Mappemonde de Ptolémée

Ptolemy's map: A treasure of cartographic knowledge rediscovered during the Renaissance

When we think of early geographic maps, it is impossible to ignore Ptolemy's major work, "Geography." This iconic book from the 2nd century AD redefined our understanding of the world and played a fundamental role in the evolution of cartography. In this article, we delve into the fascinating details of Ptolemy's map, which includes a general map of the world and twenty-six regional maps. Prepare to be amazed by the geographical knowledge of this Greek scholar and to discover the astonishing features of his work!

Ptolemy, a pioneer of Western cartography

Ptolemy was a Greek scholar of the Alexandrian school who revolutionized the image of the world during the Renaissance with his book "Geography". Its improved conical, mantle-like projection system and grid of meridians and parallels are still universally used. He also introduced the orientation of maps towards the true north, the equator and the tropics, visible on his world map by wide scarlet bands. Successive editions of “Geography” have made it possible to improve and complete the world map over the course of discoveries. Engraving and printing then made it possible to widely disseminate this evolving cartography, providing humanists and scholars with a source of information on the progress of great discoveries.

Ptolemy's world map is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of ancient cartography. It represents the known world at the time, divided into three continents: Asia, Europe and Africa. The map is based on geographical and astronomical knowledge of the time, and shows details such as mountains, rivers and cities.

Ptolemy's world map

Ptolemy's world map

On the Ptolemy's map, the Indian Ocean is a closed sea !

For Ptolemy, the Indian Ocean was represented as a sea closed to the south by a southern continent which linked Africa to Asia. One of the notable features of his map is the depiction of Malaysia and Indonesia as a single large curved peninsula at the edge of the world. The shores of the Indian Ocean, called "Indicum pelagus" in his regional maps of Asia and Africa, were precisely detailed. As for Madagascar, it remains unknown in his work.

The curiosities of India and surrounding regions on the Ptolemy's map

India, as represented by Ptolemy, differs from the triangular shape we know today. It extends little towards the south and is represented differently from our modern maps. Additionally, the island of Ceylon, known today as Sri Lanka, is called Taprobane in Ptolemy's map.

Ptolemy's map rediscovered: the Renaissance

Although Ptolemy's work was known and used during late antiquity, it was largely forgotten in Western Europe thereafter. It was only at the dawn of the 15th century, during the Renaissance, that humanists rediscovered its Geography, thus offering intellectual Europe a detailed corpus and a solid basis for their own cartographic work.


Ptolemy's map is a gem of cartography that has survived through the centuries. The knowledge and concepts introduced by Ptolemy laid the foundation for Western cartography and provided a better understanding of world geography. By studying this map, we can travel through time and discover how our ancestors perceived their environment. The rediscovery of Ptolemy's Geography during the Renaissance marked a major turning point in the history of cartography and opened the way to new explorations and discoveries that enriched our knowledge of the world.
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