In the late fifteenth century Europe turned its attention outside of the Mediterranean to the vast oceans that had been mostly ignored for the two thousand years since the great days of Golden Age Greece. In general navigators did not like to leave the Mediterranean. If you were sailing within the Mediterranean you could sail west along the north shore and east along the south shore and never be far out of the sight of land. So for five or six millennia most European and Middle Eastern shipping stayed inside the Mediterranean sea. For five hundreds years it was known as the "Roman Lake." Then in the fifteenth century, a series of intellectual and political events led two European states, Portugal and Spain, to turn their attention west. Both had useful Atlantic ports so either one could lead the new exploration. Portugal was first. The king and the court in Portugal patronized the great explorers and so during the fifteenth century Portugal became the center of the most advanced oceanographic exploration of the Atlantic that had ever been tried by Europeans. But Spain soon joined the project. And many explorers like Christopher Columbus moved back and forth from the court of Portugal to the court of Spain seeking whatever support was available for his projects. Tonight we want to talk about the intellectual preparation that was necessary before Columbus could get into his three little ships in the fall of 1492.

Here is a very nice time line from WIKIPEDEA:

Early exploration

4500 BC Around this time, coastal cultures like those in Greece and China began diving into the sea as a source of food gathering, commerce, and possibly even warfare.

4000 BC Egyptians developed sailing vessels, which were probably used only in the eastern Mediterranean near the mouth of the Nile River.

4000 BC - 1000 AD Polynesian colonization of South Pacific Islands.

1800 BC Basic measuring of the depths is done in Egypt.

600 BC Phoenicians developed sea routes around the entire Mediterranean and into the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Going around Africa they reached England by sailing along the western European coast. Although they understood celestial navigation, they probably stayed within sight of land whenever possible.

500-200 BC Greeks developed trade routes in the Mediterranean using the length of the day (corrected for the time of the year) to estimate latitude.

450 BC Herodotus publishes a map of the Mediterranean region.

325 BC Pytheas, a Greek astronomer and geographer, sailed north out of the Mediterranean, reaching England and possibly even Iceland and Norway. He also developed the use of sightings on the North Star to determine latitude.

200 BC Eratosthenes determines fairly accurately the circumference of the Earth using angles of shadows in Syene and Alexandria.

90-170 AD Ptolemy produces a map of the Roman world, including lines of latitude and longitude, the continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa and the surrounding oceans.

900-1430 AD Vikings explore and colonize Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland.

1405-1433 Chinese send seven voyages to extend Chinese influence and impress their neighbor states. These expensive voyages are ended after a short time. See Zheng He (1371–1433).


My first choice for the best book to serve as an introduction to the whole subject of exploration is Norman Thrower, Maps and Civilization. But if you also want to treat yourself to a beautiful book with great photos of important maps from the history of the world then you should also get National Geographic's.

Norman J. W. Thrower,

Maps and Civilization, Cartography in Culture and Society,

University Of Chicago Press; 3 edition (October 15, 2008),

ISBN 0226799743


"A marvelous compendium of map lore. Anyone truly interested in the development of cartography will want to have his or her own copy to annotate, underline, and index for handy referencing." - L. M. Sebert, Geomatica "The premier one-volume history of cartography.... Maps and Civilization should be a close companion for anyone interested in maps: where they came from, where they are now, and where to go for more detail." - John P. Snyder, Mercator's World"

About the Author Norman J. W. Thrower is professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. His other books include Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Longer View of Newton and Halley, Sir Francis Drake and the Famous Voyage, 1577–1580, and Original Survey and Land Subdivision.

Ralph E. Ehrenberg,

Mapping the World: An Illustrated History of Cartography (Hardcover),

National Geographic, 2005,

ISBN 0792265254

Amazon price: used copies from 19.45 and up....

Book Description Publication Date: October 11, 2005 Mapping the World is a one-of-a-kind collection of cartographic treasures that spans thousands of years and many cultures, from an ancient Babylonian map of the world etched on clay to the latest high-tech maps of the earth, seas, and the skies above. With more than one hundred maps and other illustrations and an introduction and running commentary by Ralph E. Ehrenberg, this book tells a fascinating story of geographic discovery, scientific invention, and the art and technique of mapmaking. Mapping the World is organized chronologically with a brief introduction that places the maps in their historical context. Special "portfolios" within each section feature key cartographic innovators and maps of exceptional artistic quality or significance, such as the 1507 Waldseemüller Map, the first to use the name America. Unusual and surprising maps are also presented, including a set of playing cards that contained a secret escape map for American prisoners in Germany during World War II. With its broad historical and cultural range, unmatched variety of maps from the finest map collections in the world, more than one hundred illustrations, and a fresh and authoritative perspective on the history of cartography, Mapping the World will delight everyone with an interest in maps and mapmaking like no other book on the subject.


Pictures of maps, globes.