Ptolemy’s maps: the father of modern Geography

Jerry Brotton, author of a new book on the history of mapmaking, introduces a second-century geographer whose legacy can be traced to Christopher Columbus and even Google Earth

Ptolemy World map. Artist: Germanus, Donnus Nicolaus (ca. 1420-ca. 1490)

This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of BBC History Magazine 

Ask any geographer to name one individual responsible for founding their discipline, and they are likely to answer: “Ptolemy”. Claudius Ptolemaeus (c100 AD–c170) lived in second-century Alexandria, where he wrote the Geographike hyphegesis (c150), known today simply as the Geography. It defined geography, explained how to draw a world map, and offered a gazetteer of over 8,000 locations in the known world.

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