Old maps can tell us a great deal about where people traveled in ancient times. Men have made and used maps ever since people first moved about the earth exploring other territories, trading, or conquering other peoples. By comparing old maps, we can learn the extent of knowledge that various peoples had of the world throughout the ages.
The oldest known map was made about 2300 B.C. It is a small clay tablet from Babylonia that probably shows a man's estate in a mountain-lined valley. The Egyptians made maps as early as 1300 B.C. One of the few remaining ancient Egyptian maps shows the route from the Nile Valley to the gold mines of Nab, part of ancient Ethiopia.
The Greeks made maps of the inhabited world in the early 300's B.C. They became one of the first peoples to realize that the earth is round. They designed the first projection and developed a longitude and latitude system. No ancient Greek maps exist today. The Romans used maps for taxing land and to assist in military campaigns. They were excellent surveyors and their maps have been preserved.
The most famous ancient maps were made by Claudius Ptolemy, a scholar who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, around A.D. 150. A map of the world as known at that time, and 26 regipnal maps of Europe, Africa, and Asia formed part of his eight-book, Geographia.
The portolano, or sailor's char, came into common use during the 1300's and 1400's in Europe. It was developed as an aid to navigation along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. Maps of this type were drawn on sheepskin. They showed the outline of coasts and harbors, and located shipping ports.
These systematic calculations for the mapping and shaping of the earth were halted from becoming common knowledge by the Churches of various religions. An example of this can be found in the book of Ezekiel
"Thus saith the Lord God; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her." (Ezekiel 5:5)
This verse states that the city of Jerusalem should be in the center of all maps created. This eliminated the need for any latitude or longitude. Before hand, there had been more than six hundred maps created, not one having this holy city as the center. There was nothing new about putting "the most sacred place at the center" says Boorstin. The Hindus placed Mount Meru, a mythological 70,000 foot high mountain at the center of their map. In the Muslim faith, the Ka'bah in Mecca was the highest point on earth and the polestar showed the city of Mecca to be opposite the center of the sky. As one can clearly see, many maps, had different centers. Each map had a different center, each based on a different religion.
Many years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Greeks theorized that the earth was a globe. But after that, there was a period in history called "The Great Interruption." This period was categorized by a complete silence where people in general, forgot about the issue of whether the earth was flat or whether it was a globe. Another reason that brought the theories of a globular world to rest was because the priests told the general public that the earth was flat. Priests such as St. Augustine and others invented the Antipode theory, which stated that a world shaped like a globe is impossible because objects would be hanging downwards and growing backwards. Once again, religion played a major part in this argument that would rage on for many years to come.
To conclude, much like the theories of the priests in the first 400 years after the birth of Jesus Christ, who said that Jerusalem was the center of a flat earth, one might be able to relate this period in time to a much more recent and modern one. Prior to the French Revolution in 1789, France was ruled by an absolute divine right monarchy. The institution that had the most power at the time was the Catholic Church. No one in France would ever dare question the word of the Church. Everything the Church said had to be true and that was that. This is further reinforced by the church's persecution of Copernicus who later again theorized that the earth was not the center of the solar system.