History of cartography

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The Fra Mauro map, one great medieval European map, was made around 1450 by the Venetian monk Fra Mauro. It is a circular world map drawn on parchment and set in a wooden frame, about two meters in diameter

Cartography, or mapmaking, has been an integral part of the human history for thousands of years. From cave paintings to ancient maps of Babylon, Greece, and Asia, through the Age of Exploration, and on into the 21st century, people have created and used maps as essential tools to help them define, explain, and navigate their way through the world. Maps began as two-dimensional drawings but can also adopt three-dimensional shapes (globes, models) and be stored in purely numerical forms.

The term cartography is modern, loaned into English from French cartographie in the 1840s, based on Middle Latin carta "map".


Earliest known maps[edit]

The earliest known maps are of the stars, not the earth. Dots dating to 16,500 BC found on the walls of the Lascaux caves map out part of the night sky, including the three bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair (the Summer Triangle asterism), as well as the Pleiades star cluster. The Cuevas de El Castillo in Spain contain a dot map of the Corona Borealis constellation dating from 12,000 BC.[1][2][3]

Cave painting and rock carvings used simple visual elements that may have aided in recognizing landscape features, such as hills or dwellings.[4] A map-like representation of a mountain, river, valleys and routes around Pavlov in the Czech Republic has been dated to 25,000 BC,[5] and a 14,000 BC polished chunk of sandstone from a cave in Spanish Navarre may represent similar features superimposed on animal etchings, although it may also represent a spiritual landscape, or simple incisings.[6][7]

Another ancient picture that resembles a map was created in the late 7th millennium BC in Çatalhöyük, Anatolia, modern Turkey. This wall painting may represent a plan of this Neolithic village;[8] however, recent scholarship has questioned the identification of this painting as a map.[9]

Ancient Near East[edit]

Clay tablet with map of the Babylonian city of Nippur (ca. 1400 BC)

Maps in Ancient Babylonia were made by using accurate surveying techniques.[10]

For example, a 7.6 × 6.8 cm clay tablet found in 1930 at Ga-Sur, near contemporary Kirkuk, shows a map of a river valley between two hills. Cuneiform inscriptions label the features on the map, including a plot of land described as 354 iku (12 hectares) that was owned by a person called Azala. Most scholars date the tablet to the 25th to 24th century BC; Leo Bagrow dissents with a date of 7000 BC.[page needed] Hills are shown by overlapping semicircles, rivers by lines, and cities by circles, the map also is marked to show the cardinal directions.[11]

An engraved map from the Kassite period (14th–12th centuries BC) of Babylonian history shows walls and buildings in the holy city of Nippur.[12]

In contrast, the Babylonian World Map, the earliest surviving map of the world (c. 600 BC), is a symbolic, not a literal representation. It deliberately omits peoples such as the Persians and Egyptians, who were well known to the Babylonians, the area shown is depicted as a circular shape surrounded by water, which fits the religious image of the world in which the Babylonians believed.

Examples of maps from ancient Egypt are quite rare. However, those that have survived show an emphasis on geometry and well-developed surveying techniques, perhaps stimulated by the need to re-establish the exact boundaries of properties after the annual Nile floods, the Turin Papyrus Map, dated c. 1160 BC, shows the mountains east of the Nile where gold and silver were mined, along with the location of the miners' shelters, wells, and the road network that linked the region with the mainland. Its originality can be seen in the map's inscriptions, its precise orientation, and the use of colour.

Ancient Greece[edit]

Early Greek literature[edit]

In reviewing the literature of early geography and early conceptions of the earth, all sources lead to Homer, who is considered by many (Strabo, Kish, and Dilke) as the founding father of Geography. Regardless of the doubts about Homer's existence, one thing is certain: he never was a mapmaker.

The depiction of the Earth conceived by Homer, which was accepted by the early Greeks, represents a circular flat disk surrounded by a constantly moving stream of Ocean,[13]:22 an idea which would be suggested by the appearance of the horizon as it is seen from a mountaintop or from a seacoast. Homer's knowledge of the Earth was very limited, he and his Greek contemporaries knew very little of the Earth beyond Egypt as far south as the Libyan desert, the south-west coast of Asia Minor, and the northern boundary of the Greek homeland. Furthermore, the coast of the Black Sea was only known through myths and legends that circulated during his time; in his poems there is no mention of Europe and Asia as geographical concepts.[14] That is why the big part of Homer's world that is portrayed on this interpretive map represents lands that border on the Aegean Sea, it is worth noting that even though Greeks believed that they were in the middle of the earth, they also thought that the edges of the world's disk were inhabited by savage, monstrous barbarians and strange animals and monsters; Homer's Odyssey mentions a great many of them.

Additional statements about ancient geography may be found in Hesiod's poems, probably written during the 8th century BC.[15] Through the lyrics of Works and Days and Theogony he shows to his contemporaries some definite geographical knowledge, he introduces the names of such rivers as Nile, Ister (Danube), the shores of the Bosporus, and the Euxine (Black Sea), the coast of Gaul, the island of Sicily, and a few other regions and rivers.[16] His advanced geographical knowledge not only had predated Greek colonial expansions, but also was used in the earliest Greek world maps, produced by Greek mapmakers such as Anaximander and Hecataeus of Miletus.

Early Greek maps[edit]

Prima Europe tabula. A 15th century copy of Ptolemy's map of Britain

In classical antiquity, maps were drawn by Anaximander, Hecataeus of Miletus, Herodotus, Eratosthenes, and Ptolemy using both observations by explorers and a mathematical approach.

Early steps in the development of intellectual thought in ancient Greece belonged to Ionians from their well-known city of Miletus in Asia Minor. Miletus was placed favourably to absorb aspects of Babylonian knowledge and to profit from the expanding commerce of the Mediterranean, the earliest ancient Greek who is said to have constructed a map of the world is Anaximander of Miletus (c. 611–546 BC), pupil of Thales. He believed that the earth was a cylindrical form, like a stone pillar and suspended in space,[17] the inhabited part of his world was circular, disk-shaped, and presumably located on the upper surface of the cylinder.[13]:24

Anaximander was the first ancient Greek to draw a map of the known world, it is for this reason that he is considered by many to be the first mapmaker.[18]:23 A scarcity of archaeological and written evidence prevents us from giving any assessment of his map. What we may presume is that he portrayed land and sea in a map form. Unfortunately, any definite geographical knowledge that he included in his map is lost as well, although the map has not survived, Hecataeus of Miletus (550–475 BC) produced another map fifty years later that he claimed was an improved version of the map of his illustrious predecessor.

The world according to Hekatæus, 500 BC

Hecatæus's map describes the earth as a circular plate with an encircling Ocean and Greece in the centre of the world, this was a very popular contemporary Greek worldview, derived originally from the Homeric poems. Also, similar to many other early maps in antiquity his map has no scale, as units of measurements, this map used "days of sailing" on the sea and "days of marching" on dry land.[19] The purpose of this map was to accompany Hecatæus's geographical work that was called Periodos Ges, or Journey Round the World.[18]:24 Periodos Ges was divided into two books, "Europe" and "Asia", with the latter including Libya, the name of which was an ancient term for all of the known Africa.

The work follows the assumption of the author that the world was divided into two continents, Asia and Europe, he depicts the line between the Pillars of Hercules through the Bosporus, and the Don River as a boundary between the two. Hecatæus is the first known writer who thought that the Caspian flows into the circumference ocean—an idea that persisted long into the Hellenic period, he was particularly informative on the Black Sea, adding many geographic places that already were known to Greeks through the colonization process. To the north of the Danube, according to Hecatæus, were the Rhipæan (gusty) Mountains, beyond which lived the Hyperboreans—peoples of the far north. Hecatæus depicted the origin of the Nile River at the southern circumference ocean, his view of the Nile seems to have been that it came from the southern circumference ocean. This assumption helped Hecatæus solve the mystery of the annual flooding of the Nile, he believed that the waves of the ocean were a primary cause of this occurrence.[20] It is worth mentioning that a similar map based upon one designed by Hecataeus was intended to aid political decision-making. According to Herodotus, it was engraved upon a bronze tablet and was carried to Sparta by Aristagoras during the revolt of the Ionian cities against Persian rule from 499 to 494 BC.

The world according to Anaximenes, c. 500 BC

Anaximenes of Miletus (6th century BC), who studied under Anaximander, rejected the views of his teacher regarding the shape of the earth and instead, he visualized the earth as a rectangular form supported by compressed air.

Pythagoras of Samos (c. 560–480 BC) speculated about the notion of a spherical earth with a central fire at its core. He is sometimes incorrectly credited with the introduction of a model that divides a spherical earth into five zones: one hot, two temperate, and two cold—northern and southern, this idea, known as the zonal theory of climate, is more likely to have originated at the time of Aristotle.[21]

Scylax, a sailor, made a record of his Mediterranean voyages in c. 515 BC. This is the earliest known set of Greek periploi, or sailing instructions, which became the basis for many future mapmakers, especially in the medieval period.[22]

The way in which the geographical knowledge of the Greeks advanced from the previous assumptions of the Earth's shape was through Herodotus and his conceptual view of the world, this map also did not survive and many have speculated that it was never produced. A possible reconstruction of his map is displayed below.

The world according to Herodotus, 440 BC

Herodotus traveled very extensively, collecting information and documenting his findings in his books on Europe, Asia, and Libya, he also combined his knowledge with what he learned from the people he met. Herodotus wrote his Histories in the mid-5th century BC, although his work was dedicated to the story of long struggle of the Greeks with the Persian Empire, Herodotus also included everything he knew about the geography, history, and peoples of the world. Thus, his work provides a detailed picture of the known world of the 5th century BC.

Herodotus rejected the prevailing view of most 5th century BC maps that the earth is a circular plate surrounded by Ocean; in his work he describes the earth as an irregular shape with oceans surrounding only Asia and Africa. He introduces names such as the Atlantic Sea and the Erythrean Sea, he also divided the world into three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. He depicted the boundary of Europe as the line from the Pillars of Hercules through the Bosporus and the area between Caspian Sea and Indus River, he regarded the Nile as the boundary between Asia and Africa. He speculated that the extent of Europe was much greater than was assumed at the time and left Europe's shape to be determined by future research.

In the case of Africa, he believed that, except for the small stretch of land in the vicinity of Suez, the continent was in fact surrounded by water. However, he definitely disagreed with his predecessors and contemporaries about its presumed circular shape, he based his theory on the story of Pharaoh Necho II, the ruler of Egypt between 609 and 594 BC, who had sent Phoenicians to circumnavigate Africa. Apparently, it took them three years, but they certainly did prove his idea, he speculated that the Nile River started as far west as the Ister River in Europe and cut Africa through the middle. He was the first writer to assume that the Caspian Sea was separated from other seas and he recognised northern Scythia as one of the coldest inhabited lands in the world.

Similar to his predecessors, Herodotus also made mistakes, he accepted a clear distinction between the civilized Greeks in the centre of the earth and the barbarians on the world's edges. In his Histories we can see very clearly that he believed that the world became stranger and stranger when one traveled away from Greece, until one reached the ends of the earth, where humans behaved as savages.

Spherical Earth and meridians[edit]

Whereas a number of previous Greek philosophers presumed the earth to be spherical, Aristotle (384–322 BC) is the one to be credited with proving the Earth's sphericity, those arguments may be summarized as follows:

  • The lunar eclipse is always circular
  • Ships seem to sink as they move away from view and pass the horizon
  • Some stars can be seen only from certain parts of the Earth.

A vital contribution to mapping the reality of the world came with a scientific estimate of the circumference of the earth, this event has been described as the first scientific attempt to give geographical studies a mathematical basis. The man credited for this achievement was Eratosthenes (275–195 BC), as described by George Sarton, historian of science, "there was among them [Eratosthenes's contemporaries] a man of genius but as he was working in a new field they were too stupid to recognize him".[23] His work, including On the Measurement of the Earth and Geographica, has only survived in the writings of later philosophers such as Cleomedes and Strabo. He was a devoted geographer who set out to reform and perfect the map of the world. Eratosthenes argued that accurate mapping, even if in two dimensions only, depends upon the establishment of accurate linear measurements, he was the first to calculate the circumference of the Earth (within 0.5 percent accuracy) by calculating the heights of shadows at different points in Egypt at a given time. The first in Alexandria, the other further up the Nile, in the Ancient Egyptian city of Swenet (known in Greek as Syene) where reports of a well into which the sun shone only on the summer solstice, long existed. Proximity to the Tropic of Cancer being the dynamics creating the effect, he had the distance between the two shadows calculated and then their height. From this he determined the difference in angle between the two points and calculated how large a circle would be made by adding in the rest of the degrees to 360, his great achievement in the field of cartography was the use of a new technique of charting with meridians, his imaginary north–south lines, and parallels, his imaginary west–east lines.[24] These axis lines were placed over the map of the earth with their origin in the city of Rhodes and divided the world into sectors. Then, Eratosthenes used these earth partitions to reference places on the map, he also divided Earth into five climatic regions: a torrid zone across the middle, two frigid zones at extreme north and south, and two temperate bands in between.[citation needed] He was also the first person to use the word "geography".

Claudius Ptolemy (90–168) thought that, with the aid of astronomy and mathematics, the earth could be mapped very accurately. Ptolemy revolutionized the depiction of the spherical earth on a map by using perspective projection, and suggested precise methods for fixing the position of geographic features on its surface using a coordinate system with parallels of latitude and meridians of longitude.[4][25]

Ptolemy's eight-volume atlas Geographia is a prototype of modern mapping and GIS, it included an index of place-names, with the latitude and longitude of each place to guide the search, scale, conventional signs with legends, and the practice of orienting maps so that north is at the top and east to the right of the map—an almost universal custom today.

Yet with all his important innovations, however, Ptolemy was not infallible, his most important error was a miscalculation of the circumference of the earth. He believed that Eurasia covered 180° of the globe, which convinced Christopher Columbus to sail across the Atlantic to look for a simpler and faster way to travel to India. Had Columbus known that the true figure was much greater, it is conceivable that he would never have set out on his momentous voyage.

Roman Empire[edit]

Pomponius Mela (c. 43)[edit]

Reconstruction of Pomponius Melas world map.

Pomponius is unique among ancient geographers in that, after dividing the earth into five zones, of which two only were habitable, he asserts the existence of antichthones, inhabiting the southern temperate zone inaccessible to the folk of the northern temperate regions from the unbearable heat of the intervening torrid belt, on the divisions and boundaries of Europe, Asia and Africa, he repeats Eratosthenes; like all classical geographers from Alexander the Great (except Ptolemy) he regards the Caspian Sea as an inlet of the Northern Ocean, corresponding to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea on the south.

5th-century Roman road map[edit]

In 2007, the Tabula Peutingeriana, a 12th-century replica of a 5th-century map, was placed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and displayed to the public for the first time, although well preserved and believed to be an accurate copy of an authentic original, the scroll media it is on is so delicate now it must be protected at all times from exposure to daylight.[26]


Earliest extant maps from the Qin State[edit]

The earliest known maps to have survived in China date to the 4th century BC;[27]:90 in 1986, seven ancient Chinese maps were found in an archeological excavation of a Qin State tomb in what is now Fangmatan, in the vicinity of Tianshui City, Gansu province.[27]:90 Before this find, the earliest extant maps that were known came from the Mawangdui Han tomb excavation in 1973, which found three maps on silk dated to the 2nd century BC in the early Han Dynasty,[27]:90, 93 the 4th century BC maps from the State of Qin were drawn with black ink on wooden blocks.[27]:91 These blocks fortunately survived in soaking conditions due to underground water that had seeped into the tomb; the quality of the wood had much to do with their survival.[27]:91 After two years of slow-drying techniques, the maps were fully restored.[27]:91

The territory shown in the seven Qin maps overlap each other,[27]:92 the maps display tributary river systems of the Jialing River in Sichuan province, in a total measured area of 107 by 68 km.[27]:92 The maps featured rectangular symbols encasing character names for the locations of administrative counties.[27]:92 Rivers and roads are displayed with similar line symbols; this makes interpreting the map somewhat difficult, although the labels of rivers placed in order of stream flow are helpful to modern day cartographers.[27]:92–93 These maps also feature locations where different types of timber can be gathered, while two of the maps state the distances in mileage to the timber sites;[27]:93 in light of this, these maps are perhaps the oldest economic maps in the world since they predate Strabo's economic maps.[27]:93

In addition to the seven maps on wooden blocks found at Tomb 1 of Fangmatan, a fragment of a paper map was found on the chest of the occupant of Tomb 5 of Fangmatan in 1986, this tomb is dated to the early Western Han, so the map dates to the early 2nd century BC. The map shows topographic features such as mountains, waterways and roads, and is thought to cover the area of the preceding Qin Kingdom.[28][29]

Earliest geographical writing[edit]

In China, the earliest known geographical Chinese writing dates back to the 5th century BC, during the beginning of the Warring States (481–221 BC),[30]:500 this was the Yu Gong or Tribute of Yu chapter of the Shu Jing or Book of Documents. The book describes the traditional nine provinces, their kinds of soil, their characteristic products and economic goods, their tributary goods, their trades and vocations, their state revenues and agricultural systems, and the various rivers and lakes listed and placed accordingly,[30]:500 the nine provinces in the time of this geographical work were very small in size compared to their modern Chinese counterparts. The Yu Gong's descriptions pertain to areas of the Yellow River, the lower valleys of the Yangtze, with the plain between them and the Shandong Peninsula, and to the west the most northern parts of the Wei River and the Han River were known (along with the southern parts of modern-day Shanxi province).[30]:500

Earliest known reference to a map, or 'tu'[edit]

The oldest reference to a map in China comes from the 3rd century BC,[30]:534 this was the event of 227 BC where Crown Prince Dan of Yan had his assassin Jing Ke visit the court of the ruler of the State of Qin, who would become Qin Shi Huang (r. 221–210 BC). Jing Ke was to present the ruler of Qin with a district map painted on a silk scroll, rolled up and held in a case where he hid his assassin's dagger.[30]:534 Handing to him the map of the designated territory was the first diplomatic act of submitting that district to Qin rule.[30]:534 Instead he attempted to kill Qin, an assassination plot that failed, from then on maps are frequently mentioned in Chinese sources.[30]:535

Han Dynasty and period of division[edit]

An early Western Han Dynasty (202 BC – 9 AD) silk map found in tomb 3 of Mawangdui Han tombs site, depicting the Kingdom of Changsha and Kingdom of Nanyue in southern China (note: the south direction is oriented at the top, north at the bottom).

The three Han Dynasty maps found at Mawangdui differ from the earlier Qin State maps. While the Qin maps place the cardinal direction of north at the top of the map, the Han maps are orientated with the southern direction at the top,[27]:93 the Han maps are also more complex, since they cover a much larger area, employ a large number of well-designed map symbols, and include additional information on local military sites and the local population.[27]:93 The Han maps also note measured distances between certain places, but a formal graduated scale and rectangular grid system for maps would not be used—or at least described in full—until the 3rd century (see Pei Xiu below).[27]:93–94 Among the three maps found at Mawangdui was a small map representing the tomb area where it was found, a larger topographical map showing the Han's borders along the subordinate Kingdom of Changsha and the Nanyue kingdom (of northern Vietnam and parts of modern Guangdong and Guangxi), and a map which marks the positions of Han military garrisons that were employed in an attack against Nanyue in 181 BC.[31]

An early text that mentioned maps was the Rites of Zhou,[30]:534 although attributed to the era of the Zhou Dynasty, its first recorded appearance was in the libraries of Prince Liu De (c. 130 BC), and was compiled and commented on by Liu Xin in the 1st century AD. It outlined the use of maps that were made for governmental provinces and districts, principalities, frontier boundaries, and even pinpointed locations of ores and minerals for mining facilities.[30]:534 Upon the investiture of three of his sons as feudal princes in 117 BC, Emperor Wu of Han had maps of the entire empire submitted to him.[30]:536

From the 1st century AD onwards, official Chinese historical texts contained a geographical section (Diliji), which was often an enormous compilation of changes in place-names and local administrative divisions controlled by the ruling dynasty, descriptions of mountain ranges, river systems, taxable products, etc,[30]:508 from the time of the 5th century BC Shu Jing forward, Chinese geographical writing provided more concrete information and less legendary element. This example can be seen in the 4th chapter of the Huainanzi (Book of the Master of Huainan), compiled under the editorship of Prince Liu An in 139 BC during the Han Dynasty (202 BC–202 AD). The chapter gave general descriptions of topography in a systematic fashion, given visual aids by the use of maps (di tu) due to the efforts of Liu An and his associate Zuo Wu;[30]:507–508 in Chang Chu's Hua Yang Guo Chi (Historical Geography of Szechuan) of 347, not only rivers, trade routes, and various tribes were described, but it also wrote of a 'Ba June Tu Jing' ('Map of Szechuan'), which had been made much earlier in 150.[30]:517

Local mapmaking such as the one of Szechuan mentioned above, became a widespread tradition of Chinese geographical works by the 6th century, as noted in the bibliography of the Sui Shu,[30]:518 it is during this time of the Southern and Northern Dynasties that the Liang Dynasty (502–557) cartographers also began carving maps into stone steles (alongside the maps already drawn and painted on paper and silk).[30]:543

Pei Xiu, the 'Ptolemy of China'[edit]

In the year 267,Pei Xiu (224–271) was appointed as the Minister of Works by Emperor Wu of Jin, the first emperor of the Jin Dynasty. Pei is best known for his work in cartography, although map making and use of the grid existed in China before him,[30]:106–107 he was the first to mention a plotted geometrical grid and graduated scale displayed on the surface of maps to gain greater accuracy in the estimated distance between different locations.[30]:538–540 Pei outlined six principles that should be observed when creating maps, two of which included the rectangular grid and the graduated scale for measuring distance.[30]:539–540 Historians compare him to the Greek Ptolemy for his contributions in cartography.[30]:540 However, Howard Nelson states that, although the accounts of earlier cartographic works by the inventor and official Zhang Heng (78–139) are somewhat vague and sketchy, there is ample written evidence that Pei Xiu derived the use of the rectangular grid reference from the maps of Zhang Heng.[32]:359

Later Chinese ideas about the quality of maps made during the Han Dynasty and before stem from the assessment given by Pei Xiu, which was not a positive one.[27]:96 Pei Xiu noted that the extant Han maps at his disposal were of little use since they featured too many inaccuracies and exaggerations in measured distance between locations.[27]:96 However, the Qin State maps and Mawangdui maps of the Han era were far superior in quality than those examined by Pei Xiu,[27]:96 it was not until the 20th century that Pei Xiu's 3rd century assessment of earlier maps' dismal quality would be overturned and disproven. The Qin and Han maps did have a degree of accuracy in scale and pinpointed location, but the major improvement in Pei Xiu's work and that of his contemporaries was expressing topographical elevation on maps.[27]:97

Sui and Tang dynasties[edit]

In the year 605, during the Sui Dynasty (581–618), the Commercial Commissioner Pei Ju (547–627) created a famous geometrically gridded map;[30]:543 in 610 Emperor Yang of Sui ordered government officials from throughout the empire to document in gazetteers the customs, products, and geographical features of their local areas and provinces, providing descriptive writing and drawing them all onto separate maps, which would be sent to the imperial secretariat in the capital city.[30]:518[33]:409–10

The Tang Dynasty (618–907) also had its fair share of cartographers, including the works of Xu Jingzong in 658, Wang Mingyuan in 661, and Wang Zhongsi in 747.[30]:543 Arguably the greatest geographer and cartographer of the Tang period was Jia Dan (730–805), whom Emperor Dezong of Tang entrusted in 785 to complete a map of China with her recently former inland colonies of Central Asia, the massive and detailed work completed in 801, called the Hai Nei Hua Yi Tu (Map of both Chinese and Barbarian Peoples within the (Four) Seas).[30]:543 The map was 30 ft long (9.1 m) and 33 ft high (10 m) in dimension, mapped out on a grid scale of 1-inch (25 mm) equaling 100 li (unit) (the Chinese equivalent of the mile/kilometer).[30]:543 Jia Dan is also known for having described the Persian Gulf region with great detail, along with lighthouses that were erected at the mouth of the Persian Gulf by the medieval Iranians in the Abbasid period (refer to article on Tang Dynasty for more).

Song Dynasty[edit]

The Yu Ji Tu, or Map of the Tracks of Yu Gong, carved into stone in 1137,[34] located in the Stele Forest of Xian. This 3 ft (0.91 m) squared map features a graduated scale of 100 li for each rectangular grid. China's coastline and river systems are clearly defined and precisely pinpointed on the map. Yu Gong is in reference to the Chinese deity described in the geographical chapter of the Classic of History, dated 5th century BC.

During the Song Dynasty (960–1279) Emperor Taizu of Song ordered Lu Duosun in 971 to update and 're-write all the Tu Jing in the world', which would seem to be a daunting task for one individual, who was sent out throughout the provinces to collect texts and as much data as possible.[30]:518 With the aid of Song Zhun, the massive work was completed in 1010, with some 1566 chapters,[30]:518 the later Song Shi historical text stated (Wade-Giles spelling):

Like the earlier Liang Dynasty stone-stele maps (mentioned above), there were large and intricately carved stone stele maps of the Song period, for example, the 3 ft (0.91 m) squared stone stele map of an anonymous artist in 1137, following the grid scale of 100 li squared for each grid square.[30]:Plate LXXXI What is truly remarkable about this map is the incredibly precise detail of coastal outlines and river systems in China (refer to Needham's Volume 3, Plate LXXXI for an image), the map shows 500 settlements and a dozen rivers in China, and extends as far as Korea and India. On the reverse, a copy of a more ancient map uses grid coordinates in a scale of 1:1,500,000 and shows the coastline of China with great accuracy.[35]

The famous 11th century scientist and polymath statesman Shen Kuo (1031–1095) was also a geographer and cartographer,[30]:541 his largest atlas included twenty three maps of China and foreign regions that were drawn at a uniform scale of 1:900,000.[36] Shen also created a three-dimensional raised-relief map using sawdust, wood, beeswax, and wheat paste, while representing the topography and specific locations of a frontier region to the imperial court.[36] Shen Kuo's contemporary, Su Song (1020–1101), was a cartographer who created detailed maps in order to resolve a territorial border dispute between the Song Dynasty and the Liao Dynasty.[37]

Ming and Qing dynasties[edit]

The Da Ming Hun Yi Tu map, dating from about 1390, is in multicolour. The horizontal scale is 1:820,000 and the vertical scale is 1:1,060,000.[citation needed]

The Da Ming hunyi tu map, dating from about 1390, is in multicolour, the horizontal scale is 1:820,000 and the vertical scale is 1:1,060,000.[35]

In 1579, Luo Hongxian published the Guang Yutu atlas, including more than 40 maps, a grid system, and a systematic way of representing major landmarks such as mountains, rivers, roads and borders, the Guang Yutu incorporates the discoveries of naval explorer Zheng He's 15th century voyages along the coasts of China, Southeast Asia, India and Africa.[35] The Mao Kun map published in 1628 is thought to be based on a strip map dated to the voyages of Zheng He.[38]

From the 16th and 17th centuries, several examples survive of maps focused on cultural information. Gridlines are not used on either Yu Shi's Gujin xingsheng zhi tu (1555) or Zhang Huang's Tushu bian (1613); instead, illustrations and annotations show mythical places, exotic foreign peoples, administrative changes and the deeds of historic and legendary heroes.[35] Also in the 17th century, an edition of a possible Tang Dynasty map shows clear topographical contour lines,[30]:546 although topographic features were part of maps in China for centuries, a Fujian county official Ye Chunji (1532–1595) was the first to base county maps using on-site topographical surveying and observations.[39]

The Korean made Kangnido based on two Chinese maps, which describes the Old World.

People's Republic of China era[edit]

After the 1949 revolution, the Institute of Geography under the aegis of the Chinese Academy of Sciences became responsible for official cartography and emulated the Soviet model of geography throughout the 1950s, with its emphasis on fieldwork, sound knowledge of the physical environment and the interrelation between physical and economic geography, the Russian influence counterbalanced the many pre-liberation Western-trained Chinese geography specialists who were more interested in the historical and culture aspects of cartography. As a consequence, China's main geographical journal, the Dili Xuebao (地理学报) featured many articles by Soviet geographers,[40] as Soviet influence waned in the 1960s, geographic activity continued as part of the process of modernisation until it came to a stop with the 1967 Cultural Revolution.

Mongol Empire[edit]

In the Mongol Empire, the Mongol scholars with the Persian and Chinese cartographers or their foreign colleagues created maps, geographical compendium as well as travel accounts. Rashid-al-Din Hamadani described his geographical compendium, "Suvar al-aqalim", constituted volume four of the Collected chronicles of the Ilkhanate in Persia.[41] His works says about the borders of the seven climes (old world), rivers, major cities, places, climate, and Mongol yams (relay stations), the Great Khan Khubilai's ambassador and minister, Bolad, had helped Rashid's works in relation to the Mongols and Mongolia.[42] Thanks to Pax Mongolica, the easterners and the westerners in Mongol dominions were able to gain access to one another's geographical materials.[43]

The Mongols required the nations they conquered to send geographical maps to the Mongol headquarters.[44][45]

One of medieval Persian work written in northwest Iran can clarify the historical geography of Mongolia where Genghis Khan was born and united the Mongol and Turkic nomads as recorded in native sources, especially the Secret History of the Mongols.[46]

Map of relay stations, called "yam", and strategic points existed in the Yuan Dynasty,[43] the Mongol cartography was enriched by traditions of ancient China and Iran which were now under the Mongols.

Because the Yuan court often requested the western Mongol khanates to send their maps, the Yuan Dynasty was able to publish a map describing the whole Mongol world in c.1330. This is called "Hsi-pei pi ti-li tu", the map includes the Mongol dominions including 30 cities in Iran such as Ispahan and the Ilkhanid capital Soltaniyeh, and Russia (as "Orash") as well as their neighbors, e.g. Egypt and Syria.[47]


The pundit (explorer) cartographer Nain Singh Rawat (19th century) received a Royal Geographical Society gold medal in 1876.

Indian cartographic traditions covered the locations of the Pole star and other constellations of use,[48]:330 these charts may have been in use by the beginning of the Common Era for purposes of navigation.[48]:330

Detailed maps of considerable length describing the locations of settlements, sea shores, rivers, and mountains were also made,[48]:327 the 8th century scholar Bhavabhuti conceived paintings which indicated geographical regions.[48]:328

Italian scholar Francesco Lorenzo Pullè reproduced a number of ancient Indian maps in his magnum opus La Cartografia Antica dell'India.[48]:327 Out these maps, two have been reproduced using a manuscript of Lokaprakasa, originally compiled by the polymath Ksemendra (Kashmir, 11th century), as a source,[48]:327 the other manuscript, used as a source by Pullè, is titled Samgrahani.[48]:327 The early volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica also described cartographic charts made by the Dravidian people of India.[48]:330

Maps from the Ain-e-Akbari, a Mughal document detailing India's history and traditions, contain references to locations indicated in earlier Indian cartographic traditions.[48]:327 Another map describing the kingdom of Nepal, four feet in length and about two and a half feet in breadth, was presented to Warren Hastings;[48]:328 in this map the mountains were elevated above the surface, and several geographical elements were indicated in different colors.[48]:328

Islamic cartographic schools[edit]

Arab and Persian cartography[edit]

In the Middle Ages, Muslim scholars continued and advanced on the mapmaking traditions of earlier cultures. Most used Ptolemy's methods; but they also took advantage of what explorers and merchants learned in their travels across the Muslim world, from Spain to India to Africa, and beyond in trade relationships with China, and Russia.[22]

An important influence in the development of cartography was the patronage of the Abbasid caliph, al-Ma'mun, who reigned from 813 to 833. He commissioned several geographers to remeasure the distance on earth that corresponds to one degree of celestial meridian, thus his patronage resulted in the refinement of the definition of the mile used by Arabs (mīl in Arabic) in comparison to the stadion used by Greeks. These efforts also enabled Muslims to calculate the circumference of the earth. Al-Mamun also commanded the production of a large map of the world, which has not survived,[49]:61–63 though it is known that its map projection type was based on Marinus of Tyre rather than Ptolemy.[50]:193

Also in the 9th century, the Persian mathematician and geographer, Habash al-Hasib al-Marwazi, employed spherical trigonometry and map projection methods in order to convert polar coordinates to a different coordinate system centred on a specific point on the sphere, in this the Qibla, the direction to Mecca.[51] Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī (973–1048) later developed ideas which are seen as an anticipation of the polar coordinate system.[52] Around 1025, he describes a polar equi-azimuthal equidistant projection of the celestial sphere.[53]:153 However, this type of projection had been used in ancient Egyptian star-maps and was not to be fully developed until the 15 and 16th centuries.[54]

In the early 10th century, Abū Zayd al-Balkhī, originally from Balkh, founded the "Balkhī school" of terrestrial mapping in Baghdad, the geographers of this school also wrote extensively of the peoples, products, and customs of areas in the Muslim world, with little interest in the non-Muslim realms.[49] The "Balkhī school", which included geographers such as Estakhri, al-Muqaddasi and Ibn Hawqal, produced world atlases, each one featuring a world map and twenty regional maps.[50]:194

Suhrāb, a late 10th-century Muslim geographer, accompanied a book of geographical coordinates with instructions for making a rectangular world map, with equirectangular projection or cylindrical equidistant projection,[49] the earliest surviving rectangular coordinate map is dated to the 13th century and is attributed to Hamdallah al-Mustaqfi al-Qazwini, who based it on the work of Suhrāb. The orthogonal parallel lines were separated by one degree intervals, and the map was limited to Southwest Asia and Central Asia. The earliest surviving world maps based on a rectangular coordinate grid are attributed to al-Mustawfi in the 14th or 15th century (who used invervals of ten degrees for the lines), and to Hafiz-i Abru (died 1430).[50]:200–01

Ibn Battuta (1304–1368?) wrote "Rihlah" (Travels) based on three decades of journeys, covering more than 120,000 km through northern Africa, southern Europe, and much of Asia.

Regional cartography[edit]

Islamic regional cartography is usually categorized into three groups: that produced by the "Balkhī school", the type devised by Muhammad al-Idrisi, and the type that are uniquely foundin the Book of curiosities.[49]

The maps by the Balkhī schools were defined by political, not longitudinal boundaries and covered only the Muslim world; in these maps the distances between various "stops" (cities or rivers) were equalized. The only shapes used in designs were verticals, horizontals, 90-degree angles, and arcs of circles; unnecessary geographical details were eliminated. This approach is similar to that used in subway maps, most notable used in the "London Underground Tube Map" in 1931 by Harry Beck.[49]:85–87

Al-Idrīsī defined his maps differently, he considered the extent of the known world to be 160° in longitude, and divided the region into ten parts, each 16° wide. In terms of latitude, he portioned the known world into seven 'climes', determined by the length of the longest day; in his maps, many dominant geographical features can be found.[49]

The Tabula Rogeriana, drawn by Muhammad al-Idrisi for Roger II of Sicily in 1154. Note that the north is at the bottom, and so the map appears "upside down" compared to modern cartographic conventions.
Surviving fragment of the first World Map of Piri Reis (1513) showing parts of the Americas.

Book on the appearance of the Earth[edit]

Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī's Kitāb ṣūrat al-Arḍ ("Book on the appearance of the Earth") was completed in 833. It is a revised and completed version of Ptolemy's Geography, consisting of a list of 2402 coordinates of cities and other geographical features following a general introduction.[55]

Al-Khwārizmī, Al-Ma'mun's most famous geographer, corrected Ptolemy's gross overestimate for the length of the Mediterranean Sea[50]:188 (from the Canary Islands to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean); Ptolemy overestimated it at 63 degrees of longitude, while al-Khwarizmi almost correctly estimated it at nearly 50 degrees of longitude. Al-Ma'mun's geographers "also depicted the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as open bodies of water, not land-locked seas as Ptolemy had done. "[56] Al-Khwarizmi thus set the Prime Meridian of the Old World at the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, 10–13 degrees to the east of Alexandria (the prime meridian previously set by Ptolemy) and 70 degrees to the west of Baghdad. Most medieval Muslim geographers continued to use al-Khwarizmi's prime meridian.[50]:188 Other prime meridians used were set by Abū Muhammad al-Hasan al-Hamdānī and Habash al-Hasib al-Marwazi at Ujjain, a centre of Indian astronomy, and by another anonymous writer at Basra.[50]:189

Tabula Rogeriana[edit]

The Arab geographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi, produced his medieval atlas, Tabula Rogeriana or The Recreation for Him Who Wishes to Travel Through the Countries, in 1154. He incorporated the knowledge of Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Far East gathered by Arab merchants and explorers with the information inherited from the classical geographers to create the most accurate map of the world in pre-modern times.[57] With funding from Roger II of Sicily (1097–1154), al-Idrisi drew on the knowledge collected at the University of Cordoba and paid draftsmen to make journeys and map their routes, the book describes the earth as a sphere with a circumference of 22,900 miles (36,900 km) but maps it in 70 rectangular sections. Notable features include the correct dual sources of the Nile, the coast of Ghana and mentions of Norway. Climate zones were a chief organizational principle. A second and shortened copy from 1192 called Garden of Joys is known by scholars as the Little Idrisi.[22]

On the work of al-Idrisi, S. P. Scott commented:[57]

The compilation of Edrisi marks an era in the history of science. Not only is its historical information most interesting and valuable, but its descriptions of many parts of the earth are still authoritative, for three centuries geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes which form the Nile, as delineated in his work, does not differ greatly from that established by Baker and Stanley more than seven hundred years afterwards, and their number is the same, the mechanical genius of the author was not inferior to his erudition. The celestial and terrestrial planisphere of silver which he constructed for his royal patron was nearly six feet in diameter, and weighed four hundred and fifty pounds; upon the one side the zodiac and the constellations, upon the other—divided for convenience into segments—the bodies of land and water, with the respective situations of the various countries, were engraved.

— S. P. Scott, History of the Moorish Empire in Europe

Piri Reis map of the Ottoman Empire[edit]

The Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis published navigational maps in his Kitab-ı Bahriye, the work includes an atlas of charts for small segments of the mediterranean, accompanied by sailing instructions covering the sea. In the second version of the work, he included a map of the Americas,[49]:106 the Piri Reis map drawn by the Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis in 1513, is one of the oldest surviving maps to show the Americas.[58]:268–272[59][60][61]

Polynesian stick charts[edit]

The Polynesian peoples who explored and settled the Pacific islands in the first two millenniums AD used maps to navigate across large distances. A surviving map from the Marshall Islands uses sticks tied in a grid with palm strips representing wave and wind patterns, with shells attached to show the location of islands.[62] Other maps were created as needed using temporary arrangements of stones or shells.[63]

Early modern cartography[edit]

The Gough Map, a road map of 14th century Britain

Medieval maps and the Mappa Mundi[edit]

Map of the Holy Land, Pietro Vesconte, 1321. Described by Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld as "the first non-Ptolemaic map of a definite country"[64]

Medieval maps of the world in Europe were mainly symbolic in form along the lines of the much earlier Babylonian World Map. Known as Mappa Mundi (clothes of the world) these maps were circular or symmetrical cosmological diagrams representing the Earth's single land mass as disk-shaped and surrounded by ocean.[4]

Italian cartography and the birth of portolan charts[edit]

Roger Bacon's investigations of map projections and the appearance of portolano and then portolan charts for plying the European trade routes were rare innovations of the period. The Majorcan school is contrasted with the contemporary Italian cartography school, the Carta Pisana portolan chart, made at the end of the 13th century (1275–1300), is the oldest surviving nautical chart (that is, not simply a map but a document showing accurate navigational directions).[65]

Iberian cartographic schools[edit]

The Majorcan cartographic school and the "normal" portolan chart[edit]

Detail of Catalan Atlas, the first compass rose depicted on a map. Notice the Pole Star set on N.

The Majorcan cartographic school was a predominantly Jewish cooperation of cartographers, cosmographers and navigational instrument-makers in late 13th to the 14th and 15th Century Majorca. With their multicultural heritage unstressed by fundamentalistic academic Christian traditions, the Majorcan cartographic school experimented and developed unique cartographic techniques, as it can be seen in the Catalan Atlas, the Majorcan school was (co-)responsible for the invention (c.1300) of the "Normal Portolan chart". It was a contemporary superior, detailed nautical model chart, gridded by compass lines.

Catalan Atlas drawn and written in 1375 saved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Iberian cartography in the Age of Exploration[edit]

World Map by Juan de la Cosa, the first map showing the Americas.

In the Renaissance, with the renewed interest in classical works, maps became more like surveys once again, while the discovery of the Americas by Europeans and the subsequent effort to control and divide those lands revived interest in scientific mapping methods. Peter Whitfield, the author of several books on the history of maps, credits European mapmaking as a factor in the global spread of western power: "Men in Seville, Amsterdam or London had access to knowledge of America, Brazil, or India, while the native peoples knew only their own immediate environment" (Whitfield). Jordan Branch and his advisor, Steven Weber, propose that the power of large kingdoms and nation states of later history are an inadvertent byproduct of 15th-century advances in map-making technologies.[66][67]

During the 15th and 16th centuries, Iberian powers (Kingdom of Spain and Kingdom of Portugal) were at the vanguard of European overseas exploration, discovering and mapping the coasts of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, in what became known as the Age of Discovery (also known as the Age of Exploration). Spain and Portugal were magnets for the talent, science and technology from the Italian city-states.

Portugal's methodical expeditions started in 1419 along West Africa's coast under the sponsorship of Prince Henry the Navigator, with Bartolomeu Dias reaching the Cape of Good Hope and entering the Indian Ocean in 1488. Ten years later, in 1498, Vasco da Gama led the first fleet around Africa to India, arriving in Calicut and starting a maritime route from Portugal to India. Soon, after Pedro Álvares Cabral reaching Brazil (1500), explorations proceed to Southeast Asia, having sent the first direct European maritime trade and diplomatic missions to Ming China and to Japan (1542).

In 1492, when a Spanish expedition headed by Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus sailed west to find a new trade route to the Far East but inadvertently found the Americas. Columbus's first two voyages (1492–93) reached the Bahamas and various Caribbean islands, including Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The post-1492 era is known as the period of the Columbian Exchange, a dramatically widespread exchange of animals, plants, culture, human populations (including slaves), communicable disease, and ideas between the American and Afro-Eurasian hemispheres following Columbus's voyages to the Americas.

The Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation was the first known voyage around the world in human history. It was a Spanish expedition that sailed from Seville in 1519 under the command of Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan in search of a maritime path from the Americas to the East Asia across the Pacific Ocean. Following Magellan's death in Mactan (Philippines) in 1521, Juan Sebastián Elcano took command of the expedition, sailing to Borneo, the Spice Islands and back to Spain across the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope and north along the west coast of Africa. They arrived in Spain three years after they left, in 1522.

  • c. 1485: Portuguese cartographer Pedro Reinel made the oldest known signed Portuguese nautical chart.
  • 1492: Cartographer Jorge de Aguiar made the oldest known signed and dated Portuguese nautical chart.
  • 1537: Much of Portuguese mathematician and cosmographer Pedro Nunes' work related to navigation. He was the first to understand why a ship maintaining a steady course would not travel along a great circle, the shortest path between two points on Earth, but would instead follow a spiral course, called a loxodrome. These lines —also called rhumb lines— maintain a fixed angle with the meridians; in other words, loxodromic curves are directly related to the construction of the Nunes connection —also called navigator connection. In his Treatise in Defense of the Marine Chart (1537), Nunes argued that a nautical chart should have its parallels and meridians shown as straight lines. Yet he was unsure how to solve the problems that this caused: a situation that lasted until Mercator developed the projection bearing his name, the Mercator Projection is the system which is still used.
Nautical chart by Pedro Reinel (c. 1504), one of the first based on astronomical observations and to depict a scale of latitudes.
First maps of the Americas[edit]

The Spanish cartographer and explorer Juan de la Cosa sailed with Christopher Columbus, he created the first known cartographic representations showing both the Americas as well as Africa and Eurasia.

  • 1502: Unknown Portuguese cartographer made the Cantino planisphere, the first nautical chart to implicitly represent latitudes.
  • 1504: Portuguese cartographer Pedro Reinel made the oldest known nautical chart with a scale of latitudes.
  • 1519 : Portuguese cartographers Lopo Homem, Pedro Reinel and Jorge Reinel made the group of maps known today as the Miller Atlas or Lopo Homem – Reinéis Atlas.
  • 1530: Alonzo de Santa Cruz, Spanish cartographer, produced the first map of magnetic variations from true north. He believed it would be of use in finding the correct longitude. Santa Cruz also designed new nautical instruments,[68] and was interested in navigational methods.
Padrón Real of the Spanish Empire[edit]
World Map by Diogo Ribeiro.

The Spanish House of Trade, founded 1504 in Seville, had a large contingent of cartographers, as Spain's overseas empire expanded, the master map or Padrón Real was mandated by the Spanish monarch in 1508 and updated subsequently as more information became available with each ship returning to Seville.[69][70][71]

Diogo Ribeiro, a Portuguese cartographer working for Spain, made what is considered the first scientific world map: the 1527 Padrón real.[72] The layout of the map (Mapamundi) is strongly influenced by the information obtained during the Magellan-Elcano trip around the world. Diogo's map delineates very precisely the coasts of Central and South America, the map shows, for the first time, the real extension of the Pacific Ocean. It also shows, for the first time, the North American coast as a continuous one (probably influenced by the Esteban Gómez's exploration in 1525), it also shows the demarcation of the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Two prominent cosmographers (as mapmakers were then known) of the House of Trade were Alonso de Santa Cruz and Juan López de Velasco, who directed mapmaking under Philip II, without ever going to the New World, their maps were based on information they received from returning navigators. Using repeatable principles that underpin mapmaking, their map making techniques could be employed anywhere. Philip II sought extensive information about his overseas empire, both in written textual form and in the production of maps.[73]

German cartography[edit]

Martin Behaim's Erdapfel (1492) is considered to be the oldest surviving terrestrial globe.
Universalis Cosmographia, the Waldseemüller wall map dated 1507, depicts the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Ocean separating Asia from the Americas, by the Italian Amerigo Vespucci.

Netherlandish cartography[edit]

World map Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by Ortelius (1570). The period of late 16th and much of the 17th century (approximately 1570–1670s) has been called the "Golden Age of Dutch cartography" (also known as the "Golden Age of Netherlandish cartography"). The cartographers/publishers of Antwerp and Amsterdam, especially, were leaders in supplying maps and charts for almost Europe.
Blaeu's world map, originally prepared by Joan Blaeu for his Atlas Maior, published in the first book of the Atlas Van Loon (1664).
The Art of Painting by the Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer (c. 1665–1668). There was always a cultural relationship between many Dutch Golden Age artists (like Vermeer) and cartographic works, the "Golden Age of Netherlandish cartography" (of the 16th and 17th centuries) was a period of the unique combination of scientific, artistic, and economic elements in the history of mapmaking.

Until the fall of Antwerp (1585), the Dutch and Flemish were generally seen as one people, Frisians, specifically. The center for cartographic activities in sixteenth-century Low Countries was Antwerp, a city of printers, booksellers, engravers, and artists, but Leuven was the center of learning and the meeting place of scholars and students at the university. Mathematics, globemaking, and instrumentmaking were practiced in and around the University of Leuven as early as the first decades of the sixteenth century, the university is the oldest in the Low Countries and the oldest center of both scientific and practical cartography. Without the influence of several outstanding scholars of the Leuven University (such as Gemma Frisius, Gerardus Mercator, and Jacob van Deventer), cartography in the Low Countries would not have attained the quality and exerted the influence that it did.[74]

Notable representatives of the Netherlandish school of cartography and geography (1500s–1600s) include: Franciscus Monachus, Gemma Frisius, Gaspard van der Heyden, Gerard Mercator, Abraham Ortelius, Christophe Plantin, Lucas Waghenaer, Jacob van Deventer, Willebrord Snell, Hessel Gerritsz, Petrus Plancius, Jodocus Hondius, Henricus Hondius II, Hendrik Hondius I, Willem Blaeu, Joan Blaeu, Johannes Janssonius, Andreas Cellarius, Gerard de Jode, Cornelis de Jode, Claes Visscher, Nicolaes Visscher I, Nicolaes Visscher II, and Frederik de Wit. Leuven, Antwerp, and Amsterdam were the main centres of the Netherlandish school of cartography in its golden age (the 16th and 17th centuries, approximately 1570–1670s). The Golden Age of Dutch cartography (also known as the Golden Age of Netherlandish cartography) that was inaugurated in the Southern Netherlands (current Belgium; mainly in Leuven and Antwerp) by Mercator and Ortelius found its fullest expression during the seventeenth century with the production of monumental multi-volume world atlases in the Dutch Republic (mainly in Amsterdam) by competing mapmaking firms such as Lucas Waghenaer, Joan Blaeu, Jan Janssonius, Claes Janszoon Visscher, and Frederik de Wit.[75]

In the early modern period, Dutch-speaking cartographers made important contributions to the art of map design. Netherlandish (Dutch & Flemish) cartographers' publications are remarkable milestones in the history of cartography, the extant editions are not only valuable sources of contemporary geographic knowledge but also fine works of art. The main role in this was played by a special artistic atmosphere of the Netherlands (or the Low Countries) in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Low Countries experienced cultural and economic booms that was combined with enthusiasm of different classes of people for geography and maps. The unique atmosphere made mapmaking a form of art. Cartography and visual arts were related activities: art and mapmaking interacted with each other: many cartographic elements, such as images, colour, and lettering, were shared with art; tools and methods used to produce maps and artistic works were very similar in printmaking and in mapmaking: copperplate engravings, which were hand coloured in later, required specific artistic skills; a significant number of both little-known and the most outstanding artists were involved in decorating maps; maps and art works were often performed by the same artists, engravers and publishers who worked for both areas; artists, engravers and mapmakers belonged to the same group of society that determined the development of culture in many areas. As James A. Welu (1987) notes, "For roughly a century, from 1570 to 1670, mapmakers working in the Low Countries brought about unprecedented advances in the art of cartography, the maps, charts, and globes issued during this period, at first mainly in Antwerp and later in Amsterdam, are distinguished not only by their accuracy according to the knowledge of the time, but also by their richness of ornamentation, a combination of science and art that has rarely been surpassed in the history of mapmaking."[76]

Gemma Frisius was the first to propose the use of a chronometer to determine longitude in 1530. In his book On the Principles of Astronomy and Cosmography (1530), Frisius explains for the first time how to use a very accurate clock to determine longitude.[77] The problem was that in Frisius' day, no clock was sufficiently precise to use his method; in 1761, the British clock-builder John Harrison constructed the first marine chronometer, which allowed the method developed by Frisius. Triangulation had first emerged as an efficient method in cartography (mapmaking) in the mid sixteenth century when Frisius set out the idea in his Libellus de locorum describendorum ratione (Booklet concerning a way of describing places). Dutch scientists Jacob van Deventer and Willebrord Snell were among the firsts to make systematic use of triangulation in modern surveying, the technique whose theory was described by Frisius in his 1533 book. Gerardus Mercator is considered as one of the founders of modern cartography with his invention of Mercator projection. Mercator was the first to use the term 'atlas' (in a geographical context) to describe a bound collection of maps through his own collection entitled "Atlas sive Cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mvndi et fabricati figvra" (1595), the hypothesis that continents might have 'drifted' was first put forward by Abraham Ortelius in 1596.

Some notable scholars/historians of Netherlandish cartography and geography include Cornelis Koeman,[78] Peter van der Krogt, Günter Schilder,[79][80][81][82][83] Benjamin Schmidt, Elizabeth A. Sutton,[84][85][86] Claudia Swan, and Kees Zandvliet.[87][88]

Habsburg Netherlands[edit]

Gerardus Mercator, Mercator projection, and the concept of atlas[edit]

Gerardus Mercator, the German-Netherlandish[89] cartographer and geographer with a vast output of wall maps, bound maps, globes and scientific instruments but his greatest legacy was the mathematical projection he devised for his 1569 world map.

The Mercator projection is an example of a cylindrical projection in which the meridians are straight and perpendicular to the parallels. As a result, the map has a constant width and the parallels are stretched east-west as the poles are approached. Mercator's insight was to stretch the separation of the parallels in a way which exactly compensates for their increasing length, thus preserving shapes of small regions, albeit at the expense of global distortion, such a conformal map projection necessarily transforms rhumb lines, sailing courses of a constant bearing, into straight lines on the map thus greatly facilitating navigation. That this was Mercator's intention is clear from the title: Nova et Aucta Orbis Terrae Descriptio ad Usum Navigantium Emendate Accommodata which translates as "New and more complete representation of the terrestrial globe properly adapted for use in navigation". Although the projection's adoption was slow, by the end of the seventeenth century it was in use for naval charts throughout the world and remains so to the present day. It's later adoption as the all-purpose world map was unfortunate step.[90]

Mercator spent the last thirty years of his life working on a vast project, the Cosmographia;[91] a description of the whole universe including the creation and a description of the topography, history and institutions of all countries. The word atlas makes its first appearance in the title of the final volume: "Atlas sive cosmographicae meditationes de fabrica mundi et fabricati figura",[92] this translates as Atlas OR cosmographical meditations upon the creation of the universe, and the universe as created, thus providing Mercator's definition of the term atlas. These volumes devote slightly less than one half of their pages to maps: Mercator did not use the term solely to describe a bound collection of maps, his choice of title was motivated by his respect for King Atlas, a mythical king of Mauretania and the son of the globe-bearing Titan of the same name.[93]

Abraham Ortelius and the birth of modern world atlases[edit]

Abraham Ortelius generally recognized as the creator of the world's first modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World). Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570) is considered the first true atlas in the modern sense: a collection of uniform map sheets and sustaining text bound to form a book for which copper printing plates were specifically engraved, it is sometimes referred to as the summary of sixteenth-century cartography.[94][95][96][97]

United Netherlands (Dutch Republic & Dutch Empire)[edit]

In the Age of Discovery (Age of Exploration), the Dutch were the first (non-natives) to undisputedly explore and map many unknown isolated areas of the world, such as the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.
Regions of Oceania (including Australasia, Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia). "The Island Continent" Australia, sometimes in the role of "Earth's largest island but smallest continent", was the last human-inhabited continent to be largely known to the civilized world. In the 17th-century the Dutch were the most remarkable navigators and explorers of the world.

During the Age of Discovery (the Dutch Golden Age in particular, approximately 1580s–1702), using their expertise in doing business, cartography, shipbuilding, seafaring and navigation, the Dutch traveled to the far corners of the world, leaving their language embedded in the names of many places.[98][99] Dutch exploratory voyages revealed largely unknown landmasses to the civilized world and put their names on the world map. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Dutch-speaking cartographers[100] helped lay the foundations for the birth and development of modern cartography, including nautical cartography and stellar cartography (celestial cartography). The Dutch-speaking people came to dominate the map making and map printing industry by virtue of their own travels, trade ventures, and widespread commercial networks,[101] the Dutch initiated what we would call today the free flow of geographical information. As Dutch ships reached into the unknown corners of the globe, Dutch cartographers incorporated new discoveries into their work. Instead of using the information themselves secretly, they published it, so the maps multiplied freely, the Dutch were the first (non-natives) to undisputedly discover, explore and map many unknown isolated areas of the world such as Svalbard, Australia,[102] New Zealand, Tonga, Sakhalin,[103] and Easter Island. In many cases the Dutch were the first Europeans the natives would encounter.[104] Australia (originally known as New Holland), never became a permanent Dutch settlement,[105] yet the Dutch were the first to undisputedly map its coastline. The Dutch navigators charted almost three-quarters of the Australian coastline, except the east coast, during the Age of Exploration, the Dutch explorers and cartographers were also the first to systematically observe and map (chart) the largely unknown far southern skies – the first significant scientific addition to the celestial cartography since Ptolemy's time (2nd century AD). Among the IAU's 88 modern constellations, there are 15 Dutch-created constellations, including 12 southern constellations.[106][107][108]

Gemma Frisius, Willebrord Snell, and the rise of triangulation as a mapmaking method[edit]

Triangulation had first emerged as a map-making method in the mid sixteenth century when Gemma Frisius set out the idea in his Libellus de locorum describendorum ratione (Booklet concerning a way of describing places).[109][110][111][112][113][114] Dutch cartographer Jacob van Deventer was among the first to make systematic use of triangulation, the technique whose theory was described by Gemma Frisius in his 1533 book.

The modern systematic use of triangulation networks stems from the work of the Dutch mathematician Willebrord Snell (born Willebrord Snel van Royen), who in 1615 surveyed the distance from Alkmaar to Bergen op Zoom, approximately 70 miles (110 kilometres), using a chain of quadrangles containing 33 triangles in all.[115][116][117] The two towns were separated by one degree on the meridian, so from his measurement he was able to calculate a value for the circumference of the earth – a feat celebrated in the title of his book Eratosthenes Batavus (The Dutch Eratosthenes), published in 1617. Snell's methods were taken up by Jean Picard who in 1669–70 surveyed one degree of latitude along the Paris Meridian using a chain of thirteen triangles stretching north from Paris to the clocktower of Sourdon, near Amiens.

Lucas Waghenaer and the rise of Dutch maritime cartography[edit]
Portugal by Waghenaer (1584). The publication of Waghenaer's De Spieghel der Zeevaerdt (1584) is widely considered as one of the most important developments in the history of nautical cartography.

The first printed atlas of nautical charts (De Spieghel der Zeevaerdt or The Mirror of Navigation / The Mariner's Mirror) was produced by Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer in Leiden in 1584. This atlas was the first attempt to systematically codify nautical maps, this chart-book combined an atlas of nautical charts and sailing directions with instructions for navigation on the western and north-western coastal waters of Europe. It was the first of its kind in the history of maritime cartography, and was an immediate success, the English translation of Waghenaer's work was published in 1588 and became so popular that any volume of sea charts soon became known as a “waggoner” (an atlas book of engraved nautical charts with accompanying printed sailing directions), the Anglicized form of Waghenaer's surname.[118][119][120][121][122][123][124]

Dutch celestial cartography in the Age of Exploration[edit]
The Dutch celestial cartographers were the first to systematically observe and map (chart) the largely unknown far southern skies in the late 16th century. Among the 88 IAU-recognized constellations, there are 15 constellations created by Dutch celestial cartographers in the Golden Age of Dutch exploration and discovery (ca. 1590s–1720s), including 12 southern constellations.[125]

The constellations around the South Pole were not observable from north of the equator, by the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians, or Arabs. During the Age of Exploration, expeditions to the southern hemisphere began to result in the addition of new constellations, the modern constellations in this region were defined notably by Dutch navigators Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman,[126][127][128][129][130] who in 1595 traveled together to the East Indies (first Dutch expedition to Indonesia). These 12 newly Dutch-created southern constellations (that including Apus, Chamaeleon, Dorado, Grus, Hydrus, Indus, Musca, Pavo, Phoenix, Triangulum Australe, Tucana and Volans) first appeared on a 35-cm diameter celestial globe published in 1597/1598 in Amsterdam by Dutch cartographers Petrus Plancius and Jodocus Hondius. The first depiction of these constellations in a celestial atlas was in Johann Bayer's Uranometria of 1603.

In 1660, German-born Dutch cartographer Andreas Cellarius' star atlas (Harmonia Macrocosmica) was published by Johannes Janssonius in Amsterdam.

Competing mapmaking firms in the age of corporate cartography[edit]
Australia (Nova Hollandia) was the last human-inhabited continent to be explored and mapped (by non-natives). The Dutch were the first to undisputedly explore and map Australia's coastline. The Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) was a major force behind the Golden Age of Dutch exploration (ca. 1590s–1720s) and Netherlandish cartography. In the 17th century, the VOC's navigators charted almost three-quarters of the Australian coastline, except the east coast.

The Dutch dominated the commercial cartography (corporate cartography) during the seventeenth century through the publicly traded companies (such as the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company) and the competing privately held map-making houses/firms. In the book Capitalism and Cartography in the Dutch Golden Age (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Elizabeth A. Sutton explores the fascinating but previously neglected history of corporate (commercial) cartography during the Dutch Golden Age, from ca. 1600 to 1650. Maps were used as propaganda tools for both the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the Dutch West India Company (WIC) in order to encourage the commodification of land and an overall capitalist agenda.

In the long run the competition between map-making firms Blaeu and Janssonius resulted in the publication of an 'Atlas Maior' or 'Major Atlas'; in 1662 the Latin edition of Joan Blaeu's Atlas Maior appeared in eleven volumes and with approximately 600 maps. In the years to come French and Dutch editions followed in twelve and nine volumes respectively. Purely judging from the number of maps in the Atlas Maior, Blaeu had outdone his rival Johannes Janssonius. And also from a commercial point of view it was a huge success. Also due to the superior typography the Atlas Maior by Blaeu soon became a status symbol for rich citizens. Costing 350 guilders for a non-coloured and 450 guilders for a coloured version, the atlas was the most precious book of the 17th century. However, the Atlas Maior was also a turning point: after that time the role of Dutch cartography (and Netherlandish cartography in general) was finished. Janssonius died in 1664 while a great fire in 1672 destroyed one of Blaeu's print shops; in that fire a part of the copperplates went up in flames. Fairly soon afterwards Joan Blaeu died, in 1673, the almost 2,000 copperplates of Janssonius and Blaeu found their way to other publishers.

French cartography[edit]

Dieppe school of cartographers[edit]

The Dieppe maps are a series of world maps produced in Dieppe, France, in the 1540s, 1550s and 1560s, they are large hand-produced maps, commissioned for wealthy and royal patrons, including Henry II of France and Henry VIII of England. The Dieppe school of cartographers included Pierre Desceliers, Johne Rotz, Guillaume Le Testu, Guillaume Brouscon and Nicolas Desliens.

Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille and the charting of far southern skies[edit]

First modern topographic map of France[edit]

In the 1670s the astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini began work on the first modern topographic map in France, it was completed in 1789 or 1793 by his grandson Cassini de Thury.[131][132]

Further developments in modern cartography[edit]

Eighteenth century[edit]

A general map of the world by Samuel Dunn, 1794, containing star chart, map of the Solar System, map of the Moon and other features along with Earth's both hemispheres.

The Vertical Perspective projection was first used by the German map publisher Matthias Seutter in 1740, he placed his observer at ~12,750 km distance. This is the type of projection used today by Google Earth.[54]

The changes in the use of military maps was also part of the modern Military revolution, which changed the need for information as the scale of conflict increases as well, this created a need for maps to help with "... consistency, regularity and uniformity in military conflict."[133]

The final form of the equidistant conic projection was constructed by the French astronomer Joseph-Nicolas Delisle in 1745.[54]

The Swiss mathematician Johann Lambert invented several hemispheric map projections; in 1772 he created the Lambert conformal conic and Lambert azimuthal equal-area projections.[54]

The Albers equal-area conic projection features no distortion along standard parallels. It was invented by Heinrich Albers in 1805.[54][134]

In 1715 Herman Moll published the Beaver Map, one of the most famous early maps of North America, which he copied from a 1698 work by Nicolas de Fer.

In 1763–1767 Captain James Cook mapped Newfoundland.

In 1777 Colonel Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres created a monumental four volume atlas of North America, Atlantic Neptune.

A survey of Boston Harbor from Atlantic Neptune.

In the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries, explorers mapped trails and army engineers surveyed government lands. Two agencies were established to provide more detailed, large-scale mapping, they were the U.S. Geological Survey and the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (now the National Geodetic Survey under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association).

Nineteenth century[edit]

"Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Méjico by John Distrunell, the 1847 map used during the negotiations of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the Mexican–American War.

During his travels in Spanish America (1799–1804) Alexander von Humboldt created the most accurate map of New Spain (now Mexico) to date. Published as part of his Essai politique sur le royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne (1811) (Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain), Humboldt's Carte du Mexique (1804) was based on existing maps of Mexico, but with Humboldt's careful attention to latitude and longitude. Landing at the Pacific coast port of Acapulco in 1803, Humboldt did not leave the port area for Mexico City until he produced a map of the port; when leaving he drew a map of the east coast port of Veracruz, as well as a map of the central plateau of Mexico. Given royal authorization from the Spanish crown for his trip, crown officials in Mexico were eager to aid Humboldt's research, he had access to José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez's Mapa del Arzobispado de México (1768), which he deemed "very bad", as well as the seventeenth-century map of greater Mexico City by savant Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora.[135]

John Disturnell, a businessman and publisher of guidebooks and maps, published Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Méjico, which was used in the negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), following the Mexican–American War, based on the 1822 map by U.S. cartographer Henry Schenck Tanner.[136] This map has been described as showing U.S. Manifest Destiny; a copy of the map was offered for sale in 2016 for $65,000. Map making at that time was important for both Mexico and the United States.[137]

The Greenwich prime meridian became the international standard reference for cartographers in 1884.

Twentieth century[edit]

During the 20th century, maps became more abundant due to improvements in printing and photography that made production cheaper and easier. Airplanes made it possible to photograph large areas at a time.

Two-Point Equidistant projection was first drawn up by Hans Maurer in 1919; in this projection the distance from any point on the map to either of the two regulating points is accurate.[54]

The loximuthal projection was constructed by Karl Siemon in 1935 and refined by Waldo Tobler in 1966.[54]

Since the mid-1990s, the use of computers in map making has helped to store, sort, and arrange data for mapping in order to create map projections.[138]


Software development[edit]

Nowadays map making heavy relies on computer software to develop and provide a variety of services, a trend that already started at the end of the previous century, for instance, self-location, browser search of places, business, products, and area and distance calculation. At the present time, computer based software is dominated by big companies that offer their services to a worldwide public, such as google maps, bing maps, National Geographic maps, ESRI Geographic Information System (GIS), CartoDB, Mapbox, etc. Many other state-based, regional and smaller initiatives and companies offer their services, the list of online map services is quite long and is growing everyday.

Historical map collections[edit]

Recent development also include the integration of ancient maps and modern scholar research combined with modern computer software to elaborate periodical history maps. Initiatives such as Euratlas History Maps (they cover whole Europe from year 1 AD to the present), Centennia Historical Atlas (they cover Europe from year 1000AD to the present), Geacron and many others who work in what's called Historical Cartography. These maps include evolution of countries, provinces and cities, wars and battles, the history of border changes, etc.

Today historical cartography is thriving, the specialization of map services is ever growing. New map projections are still being developed, university map collections, such as Perry-Castañeda Library Map Colletction at the University of Texas, offer better and more diverse maps and map tools every day, making available for their students and the broad public ancient maps that in the past where difficult to find. David Rumsey Historical map collection is nowadays a worldwide known initiative.

Self-publishing tools[edit]

Never in the past there were many "edit-yourself" map tools and software available for non-specialist. Map blogs and self-publishing are common.

History of cartography's technological changes[edit]

More at Cartography § Technological changes
A portrait of a mapmaker looking up intently from his charts and holding a caliper, 1714.

In cartography, technology has continually changed in order to meet the demands of new generations of mapmakers and map users, the first maps were manually constructed with brushes and parchment and therefore varied in quality and were limited in distribution. The advent of the compass, printing press, telescope, sextant, quadrant and vernier allowed for the creation of far more accurate maps and the ability to make accurate reproductions. Professor Steven Weber of the University of California, Berkeley, has advanced the hypothesis that the concept of the "nation state" is an inadvertent byproduct of 15th-century advances in map-making technologies.[66][67]

Advances in photochemical technology, such as the lithographic and photochemical processes, have allowed for the creation of maps that have fine details, do not distort in shape and resist moisture and wear, this also eliminated the need for engraving which further shortened the time it takes to make and reproduce maps.

In the mid-to-late 20th century, advances in electronic technology have led to further revolution in cartography. Specifically computer hardware devices such as computer screens, plotters, printers, scanners (remote and document) and analytic stereo plotters along with visualization, image processing, spatial analysis and database software, have democratized and greatly expanded the making of maps, particularly with their ability to produce maps that show slightly different features, without engraving a new printing plate. See also digital raster graphic and History of web mapping.

Aerial photography and satellite imagery have provided high-accuracy, high-throughput methods for mapping physical features over large areas, such as coastlines, roads, buildings, and topography.

See also[edit]

Related histories[edit]


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  103. ^ The first European known to visit Sakhalin was Martin Gerritz de Vries, who mapped Cape Patience and Cape Aniva on the island's east coast in 1643. The Dutch captain, however, was not aware of their being on an island, and 17th century maps usually showed these points—and often Hokkaido, too—as parts of the mainland.
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  108. ^ Among 15 Dutch-created constellations (recognized by the IAU), three constellations including Camelopardalis, Columba, and Monoceros, formed by Petrus Plancius in 1592 and in 1613, are often erroneously attributed to Jacob Bartsch and Augustin Royer
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  110. ^ Stachurski, Richard (2009). Longitude by Wire: Finding North America, p. 10
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  112. ^ Bagrow, Leo (2010). History of Cartography, p. 159
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  114. ^ Bellos, Alex (2014). The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life, p. 74
  115. ^ Kirby, Richard Shelton et al. (1990). Engineering in History, p. 131
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  117. ^ Devreese, Jozef T.; Vanden Berghe, Guido (2009). Magic is No Magic: The Wonderful World of Simon Stevin, p. 272
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  120. ^ Buisseret, David (2003). The Mapmakers' Quest: Depicting New Worlds in Renaissance Europe
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  122. ^ Lasater, Brian (2007). The Dream of the West, Part II, p. 317
  123. ^ Thrower, Norman J. W. (2008). Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society, Third Edition, p. 84
  124. ^ Kieding, Robert B. (2011). Scuttlebutt: Tales and Experiences of a Life at Sea, p. 290
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  126. ^ Knobel, E. B. (1917). On Frederick de Houtman's Catalogue of Southern Stars, and the Origin of the Southern Constellations. (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 77, pp.  414–32)
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  134. ^ Furuti, Carlos A. (November 18, 2013). "Conic Projections". 
  135. ^ Magali M. Carrera, Traveling from New Spain to Mexico: Mapping Practices on Nineteenth-century Mexico. Durham: Duke University Press 2011, pp. 74–75.
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  137. ^ Paula Rebert, La Gran Línea: Mapping the United States-Mexico Boundary, 1849–1857. Austin: University of Texas Press 2001.
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External links[edit]

See Maps for more links to historical maps; however, most of the largest sites are listed at the sites linked below.