A compass rose, sometimes called a windrose or Rose of the Winds, is a
figure on a compass, map, nautical chart, or monument used to display
the orientation of the cardinal directions (north, east, south, and
west) and their intermediate points. It is also the term for the
graduated markings found on the traditional magnetic compass. Today,
the idea of a compass rose is found on, or featured in, almost all
navigation systems, including nautical charts, non-directional beacons
VHF omnidirectional range
VHF omnidirectional range (VOR) systems, global-positioning
systems (GPS), and similar equipment.
Compass rose with the eight principal winds
The modern compass rose has eight principal winds. Listed clockwise,
Greco or Grecale
Ostro or Mezzogiorno
Libeccio or Garbino
Maestro or Mistral
Although modern compasses use the names of the eight principal
directions (N, NE, E, SE, etc.), older compasses use the traditional
Italianate wind names of Medieval origin (Tramontana, Greco, Levante,
4-point compass roses use only the four "basic winds" or "cardinal
directions" (North, East, South, West), with angles of difference at
8-point compass roses use the eight principal winds—that is, the
four cardinal directions (N, E, S, W) plus the four "intercardinal" or
"ordinal directions" (NE, SE, SW, NW), at angles of difference of
16-point compass roses are constructed by bisecting the angles of the
principal winds to come up with intermediate compass points, known as
half-winds, at angles of difference of 221⁄2°. The names of the
half-winds are simply combinations of the principal winds to either
side, principal then ordinal. E.g. North-northeast (NNE),
East-northeast (ENE), etc.
32-point compass roses are constructed by bisecting these angles, and
coming up with quarter-winds at 111⁄4° angles of difference.
Quarter-wind names are constructed with the names "X by Y", which can
be read as "one quarter wind from X toward Y", where X is one of the
eight principal winds and Y is one of the two adjacent cardinal
directions. For example, North-by-east (NbE) is one quarter wind from
North towards East, Northeast-by-north (NEbN) is one quarter wind from
Northeast toward North. Naming all 32 points on the rose is called
"boxing the compass".
The 32-point rose has the uncomfortable number of 111⁄4° between
points, but is easily found by halving divisions and may have been
easier for those not using a 360° circle. Using gradians, of which
there are 400 in a circle, the sixteen-point rose will have
twenty-five gradians per point.
A 4-point compass rose
An 8-point compass rose
A 16-point compass rose
A 32-point compass rose
A 360 degree and 6400
NATO mil compass rose
1.1 Classical compass rose
1.2 Sidereal compass rose
1.3 Mariner's compass rose
1.4 Depiction on Nautical Charts
2 Modern depictions
4 In popular culture
5 See also
7 External links
Linguistic anthropological studies have shown that most human
communities have four points of cardinal direction. The names given to
these directions are usually derived from either locally-specific
geographic features (e.g. "towards the hills", "towards the sea") or
from celestial bodies (especially the sun) or from atmospheric
features (winds, temperature). Most mobile populations tend to
adopt sunrise and sunset for
West and the direction from
where different winds blow to denote
North and South.
Classical compass rose
Main article: Classical compass winds
The ancient Greeks originally maintained distinct and separate systems
of points and winds. The four Greek cardinal points (arctos, anatole,
mesembria and dusis) were based on celestial bodies and used for
orientation. The four Greek winds (Boreas, Notos, Eurus, Zephyrus)
were confined to meteorology. Nonetheless, both systems were gradually
conflated, and wind names came to eventually denote cardinal
directions as well.
In his meteorological studies,
Aristotle identified ten distinct
winds: two north-south winds (Aparctias, Notos) and four sets of
east-west winds blowing from different latitudes—the Arctic circle
(Meses, Thrascias), the summer solstice horizon (Caecias, Argestes),
the equinox (Apeliotes, Zephyrus) and the winter solstice (Eurus,
Lips). However, Aristotle's system was asymmetric. To restore balance,
Timosthenes of Rhodes added two more winds to produce the classical
12-wind rose, and began using the winds to denote geographical
direction in navigation.
Eratosthenes deducted two winds from
Aristotle's system, to produce the classical 8-wind rose.
The Romans (e.g. Seneca, Pliny) adopted the Greek 12-wind system, and
replaced its names with Latin equivalents, e.g. Septentrio,
Subsolanus, Auster, Favonius, etc. Uniquely,
Vitruvius came up with a
According to the chronicler
Einhard (c. 830), the Frankish king
Charlemagne himself came up with his own names for the classical 12
winds. He named the four cardinal winds on the roots Nord
(etymology uncertain, could be "wet", meaning from the rainy lands),
Ost (shining place, sunrise), Sund (sunny lands) and Vuest (dwelling
place, meaning evening). Intermediate winds were constructed as simple
compound names of these four (e.g. "Nordostdroni", the "northeasterly"
wind). These Carolingian names are the source of the modern compass
point names found in nearly all modern west European languages. (e.g.
West in English; Nord, Est, Sud, Ouest in
The following table gives a rough equivalence of the classical 12-wind
rose with the modern compass directions (Note: the directions are
imprecise since it is not clear at what angles the classical winds are
supposed to be with each other; some have argued that they should be
equally spaced at 30 degrees each; for more details, see the article
on Classical compass winds).
Classical 12-wind rose, with Greek (blue) and Latin (red) names (from
Meses (μέσης) or
Thrascias or Circius
Sidereal compass rose
The "sidereal" compass rose demarcates the compass points by the
position of stars in the night sky, rather than winds.
Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, who depended on celestial
navigation, were using a 32-point sidereal compass rose before the end
of the 10th century. In the northern hemisphere, the
Star (Polaris) was used for the N-S axis; the less-steady
Southern Cross had to do for the southern hemisphere, as the southern
pole star, Sigma Octantis, is too dim to be easily seen from Earth
with the naked eye. The other thirty points on the sidereal rose were
determined by the rising and setting positions of fifteen bright
stars. Reading from
North to South, in their rising and setting
positions, these are:
"the Guards" (Ursa Minor)
Alpha Ursa Major
The western half of the rose would be the same stars in their setting
position. The true position of these stars is only approximate to
their theoretical equidistant rhumbs on the sidereal compass. Stars
with the same declination formed a "linear constellation" or kavenga
to provide direction as the night progressed.
A similar sidereal compass was used by Polynesian and Micronesian
navigators in the Pacific Ocean, although different stars were used in
a number of cases, clustering around the East-
Mariner's compass rose
In Europe, the Classical 12-wind system continued to be taught in
academic settings during the Medieval era, but seafarers in the
Mediterranean came up with their own distinct 8-wind system. The
mariners used names derived from the Mediterranean lingua franca—the
Italian-tinged patois among Medieval sailors, composed principally of
Ligurian, mixed with Venetian, Sicilian, Provençal, Catalan, Greek
Arabic terms from around the Mediterranean basin.
32-wind compass with traditional names (and traditional color code)
(NE) Greco (or Bora)
(SE) Scirocco (or Exaloc)
Ostro (or Mezzogiorno)
Libeccio (or Garbino)
(NW) Maestro (or Mistral)
The exact origin of the mariner's eight-wind rose is obscure. Only two
of its point names (Ostro, Libeccio) have Classical etymologies, the
rest of the names seem to be autonomously derived. Two
stand out: Scirocco (SE) from al-Sharq (الشرق – east in Arabic)
and the variant Garbino (SW), from al-Gharb (الغرب – west in
Arabic). This suggests the mariner's rose was probably acquired by
southern Italian seafarers not from their classical Roman ancestors,
but rather from Norman Sicily in the 11th to 12th centuries. The
coasts of the
Mashriq are SW and SE of Sicily
respectively; the Greco (a NE wind), reflects the position of
Byzantine-held Calabria-Apulia to the northeast of
Arab Sicily, while
the Maestro (a NW wind) is a reference to the
Mistral wind that blows
from the southern French coast towards northwest Sicily.[citation
The 32-point compass used for navigation in the Mediterranean by the
14th century, had increments of 111⁄4° between points. Only the
eight principal winds (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW) were given special
names. The eight half-winds just combined the names of the two
principal winds, e.g. Greco-Tramontana for NNE, Greco-Levante for ENE,
and so on. Quarter-winds were more cumbersomely phrased, with the
closest principal wind named first and the next-closest principal wind
second, e.g. "Quarto di Tramontana verso Greco" (literally, "one
quarter wind from
North towards Northeast", i.e.
North by East), and
"Quarto di Greco verso Tramontana" ("one quarter wind from NE towards
N", i.e. Northeast by North).
Boxing the compass
Boxing the compass (naming all 32 winds)
was expected of all Medieval mariners.
Depiction on Nautical Charts
In the earliest Medieval portolan charts of the 14th century, compass
roses were depicted as mere collections of color-coded compass rhumb
lines: black for the eight main winds, green for the eight half-winds
and red for the sixteen quarter-winds. The average portolan chart
had sixteen such roses (or confluence of lines), spaced out equally
around the circumference of a large implicit circle.
Cresques Abraham of Majorca, in his
Catalan Atlas of
1375, was the first to draw an ornate compass rose on a map. By the
end of the 15th century, Portuguese cartographers began drawing
multiple ornate compass roses throughout the chart, one upon each of
the sixteen circumference roses (unless the illustration conflicted
with coastal details).
The points on a compass rose were frequently labeled by the initial
letters of the mariner's principal winds (T, G, L, S, O, L, P, M).
However, from the outset, the custom also began to distinguish the
north from the other points by a specific visual marker. Medieval
Italian cartographers typically used a simple arrowhead or
circumflex-hatted T (an allusion to the compass needle) to designate
the north, while the
Majorcan cartographic school
Majorcan cartographic school typically used a
Star for its north mark. The use of the fleur-de-lis
as north mark was introduced by Pedro Reinel, and quickly became
customary in compass roses (and is still often used today). Old
compass roses also often used a
Christian cross at Levante (E),
indicating the direction of
Jerusalem from the point of view of the
The twelve Classical winds (or a subset of them) were also sometimes
depicted on portolan charts, albeit not on a compass rose, but rather
separately on small disks or coins on the edges of the map.
The compass rose was also depicted on traverse boards used on board
ships to record headings sailed at set time intervals.
Early 32-wind compass rose, shown as a mere collection of color-coded
rhumblines, from a Genoese nautical chart (c. 1325)
First ornate compass rose depicted on a chart, from the Catalan Atlas
(1375), with the Pole
Star as north mark.
More ornate compass rose, with letters of traditional winds and
compass needle as north mark, from a nautical chart by Jorge de Aguiar
Highly ornate compass rose, with fleur-de-lis as north mark and cross
pattée as east mark, from the
Cantino planisphere (1502)
A 16-point compass rose on the grounds of a library serves both as a
pedagogical device and public art
The contemporary compass rose appears as two rings, one smaller and
set inside the other. The outside ring denotes true cardinal
directions while the smaller inside ring denotes magnetic cardinal
True north refers to the geographical location of the
north pole while magnetic north refers to the direction towards which
the north pole of a magnetic object (as found in a compass) will
point. The angular difference between true and magnetic north is
called variation, which varies depending on location. The angular
difference between magnetic heading and compass heading is called
deviation which varies by vessel and its heading.
NATO symbol uses a four pointed rose.
Outward Bound uses the compass rose as the logo for various schools
around the world.
An 8-point compass rose was the logo of Varig, the largest airline in
Brazil for many decades until its bankruptcy in 2006.
An 8-point compass rose is a prominent feature in the logo of the
Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball club.
Hong Kong Correctional Services's crest uses four point star.
The compass rose is used as the symbol of the worldwide Anglican
Communion of churches.
A 16-point compass rose was IBM's logo for the System/360 product
A 16-point compass rose is the official logo of the Spanish National
University of Distance Education (Universidad Nacional de Educación a
Distancia or UNED).
A 16-point compass rose is present on the seal and the flag of the
Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency of the Federal government of the United
States (the CIA).
In popular culture
Compass Rose is a fictional
Flower-class corvette in
the novel The Cruel Sea.
In the adventure game, Beyond Zork, a compass rose is a flower that
can control the direction of the wind.
Compass Rose is the name of a significant tavern in Mercedes
Lackey's Valdemar fantasy novels.
Compass Rose is a 1982 collection of short stories by Ursula K. Le
Diablo III the
Compass Rose is a legendary set item.
In Marvel Comics,
Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell)
Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) and his successors,
including most recently Carol Danvers, wear the Hala
upon their chests. This star takes the form of an eight pointed
compass rose, with four major and four minor points.
Edith Pattou's 2003 novel
East uses the eight-pointed compass rose
(called the wind rose in the novel, due to the sixteenth-century
setting) as a recurring motif, both as a metaphor that one's life can
go in many different directions and relating to the protagonist's
arduous physical journey. The protagonist, Rose, is named for it by
her mapmaker father, who creates a new compass rose design for each of
Compass Rose, a song by the Japanese boy band
Hey!Say!JUMP in their
album S3ART, written by Hikaru Yaotome
Sportswear company —Stone Island implement a compass rose design in
their logo bearing similarities to others including NATO's.
^ Patrick Bouron (2005). Cartographie: Lecture de Carte (PDF).
Institut Géographique National. p. 12. Archived from the
original (PDF) on 2010-04-15. Retrieved 2011-07-07.
^ Brown, C.H. (1983) "Where do Cardinal Direction Terms Come From?",
Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 25 (2), p. 121-61.
^ D'Avezac, M.A.P. (1874) Aperçus historiques sur la rose des vents:
lettre à Monsieur Henri Narducci. Rome: Civelli
^ Einhard, Vita Karoli Imp., [Lat: (Eng.(p.22)(p.68)
^ Saussure, L. de (1923) "L'origine de la rose des vents et
l'invention de la boussole", Archives des sciences physiques et
naturelles, vol. 5, no.2 & 3, pp.149-81 and 259-91.
^ Taylor, E.G.R. (1956) The Haven-Finding Art: A history of navigation
from Odysseus to Captain Cook, 1971 ed., London: Hollis and Carter.,
^ Tolmacheva, M. (1980) "On the
Arab System of Nautical Orientation",
Arabica, vol. 27 (2), p.180-92.
^ Tibbets, G.R. (1971)
Navigation in the
Indian Ocean before the
coming of the Portuguese, London: Royal Asiatic Society.
^ J. Lagan (2005) The Barefoot Navigator: Navigating with the skills
of the ancients. Dobbs Ferry, New York: Sheridan House.
^ List comes from Tolmacheva (1980:p.183), based "with some
reservations" on Tibbets (1971: p.296, n.133). The sidereal rose given
in Lagan (2005: p.66) has some differences, e.g. placing Orion's belt
Altair in EbN.
^ M.D. Halpern (1985) The Origins of the Carolinian Sidereal Compass,
Master's thesis, Texas A & M University
^ Goodenough, W. H. (1953). Native Astronomy in the Central Carolines.
Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Philadelphia.
^ Lewis, David (1972). We, the Navigators. Canberra: Australian
National University Press. p. 62. access-date= requires
^ Taylor, E.G. R. (1937) "The 'De Ventis' of Matthew Paris", Imago
Mundi, vol. 2, p. 25.
^ Wallis, H.M. and J.H. Robinson, editors (1987) Cartographical
Innovations: An international handbook of mapping terms to 1900.
Map Collector Publications.
^ A.E. Nordenskiöld (1896) "Résumé of an Essay on the Early History
of Charts and Sailing Directions", Report of the Sixth International
Geographical Congress: held in London, 1895. London: J. Murray.
^ Winter, Heinrich (1947) "On the Real and the Pseudo-Pilestrina Maps
and Other Early Portuguese Maps in Munich", Imago Mundi, vol. 4, p.
^ Dan Reboussin (2005). Wind Rose. University of Florida. Retrieved on
^ John Rousmaniere, Mark Smith (1999). The Annapolis book of
seamanship. Simon and Schuster. p. 233.
ISBN 978-0-684-85420-5. Retrieved 2011-07-07.
^ "About the
Compass Rose Society". Compassrosesociety.org. Archived
from the original on 2011-10-07. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
^ "Descripción del Escudo de la UNED (Description of the UNED
emblem)". Retrieved 2013-08-08.
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