The Geography (Greek: Γεωγραφικὴ Ὑφήγησις,
Geōgraphikḕ Hyphḗgēsis, lit. "Geographical Guidance"), also
known by its
Latin names as the Geographia and the Cosmographia, is a
gazetteer, an atlas, and a treatise on cartography, compiling the
geographical knowledge of the 2nd-century Roman Empire. Originally
Claudius Ptolemy in Greek at
Alexandria around AD 150,
the work was a revision of a now-lost atlas by
Marinus of Tyre using
additional Roman and Persian gazetteers and new principles. Its
translation into Arabic in the 9th century and
Latin in 1406 was
highly influential on the geographical knowledge and cartographic
traditions of the medieval
2.1 Cartographical treatise
3.4 Christopher Columbus
3.5 Early modern Ottoman Empire
4 Longitudes error and
6 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
11.1 Primary sources
11.2 Secondary material
The world map from Codex Vaticanus Urbinas Graecus 82, done according
to Ptolemy's 1st projection
The world map from Codex Seragliensis 57, done according to Ptolemy's
Versions of Ptolemy's work in antiquity were probably proper atlases
with attached maps, although some scholars believe that the references
to maps in the text were later additions.
No Greek manuscript of the Geography survives from earlier than the
13th century. A letter written by the Byzantine monk Maximus
Planudes records that he searched for one for
Chora Monastery in the
summer of 1295; one of the earliest surviving texts may have been
one of those he then assembled. In Europe, maps were sometimes made
redrawn using the coordinates provided by the text, as Planudes was
forced to do. Later scribes and publishers could then copy these
new maps, as Athanasius did for the emperor
Andronicus II Palaeologus. The three earliest surviving
texts with maps are those from
Constantinople (Istanbul) based on
Latin translation of these texts was made in 1406 or 1407 by
Jacobus Angelus in Florence, Italy, under the name Geographia Claudii
Ptolemaei. It is not thought that his edition had maps,
Manuel Chrysoloras had given
Palla Strozzi a Greek copy of
Planudes's maps in Florence in 1397.
The Geography consists of three sections, divided among 8 books.
Book I is a treatise on cartography, describing the methods used
to assemble and arrange Ptolemy's data. From Book II through the
beginning of Book VII, a gazetteer provides longitude and
latitude values for the world known to the ancient Romans (the
"ecumene"). The rest of Book VII provides details on three
projections to be used for the construction of a map of the world,
varying in complexity and fidelity. Book VIII constitutes an
atlas of regional maps. The maps include a recapitulation of some of
the values given earlier in the work, which were intended to be used
as captions to clarify the map's contents and maintain their accuracy
Maps based on scientific principles had been made in Europe since the
Eratosthenes in the 3rd century BC. Ptolemy improved
the treatment of map projections.[clarification needed] He provided
instructions on how to create his maps in the first section of the
The gazetteer section of Ptolemy's work provided latitude and
longitude coordinates for all the places and geographical features in
Latitude was expressed in degrees of arc from the equator,
the same system that is used now, though Ptolemy used fractions of a
degree rather than minutes of arc. His
Prime Meridian ran through
the Fortunate Isles, the westernmost land recorded, at around the
El Hierro in the Canary Islands. The maps
spanned 180 degrees of longitude from the
Fortunate Isles in the
Atlantic to China.
Ptolemy was aware that Europe knew only about a quarter of the globe.
Ptolemy's work included a single large and less detailed world map and
then separate and more detailed regional maps. The first Greek
manuscripts compiled after Maximus Planudes's rediscovery of the text
had as many as 64 regional maps.[b] The standard set in Western Europe
came to be 26: 10 European maps, 4 African maps, and 12 Asian maps. As
early as the 1420s, these canonical maps were complemented by
extra-Ptolemaic regional maps depicting, e.g., Scandinavia.
The Ptolemy world map, including the countries of "Serica" and "Sinae"
(Cattigara) at the extreme right beyond the island of "Taprobane" (Sri
Lanka) and the "Aurea Chersonesus" (Malay peninsula).
1st Map of Europe
The islands of Albion & Hibernia
2nd Map of Europe
Hispania Tarraconensis, Baetica, & Lusitania
3rd Map of Europe
Gallia Lugdunensis, Narbonensis, & Belgica
4th Map of Europe
Greater Germany & the Cimbric Peninsula
5th Map of Europe
Rhaetia, Vindelicia, Noricum, Pannonia, Illyria, Liburnia, &
6th Map of Europe
Italy & Corsica
7th Map of Europe
The islands of Sardinia & Sicily
8th Map of Europe
Sarmatia in Europe
9th Map of Europe
Dacia, Moesia, & Thrace
10th Map of Europe
Macedonia, Achaea, the Peloponnesus, & Crete
1st Map of Africa
Tangerine & Caesarian Mauritania
2nd Map of Africa
3rd Map of Africa
Cyrenaica, Marmarica, Libya, Lower Egypt, & the Thebaid
4th Map of Africa
North, West, East, and Central Africa
1st Map of Asia
Bithynia & Pontus, Asia, Lycia, Pamphylia, Galatia, Cappadocia,
Cilicia, & Lesser Armenia
2nd Map of Asia
3rd Map of Asia
Colchis, Iberia, Albania, & Greater Armenia
4th Map of Asia
Cyprus, Syria, Palestine/Judea,
Arabia Petrea & Deserta,
Mesopotamia, & Babylonia
5th Map of Asia
Assyria, Susiana, Media, Persia, Hyrcania, Parthia, and Carmania
6th Map of Asia
Arabia Felix & Carmania Deserta
7th Map of Asia
Scythia within Imaus, Sogdiana, Bactriana, Margiana, & the Sacae
8th Map of Asia
Scythia beyond Imaus & Serica
9th Map of Asia
Ariana, Drangiana, Gedrosia, Arachosia, & Paropanisus
10th Map of Asia
India within the Ganges
11th Map of Asia
India beyond the Ganges, the Golden Chersonese, the Magnus Sinus,
& the Sinae
12th Map of Asia
The original treatise by
Marinus of Tyre that formed the basis of
Ptolemy's Geography has been completely lost. A world map based on
Ptolemy was displayed in
Augustodunum (Autun, France) in late Roman
times. Pappus, writing at
Alexandria in the 4th
century, produced a commentary on Ptolemy's Geography and used it as
the basis of his (now lost) Chorography of the Ecumene. Later
imperial writers and mathematicians, however, seem to have restricted
themselves to commenting on Ptolemy's text, rather than improving upon
it; surviving records actually show decreasing fidelity to real
Whereas previous Greco-Roman geographers such as
Strabo and Pliny the
Elder demonstrated a reluctance to rely on the contemporary accounts
of sailors and merchants who plied distant areas of the Indian Ocean,
Marinus and Ptolemy betray a much greater receptiveness to
incorporating information received from them. For instance, Grant
Parker argues that it would be highly implausible for them to have
Bay of Bengal
Bay of Bengal as precisely as they did without the
accounts of sailors. When it comes to the account of the Golden
Chersonese (i.e. Malay Peninsula) and the
Magnus Sinus (i.e. Gulf of
Thailand and South
China Sea), Marinus and Ptolemy relied on the
testimony of a Greek sailor named Alexandros, who claimed to have
visited a far eastern site called "Cattigara" (most likely Oc Eo,
Vietnam, the site of unearthed Antonine-era Roman goods and not far
from the region of
Jiaozhi in northern
Vietnam where ancient Chinese
sources claim several Roman embassies first landed in the 2nd and 3rd
See also: Geography and cartography in medieval Islam
The Amir of Bani Bu Ali tribe, the likely Bliulaie of Ptolemy's map.
Muslim cartographers were using copies of Ptolemy's
Geography by the 9th century. At that time, in the court of the
caliph al-Maʾmūm, al-Khwārazmī compiled his Book of the Depiction
Earth which mimicked the Geography in providing the
coordinates for 545 cities and regional maps of the Nile, the Island
of the Jewel, the Sea of Darkness, and the Sea of Azov. A 1037
copy of these are the earliest extant maps from Islamic lands. The
text clearly states that al-Khwārazmī was working from an earlier
map, although this could not have been an exact copy of Ptolemy's
Prime Meridian was 10° east of Ptolemy's, he adds some
places, and his latitudes differ.
C.A. Nallino suggests that the
work was not based on Ptolemy but on a derivative world map,
presumably in Syriac or Arabic. The colored map of al-Maʾmūm
constructed by a team including al-Khwārazmī was described by the
Persian encyclopædist al-Masʿūdī around 956 as superior to the
maps of Marinus and Ptolemy, probably indicating that it was built
along similar mathematical principles. It included 4530 cities and
over 200 mountains.
Despite beginning to compile numerous gazetteers of places and
coördinates indebted to Ptolemy, Muslim scholars made almost no
direct use of Ptolemy's principles in the maps which have
survived. Instead, they followed al-Khwārazmī's modifications
and the orthogonal projection advocated by Suhrāb's early
10th-century treatise on the Marvels of the Seven Climes to the End of
Habitation. Surviving maps from the medieval period were not done
according to mathematical principles. The world map from the
11th-century Book of Curiosities is the earliest surviving map of the
Muslim or Christian worlds to include a graticule but the cartographer
seems to have not understood its purpose, starting it from the left
using twice the intended scale and then (apparently realizing his
mistake) giving up halfway through. Its presence does strongly
suggest the existence of earlier, now-lost maps which had been
mathematically derived in the manner of Ptolemy, al-Khwārazmi, or
Suhrāb. There are surviving reports of such maps.
Further information: Waldseemüller map, Sino-Roman relations,
Indo-Roman relations, Europeans in Medieval China, and Chronology of
European exploration of Asia
Ptolemy's text reached
Constantinople in about 1400 and was
Jacobus Angelus of
Scarperia around 1406.
The first printed edition with maps, published in 1477 in Bologna, was
also be the first printed book with engraved illustrations.
Many editions followed (more often using woodcut in the early days),
some following traditional versions of the maps, and others updating
them. An edition printed at
Ulm in 1482 was the first one printed
north of the Alps. Also in 1482,
Francesco Berlinghieri printed the
first edition in vernacular Italian.
Edition printed in
Ulm in 1482
Ptolemy had mapped the whole world from the Fortunatae Insulae (Cape
Verde or Canary Islands) eastward to the eastern shore of the
Magnus Sinus. This known portion of the world was comprised within 180
degrees. In his extreme east Ptolemy placed
Serica (the Land of Silk),
the Sinarum Situs (the Port of the Sinae), and the emporium of
Cattigara. On the 1489 map of the world by Henricus Martellus, which
was based on Ptolemy’s work, Asia terminated in its southeastern
point in a cape, the Cape of Cattigara.
Cattigara was understood by
Ptolemy to be a port on the Sinus Magnus, or Great Gulf, the actual
Gulf of Thailand, at eight and a half degrees north of the Equator, on
the coast of Cambodia, which is where he located it in his Canon of
Famous Cities. It was the easternmost port reached by shipping trading
from the Graeco-Roman world to the lands of the Far East. In
Ptolemy’s later and more well-known Geography, a scribal error was
Cattigara was located at eight and a half degrees South of
the Equator. On Ptolemaic maps, such as that of Martellus, Catigara
was located on the easternmost shore of the Mare Indicum, 180 degrees
East of the
Cape St Vincent
Cape St Vincent at, due to the scribal error, eight and a
half degrees South of the Equator.
Catigara is also shown at this location on Martin Waldseemüller’s
1507 world map, which avowedly followed the tradition of Ptolemy.
Ptolemy’s information was thereby misinterpreted so that the coast
of China, which should have been represented as part of the coast of
eastern Asia, was falsely made to represent an eastern shore of the
Indian Ocean. As a result, Ptolemy implied more land east of the 180th
meridian and an ocean beyond. Marco Polo’s account of his travels in
eastern Asia described lands and seaports on an eastern ocean
apparently unknown to Ptolemy. Marco Polo’s narrative authorized the
extensive additions to the Ptolemaic map shown on the 1492 globe of
Martin Behaim. The fact that Ptolemy did not represent an eastern
coast of Asia made it admissible for Behaim to extend that continent
far to the east. Behaim’s globe placed Marco Polo’s Mangi and
Cathay east of Ptolemy’s 180th meridian, and the Great Khan’s
capital, Cambaluc (Beijing), on the 41st parallel of latitude at
approximately 233 degrees East. Behaim allowed 60 degrees beyond
Ptolemy’s 180 degrees for the mainland of Asia and 30 degrees more
to the east coast of
Cipangu and the mainland of Asia
were thus placed only 90 and 120 degrees, respectively, west of the
The Codex Seragliensis was used as the base of a new edition of the
work in 2006. This new edition was used to "decode" Ptolemy's
coordinates of Books 2 and 3 by an interdisciplinary team of TU
Berlin, presented in publications in 2010 and 2012.
Relevant research on Ptolemy's Geography manuscripts and printed
editions, concerning the Geography versions coordinates, has been
carried out since 1998 by members of the cartography group, school of
surveying engineering, at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
See, e.g. selective papers in the web journal "e-Perimetron"
Christopher Columbus modified this geography further by using 53⅔
Italian nautical miles as the length of a degree instead of the longer
degree of Ptolemy, and by adopting Marinus of Tyre’s longitude of
225 degrees for the east coast of the Magnus Sinus. This resulted in a
considerable eastward advancement of the longitudes given by Martin
Behaim and other contemporaries of Columbus. By some process Columbus
reasoned that the longitudes of eastern Asia and
were about 270 and 300 degrees east, or 90 and 60 degrees west of the
Canary Islands. He said that he had sailed 1100 leagues from the
Canaries when he found
Cuba in 1492. This was approximately where he
thought the coast of eastern Asia would be found. On this basis of
calculation he identified
Hispaniola with Cipangu, which he had
expected to find on the outward voyage at a distance of about 700
leagues from the Canaries. His later voyages resulted in further
Cuba and in the discovery of South and Central America.
At first South America, the Mundus Novus (New World) was considered to
be a great island of continental proportions; but as a result of his
fourth voyage, it was apparently considered to be identical with the
great Upper India peninsula (India Superior) represented by
Behaim—the Cape of Cattigara. This seems to be the best
interpretation of the sketch map made by Alessandro Zorzi on the
Bartholomew Columbus (Christopher’s brother) around 1506,
which bears an inscription saying that according to the ancient
Marinus of Tyre and
Christopher Columbus the distance from
Cape St Vincent
Cape St Vincent on the coast of Portugal to
Cattigara on the peninsula
India Superior was 225 degrees, while according to Ptolemy the same
distance was 180 degrees.
Early modern Ottoman Empire
Prior to the 16th century knowledge of geography in the Ottoman Empire
was limited in scope, with almost no access to the works of earlier
Islamic scholars that superseded Ptolemy. His Geography would again be
translated and updated with commentary into Arabic under Mehmed II,
who commissioned works from Byzantine scholar
George Amiroutzes in
1465 and the Florentine humanist
Francesco Berlinghieri in
Longitudes error and
Lucio Russo points out two apparently distinct
considering a sample of 80 cities amongst the 6345 listed by Ptolemy,
those that are both identifiable and for which we can expect a better
distance measurement since they were well known, there is a systematic
overestimation of the longitude by a factor 1.428 with a high
confidence (coefficient of determination r² = 0.9935). This error
produces an evident deformations in Ptolemy's world map most apparent
for exampled in the profile of Italy, which is markedly stretched
Ptolemy accepted that the known
Ecumene spanned 180° of longitude,
but instead of accepting Eratosthenes's estimate for the circumference
Earth of 252,000 stadia, he shrinks it to 180,000 stadia, with
a factor of 1.4 between the two figures.
Ptolemy took as location for the longitude 0° the Fortunate Isles
which at his times were identified with the Canary Islands. The
strange coincidence of the two aforementioned errors may be accounted
for if one assumes that this identification was wrong and that at the
time of Ptolemy's sources the
Fortunate Isles where actually the
eastern Antilles. Since Ptolemy could estimate the actual distance to
the Canaries, Russo proposes that he purposely shrank the
Earth to accommodate his data and his wrong
identification of the Fortunate Isles. This suggests or even proves
that the American continent was known in Classical Antiquity.
Codex Seragliensis GI 57, fol. 33v
Scandinavia in the
Zamoyski Codex (c. 1467)
1535 printed edition, title page
19th-century print in Greek (3 volumes)
Prima Europe tabula One of the earliest surviving copies of Ptolemy's
2nd century map of the British Isles. 2nd edition, 1482.
Almagest, Ptolemy's astronomical work
Geography and cartography in medieval Islam
^ They are the Urbanas Graecus 82, the Fragmentum Fabricianum
Graecum 23, and the Seragliensis 57 The Urbanas Graecus is
usually considered the oldest, although some argue for the
precedence of the Turkish manuscript.
^ For example, the illustrations for Burney MS 111, most of which
were inserted into an earlier copy of the Geography during the early
^ Berggren (2001).
^ Dilke (1987b), pp. 267–268.
^ a b c Dilke (1987b), p. 268.
^ Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana [The Apostolic Vatican Library].
Vat. Gr. 177. Late 13th century
^ Milanesi (1996).
^ Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana [The Apostolic Vatican Library].
Urbinas Graecus 82. Late 13th century
^ Universitetsbiblioteket [The University Library of Copenhagen].
Fragmentum Fabricianum Graecum 23. Late 13th century
^ The Sultan's Library in Istanbul. Codex Seragliensis GI 57. Late
^ Dilke (1987b), p. 269.
^ Diller (1940).
^ a b Stückelberger (2006).
^ a b Angelus (c. 1406).
^ Clemens (2008), p. 244.
^ Talbert, Richard (2017). Roman Portable Sundials: The Empire in Your
Hand. Oxford University Press. pp. 119–123.
^ Wright (1923).
^ Images from Burney MS 111 at Wikicommons.
^ a b Dilke (1987a), p. 234.
^ a b Parker (2008), p. 118.
^ Young (2001), p. 29.
^ Mawer (2013), p. 38.
^ Suárez (1999), p. 90-92.
^ Yule (1915), p. 52.
^ a b Edson (2004), pp. 61–62.
^ a b c d Rapoport (2008), p. 128.
^ a b Rapoport (2008), p. 127.
^ Nallino (1939).
^ al-Masʿūdī, 33.
^ Rapoport (2008), p. 130.
^ a b Rapoport (2008), p. 129.
^ Rapoport (2008), p. 126–127.
^ a b Landau, David, and Parshall, Peter (1996). The Renaissance
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^ Dennis Rawlins (March 2008). "The Ptolemy GEOGRAPHY's Secrets"
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^ J.W. McCrindle, Ancient India as described by Ptolemy, London,
Trubner, 1885, revised edition by Ramachandra Jain, New Delhi, Today
& Tomorrow’s Printers & Publishers, 1974, p.204: “By the
Great Gulf is meant the Gulf of Siam, together with the sea that
stretches beyond it toward China”; Albert Herrmann, “Der Magnus
Cattigara nach Ptolemaeus”, Comptes Rendus du 15me
Congrès International de Géographie, Amsterdam, 1938, Leiden, Brill,
1938, tome II, sect. IV, Géographie Historique et Histoire de la
^ Paul Schnabel, „Die Entstehungsgeschichte des kartographischen
Erdbildes des Klaudios Ptolemaios“, Sitzungsberichte der
Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften: Philosophisch-Historische
Klasse, Verlag der Akademie der Wissenschaften, Bd.XIV, 1930,
S.214-250, n.b. 239-243; cited in Albert Herrmann, “South-Eastern
Asia on Ptolemy’s Map”, Research and Progress: Quarterly Review of
German Science, vol.V, no.2, March–April 1939, pp.121-127, p.123.
^ Andreas Kleineberg, Christian Marx, Eberhard Knobloch, Dieter
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Ptolemaios´ „Atlas der Oikumene“. Wissenschaftliche
Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, 2010, ISBN 978-3-534-23757-9.
^ Andreas Kleineberg, Christian Marx, Dieter Lelgemann, Europa in der
Geographie des Ptolemaios. Die Entschlüsselung des „Atlas
Oikumene“: Zwischen Orkney, Gibraltar und den Dinariden.
Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, 2010,
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Geographike Hyphegesis Buch 3: Europa zwischen Newa, Don und
Mittelmeer. epubli, Berlin, 2012, ISBN 978-3-8442-2809-0.
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marittima, vol. LXIV, no.9, Supplemento, Novembre 1930, p.48, fig.18.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cosmographia.
(in Greek) Claudii Ptolemaei Geographia, ed. Karl Friedrich August
Nobbe, Sumptibus et typis Caroli Tauchnitii, 1843, tom. I (books 1-4,
missing p. 126); 1845, tom. II (books 5-8); 1845, tom. III
(in Latin) La Cosmographie de Claude Ptolemée,
copied around 1411
(in Latin) Geography, digitized codex made in
Italy between 1460 and
1477, translated to
Jacobus Angelus at Somni. Also known as
codex valentinus, it is the oldest manuscript of the codices with maps
of Ptolemy with the donis projections.
(in Latin) "Cosmographia" / Claudius Ptolemaeus. Translated into Latin
by Jacobus Angelus, and edited by Nicolaus Germanus. - Ulm :
Lienhart Holle. - 1482. (In the National Library of Finland.)
(in Latin) Geographia Universalis, Basileae : apud Henricum
Petrum, mense Martio, Venezia, 1540.
(in Latin) Geographia Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini, Venetiis : apud
Vincentium Valgrisium, Venezia, 1562.
(in Latin) Claudii Ptholemaei Alexandrini liber geographiae cum
tabulis et universali figura et cum additione locorum quae a
recentioribus reperta sunt diligenti cura emendatus et impressus
Latin translation, with updated (16th century) geographical
(in Italian) Geografia cioè descrittione vniuersale della terra
partita in due volumi..., In Venetia : appresso Gio. Battista et
Giorgio Galignani fratelli, 1558.
(in Italian) Geografia di Claudio Tolomeo alessandrino, In
Venetia : appresso gli heredi di Melchior Sessa, 1599.
Ptolemy's Geography at LacusCurtius (English translation)
Extracts of Ptolemy on the country of the
Seres (China) (English
1st critical edition of Geography Book 8, by Aubrey Diller
Geography Books 2.10-6.11 in English, with most Greece-related places
John Brady Kiesling at ToposText
Ptolemy the Geographer
Ptolemy's Geography of Asia - Selected problems of Ptolemy's Geography
of Asia (in German)
Cartography including a discussion of the Geographia
Dennis Rawlins, Investigations of the Geographical Directory 1979-2007