledge of most of the African river sand lakes due to the explorations of the Portuguese.

AFRICA (made specially for this volume, to show chief explorations and partition).—The names of the explorers are given at the foot of the map itself.

NORTH POLAR REGIONS, WESTERN HALF (prepared specially for the present volume from the Citizen's Atlas, by kind permission of Messrs. Bartholomew).—This gives the results of the discoveries due to Franklin expeditions and most of the searchers after the North-West Passage.

NORTH POLAR REGIONS, EASTERN HALF.—This gives the Siberian coast investigated by the Russians and Nordenskiold, as well as Nansen's Farthest North.

CLIMBING THE NORTH POLE (prepared specially for this volume). Giving in graphic form the names of the chief Arctic travellers and the latitude N. reached from John Davis (1587) to Nansen (1895).




How was the world discovered? That is to say, how did a certain set of men who lived round the Mediterranean Sea, and had acquired the art of recording what each generation had learned, become successively aware of the other parts of the globe? Every part of the earth, so far as we know, has been inhabited by man during the five or six thousand years in which Europeans have been storing up their knowledge, and all that time the inhabitants of each part, of course, were acquainted with that particular part: the Kamtschatkans knew Kamtschatka, the Greenlanders, Greenland; the various tribes of North American Indians knew, at any rate, that part of America over which they wandered, long before Columbus, as we say, "discovered" it.

Very often these savages not only know their own country, but can express their knowledge in maps of very remarkable accuracy. Cortes traversed over 1000 miles through Central America, guided only by a calico map of a local cacique. An Eskimo named Kalliherey drew out, from his own knowledge of the coast between Smith Channel and Cape York, a map of it, varying only in minute details from the Admiralty chart. A native of Tahiti, named Tupaia, drew out for Cook a map of the Pacific, extending over forty-five degrees of longitude (nearly 3000 miles), giving the relative size and position of the main islands over that huge tract of ocean. Almost all geographical discoveries by Europeans have, in like manner, been brought about by means of guides, who necessarily knew the country which their European masters wished to "discover."

What, therefore, we mean by the history of geographical discovery is the gradual bringing to the knowledge of the nations of civilisation surrounding the Mediterranean Sea the vast tracts of land extending in all directions from it. There are mainly two divisions of this history—the discovery of the Old World and that of the New, including Australia under the latter term. Though we speak of geographical discovery, it is really the discovery of new tribes of men that we are thinking of. It is only quite recently that men have sought for knowledge about lands, apart from the men who inhabit them. One might almost say that the history of geographical discovery, properly so called, begins with Captain Cook, the motive of whose voyages was purely scientific curiosity. But before his time men wanted to know one another for two chief reasons: they wanted to conquer, or they wanted to trade; or perhaps we could reduce the motives to one—they wanted to conquer, because they wanted to trade. In our own day we have seen a remarkable mixture of all three motives, resulting in the European partition of Africa—perhaps the most remarkable event of the latter end of the nineteenth century. Speke and Burton, Livingstone and Stanley, investigated the interior from love of adventure and of knowledge; then came the great chartered trading companies; and, finally, the governments to which these belong have assumed responsibility for the territories thus made known to the civilised world. Within forty years the map of Africa, which was practically a blank in the interior, and, as will be shown, was better known in 1680 than in 1850, has been filled up almost completely by researches due to motives of conquest, of trade, or of scientific curiosity.

In its earlier stages, then, the history of geographical discovery is mainly a history of conquest, and what we shall have to do will be to give a short history of the ancient world, from the point of view of how that world became known. "Became known to whom?" you may ask; and we must determine that question first. We might, of course, take the earliest geographical work known to us—the tenth chapter of Genesis—and work out how the rest of the world became known to the Israelites when they became part of the Roman Empire; but in history all roads lead to Rome or away from it, and it is more useful for every purpose to take Rome as our centre-point. Yet Rome only came in as the heir of earlier empires that spread the knowledge of the earth and man by conquest long before Rome was of importance; and even when the Romans were the masters of all this vast inheritance, they had not themselves the ability to record the geographical knowledge thus acquired, and it is to a Greek named Ptolemy, a professor of the great university of Alexandria, to whom we owe our knowledge of how much the ancient world knew of the earth. It will be convenient to determine this first, and afterwards to sketch rapidly the course of historical events which led to the knowledge which Ptolemy records.

In the Middle Ages, much of this knowledge, like all other, was lost, and we shall have to record how knowledge was replaced by imagination and theory. The true inheritors of Greek science during that period were the Arabs, and the few additions to real geographical knowledge at that time were due to them, except in so far as commercial travellers and pilgrims brought a more intimate knowledge of Asia to the West.

The discovery of America forms the beginning of a new period, both in modern history and in modern geography. In the four hundred years that have elapsed since then, more than twice as much of the inhabited globe has become known to civilised man than in the preceding four thousand years. The result is that, except for a few patches of Africa, South America, and round the Poles, man knows roughly what are the physical resources of the world he inhabits, and, except for minor details, the history of geographical discovery is practically at an end.

Besides its interest as a record of war and adventure, this history gives the successive stages by which modern men have been made what they are. The longest known countries and peoples have, on the whole, had the deepest influence in the forming of the civilised character. Nor is the practical utility of this study less important. The way in which the world has been discovered determines now-a-days the world's history. The great problems of the twentieth century will have immediate relation to the discoveries of America, of Africa, and of Australia. In all these problems, Englishmen will have most to say and to do, and the history of geographical discovery is, therefore, of immediate and immense interest to Englishmen.

[Authorities: Cooley, History of Maritime and Inland Discoveries, 3 vols., 1831; Vivien de Saint Martin, Histoire de la Geographie, 1873.]



Before telling how the ancients got to know that part of the world with which they finally became acquainted when the Roman Empire was at its greatest extent, it is as well to get some idea of the successive stages of their knowledge, leaving for the next chapter the story of how that knowledge was obtained. As in most branches of organised knowledge, it is to the Greeks that we owe our acquaintance with ancient views of this subject. In the early stages they possibly learned something from the Phoenicians, who were the great traders and sailors of antiquity, and who coasted along the Mediterranean, ventured through the Straits of Gibraltar, and traded with the British Isles, which they visited for the tin found in Cornwall. It is even said that one of their admirals, at the command of Necho, king of Egypt, circumnavigated Africa, for Herodotus reports that on the homeward voyage the sun set in the sea on the right hand. But the Phoenicians kept their geographical knowledge to themselves as a trade secret, and the Greeks learned but little from them.

The first glimpse that we have of the notions which the Greeks possessed of the shape and the inhabitants of the earth is afforded by the poems passing under the name of HOMER. These poems show an intimate knowledge of Northern Greece and of the western coasts of Asia Minor, some acquaintance with Egypt, Cyprus, and Sicily; but all the rest, even of the Eastern Mediterranean, is only vaguely conceived by their author. Where he does not know he imagines, and some of his imaginings have had a most important influence upon the progress of geographical knowledge. Thus he conceives of the world as being a sort of flat shield, with an extremely wide river surrounding it, known as Ocean. The centre of this shield was at Delphi, which was regarded as the "navel" of the inhabited world. According to Hesiod, who is but little later than Homer, up in the far north were placed a people known as the Hyperboreani, or those who dwelt at the back of the north wind; whilst a corresponding place in the south was taken by the Abyssinians. All these four conceptions had an important influence upon the views that men had of the world up to times comparatively recent. Homer also mentioned the pigmies as living in Africa. These were regarded as fabulous, till they were re-discovered by Dr. Schweinfurth and Mr. Stanley in our own time.

It is probably from the Babylonians that the Greeks obtained the idea of an all-encircling ocean. Inhabitants of Mesopotamia would find themselves reaching the ocean in almost any direction in which they travelled, either the Caspian, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, or the Persian Gulf. Accordingly, the oldest map of the world which has been found is one accompanying a cuneiform inscription, and representing the plain of Mesopotamia with the Euphrates flowing through it, and the whole surrounded by two concentric circles, which are named briny waters. Outside these, however, are seven detached islets, possibly representing the seven zones or climates into which the world was divided according to the ideas of the Babylonians, though afterwards they resorted to the ordinary four cardinal points. What was roughly true of Babylonia did not in any way answer to the geographical position of Greece, and it is therefore probable that in the first place they obtained their ideas of the surrounding ocean from the Babylonians.

It was after the period of Homer and Hesiod that the first great expansion of Greek knowledge about the world began, through the extensive colonisation which was carried on by the Greeks around the Eastern Mediterranean. Even to this day the natives of the southern part of Italy speak a Greek dialect, owing to the wide extent of Greek colonies in that country, which used to be called "Magna Grecia," or "Great Greece." Marseilles also one of the Greek colonies (600 B.C.), which, in its turn, sent out other colonies along the Gulf of Lyons. In the East, too, Greek cities were dotted along the coast of the Black Sea, one of which, Byzantium, was destined to be of world-historic importance. So, too, in North Africa, and among the islands of the AEgean Sea, the Greeks colonised throughout the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., and in almost every case communication was kept up between the colonies and the mother-country.

Now, the one quality which has made the Greeks so distinguished in the world's history was their curiosity; and it was natural that they should desire to know, and to put on record, the large amount of information brought to the mainland of Greece from the innumerable Greek colonies. But to record geographical knowledge, the first thing that is necessary is a map, and accordingly it is a Greek philosopher named ANAXIMANDER of Miletus, of the sixth century B.C., to whom we owe the invention of map-drawing. Now, in order to make a map of one's own country, little astronomical knowledge is required. As we have seen, savages are able to draw such maps; but when it comes to describing the relative positions of countries divided from one another by seas, the problem is not so easy. An Athenian would know roughly that Byzantium (now called Constantinople) was somewhat to the east and to the north of him, because in sailing thither he would have to sail towards the rising sun, and would find the climate getting colder as he approached Byzantium. So, too, he might roughly guess that Marseilles was somewhere to the west and north of him; but how was he to fix the relative position of Marseilles and Byzantium to one another? Was Marseilles more northerly than Byzantium? Was it very far away from that city? For though it took longer to get to Marseilles, the voyage was winding, and might possibly bring the vessel comparatively near to Byzantium, though there might be no direct road between the two cities. There was one rough way of determining how far north a place stood: the very slightest observation of the starry heavens would show a traveller that as he moved towards the north, the pole-star rose higher up in the heavens. How much higher, could be determined by the angle formed by a stick pointing to the pole-star, in relation to one held horizontally. If, instead of two sticks, we cut out a piece of metal or wood to fill up the enclosed angle, we get the earliest form of the sun-dial, known as the gnomon, and according to the shape of the gnomon the latitude of a place is determined. Accordingly, it is not surprising to find that the invention of the gnomon is also attributed to Anaximander, for without some such instrument it would have been impossible for him to have made any map worthy of the name. But it is probable that Anaximander did not so much invent as introduce the gnomon, and, indeed, Herodotus, expressly states that this instrument was derived from the Babylonians, who were the earliest astronomers, so far as we know. A curious point confirms this, for the measurement of angles is by degrees, and degrees are divided into sixty seconds, just as minutes are. Now this division into sixty is certainly derived from Babylonia in the case of time measurement, and is therefore of the same origin as regards the measurement of angles.

We have no longer any copy of this first map of the world drawn up by Anaximander, but there is little doubt that it formed the foundation of a similar map drawn by a fellow-townsman of Anaximander, HECATAEUS of Miletus, who seems to have written the first formal geography. Only fragments of this are extant, but from them we are able to see that it was of the nature of a periplus, or seaman's guide, telling how many days' sail it was from one point to another, and in what direction. We know also that he arranged his whole subject into two books, dealing respectively with Europe and Asia, under which latter term he included part of what we now know as Africa. From the fragments scholars have been able to reproduce the rough outlines of the map of the world as it presented itself to Hecataeus. From this it can be seen that the Homeric conception of the surrounding ocean formed a chief determining feature in Hecataeus's map. For the rest, he was acquainted with the Mediterranean, Red, and Black Seas, and with the great rivers Danube, Nile, Euphrates, Tigris, and Indus.

The next great name in the history of Greek geography is that of HERODOTUS of Halicarnassus, who might indeed be equally well called the Father of Geography as the Father of History. He travelled much in Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, and on the shores of the Black Sea, while he was acquainted with Greece, and passed the latter years of his life in South Italy. On all these countries he gave his fellow-citizens accurate and tolerably full information, and he had diligently collected knowledge about countries in their neighbourhood. In particular he gives full details of Scythia (or Southern Russia), and of the satrapies and royal roads of Persia. As a rule, his information is as accurate as could be expected at such an early date, and he rarely tells marvellous stories, or if he does, he points out himself their untrustworthiness. Almost the only traveller's yarn which Herodotus reports without due scepticism is that of the ants of India that were bigger than foxes and burrowed out gold dust for their ant-hills.

One of the stories he relates is of interest, as seeming to show an anticipation of one of Mr. Stanley's journeys. Five young men of the Nasamonians started from Southern Libya, W. of the Soudan, and journeyed for many days west till they came to a grove of trees, when they were seized by a number of men of very small stature, and conducted through marshes to a great city of black men of the same size, through which a large river flowed. This Herodotus identifies with the Nile, but, from the indication of the journey given by him, it would seem more probable that it was the Niger, and that the Nasamonians had visited Timbuctoo! Owing to this statement of Herodotus, it was for long thought that the Upper Nile flowed east and west.

After Herodotus, the date of whose history may be fixed at the easily remembered number of 444 B.C., a large increase of knowledge was obtained of the western part of Asia by the two expeditions of Xenophon and of Alexander, which brought the familiar knowledge of the Greeks as far as India. But besides these military expeditions we have still extant several log-books of mariners, which might have added considerably to Greek geography. One of these tells the tale of an expedition of the Carthaginian admiral named Hanno, down the western coast of Africa, as far as Sierra Leone, a voyage which was not afterwards undertaken for sixteen hundred years. Hanno brought back from this voyage hairy skins, which, he stated, belonged to men and women whom he had captured, and who were known to the natives by the name of Gorillas. Another log-book is that of a Greek named Scylax, who gives the sailing distances between nearly all ports on the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and the number of days required to pass from one to another. From this it would seem that a Greek merchant vessel could manage on the average fifty miles a day. Besides this, one of Alexander's admirals, named Nearchus, learned to carry his ships from the mouth of the Indus to the Arabian Gulf. Later on, a Greek sailor, Hippalus, found out that by using the monsoons at the appropriate times, he could sail direct from Arabia to India without laboriously coasting along the shores of Persia and Beluchistan, and in consequence the Greeks gave his name to the monsoon. For information about India itself, the Greeks were, for a long time, dependent upon the account of Megasthenes, an ambassador sent by Seleucus, one of Alexander's generals, to the Indian king of the Punjab.

While knowledge was thus gained of the East, additional information was obtained about the north of Europe by the travels of one PYTHEAS, a native of Marseilles, who flourished about the time of Alexander the Great (333 B.C.), and he is especially interesting to us as having been the first civilised person who can be identified as having visited Britain. He seems to have coasted along the Bay of Biscay, to have spent some time in England,—which he reckoned as 40,000 stadia (4000 miles) in circumference,—and he appears also to have coasted along Belgium and Holland, as far as the mouth of the Elbe. Pytheas is, however, chiefly known in the history of geography as having referred to the island of Thule, which he described as the most northerly point of the inhabited earth, beyond which the sea became thickened, and of a jelly-like consistency. He does not profess to have visited Thule, and his account probably refers to the existence of drift ice near the Shetlands.

All this new information was gathered together, and made accessible to the Greek reading world, by ERATOSTHENES, librarian of Alexandria (240-196 B.C.), who was practically the founder of scientific geography. He was the first to attempt any accurate measurement of the size of the earth, and of its inhabited portion. By his time the scientific men of Greece had become quite aware of the fact that the earth was a globe, though they considered that it was fixed in space at the centre of the universe. Guesses had even been made at the size of this globe, Aristotle fixing its circumference at 400,000 stadia (or 40,000 miles), but Eratosthenes attempted a more accurate measurement. He compared the length of the shadow thrown by the sun at Alexandria and at Syene, near the first cataract of the Nile, which he assumed to be on the same meridian of longitude, and to be at about 5000 stadia (500 miles) distance. From the difference in the length of the shadows he deduced that this distance represented one-fiftieth of the circumference of the earth, which would accordingly be about 250,000 stadia, or 25,000 geographical miles. As the actual circumference is 24,899 English miles, this was a very near approximation, considering the rough means Eratosthenes had at his disposal.

Having thus estimated the size of the earth, Eratosthenes then went on to determine the size of that portion which the ancients considered to be habitable. North and south of the lands known to him, Eratosthenes and all the ancients considered to be either too cold or too hot to be habitable; this portion he reckoned to extend to 38,000 stadia, or 3800 miles. In reckoning the extent of the habitable portion from east to west, Eratosthenes came to the conclusion that from the Straits of Gibraltar to the east of India was about 80,000 stadia, or, roughly speaking, one-third of the earth's surface. The remaining two-thirds were supposed to be covered by the ocean, and Eratosthenes prophetically remarked that "if it were not that the vast extent of the Atlantic Sea rendered it impossible, one might almost sail from the coast of Spain to that of India along the same parallel." Sixteen hundred years later, as we shall see, Columbus tried to carry out this idea. Eratosthenes based his calculations on two fundamental lines, corresponding in a way to our equator and meridian of Greenwich: the first stretched, according to him, from Cape St. Vincent, through the Straits of Messina and the island of Rhodes, to Issus (Gulf of Iskanderun); for his starting-line in reckoning north and south he used a meridian passing through the First Cataract, Alexandria, Rhodes, and Byzantium.

The next two hundred years after Eratosthenes' death was filled up by the spread of the Roman Empire, by the taking over by the Romans of the vast possessions previously held by Alexander and his successors and by the Carthaginians, and by their spread into Gaul, Britain, and Germany. Much of the increased knowledge thus obtained was summed up in the geographical work of STRABO, who wrote in Greek about 20 B.C. He introduced from the extra knowledge thus obtained many modifications of the system of Eratosthenes, but, on the whole, kept to his general conception of the world. He rejected, however, the existence of Thule, and thus made the world narrower; while he recognised the existence of Ierne, or Ireland; which he regarded as the most northerly part of the habitable world, lying, as he thought, north of Britain.

Between the time of Strabo and that of Ptolemy, who sums up all the knowledge of the ancients about the habitable earth, there was only one considerable addition to men's acquaintance with their neighbours, contained in a seaman's manual for the navigation of the Indian Ocean, known as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. This gave very full and tolerably accurate accounts of the coasts from Aden to the mouth of the Ganges, though it regarded Ceylon as much greater, and more to the south, than it really is; but it also contains an account of the more easterly parts of Asia, Indo-China, and China itself, "where the silk comes from." This had an important influence on the views of Ptolemy, as we shall see, and indirectly helped long afterwards to the discovery of America.

It was left to PTOLEMY of Alexandria to sum up for the ancient world all the knowledge that had been accumulating from the time of Eratosthenes to his own day, which we may fix at about 150 A.D. He took all the information he could find in the writings of the preceding four hundred years, and reduced it all to one uniform scale; for it is to him that we owe the invention of the method and the names of latitude and longitude. Previous writers had been content to say that the distance between one point and another was so many stadia, but he reduced all this rough reckoning to so many degrees of latitude and longitude, from fixed lines as starting-points. But, unfortunately, all these reckonings were rough calculations, which are almost invariably beyond the truth; and Ptolemy, though the greatest of ancient astronomers, still further distorted his results by assuming that a degree was 500 stadia, or 50 geographical miles. Thus when he found in any of his authorities that the distance between one port and another was 500 stadia, he assumed, in the first place, that this was accurate, and, in the second, that the distance between the two places was equal to a degree of latitude or longitude, as the case might be. Accordingly he arrived at the result that the breadth of the habitable globe was, as he put it, twelve hours of longitude (corresponding to 180 deg.)—nearly one-third as much again as the real dimensions from Spain to China. The consequence of this was that the distance from Spain to China westward was correspondingly diminished by sixty degrees (or nearly 4000 miles), and it was this error that ultimately encouraged Columbus to attempt his epoch-making voyage.

Ptolemy's errors of calculation would not have been so extensive but that he adopted a method of measurement which made them accumulative. If he had chosen Alexandria for the point of departure in measuring longitude, the errors he made when reckoning westward would have been counterbalanced by those reckoning eastward, and would not have resulted in any serious distortion of the truth; but instead of this, he adopted as his point of departure the Fortunatae Insulae, or Canary Islands, and every degree measured to the east of these was one-fifth too great, since he assumed that it was only fifty miles in length. I may mention that so great has been the influence of Ptolemy on geography, that, up to the middle of the last century, Ferro, in the Canary Islands, was still retained as the zero-point of the meridians of longitude.

Another point in which Ptolemy's system strongly influenced modern opinion was his departure from the previous assumption that the world was surrounded by the ocean, derived from Homer. Instead of Africa being thus cut through the middle by the ocean, Ptolemy assumed, possibly from vague traditional knowledge, that Africa extended an unknown length to the south, and joined on to an equally unknown continent far to the east, which, in the Latinised versions of his astronomical work, was termed "terra australis incognita," or "the unknown south land." As, by his error with regard to the breadth of the earth, Ptolemy led to Columbus; so, by his mistaken notions as to the "great south land," he prepared the way for the discoveries of Captain Cook. But notwithstanding these errors, which were due partly to the roughness of the materials which he had to deal with, and partly to scientific caution, Ptolemy's work is one of the great monuments of human industry and knowledge. For the Old World it remained the basis of all geographical knowledge up to the beginning of the last century, just as his astronomical work was only finally abolished by the work of Newton. Ptolemy has thus the rare distinction of being the greatest authority on two important departments of human knowledge—astronomy and geography—for over fifteen hundred years. Into the details of his description of the world it is unnecessary to go. The map will indicate how near he came to the main outlines of the Mediterranean, of Northwest Europe, of Arabia, and of the Black Sea. Beyond these regions he could only depend upon the rough indications and guesses of untutored merchants. But it is worth while referring to his method of determining latitude, as it was followed up by most succeeding geographers. Between the equator and the most northerly point known to him, he divides up the earth into horizontal strips, called by him "climates," and determined by the average length of the longest day in each. This is a very rough method of determining latitude, but it was probably, in most cases, all that Ptolemy had to depend upon, since the measurement of angles would be a rare accomplishment even in modern times, and would only exist among a few mathematicians and astronomers in Ptolemy's days. With him the history of geographical knowledge and discovery in the ancient world closes.

In this chapter I have roughly given the names and exploits of the Greek men of science, who summed up in a series of systematic records the knowledge obtained by merchants, by soldiers, and by travellers of the extent of the world known to the ancients. Of this knowledge, by far the largest amount was gained, not by systematic investigation for the purpose of geography, but by military expeditions for the purpose of conquest. We must now retrace our steps, and give a rough review of the various stages of conquest. We must now retrace our steps, and give a rough review of the various stages of conquest by which the different regions of the Old World became known to the Greeks and the Roman Empire, whose knowledge Ptolemy summarises.

[Authorities: Bunbury, History of Ancient Geography, 2 vols., 1879; Tozer, History of Ancient Geography, 1897.]



In a companion volume of this series, "The Story of Extinct Civilisations in the East," will be found an account of the rise and development of the various nations who held sway over the west of Asia at the dawn of history. Modern discoveries of remarkable interest have enabled us to learn the condition of men in Asia Minor as early as 4000 B.C. All these early civilisations existed on the banks of great rivers, which rendered the land fertile through which they passed.

We first find man conscious of himself, and putting his knowledge on record, along the banks of the great rivers Nile, Euphrates, and Tigris, Ganges and Yang-tse-Kiang. But for our purposes we are not concerned with these very early stages of history. The Egyptians got to know something of the nations that surrounded them, and so did the Assyrians. A summary of similar knowledge is contained in the list of tribes given in the tenth chapter of Genesis, which divides all mankind, as then known to the Hebrews, into descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japhet—corresponding, roughly, to Asia, Europe, and Africa. But in order to ascertain how the Romans obtained the mass of information which was summarised for them by Ptolemy in his great work, we have merely to concentrate our attention on the remarkable process of continuous expansion which ultimately led to the existence of the Roman Empire.

All early histories of kingdoms are practically of the same type. A certain tract of country is divided up among a certain number of tribes speaking a common language, and each of these tribes ruled by a separate chieftain. One of these tribes then becomes predominant over the rest, through the skill in war or diplomacy of one of its chiefs, and the whole of the tract of country is thus organised into one kingdom. Thus the history of England relates how the kingdom of Wessex grew into predominance over the whole of the country; that of France tells how the kings who ruled over the Isle of France spread their rule over the rest of the land; the history of Israel is mainly an account of how the tribe of Judah obtained the hegemony of the rest of the tribes; and Roman history, as its name implies, informs us how the inhabitants of a single city grew to be the masters of the whole known world. But their empire had been prepared for them by a long series of similar expansions, which might be described as the successive swallowing up of empire after empire, each becoming overgrown in the process, till at last the series was concluded by the Romans swallowing up the whole. It was this gradual spread of dominion which, at each stage, increased men's knowledge of surrounding nations, and it therefore comes within our province to roughly sum up these stages, as part of the story of geographical discovery.

Regarded from the point of view of geography, this spread of man's knowledge might be compared to the growth of a huge oyster-shell, and, from that point of view, we have to take the north of the Persian Gulf as the apex of the shell, and begin with the Babylonian Empire. We first have the kingdom of Babylon—which, in the early stages, might be best termed Chaldaea—in the south of Mesopotamia (or the valley between the two rivers, Tigris and Euphrates), which, during the third and second millennia before our era, spread along the valley of the Tigris. But in the fourteenth century B.C., the Assyrians to the north of it, though previously dependent upon Babylon, conquered it, and, after various vicissitudes, established themselves throughout the whole of Mesopotamia and much of the surrounding lands. In 604 B.C. the capital of this great empire was moved once more to Babylon, so that in the last stage, as well as in the first, it may be called Babylonia. For purposes of distinction, however, it will be as well to call these three successive stages Chaldaea, Assyria, and Babylonia.

Meanwhile, immediately to the east, a somewhat similar process had been gone through, though here the development was from north to south, the Medes of the north developing a powerful empire in the north of Persia, which ultimately fell into the hands of Cyrus the Great in 546 B.C. He then proceeded to conquer the kingdom of Lydia, in the northwest part of Asia Minor, which had previously inherited the dominions of the Hittites. Finally he proceeded to seize the empire of Babylonia, by his successful attack on the capital, 538 B.C. He extended his rule nearly as far as India on one side, and, as we know from the Bible, to the borders of Egypt on the other. His son Cambyses even succeeded in adding Egypt for a time to the Persian Empire. The oyster-shell of history had accordingly expanded to include almost the whole of Western Asia.

The next two centuries are taken up in universal history by the magnificent struggle of the Greeks against the Persian Empire—the most decisive conflict in all history, for it determined whether Europe or Asia should conquer the world. Hitherto the course of conquest had been from east to west, and if Xerxes' invasion had been successful, there is little doubt that the westward tendency would have continued. But the larger the tract of country which an empire covers—especially when different tribes and nations are included in it—the weaker and less organised it becomes. Within little more than a century of the death of Cyrus the Great the Greeks discovered the vulnerable point in the Persian Empire, owing to an expedition of ten thousand Greek mercenaries under Xenophon, who had been engaged by Cyrus the younger in an attempt to capture the Persian Empire from his brother. Cyrus was slain, 401 B.C., but the ten thousand, under the leadership of Xenophon, were enabled, to hold their own against all the attempts of the Persians to destroy them, and found their way back to Greece.

Meanwhile the usual process had been going on in Greece by which a country becomes consolidated. From time to time one of the tribes into which that mountainous country was divided obtained supremacy over the rest: at first the Athenians, owing to the prominent part they had taken in repelling the Persians; then the Spartans, and finally the Thebans. But on the northern frontiers a race of hardy mountaineers, the Macedonians, had consolidated their power, and, under Philip of Macedon, became masters of all Greece. Philip had learned the lesson taught by the successful retreat of the ten thousand, and, just before his death, was preparing to attack the Great King (of Persia) with all the forces which his supremacy in Greece put at his disposal. His son Alexander the Great carried out Philip's intentions. Within twelve years (334-323 B.C.) he had conquered Persia, Parthia, India (in the strict sense, i.e. the valley of the Indus), and Egypt. After his death his huge empire was divided up among his generals, but, except in the extreme east, the whole of it was administered on Greek methods. A Greek-speaking person could pass from one end to the other without difficulty, and we can understand how a knowledge of the whole tract of country between the Adriatic and the Indus could be obtained by Greek scholars. Alexander founded a large number of cities, all bearing his name, at various points of his itinerary; but of these the most important was that at the mouth of the Nile, known to this day as Alexandria. Here was the intellectual centre of the whole Hellenic world, and accordingly it was here, as we have seen, that Eratosthenes first wrote down in a systematic manner all the knowledge about the habitable earth which had been gained mainly by Alexander's conquests.

Important as was the triumphant march of Alexander through Western Asia, both in history and in geography, it cannot be said to have added so very much to geographical knowledge, for Herodotus was roughly acquainted with most of the country thus traversed, except towards the east of Persia and the north-west of India. But the itineraries of Alexander and his generals must have contributed more exact knowledge of the distances between the various important centres of population, and enabled Eratosthenes and his successors to give them a definite position on their maps of the world. What they chiefly learned from Alexander and his immediate successors was a more accurate knowledge of North-West India. Even as late as Strabo, the sole knowledge possessed at Alexandria of Indian places was that given by Megasthenes, the ambassador to India in the third century B.C.

Meanwhile, in the western portion of the civilised world a similar process had gone on. In the Italian peninsula the usual struggle had gone on between the various tribes inhabiting it. The fertile plain of Lombardy was not in those days regarded as belonging to Italy, but was known as Cisalpine Gaul. The south of Italy, as we have seen, was mainly inhabited by Greek colonists, and was called Great Greece. Between these tracts of country the Italian territory was inhabited by three sets of federate tribes—the Etrurians, the Samnites, and the Latins. During the 230 years between 510 B.C. and 280 B.C. Rome was occupied in obtaining the supremacy among these three sets of tribes, and by the latter date may be regarded as having consolidated Central Italy into an Italian federation, centralised at Rome. At the latter date, the Greek king Pyrrhus of Epirus, attempted to arouse the Greek colonies in Southern Italy against the growing power of Rome; but his interference only resulted in extending the Roman dominion down to the heel and big toe of Italy.

If Rome was to advance farther, Sicily would be the next step, and just at that moment Sicily was being threatened by the other great power of the West—Carthage. Carthage was the most important of the colonies founded by the Phoenicians (probably in the ninth century B.C.), and pursued in the Western Mediterranean the policy of establishing trading stations along the coast, which had distinguished the Phoenicians from their first appearance in history. They seized all the islands in that division of the sea, or at any rate prevented any other nation from settling in Corsica, Sardinia, and the Balearic Isles. In particular Carthage took possession of the western part of Sicily, which had been settled by sister Phoenician colonies. While Rome did everything in its power to consolidate its conquests by admitting the other Italians to some share in the central government, Carthage only regarded its foreign possessions as so many openings for trade. In fact, it dealt with the western littoral of the Mediterranean something like the East India Company treated the coast of Hindostan: it established factories at convenient spots. But just as the East India Company found it necessary to conquer the neighbouring territory in order to secure peaceful trade, so Carthage extended its conquests all down the western coast of Africa and the south-east part of Spain, while Rome was extending into Italy. To continue our conchological analogy, by the time of the first Punic War Rome and Carthage had each expanded into a shell, and between the two intervened the eastern section of the island of Sicily. As the result of this, Rome became master of Sicily, and then the final struggle took place with Hannibal in the second Punic War, which resulted in Rome becoming possessed of Spain and Carthage. By the year 200 B.C. Rome was practically master of the Western Mediterranean, though it took another century to consolidate its heritage from Carthage in Spain and Mauritania. During that century—the second before our era—Rome also extended its Italian boundaries to the Alps by the conquest of Cisalpine Gaul, which, however, was considered outside Italy, from which it was separated by the river Rubicon. In that same century the Romans had begun to interfere in the affairs of Greece, which easily fell into their hands, and thus prepared the way for their inheritance of Alexander's empire.

This, in the main, was the work of the first century before our era, when the expansion of Rome became practically concluded. This was mainly the work of two men, Caesar and Pompey. Following the example of his uncle, Marius, Caesar extended the Roman dominions beyond the Alps to Gaul, Western Germany, and Britain; but from our present standpoint it was Pompey who prepared the way for Rome to carry on the succession of empire in the more civilised portions of the world, and thereby merited his title of "Great." He pounded up, as it were, the various states into which Asia Minor was divided, and thus prepared the way for Roman dominion over Western Asia and Egypt. By the time of Ptolemy the empire was thoroughly consolidated, and his map and geographical notices are only tolerably accurate within the confines of the empire.

One of the means by which the Romans were enabled to consolidate their dominion must be here shortly referred to. In order that their legions might easily pass from one portion of this huge empire to another, they built roads, generally in straight lines, and so solidly constructed that in many places throughout Europe they can be traced even to the present day, after the lapse of fifteen hundred years. Owing to them, in a large measure, Rome was enabled to preserve its empire intact for nearly five hundred years, and even to this day one can trace a difference in the civilisation of those countries over which Rome once ruled, except where the devastating influence of Islam has passed like a sponge over the old Roman provinces. Civilisation, or the art of living together in society, is practically the result of Roman law, and this sense all roads in history lead to Rome.

The work of Claudius Ptolemy sums up to us the knowledge that the Romans had gained by their inheritance, on the western side, of the Carthaginian empire, and, on the eastern, of the remains of Alexander's empire, to which must be added the conquests of Caesar in North-West Europe. Caesar is, indeed, the connecting link between the two shells that had been growing throughout ancient history. He added Gaul, Germany, and Britain to geographical knowledge, and, by his struggle with Pompey, connected the Levant with his northerly conquests. One result of his imperial work must be here referred to. By bringing all civilised men under one rule, he prepared them for the worship of one God. This was not without its influence on travel and geographical discovery, for the great barrier between mankind had always been the difference of religion, and Rome, by breaking down the exclusiveness of local religions, and substituting for them a general worship of the majesty of the Emperor, enabled all the inhabitants of this vast empire to feel a certain communion with one another, which ultimately, as we know, took on a religious form.

The Roman Empire will henceforth form the centre from which to regard any additions to geographical knowledge. As we shall see, part of the knowledge acquired by the Romans was lost in the Dark Ages succeeding the break-up of the empire; but for our purposes this may be neglected and geographical discovery in the succeeding chapters may be roughly taken to be additions and corrections of the knowledge summed up by Claudius Ptolemy.



We have seen how, by a slow process of conquest and expansion, the ancient world got to know a large part of the Eastern Hemisphere, and how this knowledge was summed up in the great work of Claudius Ptolemy. We have now to learn how much of this knowledge was lost or perverted—how geography, for a time, lost the character of a science, and became once more the subject of mythical fancies similar to those which we found in its earliest stages. Instead of knowledge which, if not quite exact, was at any rate approximately measured, the mediaeval teachers who concerned themselves with the configuration of the inhabited world substituted their own ideas of what ought to be.[1] This is a process which applies not alone to geography, but to all branches of knowledge, which, after the fall of the Roman Empire, ceased to expand or progress, became mixed up with fanciful notions, and only recovered when a knowledge of ancient science and thought was restored in the fifteenth century. But in geography we can more easily see than in other sciences the exact nature of the disturbing influence which prevented the acquisition of new knowledge.

[Footnote 1: It is fair to add that Professor Miller's researches have shown that some of the "unscientific" qualities of the mediaeval mappoe mundi were due to Roman models.]

Briefly put, that disturbing influence was religion, or rather theology; not, of course, religion in the proper sense of the word, or theology based on critical principles, but theological conceptions deduced from a slavish adherence to texts of Scripture, very often seriously misunderstood. To quote a single example: when it is said in Ezekiel v. S, "This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations... round about her," this was not taken by the mediaeval monks, who were the chief geographers of the period, as a poetical statement, but as an exact mathematical law, which determined the form which all mediaeval maps took. Roughly speaking, of course, there was a certain amount of truth in the statement, since Jerusalem would be about the centre of the world as known to the ancients—at least, measured from east to west; but, at the same time, the mediaeval geographers adopted the old Homeric idea of the ocean surrounding the habitable world, though at times there was a tendency to keep more closely to the words of Scripture about the four corners of the earth. Still, as a rule, the orthodox conception of the world was that of a circle enclosing a sort of T square, the east being placed at the top, Jerusalem in the centre; the Mediterranean Sea naturally divided the lower half of the circle, while the AEgean and Red Seas were regarded as spreading out right and left perpendicularly, thus dividing the top part of the world, or Asia, from the lower part, divided equally between Europe on the left and Africa on the right. The size of the Mediterranean Sea, it will be seen, thus determined the dimensions of the three continents. One of the chief errors to which this led was to cut off the whole of the south of Africa, which rendered it seemingly a short voyage round that continent on the way to India. As we shall see, this error had important and favourable results on geographical discovery.

Another result of this conception of the world as a T within an O, was to expand Asia to an enormous extent; and as this was a part of the world which was less known to the monkish map-makers of the Middle Ages, they were obliged to fill out their ignorance by their imagination. Hence they located in Asia all the legends which they had derived either from Biblical or classical sources. Thus there was a conception, for which very little basis is to be found in the Bible, of two fierce nations named Gog and Magog, who would one day bring about the destruction of the civilised world. These were located in what would have been Siberia, and it was thought that Alexander the Great had penned them in behind the Iron Mountains. When the great Tartar invasion came in the thirteenth century, it was natural to suppose that these were no less than the Gog and Magog of legend. So, too, the position of Paradise was fixed in the extreme east, or, in other words, at the top of mediaeval maps. Then, again, some of the classical authorities, as Pliny and Solinus, had admitted into their geographical accounts legends of strange tribes of monstrous men, strangely different from normal humanity. Among these may be mentioned the Sciapodes, or men whose feet were so large that when it was hot they could rest on their backs and lie in the shade. There is a dim remembrance of these monstrosities in Shakespeare's reference to

"The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads Do grow beneath their shoulders."

In the mythical travels of Sir John Maundeville there are illustrations of these curious beings, one of which is here reproduced. Other tracts of country were supposed to be inhabited by equally monstrous animals. Illustrations of most of these were utilised to fill up the many vacant spaces in the mediaeval maps of Asia.

One author, indeed, in his theological zeal, went much further in modifying the conceptions of the habitable world. A Christian merchant named Cosmas, who had journeyed to India, and was accordingly known as COSMAS INDICOPLEUSTES, wrote, about 540 A.D., a work entitled "Christian Topography," to confound what he thought to be the erroneous views of Pagan authorities about the configuration of the world. What especially roused his ire was the conception of the spherical form of the earth, and of the Antipodes, or men who could stand upside down. He drew a picture of a round ball, with four men standing upon it, with their feet on opposite sides, and asked triumphantly how it was possible that all four could stand upright? In answer to those who asked him to explain how he could account for day and night if the sun did not go round the earth, he supposed that there was a huge mountain in the extreme north, round which the sun moved once in every twenty-four hours. Night was when the sun was going round the other side of the mountain. He also proved, entirely to his own satisfaction, that the sun, instead of being greater, was very much smaller than the earth. The earth was, according to him, a moderately sized plane, the inhabited parts of which were separated from the antediluvian world by the ocean, and at the four corners of the whole were the pillars which supported the heavens, so that the whole universe was something like a big glass exhibition case, on the top of which was the firmament, dividing the waters above and below it, according to the first chapter of Genesis.

Cosmas' views, however interesting and amusing they are, were too extreme to gain much credence or attention even from the mediaeval monks, and we find no reference to them in the various mappoe mundi which sum up their knowledge, or rather ignorance, about the world. One of the most remarkable of these maps exists in England at Hereford, and the plan of it given on p. 53 will convey as much information as to early mediaeval geography as the ordinary reader will require. In the extreme east, i.e. at the top, is represented the Terrestrial Paradise; in the centre is Jerusalem; beneath this, the Mediterranean extends to the lower edge of the map, with its islands very carefully particularised. Much attention is given to the rivers throughout, but very little to the mountains. The only real increase of actual knowledge represented in the map is that of the north-east of Europe, which had I naturally become better known by the invasion of the Norsemen. But how little real knowledge was possessed of this portion of Europe is proved by the fact that the mapmaker placed near Norway the Cynocephali, or dog-headed men, probably derived from some confused accounts of Indian monkeys. Near them are placed the Gryphons, "men most wicked, for among their misdeeds they also make garments for themselves and their horses out of the skins of their enemies." Here, too, is placed the home of the Seven Sleepers, who lived for ever as a standing miracle to convert the heathen. The shape given to the British Islands will be observed as due to the necessity of keeping the circular form of the inhabited world. Other details about England we may leave for the present.

It is obvious that maps such as the Hereford one would be of no practical utility to travellers who desired to pass from one country to another; indeed, they were not intended for any such purpose. Geography had ceased to be in any sense a practical science; it only ministered to men's sense of wonder, and men studied it mainly in order to learn about the marvels of the world. When William of Wykeham drew up his rules for the Fellows and Scholars of New College, Oxford, he directed them in the long winter evenings to occupy themselves with "singing, or reciting poetry, or with the chronicles of the different kingdoms, or with the wonders of the world." Hence almost all mediaeval maps are filled up with pictures of these wonders, which were the more necessary as so few people could read. A curious survival of this custom lasted on in map-drawing almost to the beginning of this century, when the spare places in the ocean were adorned with pictures of sailing ships or spouting sea monsters.

When men desired to travel, they did not use such maps as these, but rather itineraries, or road-books, which did not profess to give the shape of the countries through which a traveller would pass, but only indicated the chief towns on the most-frequented roads. This information was really derived from classical times, for the Roman emperors from time to time directed such road-books to be drawn up, and there still remains an almost complete itinerary of the Empire, known as the Peutinger Table, from the name of the German merchant who first drew the attention of the learned world to it. A condensed reproduction is given on the following page, from which it will be seen that no attempt is made to give anything more than the roads and towns. Unfortunately, the first section of the table, which started from Britain, has been mutilated, and we only get the Kentish coast. These itineraries were specially useful, as the chief journeys of men were in the nature of pilgrimages; but these often included a sort of commercial travelling, pilgrims often combining business and religion on their journeys. The chief information about Eastern Europe which reached the West was given by the succession of pilgrims who visited Palestine up to the time of the Crusades. Our chief knowledge of the geography of Europe daring the five centuries between 500 and 1000 A.D. is given in the reports of successive pilgrims.

This period may be regarded as the Dark Age of geographical knowledge, during which wild conceptions like those contained in the Hereford map were substituted for the more accurate measurements of the ancients. Curiously enough, almost down to the time of Columbus the learned kept to these conceptions, instead of modifying them by the extra knowledge gained during the second period of the Middle Ages, when travellers of all kinds obtained much fuller information of Asia, North Europe, and even, as, we shall see, of some parts of America.

It is not altogether surprising that this period should have been so backward in geographical knowledge, since the map of Europe itself, in its political divisions, was entirely readjusted during this period. The thousand years of history which elapsed between 450 and 1450 were practically taken up by successive waves of invasion from the centre of Asia, which almost entirely broke up the older divisions of the world.

In the fifth century three wandering tribes, invaded the Empire, from the banks of the Vistula, the Dnieper, and the Volga respectively. The Huns came from the Volga, in the extreme east, and under Attila, "the Hammer of God," wrought consternation in the Empire; the Visigoths, from the Dnieper, attacked the Eastern Empire; while the Vandals, from the Vistula, took a triumphant course through Gaul and Spain, and founded for a time a Vandal empire in North Africa. One of the consequences of this movement was to drive several of the German tribes into France, Italy, and Spain, and even over into Britain; for it is from this stage in the world's history that we can trace the beginning of England, properly so called, just as the invasion of Gaul by the Franks at this time means the beginning of French history. By the eighth century the kingdom of the Franks extended all over France, and included most of Central Germany; while on Christmas Day, 800, Charles the Great was crowned at Rome, by the Pope, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, which professed to revive the glories of the old empire, but made a division between the temporal power held by the Emperor and the spiritual power held by the Pope.

One of the divisions of the Frankish Empire deserves attention, because upon its fate rested the destinies of most of the nations of Western Europe. The kingdom of Burgundy, the buffer state between France and Germany, has now entirely disappeared, except as the name of a wine; but having no natural boundaries, it was disputed between France and Germany for a long period, and it may be fairly said that the Franco-Prussian War was the last stage in its history up to the present. A similar state existed in the east of Europe, viz. the kingdom of Poland, which was equally indefinite in shape, and has equally formed a subject of dispute between the nations of Eastern Europe. This, as is well known, only disappeared as an independent state in 1795, when it finally ceased to act as a buffer between Russia and the rest of Europe. Roughly speaking, after the settlement of the Germanic tribes within the confines of the Empire, the history of Europe, and therefore its historical geography, may be summed up as a struggle for the possession of Burgundy and Poland.

But there was an important interlude in the south-west of Europe, which must engage our attention as a symptom of a world-historic change in the condition of civilisation. During the course of the seventh and eighth centuries (roughly, between 622 and 750) the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula burst the seclusion which they had held since the beginning, almost, of history, and, inspired by the zeal of the newly-founded religion of Islam, spread their influence from India to Spain, along the southern littoral of the Mediterranean. When they had once settled down, they began to recover the remnants of Graeco-Roman science that had been lost on the north shores of the Mediterranean. The Christians of Syria used Greek for their sacred language, and accordingly when the Sultans of Bagdad desired to know something of the wisdom of the Greeks, they got Syriac-speaking Christians to translate some of the scientific works of the Greeks, first into Syriac, and thence into Arabic. In this way they obtained a knowledge of the great works of Ptolemy, both in astronomy—which they regarded as the more important, and therefore the greatest, Almagest—and also in geography, though one can easily understand the great modifications which the strange names of Ptolemy must have undergone in being transcribed, first into Syriac and then into Arabic. We shall see later on some of the results of the Arabic Ptolemy.

The conquests of the Arabs affected the knowledge of geography in a twofold way: by bringing about the Crusades, and by renewing the acquaintance of the west with the east of Asia. The Arabs were acquainted with South-Eastern Africa as far south as Zanzibar and Sofala, though, following the views of Ptolemy as to the Great Unknown South Land, they imagined that these spread out into the Indian Ocean towards India. They seem even to have had some vague knowledge of the sources of the Nile. They were also acquainted with Ceylon, Java, and Sumatra, and they were the first people to learn the various uses to which the cocoa-nut can be put. Their merchants, too, visited China as early as the ninth century, and we have from their accounts some of the earliest descriptions of the Chinese, who were described by them as a handsome people, superior in beauty to the Indians, with fine dark hair, regular features, and very like the Arabs. We shall see later on how comparatively easy it was for a Mohammedan to travel from one end of the known world to the other, owing to the community of religion throughout such a vast area.

Some words should perhaps be said on the geographical works of the Arabs. One of the most important of these, by Yacut, is in the form of a huge Gazetteer, arranged in alphabetical order; but the greatest geographical work of the Arabs is by EDRISI, geographer to King Roger of Sicily, 1154, who describes the world somewhat after the manner of Ptolemy, but with modifications of some interest. He divides the world into seven horizontal strips, known as "climates," and ranging from the equator to the British Isles. These strips are subdivided into eleven sections, so that the world, in Edrisi's conception, is like a chess-board, divided into seventy-seven squares, and his work consists of an elaborate description of each of these squares taken one by one, each climate being worked through regularly, so that you might get parts of France in the eighth and ninth squares, and other parts in the sixteenth and seventeenth. Such a method was not adapted to give a clear conception of separate countries, but this was scarcely Edrisi's object. When the Arabs—or, indeed, any of the ancient or mediaeval writers—wanted wanted to describe a land, they wrote about the tribe or nation inhabiting it, and not about the position of the towns in it; in other words, they drew a marked distinction between ethnology and geography.

But the geography of the Arabs had little or no influence upon that of Europe, which, so far as maps went, continued to be based on fancy instead of fact almost up to the time of Columbus.

Meanwhile another movement had been going on during the eighth and ninth centuries, which helped to make Europe what it is, and extended considerably the common knowledge of the northern European peoples. For the first time since the disappearance of the Phoenicians, a great naval power came into existence in Norway, and within a couple of centuries it had influenced almost the whole sea-coast of Europe. The Vikings, or Sea-Rovers, who kept their long ships in the viks, or fjords, of Norway, made vigorous attacks all along the coast of Europe, and in several cases formed stable governments, and so made, in a way, a sort of crust for Europe, preventing any further shaking of its human contents. In Iceland, in England, in Ireland, in Normandy, in Sicily, and at Constantinople (where they formed the Varangi, or body-guard of the Emperor), as well as in Russia, and for a time in the Holy Land, Vikings or Normans founded kingdoms between which there was a lively interchange of visits and knowledge.

They certainly extended their voyages to Greenland, and there is a good deal of evidence for believing that they travelled from Greenland to Labrador and Newfoundland. In the year 1001, an Icelander named Biorn, sailing to Greenland to visit his father, was driven to the south-west, and came to a country which they called Vinland, inhabited by dwarfs, and having a shortest day of eight hours, which would correspond roughly to 50 deg. north latitude. The Norsemen settled there, and as late as 1121 the Bishop of Greenland visited them, in order to convert them to Christianity. There is little reason to doubt that this Vinland was on the mainland of North America, and the Norsemen were therefore the first Europeans to discover America. As late as 1380, two Venetians, named Zeno, visited Iceland, and reported that there was a tradition there of a land named Estotiland, a thousand miles west of the Faroe Islands, and south of Greenland. The people were reported to be civilised and good seamen, though unacquainted with the use of the compass, while south of them were savage cannibals, and still more to the south-west another civilised people, who built large cities and temples, but offered up human victims in them. There seems to be here a dim knowledge of the Mexicans.

The great difficulty in maritime discovery, both for the ancients and the men of the Middle Ages, was the necessity of keeping close to the shore. It is true they might guide themselves by the sun during the day, and by the pole-star at night, but if once the sky was overcast, they would become entirely at a loss for their bearings. Hence the discovery of the polar tendency of the magnetic needle was a necessary prelude to any extended voyages away from land. This appears to have been known to the Chinese from quite ancient times, and utilised on their junks as early as the eleventh century. The Arabs, who voyaged to Ceylon and Java, appear to have learnt its use from the Chinese, and it is probably from them that the mariners of Barcelona first introduced its use into Europe. The first mention of it is given in a treatise on Natural History by Alexander Neckam, foster-brother of Richard, Coeur de Lion. Another reference, in a satirical poem of the troubadour, Guyot of Provence (1190), states that mariners can steer to the north star without seeing it, by following the direction of a needle floating in a straw in a basin of water, after it had been touched by a magnet. But little use, however, seems to have been made of this, for Brunetto Latini, Dante's tutor, when on a visit to Roger Bacon in 1258, states that the friar had shown him the magnet and its properties, but adds that, however useful the discovery, "no master mariner would dare to use it, lest he should be thought to be a magician." Indeed, in the form in which it was first used it would be of little practical utility, and it was not till the method was found of balancing it on a pivot and fixing it on a card, as at present used, that it became a necessary part of a sailor's outfit. This practical improvement is attributed to one Flavio Gioja, of Amalfi, in the beginning of the fourteenth century.

When once the mariner's compass had come into general use, and its indications observed by master mariners in their voyages, a much more practical method was at hand for determining the relative positions of the different lands. Hitherto geographers (i.e., mainly the Greeks and Arabs) had had to depend for fixing relative positions on the vague statements in the itineraries of merchants and soldiers; but now, with the aid of the compass, it was not difficult to determine the relative position of one point to another, while all the windings of a road could be fixed down on paper without much difficulty. Consequently, while the learned monks were content with the mixture of myth and fable which we have seen to have formed the basis of their maps of the world, the seamen of the Mediterranean were gradually building up charts of that sea and the neighbouring lands which varied but little from the true position. A chart of this kind was called a Portulano, as giving information of the best routes from port to port, and Baron Nordenskiold has recently shown how all these portulani are derived from a single Catalan map which has been lost, but must have been compiled between 1266 and 1291. And yet there were some of the learned who were not above taking instruction from the practical knowledge of the seamen. In 1339, one Angelico Dulcert, of Majorca, made an elaborate map of the world on the principle of the portulano, giving the coast line—at least of the Mediterranean—with remarkable accuracy. A little later, in 1375, a Jew of the same island, named Cresquez, made an improvement on this by introducing into the eastern parts of the map the recently acquired knowledge of Cathay, or China, due to the great traveller Marco Polo. His map (generally known as the Catalan Map, from the language of the inscriptions plentifully scattered over it) is divided into eight horizontal strips, and on the preceding page will be found a reduced reproduction, showing how very accurately the coast line of the Mediterranean was reproduced in these portulanos.

With the portulanos, geographical knowledge once more came back to the lines of progress, by reverting to the representation of fact, and, by giving an accurate representation of the coast line, enabled mariners to adventure more fearlessly and to return more safely, while they gave the means for recording any further knowledge. As we shall see, they aided Prince Henry the Navigator to start that series of geographical investigation which led to the discoveries that close the Middle Ages. With them we may fairly close the history of mediaeval geography, so far as it professed to be a systematic branch of knowledge.

We must now turn back and briefly sum up the additions to knowledge made by travellers, pilgrims, and merchants, and recorded in literary shape in the form of travels.

[Authorities: Lelewel, Geographie du Moyen Age, 4 vols. and atlas, 1852; C. R. Beazley, Dawn of Geography, 1897, and Introduction to Prince Henry the Navigator, 1895; Nordenskiold, Periplus, 1897.]



In the Middle Ages—that is, in the thousand years between the irruption of the barbarians into the Roman Empire in the fifth century and the discovery of the New World in the fifteenth—the chief stages of history which affect the extension of men's knowledge of the world were: the voyages of the Vikings in the eighth and ninth centuries, to which we have already referred; the Crusades, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and the growth of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The extra knowledge obtained by the Vikings did not penetrate to the rest of Europe; that brought by the Crusades, and their predecessors, the many pilgrimages to the Holy Land, only restored to Western Europe the knowledge already stored up in classical antiquity; but the effect of the extension of the Mongol Empire was of more wide-reaching importance, and resulted in the addition of knowledge about Eastern Asia which was not possessed by the Romans, and has only been surpassed in modern times during the present century.

Towards the beginning of the thirteenth century, Chinchiz Khan, leader of a small Tatar tribe, conquered most of Central and Eastern Asia, including China. Under his son, Okkodai, these Mongol Tatars turned from China to the West, conquered Armenia, and one of the Mongol generals, named Batu, ravaged South Russia and Poland, and captured Buda-Pest, 1241. It seemed as if the prophesied end of the world had come, and the mighty nations Gog and Magog had at last burst forth to fulfil the prophetic words. But Okkodai died suddenly, and these armies were recalled. Universal terror seized Europe, and the Pope, as the head of Christendom, determined to send ambassadors to the Great Khan, to ascertain his real intentions. He sent a friar named John of Planocarpini, from Lyons, in 1245, to the camp of Batu (on the Volga), who passed him on to the court of the Great Khan at Karakorum, the capital of his empire, of which only the slightest trace is now left on the left bank of the Orkhon, some hundred miles south of Lake Baikal.

Here, for the first time, they heard of a kingdom on the east coast of Asia which was not yet conquered by the Mongols, and which was known by the name of Cathay. Fuller information was obtained by another friar, named WILLIAM RUYSBROEK, or Rubruquis, a Fleming, who also visited Karakorum as an ambassador from St. Louis, and got back to Europe in 1255, and communicated some of his information to Roger Bacon. He says: "These Cathayans are little fellows, speaking much through the nose, and, as is general with all those Eastern people, their eyes are very narrow.... The common money of Cathay consists of pieces of cotton paper; about a palm in length and breadth, upon which certain lines are printed, resembling the seal of Mangou Khan. They do their writing with a pencil such as painters paint with, and a single character of theirs comprehends several letters, so as to form a whole word." He also identifies these Cathayans with the Seres of the ancients. Ptolemy knew of these as possessing the land where the silk comes from, but he had also heard of the Sinae, and failed to identify the two. It has been conjectured that the name of China came to the West by the sea voyage, and is a Malay modification, while the names Seres and Cathayans came overland, and thus caused confusion.

Other Franciscans followed these, and one of them, John of Montecorvino, settled at Khanbalig (imperial city), or Pekin, as Archbishop (ob. 1358); while Friar Odoric of Pordenone, near Friuli, travelled in India and China between 1316 and 1330, and brought back an account of his voyage, filled with most marvellous mendacities, most of which were taken over bodily into the work attributed to Sir John Maundeville.

The information brought back by these wandering friars fades, however, into insignificance before the extensive and accurate knowledge of almost the whole of Eastern Asia brought back to Europe by Marco Polo, a Venetian, who spent eighteen years of his life in the East. His travels form an epoch in the history of geographical discovery only second to the voyages of Columbus.

In 1260, two of his uncles, named Nicolo and Maffeo Polo, started from Constaninople on a trading venture to the Crimea, after which they were led to visit Bokhara, and thence on to the court of the Great Khan, Kublai, who received them very graciously, and being impressed with the desirability of introducing Western civilisation into the new Mongolian empire, he entrusted them with a message to the Pope, demanding one hundred wise men of the West to teach the Mongolians the Christian religion and Western arts. The two brothers returned to their native place, Venice, in 1269, but found no Pope to comply with the Great Khan's request; for Clement IV. had died the year before, and his successor had not yet been appointed. They waited about for a couple of years till Gregory X. was elected, but he only meagrely responded to the Great Khan's demands, and instructed two Dominicans to accompany the Polos, who on this occasion took with them their young nephew Marco, a lad of seventeen. They started in November 1271, but soon lost the company of the Dominicans, who lost heart and went back.

They went first to Ormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, then struck northward through Khorasan Balkh to the Oxus, and thence on to the Plateau of Pomir. Thence they passed the Great Desert of Gobi, and at last reached Kublai in May 1275, at his summer residence in Kaipingfu. Notwithstanding that they had not carried out his request, the Khan received them in a friendly manner, and was especially taken by Marco, whom he took into his own service; and quite recently a record has been found in the Chinese annals, stating that in the year 1277 a certain Polo was nominated a Second-Class Commissioner of the PrivyCouncil. His duty was to travel on various missions to Eastern Tibet, to Cochin China, and even to India. The Polos amassed much wealth owing to the Khan's favour, but found him very unwilling to let them return to Europe. Marco Polo held several important posts; for three years he was Governor of the great city of Yanchau, and it seemed likely that he would die in the service of Kublai Khan.

But, owing to a fortunate chance, they were at last enabled to get back to Europe. The Khan of Persia desired to marry a princess of the Great Khan's family, to whom he was related, and as the young lady upon whom the choice fell could not be expected to undergo the hardships of the overland journey from China to Persia, it was decided to send her by sea round the coast of Asia. The Tatars were riot good navigators, and the Polos at last obtained permission to escort the young princess on the rather perilous voyage. They started in 1292, from Zayton, a port in Fokien, and after a voyage of over two years round the South coast of Asia, successfully carried the lady to her destined home, though she ultimately had to marry the son instead of the father, who had died in the interim. They took leave of her, and travelled through Persia to their own place, which they reached in 1295. When they arrived at the ancestral mansion of the Polos, in their coarse dress of Tatar cut, their relatives for some time refused to believe that they were really the long-lost merchants. But the Polos invited them to a banquet, in which they dressed themselves all in their best, and put on new suits for every course, giving the clothes they had taken off to the servants. At the conclusion of the banquet they brought forth the shabby dresses in which they had first arrived, and taking sharp knives, began to rip up the seams, from which they took vast quantities of rubies, sapphires, carbuncles, diamonds, and emeralds, into which form they had converted most of their property. This exhibition naturally changed the character of the welcome they received from their relatives, who were then eager to learn how they had come by such riches.

In describing the wealth of the Great Khan, Marco Polo, who was the chief spokesman of the party, was obliged to use the numeral "million" to express the amount of his wealth and the number of the population over whom he ruled. This was regarded as part of the usual travellers' tales, and Marco Polo was generally known by his friends as "Messer Marco Millione."

Such a reception of his stories was no great encouragement to Marco to tell the tale of his remarkable travels, but in the year of his arrival at Venice a war broke out between Genoa and the Queen of the Adriatic, in which Marco Polo was captured and cast into prison at Genoa. There he found as a fellow-prisoner one Rusticano of Pisa, a man of some learning and a sort of predecessor of Sir Thomas Malory, since he had devoted much time to re-writing, in prose, abstracts of the many romances relating to the Round Table. These he wrote, not in Italian (which can scarcely be said to have existed for literary purposes in those days), but in French, the common language of chivalry throughout Western Europe. While in prison with Marco Polo, he took down in French the narrative of the great traveller, and thus preserved it for all time. Marco Polo was released in 1299, and returned to Venice, where he died some time after 9th January 1334, the date of his will.

Of the travels thus detailed in Marco Polo's book, and of their importance and significance in the history of geographical discovery, it is impossible to give any adequate account in this place. It will, perhaps, suffice if we give the summary of his claims made out by Colonel Sir Henry Yule, whose edition of his travels is one of the great monuments of English learning:—

"He was the first traveller to trace a route across the whole longitude of Asia, naming and describing kingdom after kingdom which he had seen with his own eyes: the deserts of Persia, the flowering plateaux and wild gorges of Badakhshan, the jade-bearing rivers of Khotan, the Mongolian Steppes, cradle of the power that had so lately threatened to swallow up Christendom, the new and brilliant court that had been established by Cambaluc; the first traveller to reveal China in all its wealth and vastness, its mighty rivers, its huge cities, its rich manufactures, its swarming population, the inconceivably vast fleets that quickened its seas and its inland waters; to tell us of the nations on its borders, with all their eccentricities of manners and worship; of Tibet, with its sordid devotees; of Burma, with its golden pagodas and their tinkling crowns; of Laos, of Siam, of Cochin China, of Japan, the Eastern Thule, with its rosy pearls and golden-roofed palaces; the first to speak of that museum of beauty and wonder, still so imperfectly ransacked, the Indian Archipelago, source of those aromatics then so highly prized, and whose origin was so dark; of Java, the pearl of islands; of Sumatra, with its many kings, its strange costly products, and its cannibal races; of the naked savages of Nicobar and Andaman; of Ceylon, the island of gems, with its sacred mountain, and its tomb of Adam; of India the Great, not as a dreamland of Alexandrian fables, but as a country seen and personally explored, with its virtuous Brahmans, its obscene ascetics, its diamonds, and the strange tales of their acquisition, its sea-beds of pearl, and its powerful sun: the first in mediaeval times to give any distinct account of the secluded Christian empire of Abyssinia, and the semi-Christian island of Socotra; to speak, though indeed dimly, of Zanzibar, with its negroes and its ivory, and of the vast and distant Madagascar, bordering on the dark ocean of the South, with its Ruc and other monstrosities, and, in a remotely opposite region, of Siberia and the Arctic Ocean, of dog-sledges, white bears, and reindeer-riding Tunguses."

Marco Polo's is thus one of the greatest names in the history of geography; it may, indeed, be doubted whether any other traveller has ever added so extensively to our detailed knowledge of the earth's surface. Certainly up to the time of Mr. Stanley no man had on land visited so many places previously unknown to civilised Europe. But the lands he discovered, though already fully populated, were soon to fall into disorder, and to be closed to any civilising influences. Nothing for a long time followed from these discoveries, and indeed almost up to the present day his accounts were received with incredulity, and he himself was regarded more as "Marco Millione" than as Marco Polo.

Extensive as were Marco Polo's travels, they were yet exceeded in extent, though not in variety, by those of the greatest of Arabian travellers, Mohammed Ibn Batuta, a native of Tangier, who began his travels in 1334, as part of the ordinary duty of a good Mohammedan to visit the holy city of Mecca. While at Alexandria he met a learned sage named Borhan Eddin, to whom he expressed his desire to travel. Borhan said to him, "You must then visit my brother Farid Iddin and my brother Rokn Eddin in Scindia, and my brother Borhan Eddin in China. When you see them, present my compliments to them." Owing mainly to the fact that the Tatar princes had adopted Islamism instead of Christianity, after the failure of Gregory X. to send Christian teachers to China, Ibn Batuta was ultimately enabled to greet all three brothers of Borhan Eddin. Indeed, he performed a more extraordinary exploit, for he was enabled to convey the greetings of the Sheikh Kawan Eddin, whom he met in China, to a relative of his residing in the Soudan. During the thirty years of his travels he visited the Holy Land, Armenia, the Crimea, Constantinople (which he visited in company with a Greek princess, who married one of the Tatar Khans), Bokhara, Afghanistan, and Delhi. Here he found favour with the emperor Mohammed Inghlak, who appointed him a judge, and sent him on an embassy to China, at first overland, but, as this was found too dangerous a route, he went ultimately from Calicut, via Ceylon, the Maldives, and Sumatra, to Zaitun, then the great port of China. Civil war having broken out, he returned by the same route to Calicut, but dared not face the emperor, and went on to Ormuz and Mecca, and returned to Tangier in 1349. But even then his taste for travel had not been exhausted. He soon set out for Spain, and worked his way through Morocco, across the Sahara, to the Soudan. He travelled along the Niger (which he took for the Nile), and visited Timbuctoo. He ultimately returned to Fez in 1353, twenty-eight years after he had set out on his travels. Their chief interest is in showing the wide extent of Islam in his day, and the facilities which a common creed gave for extensive travel. But the account of his journeys was written in Arabic, and had no influence on European knowledge, which, indeed, had little to learn from him after Marco Polo, except with regard to the Soudan. With him the history of mediaeval geography may be fairly said to end, for within eighty years of his death began the activity of Prince Henry the Navigator, with whom the modern epoch begins.

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