Ptolemy's world map

Annie Lee | Oct 31, 2023

Table of Content


The Ptolemy world map is a map of the world known to Greco-Roman society in the 2nd century. It is based on the description contained in the book Geography of Ptolemy, written c. 150. Based on an inscription in several early surviving manuscripts, it is traditionally attributed to Agatodemon.

Notable features of Ptolemy's map are the first use of longitudinal and latitudinal lines, as well as the specification of terrestrial locations by observations of celestial bodies. Geography was translated from Greek into Arabic in the ninth century and played an important role in the work of al-Khwarismi before falling into oblivion. However, the idea of a global coordinate system revolutionized European geographical thinking and inspired a more mathematical treatment of cartography.

Ptolemy's work probably originally came with maps, but none have been discovered. Instead, the present form of the map was reconstructed from Ptolemy's coordinates by Byzantine monks under the direction of Maximus Planudes shortly after 1295. It was probably not that of the original text, since it uses the less favored of the two alternative projections offered by Ptolemy.

The continents are named as Europe, Asia and Libya (Africa). The world ocean is only seen to the west. The map distinguishes two large enclosed seas: the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean (Indicum Pelagus). Because of Marinp and Ptolemy's erroneous measurement of the circumference of the earth, the former is made to extend too far in terms of degrees of arc; and because of their reliance on Hipparchus' estimates, they erroneously enclosed the latter with an east and south coast of unknown lands, which prevents the map from identifying the west coast of the world ocean.

India is bounded by the Indus and Ganges rivers, but its peninsula is much shorter. Ceylon (Taprobane), on the other hand, is greatly enlarged. The Malay peninsula becomes known as Aurea Chersonesus or "golden peninsula" instead of the earlier "Golden Island," which derives from Indian accounts of the Sumatran mines. Beyond the golden peninsula, the Great Gulf (Magnus Sinus) forms a combination between the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, which is bounded by the unknown lands believed to enclose the Indian Sea. China is divided into two kingdoms, the Qin (Sinae) and the Land of Silk (Serica), due to the different versions received from the land and sea Silk Roads.

Geography and the map derived from it probably played an important role in the expansion of the Roman Empire to the East. Trade throughout the Indian Ocean was extensive from the 2nd century, and many Roman trading ports in India have been identified. From these ports, Roman embassies in China are recorded in Chinese historical sources from about 166.

The Danish historian Gudmund Schütte attempted to reconstruct the Danish part of Ptolemy's map of the world. It includes several place and tribal names, some of which Schütte assigned a contemporary equivalent. The most prominent feature of the map is the Jutland peninsula located north of the Albis Trêva River, west of the archipelago of Saxonôn Nesôi, east of Skandiai Nêsoi, which in turn lies west of a larger island, Skandia. Skandia is home to the Goutai in the center and the Firaesi in the east.

To the north of Jutland is a third archipelago, the Alokiai Nêsoi. To the south of the Albis live the Lakkobardoi and to the north the Saxons. The west coast of Jutland is home to the Sigulônes, Sabaliggio, Kobandoi, Eundusioi and Kimbroi (possibly Cimbros) further north. The center and east are home to Kimbrikê (possibly Cimbros), Chersonêsos and Charudes.


  1. Ptolemy's world map
  2. Mapamundi de Ptolomeo
  3. ^ a b Thrower, Norman Joseph William (1999). Maps & Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-79973-5.
  4. ^ Bure, Kristjan, ed. (1961). Jernalderen, Turistforeningen for Danmark, Årbog 1961 [The Iron Age, The Tourist Association of Denmark, Yearbook 1961] (in Danish).
  5. a b Thrower, Norman Joseph William (1999). Maps & Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society (en inglés). University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-79973-5.
  6. a b Jernalderen, Turistforeningen for Danmark, Årbog 1961, editado por Kristjan Bure, 1961. (en danés)
  7. ^ Norman Joseph William Thrower, Maps & Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society, University of Chicago Press, 1999, ISBN 0-226-79973-5.
  8. ^ Jernalderen, Turistforeningen for Danmark, Årbog 1961, redigeret af Kristjan Bure, 1961.
  9. Ллойд Арнольд Браун История географических карт, с. 8.

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