Here be Dragons

sextantI was one of those kids who always saw the pictures hidden in things –things like animals in clouds, faces in wood, and larger geometric patterns within patterns that repeated.

I recall my 3rd grade epiphany when I happened to look at the huge canvas map of the world hanging on the classroom wall. I saw that the western edge of North and South America fit exactly into the eastern edge of Africa. I asked the teacher about it and she said it was a coincidence. Not so. Years later I learned the continents were once connected exactly there and together the large land mass was called Pangaea. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always been drawn to maps. Not for the places and roads on them, but because of their shapes within shapes.  For other people, it was all about the places.

Here’s an interesting timeline of geographic history, streamlined to fit a morning blog post:

  • The first city map ever discovered was created in stone in 2300 BCE for the city of Lagash, Mesopotamia.
  • In 450 Herodotus compiled a map of the known world.
  • In 334 Alexander the Great set to conquering the Middle East and India.
  • In 240 Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth.
  • In 20 AD Greek geographer Strabo published his 17 volume Geography.
  • In 77 AD Pliny the Elder wrote his Encyclopedia of Geography.
  • In 150 Ptolmy the Greco-Egyptian polymath published his Geography that included a coordinate grid system a map and places labeled.

sextantA lot of changes both large and small took place from Ptolmy’s time on in to the 1100s. Things like Mt, Vesuvius’ eruption, the fall of Rome, the Crusades, and the discovery of the magnetic compass.


  • In 1154  Edrisi the Arabic scholar published his book of world geography. He was famous for his planisphere— the most accurate map of Europe, north Africa and western Asia.

sextantMore changes rocked the world between the 1100s and 1400s. China ruled the seas, there were more crusades, and the Bubonic plague killed approximately 60% of Europeans.

  • In 1410 A translation of Ptolemy’s Geography was published in Europe
  • 1418 Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator established the Sagres Research Institute.

Collectively, the 1400 and 1500s were big in geography. sextantSpanish and Portuguese explorers made new and profitable discoveries. They also established trading posts in the new world and throughout Africa. Magellan began his circumnavigation of the earth.

  • In 1569 Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator created his map and coined the word Atlas for a collection of maps.
  • In 1675 the Royal Observatory was established at Greenwich, England. This is important because here we have the Prime Meridian –longitude defined at 0°.
  • In 1714 the British government offered a 20,000£ reward to anyone who could accurately determine longitude at sea. It’s all about time.
  • In 1761 John Harrison’s chronometer did just that — accurately determined longitude at sea.
  • In 1768-1779  James Cook explored the earth.
  • In 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark explored the western United States.
  • In 1817 German geographer Karl Ritter published his first volume of Die Erkunde (The Explorers).
  • In 1830 the Royal Geographical Society was formed in London.
  • In 1840 the Geological Survey of Canada was established.
  • In 1850 the first use of the camera for mapping takes place in France.
  • In 1851 the American Geographical Society was formed.
  • In 1855  Matthew Fontaine Maury,  the “father of naval oceanography” publishes his Physical Geography of the Sea.
  • In 1867 the United States Geological Survey (USGS) was established.
  • In 1874  the first Department of Geography was established in Germany.
  • In 1884-1885 Berlin Conference divides Africa among European colonial powers.

thOn this day in 1888 the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and education institution was founded for “the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.”
We know this as The National Geographic Society. It was conceived by a diverse group of geographers, explorers, teachers, cartographers, military officers, and financiers who all shared an interest in scientific and geographical knowledge. They felt “Americans were becoming more curious about the world around them.” Indeed, that magazine, and all that went with it, opened the door to the world for many a rural American. Oh for those days when an ignorant population didn’t equate education with elitist snobbery, but as a way to better oneself and the lives of their children. 

100 Years of National Geographic Maps
The famous National Geographic Magazine

A lengthy historical look at Longitude (part 1) 
(part 2)


phraseologyPhraseology I often wonder where certain words and sayings come from. For the next few weeks this word collector will be examining some familiar phrases to get at their heart. I think you’ll be surprised.

The phrase for today is ~ Here be Dragons
It’s a fanciful phrase today, but it has more to do with the terrifying unknown than lighthearted dragon mythology. It was common practice among map makers to jazz up their uncharted seas and grounds with pictures of fantastic and often terrifying beasts. Remember, the earth was flat in their minds. They knew of whales and giant squid so those unknown things that lay beyond the edges had to be even more frightful.

One such map was the copper Lenox Globe (circa mid-1500s). Written on the eastern coast of Asia, the globe says “hic sunt dracones” and from Latin that translates to Here are dragons.


RB4U purpleToday is Author Janice Seagraves’ blog day.

Romance Books ‘4’ Us ~ Our February contest is coming up.


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About ~RoseAnderson

Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes under the pen name Madeline Archer.
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6 Responses to Here be Dragons

  1. mikey2ct says:

    Growing up in the ’50s and going to Catholic school, I got a healthy dose of ‘Geography’ and ‘History’. I loved rvery minute of these periods.

  2. My archaeologist daughter – who also has a degree in Geology has a sign on her wall – Reunite Pangaea.

    Fascinating post.

  3. JoAnne Myers says:

    Hi Rose, a very interesting article. I just love history. All the best to you.

  4. treknray says:

    I’ve always been interested in Geography. I took it as an elective my senior year in high school. The more I’ve traveled the more interested I became. I have a special folder containing only maps and charts on my computer.

    Very good timeline. In 2007 on the celebration of the Jamestown Colony’s First Landing at Cape Henry in what is now Virginia Beach I attended the reenactment of the landing. There were tents set up with exhibits of books as well as charts and navigation equipment.

  5. As a teacher, I often thought that students didn’t get enough geography in their education. Obviously, that was not the case with you, Rose. History and geography combined with literature are fascinating.

  6. melissakeir says:

    Maps are a fun thing to enjoy. You can always dream away some new vacations! 🙂 Living in Michigan, we are a mitten and being from Ohio… we are the heart! The US map has so many shapes!

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