Ptolemy's world map

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Ptolemy's world map, reconstituted from Ptolemy's Geographia (circa 150) in the 15th century, indicating "Sinae" (China) at the extreme right, beyond the island of "Taprobane" (Sri Lanka, oversized) and the "Aurea Chersonesus" (Southeast Asian peninsula).
Detail of East and Southeast Asia in Ptolemy's world map. Gulf of the Ganges (Bay of Bengal) left, Southeast Asian peninsula in the center, South China Sea right, with "Sinae" (China).

The Ptolemy world map is a map of the known world to Hellenistic society in the 2nd century CE. It was based on the description contained in Ptolemy's book Geographia, written c. 150. Although authentic maps have never been found, the Geographia contains thousands of references to various parts of the old world, with coordinates for many, allowing cartographers to reconstruct Ptolemy's world view around 1300 when the manuscript was re-discovered. According to Ptolemy's books, only the actual map of world was made through mathematical calculations.

Perhaps the most significant contributions of Ptolemy's maps are the first uses of longitudinal and latitudinal lines as well as specifying terrestrial locations by celestial observations. Geographia was translated from Greek into Arabic in the 9th century. The idea of a global coordinate system revolutionized medieval Islamic and European geographical thought, as it was based upon a scientific and numerical basis.


The map distinguishes two large enclosed seas, the first one being the Mediterranean, the second one being the Indian Ocean (Indicum Pelagus), which extends into the South China Sea (Magnus Sinus) in the East. The major geographical locations are Europe, the Middle-East, India, Sri Lanka (Taprobane), the Malay Peninsula (Aurea Chersonesus or "Golden Peninsula") and beyond it China (Sinae).[1]

The Geographia and the map derived from it probably played an important role in the expansion of the Roman Empire to the East. Trade throughout the Indian Ocean was extensive from the 2nd century, and many Roman trading ports have been identified in India. From these ports, Roman embassies to China are recorded in Chinese historical sources from around 166.

The Danish historian Gudmund Schütte attempted to reconstruct the Danish part of Ptolemy's world map. This derivative includes several place- and tribe-names, some of which can be interpreted to their contemporary equivalent. The most prominent feature of the map is the peninsula Jutland placed north of the river Albis Trêva, west of the Saxonôn Nesôi (archipelago), east of the Skandiai Nêsoi, which itself lies west of a larger island Skandia. Skandia is home to the Goutai in the center, and the Phiraisoi in the east.

North of Jutland lies a third archipelago Alokiai Nêsoi. South of the Albis lives the Lakkobardoi and to its north the Saxones. The west coast of Jutland is home to the Sigulônes, the Sabaliggio, the Kobandoi, the Eundusioi and the northernmost Kimbroi (possibly Cimbri). The center and east is home to the Kimbrikê (possibly Cimbri), the Chersonêsos and the Charudes.[2]


  1. ^ Thrower, Norman Joseph William (1999). Maps & Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-79973-5. 
  2. ^ Jernalderen, Turistforeningen for Danmark, Årbog 1961, redigeret af Kristjan Bure, 1961. (Danish)

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