Cartography’s Foundation: Ptolemy’s Geography (150 AD)

A 15th-century reconstruction based on Ptolemy’s projections of the world (Wikimedia Commons)

Humans have been sketching maps for millennia, but Claudius Ptolemy was the first to use math and geometry to develop a manual for how to map the planet using a rectangle and intersecting lines—one that resurfaced in 13th-century Byzantium and was used until the early 17th century. The Alexandria-based Greek scholar, who may never have drawn a map himself, described the latitude and longitude of more than 8,000 locations in Europe, Asia, and Africa, projecting a north-oriented, Mediterranean-focused world that was missing the Americas, Australasia, southern Africa (you can see Africa skirting the bottom of the map and then blending into Asia), the Far East, the Pacific Ocean, and most of the Atlantic Ocean. Ptolemy’s Geography was a “book with a 1,500-year legacy,” Brotton says.

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