Europeans Discover Australia - Part II - To Magellan


Ptolemy, mid 2nd century

Near the beginning of our era, Australia was far beyond the edges of the European known world. Here is a re-construction made in the 1400s of a map based on the Geography of Ptolemy from about 150 :


The Dream of Scipio

But strangely, someone knew about a southern land even in Julius Caesar's time - 1st century BC. Cicero, a famous contemporary writer, wrote 'The Dream of Scipio' (Scipio Africanus was the famous general who defeated Hannibal) in which Scipio is granted knowledge - including this interesting passage :

"Moreover you see that this earth is girdled and surrounded by certain belts, as it were; of which two, the most remote from each other, and which rest upon the poles of the heaven at either end, have become rigid with frost; while that one in the middle, which is also the largest, is scorched by the burning heat of the sun. Two are habitable; of these, that one in the South—men standing in which have their feet planted right opposite to yours—has no connection with your race"


Punic Australia ?

Some people claim that the Phoenicians (i.e. the 'Punes' like Hannibal and Carthage) reached Australia in ancient times. They certainly were great sailors - spreading through the Mediterranean Sea to reach Britain centuries before our era, and apparently even rounding Africa by the second century !


Ancient Egypt ?

There is even a tantalising hint of Ancient Egyptians reaching Australia - a carving of Anubis :


Macrobius, 5th C.

Roman Christian writer Macrobius wrote a Commentary on Cicero's Dream of Scipio in the early 400s and expanded on the idea of a southern temperate land. Here is a typical ancient map based on Macrobius :

It seems a common belief that there is an opposite temperate ('Temperata Antipodum') land, yet unknown ('Incognita'.)



Here is the famous Fra Mauro map from 1450, about 40 years before Columbus :

Australia is not there (it would be top left as North is downwards), nor the Americas.


Dividing the Globe

Columbus (re) discovered the 'New World' in 1492, and Pope Alexander VI divided the globe between the two powers of the day - Spain (Castille) and Portugal. A year later they settled on the final line :


Here is a modern map showing the details of each empire's holdings around the globe :

Neither Portugal nor Spain made it to Australia (officially) while they ruled half the globe each.


After Columbus

After Columbus, the world maps grew bigger. Here is the first post-Columbus map, from 1502 :

Note the vertical dividing line (Spanish/Portugese) on the left of the map.


There isn't yet even room for Australia - here is the Waldseemuller map from 1507 :


The Piri Reis map of 1521 is the first to show a (rather fanciful) southern continent :

Piri Reis was famously (and curiously) knowledgeable of geography before his time - this early map seems to show northern Australia, and Tierra del Fuego - just before the Magellan/Elcano journey returned.


Magellan / Elcano

The famous journey of Magellan was brought home by Elcano in 1522 after becoming the first to pass from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean :

Travelling far south, until he finally found a way at 52 degrees south to turn right (westwards) towards the Pacific, he passed through the straights that now bear his name, and named the land still further south Tierra Del Fuego :


Not all contemporary maps had such a southern land - here is the map of Ribiero from 1533 :


In the same year 1533, Schoener produced a map of the southern continent called 'Terra Australis' - with part called 'Regio Patalis' which could be a confused rendition of Australia.

It was generally believed that Tierra Del Fuego was part of a large southern continent which circled the pole.


 to Part III - First Contact

 back to Europeans Discover Australia


by Kapyong


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