Printer Friendly

Eratosthenes' map of the oecumene.

1. Introduction

It was Alexandria which took the leading position in science from Athens since the middle of the third century before Christ. In 332 B.C. Alexandria was founded in the former Egyptian settlement Rhacotis by Alexander Macedonian; the town was named in the founder's honour. The town served as a placement of Alexander the Great sarcophagus. During the reign of Ptolemaic dynasty (305-30 B.C.) Alexandria was the capital city of Egypt and since 200 B.C. the town was the capital of Hellenistic world of science with famous museums, university and library. Scientists here were highly appreciated. In 280 B.C. a special town for the scientists called Mouseion (patronized by the Muses) was established: it included science academy with half a million manuscripts in the library and astronomic observatory. The library of Alexandria is considered to be the oldest in the world and includes treasury of civilization, the centre of science, art, different religions, languages and cultures. Here well-known philosophers and scientists were working, Euclid, the founder of the fundamentals of geometry and Archimedes, developer of the fundamentals of hydrostatics (Archimedes law). Circa 100 A.D. the Old Testament was translated into Greek and called Septuagint (Teeple 2002).

Alexandria was also famous for one of the Seven Wonders of the World--the Pharos Lighthouse, which according to verified data was 134 meters high. It was erected in 280 B.C. during the reign of Ptolemy II. It was the first lighthouse in the world and nearly the only one on Earth as it had copper mirrors, reflecting fire flames. The lighthouse made of white marble had 3 cascades; its peak was decorated with a bronze sculpture, its light being visible 50 km away. In 14th c. i.e. in 1303 and 1323 it suffered from the earthquakes and was ruined. So, it resulted in standing for about 1500 years. At that time the lighthouse was one of the highest buildings on Earth surpassed only by the pyramids of Giza (Fig. 1). Its image was used on the coins of those times. The majority of towns, founded by Alexander Macedonian disappeared, however Alexandria has remained up to the present. The lighthouse was completely destroyed in 1480 by Egyptian sultan of Mamelukes Quaitbay, who used the ruins of the lighthouse to build defensive forts of Alexandria.

Great mathematicians of Alexandria were generally interested in geometry and astronomy. The movement of stars and the Sun was used for positioning the Earth. Alexandria had the most famous school of geographers, among them were known for their works Aristarchus (310-250 B.C.), the founder of the theory of analogy, Hipparchus (160-125 B.C.), the founder of astrolabe, Strabon (Strabo) (60 B.C.-20 A.D.), the author of "History" and "Geography" and Cl. Ptolemy (100-178 A.D.), predecessor of the Renaissance of cartography (Kudaba 1980).


2. Dicaearchus' map

Eratosthenes chose for essential improvement the most precise known map of oecumene (inhabited territories) devised by Aristotle's pupil Dicaearchus of Messina (345285 B.C.) (Fig. 2). Dicaearchus having used geographical discoveries and taking into account the descriptions by the traveller Pytheas named in his map Europe, Libya (Libye), Arabia (Arabes), Persia (Perse), India (Indiens) and Sri Lanka (Taprobane). Besides the Atlantic Ocean (Atlantique) he also named the Black Sea (Pont Euxin), the Caspian Sea (M. Hyreanienne), the Mediterranean Sea (Mer Interieure), the Red Sea (G. Arabique) and the Arabian Sea (Mer Erythree). The map also included best known rivers, such as the Nile (Ml), the Indus (Indus), the Ganges (Ganges), the Syr Darya (Jaxartes), and the Amu Darya (Oxus). The map also named and marked towns, nowadays considered as historical, such as Gades (Cadiz), Carthage, Memphis, Tyr (Saida), Thebes, Babilone (Babylon), and Suses (Susa). According to geography historians, the map presents quite precisely West European coastline as well as both geographical position and islands configuration of the British Islands (Samas 1997).

Dicaearchus was the first one to use mean parallel and mean meridian in his map. He drew them across Rhode Island in the Mediterranean Sea. The Island at that time was considered to be Helios, the Sun's God cult centre. The Island was chosen most likely because of the Rhodes Colossus (The Sun's God Helios's 36 m high sculpture, created in the second century B.C.), which was famous as one of the wonders of the world.

3. Eratosthenes' map

The information about the maps, devised by Eratosthenes, reached the modern world only due to the writings of Strabon (68 B.C.-19 A.D.) and Cleomen. Eratosthenes handed the Royal palace of Egypt a world map which had been devised trying to keep the selected scale using rectangular projection, where the world had been pressed to the point so that its parallels and meridians made perpendicular angles (Harwood 2008).

Eratosthenes, as well as previous geographers, drew a right line, called diaphragm, across the Strait of Gibraltar, the Strait of Messina, Rhode Island and Taurus Mountains up to the very end of the oecumene in the East (Chomskis 1979). Eratosthenes, treating Rhode Island as the crossroads of mean parallel and mean meridian, in his map additionally drew 10 parallels and 11 meridians across the local objects, set by measurements. In this way he received a geographical grid. It later served as a basis to use cylindrical cartographical projection. Both parallels and meridians have their own names after the corresponding local objects. Next to the grid there are line values in stadia (1 stadium is about 0.152 km). They stretch from the equator and from the very western meridian in the Ethiopian Ocean (Ocean Ethiopien). In Dicaearchus' of Messina map the same ocean is called Atlantic Ocean (Atlantique). The map has a notice in the SW corner that every degree starting from the equator consists of 700 stadia.

Eratosthenes's map, devised in 220 B.C., depicts the centre of civilization of that time (the Mediterranean Sea) including available geographical knowledges of that period about the settled areas of the world. The map covers Europe and a part of Asia up to the Indian Ocean the Bay of Bengal (Mer Orientale) and Sri Lanka (Taprobane) (included), in the South it includes the Ethiopian Ocean (Ocean Ethiopien), Northern and Central Africa with pointed names of Libya, Ethiopia and Nubia, limiting itself to the Arabian Sea (Mer Erythree) (Fig. 3).



The stretch of the map according to the mentioned values of marginal parallels and meridians is a rectangle of 12 000x6000 km. The researchers of Eratosthenes map claim that he had marked quite many locations based on astronomical measurement.

It is possible to give a present geographical name to every name of Eratosthenes map grid with the exception of Thules meridian. We may only guess it might be the present Iceland. This island was described by a Greek traveller and geographer Pytheas of Massalia (320-285 B.C.) as the one to the North from the British Islands at a distance of 6-day travelling; after one more additional day you will see the frozen Cronian Sea. The sun sets here only for 2 or 3 hours. Later exponents of Thule Island guess that Pytheas himself had never visited the island; he only managed to collect the data about this Northern island or coastline. According to F. Nansen it could have been Iceland or Norway.

Even more dispute was received regarding an overland unlimited area in the North nearby marked as Baltia. Pytheas in his description confirms that on his way home he sailed through a wide channel and reached an island, rich in amber, which was supposedly collected by local inhabitants for fuel. It is a question whether Pytheas really visited or not the Baltic coastline, he may have just heard of it; but this is the first time name Baltia was mentioned. On the basis of this fact, the linguist Nesselmann (1811-1881) suggested calling the inhabitants of the Baltic coastline (Latvians, Lithuanians and Prussians) by a common name as the Balts (Statkute de Rosales 2009).

4. Geographical net of Eratosthenes' map

The content of the map is limited that period of time by the farthest known meridians and parallels of the Earth with their named values in stadia. Western meridian with zero stadium was selected without identifying it with any concrete local object; the meridian was drawn in the ocean next to the coastline of West Europe and Africa.

The eastern outside meridian with 80 000 stadia is made behind the Hindustan Peninsula and Ceylon Island ignoring the mapping of farther Asian territory. It is necessary to state that the Hindustan Peninsula is unrealistically pulled east, so its deformity captures attention the most. The majority of inside meridians are identified with not very precisely concretized objects (Bouches de Nil--the Nile entry, p. Caspiennes--the Gates of the Caspian Sea, Bouches de Indus--the Indus entry, Bouches du Gange--the Ganges entry). As the deltas of the great rivers in the map created more than two thousand years ago could have been notably different, the precision of marked meridians is not analyzed in the article. Regarding the deformity of the map in the East meridian, lined across C. Coliaque Cape has got inaccurate marking in stadia. Nowadays this Cape of Hindustan Peninsula is called Cape Komari (Comorin) (Kindersley 2005).

Northern outside parallel with 46 400 stadia marking crosses in the North Thule Island, while the bottom outside parallel in the South with 8000 stadia marking crosses the Ethiopian Ocean (Ocean Ethiopien), the Nile (Nil) source, the Arabian Sea (Mer Erythree) and finally crosses Ceylon (Taprobane) Island. A surprising fact here is that the top parallel of Thule with its marking quite precisely repeats the northern geographic co-ordinate of Iceland. However, the same cannot be said about the southern co-ordinate connected with Ceylon Island where the map deformity is noticeable.

A famous ancient Greece astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea (160-125 B.C.) while criticizing the map of Eratosthenes developed a few geometrical methods of globe meridians and parallels projection onto a plane and coined "geographic co-ordinates" notion to talk about different the Earth surface points, and also showed the method how to set them.

5. Conclusions

1. The table comparing the Eratosthenes map parallel values of Alexandria, Syene (Aswan), Babylon and Meroe with parallel values of present settlements proves the differences to be minor and the measurements, conducted by Eratosthenes at that time, are sufficiently precise (see Table 1).

2. The map named Borysthene (the Dnieper) parallel which in 372 A.D. in cartography was called as Olbia (Gedgaudas 1994) after the name of international port above the Dnieper entry of that period. It proves the importance of the port of Amber Road.

3. Inscription BALTIA in mapping for the first time in the history of cartography was used in the map of Eratosthenes.

4. While compiling the map, Eratosthenes did not have enough geographical information regarding the oecumene's eastern part, so this part of map includes the biggest error.

doi: 10.3846/20296991.2012.695332

Received 26 April 2012; accepted 21 June 2012


Chomskis, V. 1979. Kartografija. Vilnius: Mokslas. 336 p.

Gedgaudas, C. 1994. Tikrosios Lietuvos beieskant. Kaunas: Aus ra. 359 p.

Harwood, J. 2008. Pasaulis zemelapiuose. Musu knyga. 192 p.

Kindersley, D. 2005. Conicise. Atlas of the world. DK, London, New York, Munich, Melbourne, Delhi. 350 p.

Kudaba, C. 1980. Geografines keliones ir atradimai. Vilnius: Mokslas. 294 p.

Rumsey, D. 2009. Internetine kartografine svetaine. Available from Internet:

Samas, A. 1997. Zemelapiai ir ju kurejai. Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopediju leidybos institutas. 197 p.

Statkute de Rosales, J. 2009. Senasis aisciu gimines metrastis. Ceslovo Kudabos labdaros fondas, Kaunas. 275 p.

Teeple, J. B. 2002. Timelines word of history. London. 666 p.

Viktoras Lukosevicius (1), Tomas Duksa (2)

(1) Technology Faculty, Siauliai University, Vilniausg. 141, LT-76353 Siauliai, Lithuania

(2) Lithuanian Cartographic Society, M. K. Ciurlionio g. 21/27, LT-03101 Vilnius, Lithuania

E-mails: (1) (corresponding author); (2)

Viktoras LUKOSEVICIUS. Doctor, Prof. Dept of Civil Engineering Technology, Siauliai University, Ph +370 41 595843, Fax +370 41 595832.

A graduate of Kaunas Polytechnic Institute (now Kaunas University of Technology), geodetic engineer, 1962. Doctor's degree at Institute of Surveying, Aerial Photography and Cartography, Moscow, 1966. Publications: 2 books, over 70 research articles; participant of conferences in USA, Brasil, Sweden, Norway, Russia. Fellowship Winner, NATO and Italy National Science Competition, 1996. Member of Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies.

Research interests: history of geodesy and cartography.

Tomas DUKSA. Geographer, Lithuanian Cartographic Society,

Ph +370 52398297, +370 52470760.

A graduate from Vilnius University, cartographer, 1972. Publications: over 10 scientific articles, a participant of conferences held in Poland, Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Belorus and Russia.

Research interests: history of cartography.
Table 1. Parallels of the Eratosthenes' map

Names of       Present         Values of parallels
parallels      map names       in stadia and degrees

De Thule       Iceland         46 400-66[degrees]18'
Du Borysthene  Dnieper entry   34 900-49[degrees]52'

De Byzance     Istanbul        32 200-46[degrees]00'

D'Amisus       Samsun          29 900-42[degrees]42'

De Gades       Cadiz           Nondigital
De Rhodes      Rhode Island    25 000-35[degrees]43'
De Babylone    Vanished city   23 200-33[degrees]08'
                 of Babylon
D' Alexandrie  Alexandria      21 800-31[degrees]08'
De Syene       Aswan           16 800-24[degrees]00'

De Meroe       Meroe           11 800-16[degrees]52'

Names of       Present values of   Note
parallels      parallels

De Thule       66[degrees]00'      North of Iceland
Du Borysthene  46[degrees] 35'     Parallel was also called by the
                                   name of Olbia (Gedgaudas 1994),
                                   Ukraine at present
De Byzance     41[degrees]00'      Byzantium--capital of the Eastern
                                   Roman Empire next to the
                                   entrance to Bosporus
D'Amisus       41[degrees]17'      Settlement in the North of Turkey
                                   next to the Black Sea
De Gades       36[degrees]32'      Cadiz--town in the SW part of
                                   Spain and gulf with the same name
De Rhodes      36[degrees]00'      Greece
De Babylone    33[degrees]10'      Historical city (Kindersley 2005),
                                   today Iraq
D' Alexandrie  31[degrees]12'      Egypt
De Syene       24[degrees]05'      Aswan is also known as the name
                                   of the dam, Egypt
De Meroe       16[degrees]56'      Place of pyramids in Upper Nubia
                                   near the Nile, towards North from
                                   Khartoum next to Kabushiya
                                   settlement (Sudan)
COPYRIGHT 2012 Vilnius Gediminas Technical University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Lukosevicius, Viktoras; Duksa, Tomas
Publication:Geodesy and Cartography
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXLT
Date:Jun 1, 2012
Previous Article:Geomagnetic measurements in Latvia.
Next Article:Geodetic surveying studies for civil engineering students at Tallinn University of Technology.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters