Claudius Ptolemy. “Tabula Asiae III.” From Sebastian Munster’s edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia. Basel: Henric Petri, 1552. 10 x 13. Woodcut. Very good condition. Decorative woodblocks on verso attributed to Hans Holbein.
In the Second Century A.D. Claudius Ptolemy was the librarian at Alexandria, the greatest center of learning in the Classical world. Ptolemy wrote two major works, the Almagest, an account of the heavens, and the Geographia, the first atlas of the world. This latter consisted of Ptolemy’s compilation of all known geographic information, including instructions for how to make maps. Rediscovered in the middle ages, the Geographia had a profound impact on the awaking western European mind. Ptolemy opened to view large parts of the unknown world to an audience just starting to explore beyond its narrow horizons. His structure for making maps, with longitude and latitude, and his usual northern orientation for the maps, became the standard from then right up to the present. Such was the impact of Ptolemy’s work that even in the sixteenth century, a millennium and a half after it was produced, when Ptolemy’s geographic conceptions were known to be wrong, maps based on these conceptions were issued time and again. Sebastian Munster’s versions are excellent examples of these maps. This map shows the area between the Black and Caspian seas when information about the Caucasus was very scarce in the Mediterranean Classical world. Here is the conjunction of present-day Turkey, Russia and Iran, including Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan . Noah’s Ark floats in the Caspian Sea. A fascinating document reflecting some of the earliest information available on this important area.