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Cartography and geography in Armenia and in countries of Arab Caliphate

Cartography in Byzantine

The crisis of ancient slave society, increased in the III-IV century BC inevitably led to a decline of ancient culture. The collapse of the Roman Empire (V cent.) caused especially heavy blow to the antique science.

Lower Empire, direct heiress of Roman Empire, developed in a different socio-economic system - feudal social relations, science was put at the service of the Christian church. Positive knowledge based on experience and intellect that had no correlations with the dogmas of theological teachings was a subject to chasing and persecution. So the main aim of maps was to illustrate the theological compositions, and to disproof the evidence of Earth sphericity.

In that respect a good example is "Christian topography", the work written in the VI c. by Byzantine Kozma Indikoplov (i.e. Sailor to India), and later in XII-XIII c., was very widespread in Russia. Being a merchant, he had traveled a lot, but wrote his work in his old age in monastery. In the description of Ethiopia, Ceylon, India and other countries Kozma Indikoplov provides extensive and valuable information, but, speaking about cosmos, strongly rejects the sphericity of the earth as a "delusion".

Remains of a Byzantine mosaic map on the floor of a Byzantine church Madab (Jordan), dated back to the end of the VI c., belong to the few known cartographic works. In the remaining part, it portrays the Nile delta, the Dead Sea and part of Palestine, including Jerusalem represented from the height.

Cartography development in Armenia

Geographical knowledge in Armenia and Arab Caliphate stands out against a background. Despite the devastation, which had suffered Armenia, being situated between Byzantium and Iran, Armenian feudal culture was rather high in V-VII centuries. Armenians knew several geographical works of Greeks including "Geography" of Ptolemy. So-called Armenian "geography" was created on the basis of Ptolemy “Geography” in the beginning of VII c. and contained an extensive text, survived to the present day, and at least 15 maps, including a map of the world, unfortunately lost. Text part was similar to the work of Ptolemy, giving description of the Earth and its inhabitable part, but it contained original material about Armenia and the countries of Asia Minor. The author of the Armenian "geography" understood that it would be very useful to draw attention to Armenian provinces, although it will require studying maps and books. Thus, the geographical works and maps were not an isolated phenomenon in Armenia. The importance of «Armenian geography" can be gauged by the fact that Ptolemy work - scientific revelation for cartographers and geographers of medieval Western Europe, became known here only in XIV c.

IX-X centuries – time of extensive development of geographic culture in the Arab Caliphate. In VII-VIII c. Arabs conquered vast territories, including Spain in the west, Central Asia in the east and the western part of India. New state - Caliphate – had all conditions contributed to the development of cartography. Detailed descriptions of the provinces, settlements, agriculture and handicraft products were required in order to charge fees and taxes. Geography was considered as a «science of roads and states”. Trade development contributed a lot to accumulation and distribution of geographical knowledge. These peculiar conditions gave birth to the diversity of geographical works, some of which interpreted geography in mathematical terms as a "science of latitude and longitude." The basis of these works was the "Geography" of Ptolemy, translated into Arabic. Legends on the maps were also written in Arabic. These maps were known in the history of cartography as Arabic, though their creators were natives of different parts of Islamic world.

Success in cartography achieved by peoples of Central Asia

Great success in the field of geography has been achieved by peoples of Central Asia. Arab yoke slowed, but not suppressed the development of their culture, and on the contrary had a tremendous impact on other people, members of Caliphate. A huge progress was reached after the fall of the Arab domination.

One of the earliest and most outstanding cartographic works, written about 830 y. belongs to mathematician and geographer al-Khorezmi from Khiva, situated in Khorezm oasis (now in Uzbekistan). The work of famous khorezmi, original processing and addition to the Ptolemy “Geography”, was widely used and valued in the Arabic world; survived four of accompanying maps, including maps of the river Nile and Meotid (the Sea of Azov).

Original Arabic tradition manifested in the so-called "Atlas of Islam", which unite cartographic works of a number of geographers in X c. It includes round map of the world and 20 Muslim maps, mainly of Iranian countries. Their performance was subject to Koran dogmas, which prohibit depicting humans and animals. Therefore maps were drawn as schemes in the form of straight lines and arcs of circles with the help of circulars and rulers. Especial interest represents geometric correctness of sea shapes, which led to disparity of sea, bays and land square (in comparison with the reality). The representation of land was abstract and not accurate. Rivers and roads, regardless of their actual shape, were drawn as straight lines. Countries and the settlements were drawn with the help of circles or polygons. Network meridians and parallels were not represented, although geography texts accompanying maps often had a lot of indications of latitude and longitude. Map projection had been known from Ptolemy work but despite of it new projections were proposed. Beruni, another famous khorezmi astronomer and geographer, in his work “Book about constellations projection and countries representation on the plane” (the end of X c.) proposed projection, later twice discovered anew in Europe in the XVII century and in 1804 by Arrousmitom whose name is often associated with it. One of the maps of "Atlas of Islam", which represents the Mediterranean Sea, is reproduced on picture below. Later atlas maps were distributed without any additions and improvements.

Arab contribution in cartography

All in all, Arab culture has created extensive geographic literature, rich practical material, but did not produce truly valuable maps. Fall of Caliphate as a single state caused decrease in Arab cartography. It rose again in the works of famous Arab scientist Al-Idris. He was born in Ceuta (Morocco), studied in Cordoba, but worked in Sicily at the court of King Roger Norman II. In his works Al-Idris also used "Geography" of Ptolemy, but apart from it he used a lot of new information of countries in Europe, North America and East, found in writings of Arab geographers and in personal observations of contemporaries. Particular interest represents his rectangular world map in 70 sheets (1154 y.), which representation is detailed and very close to reality. Later he also created round map of the world of smaller size that accompanied geographic manuscript, on which Earth Disc with centre in Mecca is framed by Ocean. All these maps differ from classical Arab maps by representation of geographical picture close to reality.