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Posted by on Mar 27, 2020 in Tell Me Why |

Why Were Early Maps Decorated?

Why Were Early Maps Decorated?

Many early maps were decorated because the map-makers or cartographers had little real idea of geography and presented the world in symbolical terms. One map of Roman times showed the world as a T within an O. The O represented the ocean boundaries of the earth and the T the known world, with the Mediterranean as the upright and the horizontal bar as the meridian from the Nile to the River Don.

Jerusalem was at the centre and elaborate decorations often included Paradise and the Last Judgment. As the shapes of more coastlines were discovered, the unexplored land masses behind them were often filled in by map-makers with decorative portrayals of imagined animals and vegetation. The seas contained monsters and pictures of ships. Even when maps became more accurate, decorations survived because cartographers saw their craft as a mixture of science and art.

Some maps were specially commissioned to be given as gifts to noble patrons or sovereigns. Unlike ordinary maps for use at sea, these special productions were magnificently decorated, with the seas and lands full of fabulous animals and the winds portrayed as human. The houses and ships shown were usually accurate pictures of those in use at the time the maps were made.

The earliest known world maps date to classical antiquity, the oldest examples of the 6th to 5th centuries BCE still based on the flat Earth paradigm. World maps assuming a spherical Earth first appear in the Hellenistic period. The developments of Greek geography during this time, notably by Eratosthenes and Posidonius culminated in the Roman era, with Ptolemy’s world map (2nd century CE), which would remain authoritative throughout the Middle Ages.

Since Ptolemy, knowledge of the approximate size of the Earth allowed cartographers to estimate the extent of their geographical knowledge, and to indicate parts of the planet known to exist but not yet explored as terra incognita. With the Age of Discovery, during the 15th to 18th centuries, world maps became increasingly accurate; exploration of Antarctica, Australia, and the interior of Africa by western mapmakers was left to the 19th and early 20th century.

Maps have been one of the most important human inventions for millennia. People have created and used maps to help them define, explain, and navigate their way through the world. Earliest archaeological maps include cave paintings to ancient maps of Babylon, Greece, China, and India. They began as two-dimensional drawings, and for some time at least in Europe, the Earth was thought to be flat.

Nowadays maps can be visualized adopted as three-dimensional shapes on globes. Modern maps of the old and new worlds developed through the Age of Discovery. In the 21st century, with the advent of the computing age and information age, maps can now be digitized in numerical form, transmitted and updated easily via satellite GPS and apps like Google Maps, and used universally more easily than ever before.

Content for this question contributed by Michele Mazanec, resident of Sagamore Hills, Summit County, Ohio, USA