William Shepherd.

Systematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) online

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was known from the remotest antiquity, to the decline of the
Roman empire. (2) That of the middle ages, which reaches
to the restoration of learning in the beginning of the fifteenth


century, when the discoveries of the Portuguese began to lay
broader foundations Of the science ; and, (3) Modem geogra-
phy, which embraces all the recent discoveries. We shall
endeavour to trace the rise and progress of the science, and in
so doing we shall borrow freely from a work by Dr. John
Blair, that he pubhshed in 1784, to accompany and illus-
trate his excellent Chronological Tables, which will be de-
scribed hereafter.

The geography of ancient writers scarcely went beyond the
description o countries. Of this kind is that portion of it,
which we find in the books of Moses, written, perhaps, about
fourteen or fifteen hundred years before the birth of Christ.
Of this kind also is the geography of Homer, in his Iliad and
Odyssey, who flourished about nine centuries before the Cliris-
tian aera. The geographical knowledge that we derive from He-
rodotus, who lived five hundred years after the lime of Homer,
is partial, imperfect, and not at all to be depended on. It
relates chiefly to certain parts of Asia ; to the northern and
western parts of Europe, and also to part of Africa.

It should seem that those who made geography thgr pur-
suit in those early times, being destitute of mathematical
instruments, and of course unable to make any accurate astro-
nomical observations, began to determine the situation of
places according to climates, which they probably fixed on,
firom the form and colour of certain animals that were to be
found in the different countries. The appearance of negroes,
called, at that time, Ethiopians, and of the larger sized ani-
mals, as the rhinoceros and elephant, suggested the line of
division, where the limits of the torrid zone began towards the
north, and terminated towards the south. This manner of
dividing the surface of the earth into climates, must be consi-
dered as the earliest outline of geography in the first ages of
the world.

The Chaldeans and Egyptians, who were distinguished by
their skill in geometry and astronomy, were of course the first
persons who paid any particular attention to geography, and


it has been toid that the earliest map was made by order of
Sesostris I., who conquered Egypt. Tliis prince having tra-
versed a great part of the earth as it was then known, record-
ed his march in maps, and gave copies of those maps, not
only to 4he Egyptians, but to the inhabitants of Scythia, or
Tartaiy, to their great astonishment. The Jev^ hkewise
seem to have had geographers among them, and it has been
thought, by able commentators on the Scriptures, that they
possessed a map of Palestine, when they assigned different
portions to the seven tribes at Shiloh : " Go", said Joshua,
" and walk through the land, and describe it, and come again
to me, that I may here cast lots for you." See Joshua, chap,
xviii. and xix. In confirmation of this opinion, Josephus says,
that when Joshua sent out people from the different tribes to
measure the land, he gave them, as companions, persons well
skilled in geometry, whose knowledge would prevent them
from deviating far from the truth : hence it is inferred, and
wiih a great shew of reason, that a geometrical survey was
taken of the Holy Land.

Besides the method of dividing the surface of the globe by
climates, it is certain that the Egyptians and Babylonians
adopted another, which was that of determining the situation
of places, or their distance from the equator, by observing
the length of their longest and shortest days. This they per-
formed by means of a gnomon,* erected upon a horizontal

The simplicity of the gnomon for the pnrpose above alluded to, ren-
ders it very probable that it was the first instrument ever used for astrono-
mical purposes. All the knowledge that the ancients had of tlie solar
tbeory, seems to have been derived from the gnomon. The principle of
this instrument is readily described : if the heiglit of a vertical staff or pil-
lar, be compared with its shadow on a perfectly horizontal plane, the
altitude of the sn may be found by the most simple trigonometrical cal-
culation, because the height of the pillar will be to the length of the pro-
jected shadow, as the tangent to radius, or as the sine to the co-sine of the
altitude reqnired. [See our chapter on trigonometry, where this is more
fnlly explained.]

The ancient obeluks found in Egypt were probably, many of tUpm, at


plane, by which they were enabled to measure the shortness
or length of the shadow in proportion to the height of the

Thales, a celebrated philosopiier, and one of the seven
sages of Greece, who flourished about 600 years before the
Christian aera, discovered the passage of the sun from tropic

least, instruments of this kind : this was their original purpose, and the
figure of an obelisk being rather pleasing to the sight, it was adopted as an
ornament to public places. As practical astronomy advanced towards per-
fection, the gnomon was discovered to be considerably defective. The
shadow is generally ill-defined, so that its length cannot be very accurately
measured, and to obviate this, the gnomon must be of greater height than
is easily practicable. In modern times, therefore, the original gnomon has
been abandoned, and a new one substituted in its place. The gnomons of
Italy are usually constnicted in large buildings, in tiie upper part of which
an aperture is made to allow a luminous circular image of the sun to be
formed on the pavement below, on which a meridian line is accurately traced^
A plumb line is suspended from the aperture to the floor, so that the
height of the aperture, and the distance of the solar image, from the point
beneath it, is very accurately ascertained. There are on record some very
ancient observations made with gnomons, particularly of Pythias, who
observed the solstices at Marseilles, full three centuries before the birth of
Christ. One still older is mentioned by Pliny, as erected by Augustus,
which had been brought from Egypt, and was made originally by Sesostris
nearly a thousand years before the Christian aera. It was used by Manlius
for the same purpose for which it was originally destined, namely, to mea-
sure the height of the sun. The most famous gnomon of modern times, was
constructed in 1575, by Ignatius Dante, a Dominican friar, and afterwards
bishop of Alatri, in the church of St. Petronius at Bologna. It was origin-
ally only about seventy feet high, but was raised by Cassini in 1653, tathe
height of 90 feet ; and it was with this that he made his solar observations.
Almost all modern gnomons are accompanied by a meridian line, ornament-
ed with the names of the month and the signs of tlie zodiac, so as to serve
as a Calendar. One of great note is in the Cartliusian convent at Rome,
built on the Ancient Thermae of Dioclesian, by Bianchini. In the royal
observatory at Paris, there is one erected by the celebrated Picard ; and
another in St. Sulpice at Paris, begun by Sully, a watchmaker, in 1727, but
which has since been improved and highly ornamented. The reason why
none of these gnomons are to be found in this country, is, that we do not
regulate our clocks by solar, but by mean time; and another circumstance
may be, that our climate is very unfavourable for solar observations. We
shall have occasioD to refer again to this subject.



to tropic, uhich enabled him to ascertain the four particular
days when that body appeared to be in the equinoctial and sol-
sticial points in tlie heavens. He was led to the division of the
year into its four parts, and is said to have written treatises on
the tropics and solstices ; and, as we have no account of any
othe^ instrument being at that time known, by the use of
which the discovery could have been made, it has been con-
cluded, that Thales employed the gnomon in his observations,
the use of which he had probably learnt in his travels into
Egypt. It has been observed, as a proof of this, that calcu-
lations of the kind were familiar to him, that he first deter-
mined the height of the Egyptian pyramids by their shadows,
at the moment when the shadow of an object is equal to its
height, that is, when the sun is precisely 45 degrees above the
horizon. To Thales also has been ascribed the division of the
year into three hundred and sixty-five days ; this, however,
there is scarcely any doubt, he learnt at Egypt, and the disco-
very is, with great probability, traced to Trismegistus, who is
supposed to have been a contemporary of Moses. Pliny
asserts, that the addition of five days and a quarter added to
three hundred and sixty days, into which the year was first di-
vided, was made by observing when the shadow returned to
its marks, a proof that either the gnomon, or some similar
instrument was used ; and hence it has been inferred that the
Greeks derived their knowledge of the gnomon fi-om the
Egyptians, to whom it was known long before the dawu of
Greek learning. See Chronology.

From the time of Thales, and his immediate successors,
geography seems to have received very little improvement for
two hundred years, till the establishment of the famous school
of Alexandria; although Pythagoras and his disciples were
rightly informed with regard to the true system of the world,
being satisfied that the sun was in the centre, and that the
earth was globular, and had an annual motion round the sun,
and a diurnal motion on its own imaginary axis.

During this period, we have an astronomical observation of


considerable importance to geography, and the first that is
recorded, as made in Greece. It was taken by Meton and
Euctemon, who observed the summer solstice at Athens, on a
day that corresponded to our 27th of June, 432 B. C. This
observation was probably applied by the two philosophers to
the determining the latitude of Athens at the same time ; for,
as the length of the shadow of the gnomon was attentively
watched at the moment of the solstice, the proportion of that
to the gnomon's height was easily known, by which the sun's
altitude would be given. There is reason to believe that
Timotheus and Aristillus, who began to make observations
about three centuries before the birth of Christ, were the
first who introduced the manner of determining the position
of the stars, according to their longitudes and latitudes, with
respect to the equator. This is ascertained from the " Al-
magest" of Ptolemy : one of their observations gave rise to
the discovery of the precession of the equinoxes, which will
be explained in our chapter " On Astronomy." Hence Hip-
parchus was led to dispose the different parts of the earth ac-
cording to latitude and longitude, this being a new application
of that art which had been introduced in the arrangement of
the constellations, and therefore equally proper to be adopted
in tracing the meridians and parallels of the earth. Hippar-
chus, by thus uniting geography and astronomy, fixed the for-
mer on a solid and invariable foundation.

When the true principles of geography were thus pointed
out by the invention of longitude and latitude, maps began to
assume a new form of projection, essentially different from
those in use prior to this period.

It was an universal custom among the Romans, after they
had conquered and subdued any provinces, to have a map, or
painted representation of them, carried in triumph; and in
this way, those who were the conquerors, became the de-
hneators of the world, and thus rendered the horrors of war
subservient to the interests and extension of science. Everjr


new war produced a new survey and itinerary of the countries
where the scene of action occurred; thus the materials of
geography were accumulated by every additional conquest So
attentive were the Romans to the accumulation of this kind of
knowledge, that we find Julius Coesar ordered a general survey
to be made of the whole Roman empire, by a decree of the
senate, selecting, for the purpose, persons who had been well
instructed in every branch of science. The three surveyor*
were Zenodoxus, Theodotus, and Polyclitus, each of whom,
with proper assistants, was appointed to survey a different di-
vision of the empire ; and the survey is said to have occupied
more than twenty-five years. There are Roman itineraries
still extant, which shew with what accuracy their surveys were
made in every province.

To shew, however, that geography was not at this period a
new science in the world, we may observe, that before the
Romans engaged in the business of depicting countries, Neco,
king of Egypt, ordered the Phoenicians to make a survey of
the whole coast of Africa, which they accomplished in three
years. Darius procured the Ethiopic sea and the mouth of
the Indus to be surveyed. Other instances might be pro-
duced, but these are sufficient to shew how much geography,
as a science, was cultivated at the period of which we are
peaking. In the timQ of Socrates, it is evident, that maps of
some kind were not uncommon at Athens, for this philosopher
is represented as mortifying the pride of Alcibiades, by de-
siring him to point out his territories in Attica in a map ; and
Pliny relates, that Alexander, in his expedition into Asia, took
with him two geographers to measure and describe the roads,
and that, from their itineraries, the writers of the following
ages took many particulars. According to Slrabo, a copy of
Alexander's survey was given by Xenocles, his treasurer, to
Patrocles, his geographer, who was also commander of the
fleets of Seleucus and Antiochus. Patrocles was author of
work on geography, wliich is frequently quoted by Strabo and


Pliny, and it appears that he furnished Eratosthenes with the
chief materials and authorities for constructing the oriental
part of his map of the known world.

From the aera of Alexander's expedition and conquest, Geo-
graphy began to assume a new form, and it went on improving
till the time of Ptolemy, in the second century of the Chris-
tian aera, who contributed greatly to the improvement of this
science, by a more accurate delineation of the terrestrial globe,
than any that had then been given of it. He availed himself
of all the observations of those who had gone before him,
corrected the mistakes of some, and supplied the many defects
of others ; and, by reducing the distances of places on the
earth to degrees and minutes, making use of the degrees of
latitude and longitude, and settling the situation of places by
astronomical observations, he reduced geography to a regular
system ; and, seventeen hundred years ago, actually laid a
foundation for those farther discoveries and improvements,
which resulted from the progressive, and, at present, advanced
state of geography.

Some time after Ptolemy, Dionysius, the African, flourished,
usually called the Periegetic, from the title of a work that he
composed in verse, containing a description of the world,
which is considered as one of the most correct systems of an-
cient geography. It was translated into Latin verse first by
Priscian, and afterwa<;ds by Arienus, the latter of whom also
wrote a description of the maritime coasts.

We come now to speak of the knowledge which the an-^
cients possessed of the globe, and of which there have been
various opinions ; but, according to Montucia, whose autho-
rity may be safely depended on, they were well acquainted
with the greater part of Europe, at least, all that portion of it
which had been made subject to the Roman empire, as far as
the banks of the Danube and the Rhine. They were familiar
with Germany and Sarmatia, the latter including much of the
northern parts of Europe and Asia. They had some know-
liedge of the Baltic, as a fleet had been sent by Augustus,


which sailed as far as die modern Jutland, which was the Cim*
brian Chersonesus of antiquity. Tliey had acquired a know-
ledge of the island of Britain, from the expeditions of Julius
Caesar and Claudius ; but the northern parts of the island, and
tlie whole of Ireland, were to them nations of rude, uncivilized
savages. The boundary of their knowledge of Europe to the
north, was Iceland, supposed to be the same with what they
denominated the " Ultima Thule."

With respect to Asia, they surveyed the country as far as
the river Ganges, and the immense tract comprehended be-
tween the Indus and Ganges, was called by them India
on this side the Ganges. Farther on, towards the north of
China, in the neighbourhood of the mountains, where these
rivers derive tlieir source, they placed several nations of
people ; and, beyond these, still more to the east, the Seres,
and upon the coast of the Gulf, which is now the bay of
Cochin China, called by Ptolemy, the Great Bay, were situ-
ated the Sinae. The Seres mentioned by the same geogra-
pher were probably the inhabitants of the northern parts of
China, and the Sinae those of the southern parts, who very
early occupied what we now denominate Cochin China, Ton-
quin, &c. countries which, in process of time, they entirely
subjugated. They maintained a commerce by land with the
Seres, and their route is pointed out in one of the maps of

The ancients, in their accounts, carried tlie eastern extre-
mity of Asia much farther to the east than it is found to ex-
tend by modem geographers; for, according to them, the
Seres and Sinas were situated about the longitude of 180",
while the meridian of Pekin reaches no farther than 134%
reckoning the longitude from the most distant of the Canary
islands, as was done by Ptolemy. To the north of the Indus,
the ancient geographers placed the Scythians and Hyperbo-
reans, that is, the Tartars and Samoides of modem date, and
some other nations to an indefinite extent, who were supposed
to form an insiu-mountable barrier, having behind them aa


ocean of ice, which was believed to communicate with the
Caspian Sea. The boundary of Asia, assigned by the ancients
to the south, was the Indian Ocean, and they were acquainted
with its communication with the Red Sea by means of a
strait, the figure of m hich is very ill expressed in their maps.
This is also the case with the Persian Gulf, with which they
were acquainted.

The situation of the island of Taprobana, referred to by
Ptolemy, and so celebrated among the ancients, has never
been ascertained ; some suppose it was no other than the pen-
insula of India ; others contend that it was the modern island
of Ceylon ; and there are some who refer it to Sumatra. The
ancients were acquainted with the peninsula of Malacca,
which they called the Golden Chersonesus, and they seem to
have examined the gulf formed by that land, which is now
kflown as the Gulf of Cochin China, or the Gulf of Tonquin.
There is no reason for supposing that they were acquainted
with Java, Borneo, and that numerous group of islands which
form, in that part of the globe, probably, the greatest Archi-
pelago in the world. It is not less surprizing that the Mal-
dives had escaped the observation of these navigators ; a cir-
cumstance that seems to prove they never ventured out into
the open sea.

The ancients were acquainted only with those parts of
Africa that lay along ^le coast, and to a very small distance
inland, if we except Egypt, which they had explored as far as
the cataracts of the Nile, and beyond them, to the island of
Meroe, about the Oth degree of north latitude. Their know-
ledge of the coasts of Africa, on the side of the Red Sea, ex-
tended no farther than the shores of that sea, excepting the
part which was dependent on Egypt; the interior of the
country being inhabited by a wild and ferocious people. Nor
were they at all acquainted with the countries which lay be-
yond the strait, and Ptolemy seems to have given no credit
to the navigators who were said to have sailed round that part
of the world, for he has left the continent of Africa imper-



feet towards the south. Strabo and Pomponius Mela were
better acquainted with the subject ; they decidedly asserted
that Africa was a peninsula, and that it was joined to tlie con-
tinent only by a neck of land, which is now called the isthmus
of Suez.

We may observe, that the coast of Africa, upon the Medi-
terranean, was once covered with towns, dependent upon the
Roman Empire, flourishing and highly poljshed, which, at
present, and for ages past, is, and has been, the harbour of pirates,
whom the foolish jealousy of the great commercial nations sup-
ports to their own prejudice and disgrace. Proceeding from the
straits of Cadiz or Gibraltar, they coasted along as far as a
cape, which they called " Hesperion-Keras," probably the
modern Cape de Verde. The Fortunate Islands, or Hespe-
rides, at present the Canaries, seem to have been the bound-
aries of ancient geography to the west, as the Seres and Sinae
already referred to, were to the east.

Patteson, in his Atlas, says, " there is little doubt concern-
ing the names by which most of the principal countries of
Europe were known to the ancients ; nor is there any difficulty
in disposing the chief nations which ancient writers have enu-
merated in the south-west of Asia, or on the African coast of
the Mediterranean ; but, of the north and north-east parts of
Europe, about two-thirds of Asia towards the same quarters,
and nearly the same proportion of ^frica to the south, they
appear to have been wholly ignorant. Of America, they did
not even suspect the existence; and if it ever happened, as
some writers have imagined, that Phoenician merchant-ships
were driven by storms across the Atlantic to the American
shores, it does not appear that any of them ever returned to
report the discovery.

" Tlie names of provinces, sub-divisions, and petty tribes,
mentioned by ancient authors, in those countries which were
the scenes of Roman, Grecian, or Israelitish transactions, are
almost as numerous as in a modem map of the same coun-
tries, and the situations of many of them can be very nearly


assigned ; but the limits of each, or indeed of the states and
nations to which they belonged, can, in very few instances, be
precisely fixed. Thus the southern boundaries of the Sar-
matse, in Europe, cannot be ascertained within' a degree; and,
in France, neither the limits of the people called the Belgae,
Celtae, and Aquitani ; nor those of the Roman divisions, viz.
Belgica, Lugdunensis, &c. can be laid down but by conjec-

During the middle ages, geography shared the fate of other
arts and sciences, and went backward rather than advanced.
The wcnkness of the Roman emperors, the relaxation of mili-
tary discipline, the passion for luxury, which banished every
desire of improvement, and every attempt at discovery, and'
the continual incursions of the barbarous nations, while they
contributed to hasten the fall of the western empire, accele-
rated the ruin of the arts, and enveloped the world in pro-
found and universal ignorance. The principal geographers,
during the dark ages, were Arabians, who applied themselves
chiefly to the study and translation of Ptolemy's works, and, as
is not uncommon in versions from one language to another,
increased, instead of diminishing, the number of his errors.
The principal attempt which they made towards the improve-
ment of geography was, that of measuring a degree of the
meridian on the plain of Shinar, near Babylon, in the begin-
ning of the ninth century ; but, so far wefe they from the
truth, that the result came out between fifty-six and fifty-seven
Arabian miles, which was equal to sixty-five English miles :
and the almost only geographical discovery, during the lapse
of twelve or fourteen centuries, from the decline of the Ro-
man empire, was that of Iceland. It was in 86 1 that a Nor-
wegian navigator, in a voyage to the Feroe Islands, was driven
upon the coast of an unknown country, to which he gave the
name of Snio-land, or Snow-land, as characteristic of the
mountains covered with snow. Another navigator from the
same country, passed a winter on the northern shores of this
island, and the immense shoals of ice that he met with, led



Jiim to bestow upon it the appellation by which it has ever
since been known.

When the clouds of ignorance, which had overspread

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 25 of 44)