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Cartography and geography in ancient Greece and Hellenistic countries

Like many branches of knowledge, the origins of modern scientific knowledge of cartography and geography originate in ancient Greece. The Greeks determined the sphericity of the Earth and calculated its size. They made the first map projection and introduced in science meridians and parallels. They are the creators of maps in a strictly scientific sense of this term.

Alexandr Macedonski contribution to map science

Colonial movement, particularly strong in VIII-VI centuries BC, contributed to the development of geographic knowledge in Greece. It led to the formation of Greek colonies in the vast area from the east coast of the Pyrenean Peninsula to the northern coast of the Black Sea. These colonies had spread to almost the entire world, known by Greeks at that time. Crusades of Alexandr Macedonski (334—323 years BC), accompanied by major geographic discoveries, contributed to the further accumulation of geographical knowledge.

Anaksimandr - creator of the first map

According to the Eratosphenes, the creator of the first map of the Earth was Anaksimandr from Milet (about 610-546 y. BC), - one of the first Greek philosophers. In V century BC cartographic maps of the Earth are an isolated phenomenon in Greece. The historian Herodotus (about 484-425 y. BC), in his work on the history of Greek-Persian wars explicitly spoke of many images of the Earth (which the Greeks called “bypassing” the Earth), and describes one of them, which Aristagor, Mileta tyrant, took with him nearly 500 y. BC in Sparta, where he tried to persuade the king Kleomen to participate in Greeks revolt against Persian domination. Aristagor talked to Kleomen with copper plate in his hands; bypassing of the whole Earth, all seas and rivers were cut on the plate. In comedy, “Clouds” (423 y. BC) Athens famous playwright and poet Aristophan had already mentioned the map of the universe in Socrates school, which depicted the city area and the island of Greece.

Greek philosophers, who created the first scientific theories on the origin and structure of the world, represented the first Earth in the form of round or oval disk, floating on the surface of the boundless ocean. But in the V century BC Parmenides suggested notionally the sphericity of the Earth. Convincing evidence of this hypothesis were given in works of great ancient Aristotle (384-322 y. BC), which noted that the mathematicians, calculated the length of the Earth's circumference and found that it was 400 thousand stadiums (i.e. approximately 60 thousand kilometers, that one and a half times more than its actual size).

Alexandria in Hellenistic times

Major progress in the development of scientific knowledge has been achieved in Hellenistic times (III-I cent. BC), when Alexandria with its famous academies, museums and libraries became the most important center of science. Scientific foundation of cartography and geography, at that time a single science, was formed there.

Eratosfen contribution to map science

The most exact length of real meridian, conducted in Ancient time, belonged to Eratosfen (276-194 y. BC) - outstanding astronomer and geographer, chairman of the Alexandria Library. He calculated the length of the meridian in 252 thousand stadiums that corresponds to 39.7 thousand km, i.e. very close to the actual size of the meridian (40009 km).

In his work “geography” (survived in fragments) Eratosfen deeply examined the question of the Earth's figure, cited data on the size and form of its habitable part- ecumenes that was showed on the map. Following the example of Eratosfen other scientists of ancient world include the problem of making graphic map of Earth in geography tasks. Since that time, almost two thousands years geography and cartography (the latter term came into use only in the middle of the XIX cent.) developed indivisible, although the ratio of two components - descriptive and cartographic was uneven among different authors.

Gipparkh contiribution to map science

A major step in further improving of Earth’s map was made by the greatest ancient astronomer Gipparkh (about 190-126 y. BC). He offered to create on grid of maps meridians and parallels, identifying points of the Earth's surface position by latitude and longitude, for it marks he used borrowed from Babylonians division of circle at 360 degrees and further minute and seconds.

The development of geography in the Hellenistic countries was summarized by Strabon (about 63 y. BC - 23 y. AD). In his book “Geography in the 17 books” he gave an extensive description of the purposes of geographical science as regional geography, systematized a lot of material and characterized general condition of geographical mapping knowledge at that time.

There are plenty of written evidence and descriptions of map existence, but ancient maps do not survived till our time.