Geography and cartography in medieval Islam

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Medieval Arabian and Persian geography was based on Hellenistic geography and reached its apex with Muhammad al-Idrisi in the 12th century.


After its beginnings in the 8th century based on Hellenistic geography,[1] Islamic geography was patronized by the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad. Various Islamic scholars contributed to its development, and the most notable include Al-Khwārizmī, Abū Zayd al-Balkhī (founder of the "Balkhi school"), and Abu Rayhan Biruni.

Islamic cartographers inherited Ptolemy's Almagest and Geography in the 9th century. These works stimulated an interest in geography (particularly gazetteers) but were not slavishly followed.[2] Instead, Arabian and Persian cartography followed Al-Khwārizmī in adopting a rectangular projection, shifting Ptolemy's Prime Meridian several degrees eastward, and modifying many of Ptolemy's geographical coördinates.

Having received Greek writings directly and without Latin intermediation, Arabian and Persian geographers made no use of European-style T-O maps.[2]

Muslim scientists made many of their own contributions to geography and the earth sciences.[clarification needed] In the 11th century, the Uyghur scholar Mahmud al-Kashgari was the first to draw an ethnographic map[clarification needed] of the Turkic peoples of Central Asia.


These medieval developments influenced Chinese geography under the Mongol Empire.[3] They also provided the underpinnings of the cartographic work of the Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis.


See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Gerald R. Tibbetts, The Beginnings of a Cartographic Tradition, in: John Brian Harley, David Woodward: Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies, Chicago, 1992, pp. 90–107 (97-100), ISBN 0-226-31635-1
  2. ^ a b Edson & Savage-Smith 2004, pp. 61–63.
  3. ^ (Miya 2006; Miya 2007)

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