Ancient Cartography

Before Google Maps, there were cartographers. In point of fact, for many centuries, maps filled with inaccuracies and little true proportionality, or scale were the primary tool for understanding and navigating our planet. Ancient maps were often painstakingly hand-drawn on parchment, papyrus, or silk, ranging from highly accurate representations to more symbolic interpretations of the world.

  • The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570) | Photo: Shutterstock

    The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570)

    Created by the Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius in 1570, holds the distinction of being considered the first modern atlas. The name translates from Latin as "Theatre of the World," aptly reflecting its ambition to present the entire world across its pages. Ortelius compiled, standardized, and synthesized maps from the best cartographers of his time, adding his own interpretations and corrections to create a comprehensive overview of the world as it was known in the late 16th century. The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum was groundbreaking not only for its attempt to collate all geographic knowledge into a single, accessible format but also for its use of a consistent scale and its systematic approach to cartography.

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  • The Ptolemaic Maps (2nd Century AD) | Photo: Shutterstock

    The Ptolemaic Maps (2nd Century AD)

    The Ptolemaic Maps were based on the work of the Greco-Egyptian writer Claudius Ptolemy and are among the earliest scientific maps of the world. Ptolemy's Geographia was a monumental work that provided detailed instructions for drawing a world map based on a grid system of latitude and longitude. Although no original maps from Ptolemy's time survive, the manuscripts copied in the later centuries demonstrate the widespread influence of his work.

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  • The Peutinger Map (4th century AD) | Photo: Shutterstock

    The Peutinger Map (4th century AD)

    The Peutinger Map, also known as Tabula Peutingeriana, is a Roman road map of the 4th century AD, showing the road network in the Roman Empire. It is a unique document of its kind, providing a glimpse into the infrastructure that supported the Roman Empire's expansion and control. The map stretches across 12 sections, depicting about 200,000 miles of roads, thousands of cities, and notable geographical features across Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia.

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  • The Catalan Atlas (1375) | Photo: Shutterstock

    The Catalan Atlas (1375)

    Created by the Majorcan cartographer Abraham Cresques, is one of the most important medieval maps. It is a collection of six vellum leaves that together form an illuminated manuscript map of the known world. The atlas is rich in detail and color, featuring descriptions of various regions, peoples, and animals, along with illustrations of historical figures and events. It reflects the knowledge of the 14th-century Mediterranean world, incorporating information from both Christian and Islamic sources. The Catalan Atlas is particularly noted for its representation of the Eurasian continent and the extensive trade routes of the time.

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  • The Tabula Rogeriana (1154) | Photo: Shutterstock

    The Tabula Rogeriana (1154)

    The Tabula Rogeriana was created by the Moroccan cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi for the Norman King Roger II of Sicily. The Tabula Rogeriana (The Book of Roger) was a remarkably accurate representation of the known world. It was based on extensive travel accounts and firsthand information collected over many years. The map was oriented with the South at the top, challenging the conventional European perspective. Al-Idrisi's work remained the most accurate world map for the next three centuries, highlighting the advanced state of Islamic cartography during the Middle Ages.

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  • The Hereford Mappa Mundi (1300) | Photo: Shutterstock

    The Hereford Mappa Mundi (1300)

    >The Hereford Mappa Mundi is the largest surviving medieval map of the world. Created in England, this map is more of a theological exposition than a geographical tool. It depicts the history, geography, and destiny of humanity according to medieval Christian understanding. The map is centered on Jerusalem, with the East at the top, and it is filled with biblical events, exotic animals, and mythical creatures, reflecting the medieval worldview. The Cantino Planisphere

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  • The Cantino Planisphere (1502) | Photo: Shutterstock

    The Cantino Planisphere (1502)

    The Cantino Planisphere is one of the earliest nautical charts to depict the discoveries of the early Portuguese and Spanish explorers. It shows the coasts of South America, Africa, and parts of Asia in remarkable detail for the time. The map is named after Alberto Cantino, an Italian spy who smuggled it from Portugal to Italy. The Cantino Planisphere marks a transition from medieval to modern cartography, incorporating firsthand information from explorers and navigators.

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  • The Waldseemüller Map (1507) | Photo: Shutterstock

    The Waldseemüller Map (1507)

    Created by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller is one of the most significant maps in the history of cartography. It is famously known for being the first map to use the name "America," in honor of the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci. The map was a monumental wall map made up of twelve sections, depicting the world's geography as it was known at the beginning of the 16th century. It showed the Atlantic Ocean separating two distinct landmasses, Europe and Asia from the newly discovered continent.

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