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Geography

Geography is the study of natural and human constructed phenomena relative to a spatial dimension. The study that deals with maps is only a specific part of Geography.

Colaeus of Samos in 628 BC, as described by Herodotus, on a trip with his ship to Egypt was blown off his course and he reached Gibraltar and from there he continued his voyage until he reached Cadiz (Gades). He was one of the first Greeks who reached the Atlantic Ocean. Phocaeans created later commercial ties with Gades.

Hecataeus of Miletus who was active at the end of the fifth century is best known as the author of the map of the world (Periodos Ges) to which Herodotus alludes in book four of his Histories:

I am amused to see those many who have drawn maps of the world and not a one of them making a reasonable appearance of it. They draw Ocean flowing around an earth that is as circular as though traced by compasses, and they make Asia of the same size as Europe.

Andrew Wisner writes in The Return of Odysseus and the Elements of Euclid:

Before publishing the map shortly before 500 BC, Hecataeus had made extensive travels into Asia and Europe. Rather than organize his map according to particular information collected empirically in the course of these travels, he chose to construct it around pure geometrical objects like the circle and equal areas, and in so doing betrayed a conviction that such objects provided a surer foundation for geography than the evidence of the senses. The evidentiary force of these objects derives, without a doubt, from the early and successful practices of geometry in Ionia, and the concern which Hecataeus displays over structural elements and foundations shows a developing theoretical orientation which most likely held sway over the practice of early Ionian geometry as well, and eventually manifests itself as the demand for axiomatic rigor in the mathematics of the Elements.

The early Greeks were the first civilization to practice a form of Geography that was more than mere map making or cartography. Greek philosophers and scientist were interested in learning about spatial nature of human and physical features found on the Earth. One of the first Greek geographers was Herodotus (circa 484 - 425 BC). Herodotus wrote a number of volumes that described the Human and Physical Geography of the various regions of the Persian Empire.

Ctesias of Cnidus from the 5th century BC, a geographer and physician, wrote a book On India, the first Greek book about the geography of India and its people. Work is cited by the patriarch Photius of Constantinople 9th century AD.

The ancient Greeks were also interested in the form, size, and geometry of the Earth. Aristotle (circa 384 - 322 BC) hypothesized and scientifically demonstrated that the Earth had a spherical shape. Evidence for this idea came from observations of lunar eclipses when the Earth casts its circular shadow on to the moon's surface.

The Greek geographer Eratosthenes (circa 276 - 194 BC) was the first who accurately calculated the equatorial circumference of the Earth to be 40233 kilometers using simple geometric relationships. His intelligent but primitive method was unusually accurate. The equatorial circumference of the Earth using modern satellite technology provides a value of 40072 kilometers.

As to the figure of the earth it must necessarily be spherical.... If it were not so, the eclipses of the moon would not have such sections as they have. For in the configurations in the course of a month the deficient part takes all different shapes; it is straight, and concave, and convex; but in eclipses it always has the line of divisions convex; wherefore, since the moon is eclipsed in consequence of the interposition of the earth, the periphery of the earth must be the cause of this by having a spherical form. And again, from the appearance of the stars it is clear, not only that the earth is round, but that its size is not very large; for when we make a small removal to the south or the north, the circle of the horizon becomes palpably different, so that the stars overhead undergo a great change, and are not the same to those that travel in the north and to the south. For some stars are seen in Egypt or at Cyprus, but are not seen in the countries to the north of these; and the stars that in the north are visible while they make a complete circuit, there undergo a setting. So that from this it is manifest, not only that the form of the earth is round, but also that it is a part of a not very large sphere; for otherwise the difference would not be so obvious to persons making so small a change of place. Wherefore we may judge that those persons who connect the region in the neighborhood of the pillars of Hercules with that towards India, and who assert that in this way the sea is one, do not assert things very improbable. They confirm this conjecture moreover by the elephants, which are said to be of the same species towards each extreme; as if this circumstance was a consequence of the conjunction of the extremes. The mathematicians who try to calculate the measure of the circumference, make it amount to four hundred thousand stadia; whence we collect that the earth is not only spherical, but is not large compared with the magnitude of the other stars.
Aristotle, quoted in William Whewell's History of the Inductive Sciences (second edition, London, 1847), Vol. II., p.161.

Ptolemy (about 100 AD - 178 AD) made a number of important contributions to Geography. His publication Geographike hyphegesis or Guide to Geography compiled and summarize much of the Greek and Roman geographic information accumulated at that time. Some of his other important contributions include the creation of three different methods for projecting the Earth's surface on a map, the calculation of coordinate locations for some eight thousand places on the Earth, and development of the concepts of geographical latitude and longitude. Ptolemy created a world atlas in the second century A.D. and plotted latitude and longitude lines on his atlas. Ptolemy had placed the zero (prime) meridian off the west coast of Africa. Ptolemy also devised and provided instructions on how to create maps both of the whole inhabited world (oikoumenè) and of the Roman provinces. In the second part of the Geography he provided the necessary topographic lists, and captions for the maps. His oikoumenè spanned 180 degrees of longitude from the Canary islands in the Atlantic Ocean to China, and about 80 degrees of latitude from the Arctic to the East-indies and deep into Africa; Ptolemy was well aware that he knew about only a quarter of the globe.

Little academic progress in Geography occurred after the Greeks except in the Middle East where Arab academics began translating the works of Greek and Roman geographers starting in the 8th century and began exploring southwestern Asia and Africa. Some of the important intellectuals in Arab geography were Al-Idrisi, Ibn Battutah, and Ibn Khaldun. Al-Idrisi is best known for his skill at making maps and for his work of descriptive geography Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq or "The Pleasure Excursion of One Who Is Eager to Traverse the Regions of the World".


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