Claudius Ptolemaeus' Impact on the World

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This paper is a historical paper that focus on how Claudius Ptolemy impacted the world and how his impact exploded in the fifteenth century after his first publication called the Geographia. It goes on to further discuss how other scholars and cartographers used a combination of his methods and their own methods in order to come up with better ways so that they could be free from his impact. The paper discusses how others also drew their own maps explaining how the world around them was shaped. These maps that were bond into atlases provided navigational information to trade merchants and ship captains who moved around the world. The paper concludes by acknowledging the changes that Ptolemy motivated in all cartographical publications.

            An atlas can best be described as a bundle of maps depicting the earth or part of the earth. The largest and most comprehensive collection of atlases in the world is held by the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress (Atlases, 2018).

The earliest atlases in the Library are associated with Claudius Ptolemy. Ptolemy was an Alexandrian scholar who spent his time recording and systematizing classical Greek geographical knowledge during the second century (Atlases, 2018).

 He was responsible for introducing the Ptolemaic system which led to the abortion of the Copernican system. Ptolemy’s Geographia was the first and the most popular cartographical publications to be printed from the movable type in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century.  The Geographia has fifty-six known copies that date from 1475 to 1883. Owing to Ptolemy’s publication, his impact began being felt across Europe and Italy. This sparked the Renaissance that took place across Italy.

The more people saw his works, the more it impacted the world until various others started following in his footsteps. The publication of the Geographia informed Europe just how little was known about the world. After the fifteenth century, Ptolemy’s impact seems to have exploded and various scholars around Europe began working on cartography and geography. This could be proven from the various atlases that hit the market after the fifteenth century.

In addition to holding forty-seven copies of the Geographia, the Library of Congress also houses five variants and thirty-four duplicates including rare copies of the 1482 Ulm edition, 1490 Rome edition, the 1507 Rome edition with Johann Ruysch’s world map that incorporated the exploration of the New World by John Cabot, and the 1513 Strassburg edition with twenty supplemental maps including two new maps showing America (Atlases, 2018).

A prized atlas treasure can best be described as a bound collection of maps assembled by Antoine Lafrery, a native of Burgundy who moved to Rome around 1540 and set up his shop as an engraver and a publisher. It was during this time that the European map trade was dominated by Cartographers in Rome and Venice who had perfected copperplate engraving for maps. Lafrery and other Italian publishers began to assemble individual maps in bound volumes based on the interests of their customers (Atlases, 2018). More and more people saw Ptolemy’s vision and felt his impact as more cartographers researched on the world beyond them and drew the maps to guide all that would ever travel to the lands on the maps. His impact truly exploded in the fifteenth century as many cartographers researched about the world and drew various maps that mapped out the various trade routes and lands that had been discovered.

Another reason for the exploding of Ptolemy’s vision was the publication of the first modern atlas by Abraham Ortelius in 1570. His publication was titled Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World). This was the first book that had maps of uniform design and size (Atlases, 2018). His publication was aided by a Flemish geographer who may very well be the biggest reason for the explosion of Ptolemy’s impact. Gerard Mercator was one of the geographers who helped free geography from its Ptolemaic influence using his prodigious contributions in the production of globes, maps, map projections and atlases. 

In conclusion, it could be argued that Ptolemy’s impact on Italy and Western Europe exploded in the fifteenth century after the publication of his first Geographia. After that, various scholars and geographers tried to prove there were better ways of cartography and everyone tried to produce the best atlas at that time. One of the most felt contributions in the explosion of Ptolemy’s impact was the efforts made by Gerard Mercator. He actually managed to free the world from its Ptolemaic influence.


Febvre, L., & Martin, H. (2006). The coming of the book. Calcutta: Seagull Books.

Goffart, W. (2014). Historical Atlases: The First Three Hundred Years, 1570-1870. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

University of Maryland University College. (2018). Atlases [Ebook]. Retrieved from

November 24, 2023

History Science



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