Flat Earth

Flat Earth

Overview

The Flat Earth model is a belief that the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

's shape is a plane or disk
Disk (mathematics)
In geometry, a disk is the region in a plane bounded by a circle.A disk is said to be closed or open according to whether or not it contains the circle that constitutes its boundary...

. Most ancient cultures have had conceptions of a flat Earth, including Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 until the classical period
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

, the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 and Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 civilizations of the Near East
Ancient Near East
The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia , ancient Egypt, ancient Iran The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia...

 until the Hellenistic period
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

, India
Iron Age India
Iron Age India, the Iron Age in the Indian subcontinent, succeeds the Late Harappan culture, also known as the last phase of the Indus Valley Tradition...

 until the Gupta period (early centuries AD) and China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 until the 17th century . It was also typically held in the aboriginal cultures of the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

, and a flat Earth domed by the firmament
Firmament
The firmament is the vault or expanse of the sky. According to Genesis, God created the firmament to separate the oceans from other waters above.-Etymology:...

 in the shape of an inverted bowl is common in pre-scientific societies.

The paradigm of a spherical Earth
Spherical Earth
The concept of a spherical Earth dates back to ancient Greek philosophy from around the 6th century BC, but remained a matter of philosophical speculation until the 3rd century BC when Hellenistic astronomy established the spherical shape of the earth as a physical given...

 was developed in Greek astronomy
Greek astronomy
Greek astronomy is astronomy written in the Greek language in classical antiquity. Greek astronomy is understood to include the ancient Greek, Hellenistic, Greco-Roman, and Late Antiquity eras. It is not limited geographically to Greece or to ethnic Greeks, as the Greek language had become the...

, beginning with Pythagoras
Pythagoras
Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

 (6th century BC), although most Pre-Socratics
Pre-Socratic philosophy
Pre-Socratic philosophy is Greek philosophy before Socrates . In Classical antiquity, the Presocratic philosophers were called physiologoi...

 retained the flat Earth model.
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Encyclopedia

The Flat Earth model is a belief that the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

's shape is a plane or disk
Disk (mathematics)
In geometry, a disk is the region in a plane bounded by a circle.A disk is said to be closed or open according to whether or not it contains the circle that constitutes its boundary...

. Most ancient cultures have had conceptions of a flat Earth, including Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 until the classical period
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

, the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 and Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 civilizations of the Near East
Ancient Near East
The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia , ancient Egypt, ancient Iran The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia...

 until the Hellenistic period
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

, India
Iron Age India
Iron Age India, the Iron Age in the Indian subcontinent, succeeds the Late Harappan culture, also known as the last phase of the Indus Valley Tradition...

 until the Gupta period (early centuries AD) and China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 until the 17th century . It was also typically held in the aboriginal cultures of the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

, and a flat Earth domed by the firmament
Firmament
The firmament is the vault or expanse of the sky. According to Genesis, God created the firmament to separate the oceans from other waters above.-Etymology:...

 in the shape of an inverted bowl is common in pre-scientific societies.

The paradigm of a spherical Earth
Spherical Earth
The concept of a spherical Earth dates back to ancient Greek philosophy from around the 6th century BC, but remained a matter of philosophical speculation until the 3rd century BC when Hellenistic astronomy established the spherical shape of the earth as a physical given...

 was developed in Greek astronomy
Greek astronomy
Greek astronomy is astronomy written in the Greek language in classical antiquity. Greek astronomy is understood to include the ancient Greek, Hellenistic, Greco-Roman, and Late Antiquity eras. It is not limited geographically to Greece or to ethnic Greeks, as the Greek language had become the...

, beginning with Pythagoras
Pythagoras
Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

 (6th century BC), although most Pre-Socratics
Pre-Socratic philosophy
Pre-Socratic philosophy is Greek philosophy before Socrates . In Classical antiquity, the Presocratic philosophers were called physiologoi...

 retained the flat Earth model. Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 accepted the spherical shape of the Earth on empirical grounds around 330 BC, and knowledge of the spherical Earth gradually began to spread beyond the Hellenistic world
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

 from then on.

The misconception that educated Europeans at the time of Columbus
Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus was an explorer, colonizer, and navigator, born in the Republic of Genoa, in northwestern Italy. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that led to general European awareness of the American continents in the...

 believed in a flat Earth, and that his voyages refuted that belief, has been referred to as "The Myth of the Flat Earth
Myth of the Flat Earth
The myth of the Flat Earth is the modern misconception that the prevailing cosmological view during the Middle Ages saw the Earth as flat, instead of spherical....

". In 1945, it was listed by the Historical Association (of Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

) as the second of 20 in a pamphlet on common errors in history.

Ancient Near East



In early Egyptian and Mesopotamian thought the world was portrayed as a flat disk floating in the ocean. A similar model is found in the Homeric account of the 8th century BCE in which "Okeanos, the personified body of water surrounding the circular surface of the Earth, is the begetter of all life and possibly of all gods."

The Hebrew Bible used poetic language consistent with that of the ancient Middle Eastern cosmology, such as in the Enuma Elish
Enûma Elish
The is the Babylonian creation myth . It was recovered by Austen Henry Layard in 1849 in the ruined Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh , and published by George Smith in 1876.The Enûma Eliš has about a thousand lines and is recorded in Old Babylonian on seven clay tablets, each holding...

, which described a circular earth with a solid roof, surrounded by water above and below, as illustrated by references to the "foundations of the earth" and the "circle of the earth" in the following examples:
  • "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in."
  • "For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's; upon them he has set the world."
  • "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."

Ancient Egyptian


In the Pyramid Texts
Pyramid Texts
The Pyramid Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts from the time of the Old Kingdom. The pyramid texts are possibly the oldest known religious texts in the world. Written in Old Egyptian, the pyramid texts were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara during...

 and Coffin Texts
Coffin Texts
The Coffin Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary spells written on coffins beginning in the First Intermediate Period. The texts are derived in part from the earlier pyramid texts, reserved for royal use only, but they contain substantial new material related to everyday desires that...

 it is revealed the ancient Egyptians believed Nun
Nun
A nun is a woman who has taken vows committing her to live a spiritual life. She may be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live her life in prayer and contemplation in a monastery or convent...

 (the Ocean) was a circular body surrounding nbwt (a term meaning "dry lands" or "Islands") and therefore believed in a similar Ancient Near Eastern circular earth cosmography surrounded by water.

Classical world



Poets


Both Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 and Hesiod
Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

 described a flat disc cosmography on the shield of Achilles
Achilles
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a Greek hero of the Trojan War, the central character and the greatest warrior of Homer's Iliad.Plato named Achilles the handsomest of the heroes assembled against Troy....

.

This poetic tradition of an earth-encircling (gaiaokhos) sea (Oceanus
Oceanus
Oceanus ; , Ōkeanós) was a pseudo-geographical feature in classical antiquity, believed by the ancient Greeks and Romans to be the world-ocean, an enormous river encircling the world....

) and a flat disc also appears in Stasinus
Stasinus
According to some ancient authorities, Stasinus of Cyprus, a semi-legendary early Greek poet, was the author of the Cypria, in eleven books, one of the poems belonging to the Epic Cycle that narrated the War of Troy...

 of Cyprus, Mimnermus
Mimnermus
Mimnermus was a Greek elegiac poet from either Colophon or Smyrna in Ionia, who flourished about 630-600 BC. He was strongly influenced by the example of Homer yet he wrote short poems suitable for performance at drinking parties and was remembered by ancient authorities chiefly as a love poet...

, Aristophanes
Aristophanes
Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

, and Apollonius Rhodius.

Homer's description of the flat disc cosmography on the shield of Achilles with the encircling ocean is also found repeated far later in Quintus Smyrnaeus
Quintus Smyrnaeus
Quintus Smyrnaeus, also known as Kointos Smyrnaios , was a Greek epic poet whose Posthomerica, following "after Homer" continues the narration of the Trojan War....

Posthomerica
Posthomerica
The Posthomerica is an epic poem by Quintus of Smyrna, probably written in the latter half of the 4th century, and telling the story of the Trojan War, between the death of Hector and the fall of Ilium....

 (4th century AD) which continues the narration of the Trojan War.

Philosophers


Thales
Thales
Thales of Miletus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Miletus in Asia Minor, and one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Many, most notably Aristotle, regard him as the first philosopher in the Greek tradition...

 believed the earth was flat and floated in water like a log.

Many other pre-Socratic philosophers considered the world to be flat, at least according to Aristotle. According to Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, pre-Socratic philosophers
Pre-Socratic philosophy
Pre-Socratic philosophy is Greek philosophy before Socrates . In Classical antiquity, the Presocratic philosophers were called physiologoi...

, including Leucippus
Leucippus
Leucippus or Leukippos was one of the earliest Greeks to develop the theory of atomism — the idea that everything is composed entirely of various imperishable, indivisible elements called atoms — which was elaborated in greater detail by his pupil and successor, Democritus...

 (c. 440 BC) and Democritus
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

 (c. 460–370 BC) believed in a flat Earth. Anaximander
Anaximander
Anaximander was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived in Miletus, a city of Ionia; Milet in modern Turkey. He belonged to the Milesian school and learned the teachings of his master Thales...

 (c. 550 BC) believed the Earth to be a short cylinder with a flat, circular top that remained stable because it is the same distance from all things. Anaximenes of Miletus
Anaximenes of Miletus
Anaximenes of Miletus was an Archaic Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher active in the latter half of the 6th century BC. One of the three Milesian philosophers, he is identified as a younger friend or student of Anaximander. Anaximenes, like others in his school of thought, practiced material monism...

 believed that "the earth is flat and rides on air; in the same way the sun and the moon and the other heavenly bodies, which are all fiery, ride the air because of their flatness." Xenophanes of Colophon (c. 500 BC) thought that the Earth was flat, with its upper side touching the air, and the lower side extending without limit. Belief in a flat Earth continued into the 5th-century BC. Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Born in Clazomenae in Asia Minor, Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to bring philosophy from Ionia to Athens. He attempted to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows, and the sun, which he described as a fiery mass larger than...

 (c. 450 BC) agreed that the Earth was flat, and his pupil Archelaus
Archelaus (philosopher)
Archelaus was an Ancient Greek philosopher, a pupil of Anaxagoras, and said by some to have been a teacher of Socrates. He asserted that the principle of motion was the separation of hot from cold, from which he endeavoured to explain the formation of the Earth and the creation of animals and...

 believed that the flat Earth was depressed in the middle like a saucer, to allow for the fact that the Sun does not rise and set at the same time for everyone.

Historians


Hecataeus of Miletus believed the earth was flat and surrounded by water. Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 in his Histories ridiculed the belief that water encircled the world, yet most classicists agree he still believed the earth to be flat because of his descriptions of literal "ends" or "edges" of the earth.

Ancient India



In antiquity, a cosmological view prevailed in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 that held the Earth is a disc that consists of four continents grouped around the central mountain Meru
Mount Meru (Mythology)
Mount Meru is a sacred mountain in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology as well as in Jain cosmology, and is considered to be the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes...

 like the petals of a flower. An outer ocean surrounds these continents. This view was elaborated in traditional Jain cosmology
Jain cosmology
Jain cosmology is the description of the shape and functioning of the physical and metaphysical Universe and its constituents according to Jainism, which includes the canonical Jain texts, commentaries and the writings of the Jain philosopher-monks...

 and Buddhist cosmology
Buddhist cosmology
Buddhist cosmology is the description of the shape and evolution of the Universe according to the canonical Buddhist scriptures and commentaries.-Introduction:...

, which depicts the world (in this case solar system/universe and not Earth) as a vast, flat oceanic disk (of the magnitude of a small planetary system), bounded by mountains, in which the continents are set as small islands. The belief in a disk remained the dominant one in Indian cosmology until the early centuries AD, such as in the Puranas
Puranas
The Puranas are a genre of important Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religious texts, notably consisting of narratives of the history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography.Puranas...

:


In the Puranas the Earth is a flat-bottomed, circular disk, in the center of which is a lofty mountain, Meru.

Norse and Germanic


The ancient Norse and Germanic peoples believed in a flat earth cosmography of the earth surrounded by an ocean, with the axis mundi
Axis mundi
The axis mundi , in religion or mythology, is the world center and/or the connection between heaven and Earth. As the celestial pole and geographic pole, it expresses a point of connection between sky and earth where the four compass directions meet...

 (a world-tree: Yggdrasil
Yggdrasil
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is an immense tree that is central in Norse cosmology. It was said to be the world tree around which the nine worlds existed...

, or pillar: Irminsul
Irminsul
An Irminsul was a kind of pillar which is attested as playing an important role in the Germanic paganism of the Saxon people. The oldest chronicle describing an Irminsul refers to it as a tree trunk erected in the open air...

) in the centre. The Norse believed that in the world-encircling ocean sat a snake called Jormungandr
Jörmungandr
In Norse mythology, Jörmungandr , mostly known as Jormungand, orJörmungand , or Midgard Serpent , or World Serpent, is a sea serpent, and the middle child of the giantess Angrboða and the god Loki...

. In the Norse creation account preserved in Gylfaginning
Gylfaginning
Gylfaginning, or the Tricking of Gylfi , is the first part of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda after Prologue. The Gylfaginning deals with the creation and destruction of the world of the Norse gods, and many other aspects of Norse mythology...

 (VIII) it is stated that during the creation of the earth, an impassable sea was placed around the earth like a ring:

Ancient Japan


The first chapter of the Nihongi ("Chronicles of Japan") describes the ancient Japanese belief that the world was flat and that dry land floated "like oil" on water:
The Kojiki
Kojiki
is the oldest extant chronicle in Japan, dating from the early 8th century and composed by Ō no Yasumaro at the request of Empress Gemmei. The Kojiki is a collection of myths concerning the origin of the four home islands of Japan, and the Kami...

 and Ainu
Ainu people
The , also called Aynu, Aino , and in historical texts Ezo , are indigenous people or groups in Japan and Russia. Historically they spoke the Ainu language and related varieties and lived in Hokkaidō, the Kuril Islands, and much of Sakhalin...

 folklore also describes a flat earth cosmography where the earth is "floating" on water.

Ancient China



In ancient China, the prevailing belief was that the Earth was flat and square, while the heavens were round, an assumption virtually unquestioned until the introduction of European astronomy in the 17th century. The English sinologist Cullen emphasizes the point that there was no concept of a round Earth in ancient Chinese astronomy:

Chinese thought on the form of the Earth remained almost unchanged from early times until the first contacts with modern science through the medium of Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century. While the heavens were variously described as being like an umbrella covering the Earth (the Kai Tian theory), or like a sphere surrounding it (the Hun Tian theory), or as being without substance while the heavenly bodies float freely (the Hsüan yeh theory), the Earth was at all times flat, although perhaps bulging up slightly.


The model of an egg is often used by Chinese astronomers to describe the heavens as spherical. Historian Joseph Needham
Joseph Needham
Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham, CH, FRS, FBA , also known as Li Yuese , was a British scientist, historian and sinologist known for his scientific research and writing on the history of Chinese science. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1941, and as a fellow of the British...

 quotes Zhang Heng
Zhang Heng
Zhang Heng was a Chinese astronomer, mathematician, inventor, geographer, cartographer, artist, poet, statesman, and literary scholar from Nanyang, Henan. He lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty of China. He was educated in the capital cities of Luoyang and Chang'an, and began his career as a...

 (78-139 AD) as saying:
The heavens are like a hen's egg and as round as a crossbow bullet; the earth is like the yolk of the egg, and lies in the centre.



Zhang Heng is better known for his invention of the rectangular grid or coordinate system that was used for terrestrial maps in the same way as Marinus of Tyre
Marinus of Tyre
Marinus of Tyre, was a Greek geographer, cartographer and mathematician, who founded mathematical geography.-Biography and historical context:...

 and Ptolemy
Ptolemy
Claudius Ptolemy , was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the...

, who were contemporaries.
Cullen comments:
In a passage of Zhang Heng's cosmogony not translated by Needham, Zhang himself says: "Heaven takes its body from the Yang, so it is round and in motion. earth takes its body from the Yin, so it is flat and quiescent". The point of the egg analogy is simply to stress that the earth is completely enclosed by heaven, rather than merely covered from above as the Kai Tian describes. Chinese astronomers, many of them brilliant men by any standards, continued to think in flat-earth terms until the seventeenth century; this surprising fact might be the starting-point for a re-examination of the apparent facility with which the idea of a spherical earth found acceptance in fifth-century B.C. Greece.


Likewise, the 13th century scholar Li Ye
Li Zhi (mathematician)
Li Zhi , later Li Ye , was a Chinese mathematician and scholar, who published and improved the tian yuan shu method for solving polynomial equations of one variable.- Name :...

, arguing that the movements of the round heaven would be hindered by a square Earth, did not advocate a spherical Earth, but rather that its edge should be rounded off so as to be circular.

As noted in the book Huai Nan Zu, in the 2nd Century BC Chinese astronomers effectively inverted Eratosthenes' calculation of the curvature of the earth in order to calculate the height of the sun above the earth. By assuming the earth to be flat, they arrived at a distance of 100,000 li
Li (unit)
The li is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, which has varied considerably over time but now has a standardized length of 500 meters or half a kilometer...

, a value short by three orders of magnitude
Order of magnitude
An order of magnitude is the class of scale or magnitude of any amount, where each class contains values of a fixed ratio to the class preceding it. In its most common usage, the amount being scaled is 10 and the scale is the exponent being applied to this amount...

.

Decline of the Flat Earth model


Classical world



It has been suggested that seafarers probably provided the first observational evidence that the Earth was not flat. Greek thalassocracy
Thalassocracy
The term thalassocracy refers to a state with primarily maritime realms—an empire at sea, such as Athens or the Phoenician network of merchant cities...

 was receptive to the idea, unlike the Chinese, whose cosmology was firmly land-based.
Some ancient authorities in the doxographic tradition
Doxography
Doxography is a term used especially for the works of classical historians, describing the points of view of past philosophers and scientists. The term was coined by the German classical scholar Hermann Alexander Diels.- Classic Greek philosophy :...

 credited the Greek philosophers Pythagoras
Pythagoras
Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

, in the 6th century BC, and Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

, in the 5th, with recognizing that the Earth is spherical
Spherical Earth
The concept of a spherical Earth dates back to ancient Greek philosophy from around the 6th century BC, but remained a matter of philosophical speculation until the 3rd century BC when Hellenistic astronomy established the spherical shape of the earth as a physical given...

.

Around 330 BC, Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 maintained on the basis of physical theory and observational evidence that the Earth was spherical.

The Earth's circumference
Circumference
The circumference is the distance around a closed curve. Circumference is a special perimeter.-Circumference of a circle:The circumference of a circle is the length around it....

 was first determined around 240 BC by Eratosthenes
Eratosthenes
Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a Greek mathematician, poet, athlete, geographer, astronomer, and music theorist.He was the first person to use the word "geography" and invented the discipline of geography as we understand it...

. Eratosthenes knew that in Syene
Aswan
Aswan , formerly spelled Assuan, is a city in the south of Egypt, the capital of the Aswan Governorate.It stands on the east bank of the Nile at the first cataract and is a busy market and tourist centre...

, in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, the Sun was directly overhead at the summer solstice
Solstice
A solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice each year when the Sun's apparent position in the sky, as viewed from Earth, reaches its northernmost or southernmost extremes...

, while he estimated that the angle formed by a shadow cast by the Sun at Alexandria was 1/50th of a circle. He estimated the distance from Syene to Alexandria as 5,000 stades, and estimated the Earth's circumference was 250,000 stades. Subsequently, ignorance of the size of a stade caused problems both to the Arabs and to Christopher Columbus.

In the 2nd century BC, Crates of Mallus
Crates of Mallus
Crates, of Mallus in Cilicia , was a Greek language grammarian and Stoic philosopher of the 2nd century BC, leader of the literary school and head of the library of Pergamum. His chief work was a critical and exegetical commentary on Homer...

 devised a terrestrial sphere which divided the Earth into four continents, separated by great rivers or oceans, with people presumed to be living in each of the four regions. Opposite the oikumene, the inhabited world, were the antipodes
Antipodes
In geography, the antipodes of any place on Earth is the point on the Earth's surface which is diametrically opposite to it. Two points that are antipodal to one another are connected by a straight line running through the centre of the Earth....

, considered unreachable both because of an intervening torrid zone
Torrid Zone
Torrid Zone is a 1940 adventure film starring James Cagney, Ann Sheridan and Pat O'Brien.-Plot summary:Steve Case has to deal with trouble at his tropical fruit company's Central American banana plantation...

(equator) and the ocean. This took a strong hold on the medieval mind.

Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

 (1st. c. BC) opposed the concept of a spherical Earth, because he considered that in an infinite universe there was no center towards which heavy bodies would tend, thus he considered the idea of animals walking around topsy-turvy under the Earth to be absurd. But by the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

 was in a position to claim that everyone agrees on the spherical shape of Earth, although there continued to be disputes regarding the nature of the antipodes, and how it is possible to keep the ocean
Ocean
An ocean is a major body of saline water, and a principal component of the hydrosphere. Approximately 71% of the Earth's surface is covered by ocean, a continuous body of water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas.More than half of this area is over 3,000...

 in a curved shape. Pliny also considers the possibility of an imperfect sphere, "shaped like a pinecone".

Ptolemy
Ptolemy
Claudius Ptolemy , was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the...

 derived his maps from a curved globe and developed the system of latitude
Latitude
In geography, the latitude of a location on the Earth is the angular distance of that location south or north of the Equator. The latitude is an angle, and is usually measured in degrees . The equator has a latitude of 0°, the North pole has a latitude of 90° north , and the South pole has a...

, longitude
Longitude
Longitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the east-west position of a point on the Earth's surface. It is an angular measurement, usually expressed in degrees, minutes and seconds, and denoted by the Greek letter lambda ....

, and clime
Clime
The seven climes was a notion of dividing the Earth into zones in Classical Antiquity....

s. His Almagest
Almagest
The Almagest is a 2nd-century mathematical and astronomical treatise on the apparent motions of the stars and planetary paths. Written in Greek by Claudius Ptolemy, a Roman era scholar of Egypt,...

 was written in Greek and only translated into Latin in the 11th century from Arabic translations. But once it was known, it remained the basis of European astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

 throughout the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

.

In late antiquity such widely read encyclopedists as Macrobius (4th c.) and Martianus Capella
Martianus Capella
Martianus Minneus Felix Capella was a pagan writer of Late Antiquity, one of the earliest developers of the system of the seven liberal arts that structured early medieval education...

 (5th c.) discussed the circumference of the sphere of the Earth, its central position in the universe, the difference of the season
Season
A season is a division of the year, marked by changes in weather, ecology, and hours of daylight.Seasons result from the yearly revolution of the Earth around the Sun and the tilt of the Earth's axis relative to the plane of revolution...

s in northern
Northern Hemisphere
The Northern Hemisphere is the half of a planet that is north of its equator—the word hemisphere literally means “half sphere”. It is also that half of the celestial sphere north of the celestial equator...

 and southern hemisphere
Southern Hemisphere
The Southern Hemisphere is the part of Earth that lies south of the equator. The word hemisphere literally means 'half ball' or "half sphere"...

s, and many other geographical details. In his commentary on Cicero's
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 Dream of Scipio
Dream of Scipio
The Dream of Scipio , written by Cicero, is the sixth book of De re publica, and describes a fictional dream vision of the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus, set two years before he commanded at the destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE.Upon his arrival in Africa, Scipio Aemilianus is visited by his...

, Macrobius described the Earth as a globe of insignificant size in comparison to the remainder of the cosmos.

The Talmud


The Jerusalem Talmud
Jerusalem Talmud
The Jerusalem Talmud, talmud meaning "instruction", "learning", , is a collection of Rabbinic notes on the 2nd-century Mishnah which was compiled in the Land of Israel during the 4th-5th century. The voluminous text is also known as the Palestinian Talmud or Talmud de-Eretz Yisrael...

 says that Alexander of Macedon (Alexander the Great) was lifted by birds to the point that he saw the curvature of the Earth. This story is mentioned as well by the Tosafos commentary on the Babylonian Talmud. This is used to explain why a statue of a person holding a sphere in his hand is assumed to be an idol. The sphere being held in its hand symbolizing the idol's purported dominion over the world whose shape is a sphere.

There was no single view of the shape of the world among the sages of the Babylonian Talmud. Some believed the world is flat and other were unsure. Most, however, believed that the world is round.

Early Christian Church


From Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

, and from the beginnings of Christian theology
Christian theology
- Divisions of Christian theology :There are many methods of categorizing different approaches to Christian theology. For a historical analysis, see the main article on the History of Christian theology.- Sub-disciplines :...

, knowledge of the sphericity of the Earth had become widespread. There was considerable misunderstanding illustrated by the debate concerning the possibility of the inhabitants of the antipodes:

After his conversion to Christianity, Lactantius
Lactantius
Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was an early Christian author who became an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, guiding his religious policy as it developed, and tutor to his son.-Biography:...

 (245–325) became the tutor to the son of emperor Constantine
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

 and a trenchant critic of all pagan philosophy. In Book III of The Divine Institutes he ridicules the notion that there could be inhabitants of the antipodes "whose footsteps are higher than their heads". After presenting some arguments which he attributes to advocates for a spherical heaven and Earth, he writes:

But if you inquire from those who defend these marvellous fictions, why all things do not fall into that lower part of the heaven, they reply that such is the nature of things, that heavy bodies are borne to the middle, and that they are all joined together towards the middle, as we see spokes in a wheel; but that the bodies that are light, as mist, smoke, and fire, are borne away from the middle, so as to seek the heaven. I am at a loss what to say respecting those who, when they have once erred, consistently persevere in their folly, and defend one vain thing by another;

Though he was not a theologian, his books remained widely read and admired and were among those printed first in the fifteenth century.

Saint Augustine
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

 (354–430) took a more cautious approach in arguing against assuming that people inhabited the antipodes
Antipodes
In geography, the antipodes of any place on Earth is the point on the Earth's surface which is diametrically opposite to it. Two points that are antipodal to one another are connected by a straight line running through the centre of the Earth....

:
But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours that is on no ground credible. And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other: hence they say that the part that is beneath must also be inhabited. But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled.


Since these people would have to be descended from Adam, they would have had to travel to the other side of the Earth at some point; Augustine continues:

It is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man.


Scholars of Augustine's work have traditionally understood him to have shared the common view of his educated contemporaries that the Earth is spherical, in line with the quotation above, and with Augustine's famous endorsement of science in De Genesi ad litteram. That tradition has, however, recently been challenged by Leo Ferrari, who concluded that many of Augustine's passing references to the physical universe imply a belief in an essentially flat Earth "at the bottom of the universe".

The notion that hell was below the earth is stated clearly in early Christian tradition by the belief, still recited by most Christians in the Apostolic and Athanasian creed
Athanasian Creed
The Athanasian Creed is a Christian statement of belief, focusing on Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. The Latin name of the creed, Quicumque vult, is taken from the opening words, "Whosoever wishes." The Athanasian Creed has been used by Christian churches since the sixth century...

s, that Christ "descended into hell" between his death and resurrection. The Harrowing of hell
Harrowing of Hell
The Harrowing of Hell is a doctrine in Christian theology referenced in the Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed that states that Jesus Christ "descended into Hell"...

, combined with the theme of Christ's ascension into heaven, became a favourite motif in medieval art and drama
and led to the three tiers of the mystery plays. This was possibly the only source of cosmology available to most unlearned people until literacy became more widespread after the invention of printing.


Diodorus of Tarsus
Diodorus of Tarsus
Diodore of Tarsus was a Christian bishop, a monastic reformer, and a theologian. A strong supporter of the orthodoxy of Nicaea, Diodore played a pivotal role in the Council of Constantinople and opposed the anti-Christian policies of Julian the Apostate...

 (d. 394) may have argued for a flat Earth based on scriptures; however, Diodorus' opinion on the matter is known to us only by a criticism of it by Photius. Severian
Severian of Gabala
Severian, Bishop of Gabala in Syria was a popular preacher in Constantinople at the end of the 4th century. He became the enemy of John Chrysostom and helped condemn him at the Synod of the Oak....

, Bishop of Gabala (d. 408), wrote that the Earth is flat and the sun does not pass under it in the night, but "travels through the northern parts as if hidden by a wall". The Egyptian monk Cosmas Indicopleustes
Cosmas Indicopleustes
Cosmas Indicopleustes was an Alexandrian merchant and later hermit, probably of Nestorian tendencies. He was a 6th-century traveller, who made several voyages to India during the reign of emperor Justinian...

 (547) in his Topographia Christiana, where the Covenant Ark
Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant , also known as the Ark of the Testimony, is a chest described in Book of Exodus as solely containing the Tablets of Stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed...

 was meant to represent the whole universe, argued on theological grounds that the Earth was flat, a parallelogram
Parallelogram
In Euclidean geometry, a parallelogram is a convex quadrilateral with two pairs of parallel sides. The opposite or facing sides of a parallelogram are of equal length and the opposite angles of a parallelogram are of equal measure...

 enclosed by four oceans.

In his Homilies Concerning the Statutes St.John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom , Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic...

 (344–408) explicitly espoused the idea, based on his reading of Scripture, that the Earth floated on the waters gathered below the firmament
Firmament
The firmament is the vault or expanse of the sky. According to Genesis, God created the firmament to separate the oceans from other waters above.-Etymology:...

, and St. Athanasius
Athanasius of Alexandria
Athanasius of Alexandria [b. ca. – d. 2 May 373] is also given the titles St. Athanasius the Great, St. Athanasius I of Alexandria, St Athanasius the Confessor and St Athanasius the Apostolic. He was the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His long episcopate lasted 45 years Athanasius of Alexandria [b....

 (c.293–373) expressed similar views in Against the Heathen.

A very recent essay by Leone Montagnini, discussing the question of the shape of the Earth from the origins to the late Antiquity, has shown that the Fathers of the Church shared different approaches that paralleled their overall philosophical and theological visions. Those of them who were more close to Platonic
Platonic
Plato's influence on Western culture was so profound that several different concepts are linked by being called "platonic" or Platonist, for accepting some assumptions of Platonism, but which do not imply acceptance of that philosophy as a whole....

 visions, like Origen, shared peacefully the geosphericism. A second tradition, including Basil, Ambrose and Augustine, but also Philoponus, accepted the idea of the round Earth and the radial gravity, but in a critical way. In particular they pointed out a number of doubts about the physical reasons of the radial gravity, and hesitated in accepting the physical reasons proposed by Aristotle or Stoicism
Stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

. However, a "flattist" approach was more or less shared by all the Fathers coming from the Syriac area, who were more inclined to follow the letter of the Old Testament. Diodorus, Severian
Severian of Gabala
Severian, Bishop of Gabala in Syria was a popular preacher in Constantinople at the end of the 4th century. He became the enemy of John Chrysostom and helped condemn him at the Synod of the Oak....

, and Cosmas Indicopleustes, but also Chrysostom, belonged just to this latter tradition.

At least one early Christian writer, Basil of Caesarea
Basil of Caesarea
Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great, was the bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor . He was an influential 4th century Christian theologian...

 (329–379), believed the matter to be theologically irrelevant.

Early Middle Ages



With the end of Roman civilization, Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

 entered the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 with great difficulties that affected the continent's intellectual production. Most scientific treatises of classical antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 (in Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

) were unavailable, leaving only simplified summaries and compilations. Still, many textbooks of the Early Middle Ages supported the sphericity of the Earth. For example: some early medieval manuscripts of Macrobius include maps of the Earth, including the antipodes, zonal maps showing the Ptolemaic climates derived from the concept of a spherical Earth and a diagram showing the Earth (labeled as globus terrae, the sphere of the Earth) at the center of the hierarchically ordered planetary spheres. Further examples of such medieval diagrams can be found in medieval manuscripts of the Dream of Scipio. In the Carolingian era
Carolingian Renaissance
In the history of ideas the Carolingian Renaissance stands out as a period of intellectual and cultural revival in Europe occurring from the late eighth century, in the generation of Alcuin, to the 9th century, and the generation of Heiric of Auxerre, with the peak of the activities coordinated...

, scholars discussed Macrobius's view of the antipodes. One of them, the Irish monk Dungal
Saint Dungal
The Irish monk Dungal lived at Saint-Denis, Pavia and Bobbio. He wrote a poem on wisdom and the seven liberal arts and advised Charlemagne on astronomical matters. He died after 827, probably at the Monastery of Bobbio...

, asserted that the tropical gap between our habitable region and the other habitable region to the south was smaller than Macrobius had believed.
Europe's view of the shape of the Earth in Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity
Late Antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, in both mainland Europe and the Mediterranean world. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but noted historian of the period Peter Brown proposed...

 and the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

 may be best expressed by the writings of early Christian scholars:
  • Boethius (c. 480 – 524), who also wrote a theological treatise On the Trinity, repeated the Macrobian model of the Earth in the center of a spherical cosmos in his influential, and widely translated, Consolation of Philosophy
    Consolation of Philosophy
    Consolation of Philosophy is a philosophical work by Boethius, written around the year 524. It has been described as the single most important and influential work in the West on Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity, and is also the last great Western work that can be called Classical.-...

    .
  • Bishop Isidore of Seville
    Isidore of Seville
    Saint Isidore of Seville served as Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades and is considered, as the historian Montalembert put it in an oft-quoted phrase, "le dernier savant du monde ancien"...

     (560 – 636) taught in his widely read encyclopedia, the Etymologies
    Etymologiae
    Etymologiae is an encyclopedia compiled by Isidore of Seville towards the end of his life. It forms a bridge between a condensed epitome of classical learning at the close of Late Antiquity and the inheritance received, in large part through Isidore's work, by the early Middle Ages...

    diverse views such as that the Earth "resembles a wheel" resembling Anaximander in language and the map that he provided. This was widely interpreted as referring to a flat disc-shaped Earth. An illustration from Isidore's De Natura Rerum shows the five zones of the earth as adjacent circles. Some have concluded that he thought the Arctic
    Arctic
    The Arctic is a region located at the northern-most part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost...

     and Antarctic
    Antarctic
    The Antarctic is the region around the Earth's South Pole, opposite the Arctic region around the North Pole. The Antarctic comprises the continent of Antarctica and the ice shelves, waters and island territories in the Southern Ocean situated south of the Antarctic Convergence...

     zones to be adjacent to each other. He did not admit the possibility of antipodes, which he took to mean people dwelling on the opposite side of the Earth, considering them to be legendary and noting that there was no evidence for their existence. Isidore's T and O map
    T and O map
    A T and O map or O-T or T-O map , is a type of medieval world map, sometimes also called a Beatine map or a Beatus map because one of the earliest known representations of this sort is attributed to Beatus of Liébana, an 8th-century Spanish monk...

    , which was seen as representing a small part of a spherical Earth, was essentially unchanged from its predecessors of 1,200 years previously, continued to be used through the Middle Ages by authors, e.g. the 9th century bishop Rabanus Maurus
    Rabanus Maurus
    Rabanus Maurus Magnentius , also known as Hrabanus or Rhabanus, was a Frankish Benedictine monk, the archbishop of Mainz in Germany and a theologian. He was the author of the encyclopaedia De rerum naturis . He also wrote treatises on education and grammar and commentaries on the Bible...

     who compared the habitable part of the northern hemisphere (Aristotle
    Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

    's northern temperate clime) with a wheel. At the same time, Isidore's works also gave the views of sphericity, for example, in chapter 28 of De Natura Rerum, Isidore claims that the sun orbits the earth and illuminates the other side when it is night on this side. See French translation of De Natura Rerum. . In his other work Etymologies
    Etymologiae
    Etymologiae is an encyclopedia compiled by Isidore of Seville towards the end of his life. It forms a bridge between a condensed epitome of classical learning at the close of Late Antiquity and the inheritance received, in large part through Isidore's work, by the early Middle Ages...

    , there are also affirmations that the sphere of the sky has earth in its center and the sky being equally distant on all sides. Other researchers have argued these points as well. "The work remained unsurpassed until the thirteenth century and was regarded as the summit of all knowledge. It became an essential part of European medieval culture. Soon after the invention of typography it appeared many times in print." However, "The Scholastics - later medieval philosophers, theologians, and scientists - were helped by the Arabic translators and commentaries, but they hardly needed to struggle against a flat-earth legacy from the early middle ages (500-1050). Early medieval writers often had fuzzy and imprecise impressions of both Ptolemy and Aristotle and relied more on Pliny, but they felt (with one exception), little urge to assume flatness."

  • The monk Bede
    Bede
    Bede , also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede , was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow , both in the Kingdom of Northumbria...

     (c.672 – 735) wrote in his influential treatise on computus
    Computus
    Computus is the calculation of the date of Easter in the Christian calendar. The name has been used for this procedure since the early Middle Ages, as it was one of the most important computations of the age....

    , The Reckoning of Time, that the Earth was round ('not merely circular like a shield [or] spread out like a wheel, but resembl[ing] more a ball'), explaining the unequal length of daylight from "the roundness of the Earth, for not without reason is it called 'the orb of the world' on the pages of Holy Scripture and of ordinary literature. It is, in fact, set like a sphere in the middle of the whole universe." (De temporum ratione
    De temporum ratione
    The Reckoning of Time is an Anglo-Saxon era treatise written in Latin by the Northumbrian monk Bede in 725. The treatise includes an introduction to the traditional ancient and medieval view of the cosmos, including an explanation of how the spherical earth influenced the changing length of...

    , 32). The large number of surviving manuscripts of The Reckoning of Time, copied to meet the Carolingian
    Carolingian
    The Carolingian dynasty was a Frankish noble family with origins in the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the 7th century AD. The name "Carolingian", Medieval Latin karolingi, an altered form of an unattested Old High German *karling, kerling The Carolingian dynasty (known variously as the...

     requirement that all priests should study the computus, indicates that many, if not most, priests were exposed to the idea of the sphericity of the Earth. Ælfric of Eynsham
    Ælfric of Eynsham
    Ælfric of Eynsham was an English abbot, as well as a consummate, prolific writer in Old English of hagiography, homilies, biblical commentaries, and other genres. He is also known variously as Ælfric the Grammarian , Ælfric of Cerne, and Ælfric the Homilist...

     paraphrased Bede into Old English, saying "Now the Earth's roundness and the Sun's orbit constitute the obstacle to the day's being equally long in every land."
  • St Vergilius of Salzburg
    Vergilius of Salzburg
    Vergilius of Salzburg was an Irish churchman, an early astronomer and bishop of Salzburg. His obituary calls him the geometer.-Biography:...

     (c.700 – 784), in the middle of the eighth century, discussed or taught some geographical or cosmographical ideas which St Boniface found sufficiently objectionable that he complained about them to Pope Zachary
    Pope Zachary
    Pope Saint Zachary was Pope of the Catholic Church from 741 to 752. A Greek from Calabria, he was the last pope of the Byzantine Papacy...

    . The only surviving record of the incident is contained in Zachary's reply, dated 748, where he wrote:

Some authorities have suggested that the sphericity of the Earth was among the aspects of Vergilius's teachings which Boniface and Zachary had considered objectionable. Others have considered this unlikely, and take the wording of Zachary's response to indicate at most an objection to belief in the existence of humans living in the antipodes. In any case, there is no record of any further action having been taken against Vergilius. He was later appointed bishop of Salzburg
Archbishopric of Salzburg
The Archbishopric of Salzburg was an ecclesiastical State of the Holy Roman Empire, its territory roughly congruent with the present-day Austrian state of Salzburg....

, and was canonised in the 13th century.

A possible non-literary but graphic indication that people in the Middle Ages believed that the Earth (or perhaps the world) was a sphere, is the use of the orb (globus cruciger
Globus cruciger
The globus cruciger is an orb topped with a cross , a Christian symbol of authority used throughout the Middle Ages and even today on coins, iconography and royal regalia...

) in the regalia of many kingdoms and of the Holy Roman Empire. It is attested from the time of the Christian late-Roman emperor Theodosius II
Theodosius II
Theodosius II , commonly surnamed Theodosius the Younger, or Theodosius the Calligrapher, was Byzantine Emperor from 408 to 450. He is mostly known for promulgating the Theodosian law code, and for the construction of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople...

 (423) throughout the Middle Ages; the Reichsapfel was used in 1191 at the coronation of emperor Henry VI
Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Henry VI was King of Germany from 1190 to 1197, Holy Roman Emperor from 1191 to 1197 and King of Sicily from 1194 to 1197.-Early years:Born in Nijmegen,...

. However the word 'orbis' means 'circle' and there is no record of a globe as a representation of the Earth since ancient times in the west till that of Martin Behaim
Martin Behaim
Martin Behaim , was a German mariner, artist, cosmographer, astronomer, philosopher, geographer and explorer in service to the King of Portugal.-Biography:The Behaim family had immigrated to Nuremberg because of religious persecution around...

 in 1492. Additionally it could well be a representation of the entire 'world' or cosmos
Cosmos
In the general sense, a cosmos is an orderly or harmonious system. It originates from the Greek term κόσμος , meaning "order" or "ornament" and is antithetical to the concept of chaos. Today, the word is generally used as a synonym of the word Universe . The word cosmos originates from the same root...

.

A recent study of medieval concepts of the sphericity of the Earth noted that "since the eighth century, no cosmographer worthy of note has called into question the sphericity of the Earth." However, the work of these intellectuals may not have had significant influence on public opinion, and it is difficult to tell what the wider population may have thought of the shape of the Earth, if they considered the question at all.

High and Late Middle Ages




By the 11th century Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 had learned of Islamic astronomy
Islamic astronomy
Islamic astronomy or Arabic astronomy comprises the astronomical developments made in the Islamic world, particularly during the Islamic Golden Age , and mostly written in the Arabic language. These developments mostly took place in the Middle East, Central Asia, Al-Andalus, and North Africa, and...

. The Renaissance of the 12th century
Renaissance of the 12th century
The Renaissance of the 12th century was a period of many changes at the outset of the High Middle Ages. It included social, political and economic transformations, and an intellectual revitalization of Western Europe with strong philosophical and scientific roots...

 from about 1070 started an intellectual revitalization of Europe with strong philosophical and scientific roots, and increased interest in natural philosophy
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

.
Hermannus Contractus
Hermannus Contractus
Hermann of Reichenau , also called Hermannus Contractus or Hermannus Augiensis or Herman the Cripple, was an 11th century scholar, composer, music theorist, mathematician, and astronomer. He composed the Marian prayer Alma Redemptoris Mater...

 (1013–1054) was among the earliest Christian scholars to estimate the circumference of Earth with Eratosthenes
Eratosthenes
Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a Greek mathematician, poet, athlete, geographer, astronomer, and music theorist.He was the first person to use the word "geography" and invented the discipline of geography as we understand it...

' method. Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

 (1225–1274), the most important and widely taught theologian of the Middle Ages, believed in a spherical Earth; and he even took for granted his readers also knew the Earth is round.When Aquinas wrote his Summa, at the very beginning (Summa Theologica Ia, q. 1, a. 1; see also Summa Theologica IIa Iae, q. 54, a. 2), the idea of a round Earth was the example used when he wanted to show that fields of science are distinguished by their methods rather than their subject matter... "Sciences are distinguished by the different methods they use. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion - that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer proves it by means of mathematics, but the physicist proves it by the nature of matter. History of Science: Shape of the Earth: Middle Ages: Aquinas" Lectures in the medieval universities commonly advanced evidence in favor of the idea that the Earth was a sphere. Also, "On the Sphere of the World
De sphaera mundi
De sphaera mundi is a medieval introduction to the basic elements of astronomy written by Johannes de Sacrobosco c. 1230...

", the most influential astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

 textbook of the 13th century and required reading by students in all Western European universities, described the world as a sphere. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica
Summa Theologica
The Summa Theologiæ is the best-known work of Thomas Aquinas , and although unfinished, "one of the classics of the history of philosophy and one of the most influential works of Western literature." It is intended as a manual for beginners in theology and a compendium of all of the main...

, wrote, "The physicist proves the earth to be round by one means, the astronomer by another: for the latter proves this by means of mathematics, e.g. by the shapes of eclipses, or something of the sort; while the former proves it by means of physics, e.g. by the movement of heavy bodies towards the center, and so forth."

The shape of the Earth was not only discussed in scholarly works written in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

; it was also treated in works written in vernacular
Vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

 languages or dialects and intended for wider audiences. The Norwegian book Konungs Skuggsjá
Konungs skuggsjá
Konungs skuggsjá is a Norwegian educational text from around 1250, an example of speculum literature that deals with politics and morality...

, from around 1250, states clearly that the Earth is round - and that there is night on the opposite side of the Earth when there is daytime in Norway. The author also discusses the existence of antipodes - and he notes that they (if they exist) will see the Sun in the north of the middle of the day, and that they will have opposite seasons of the people living in the Northern Hemisphere.

However Tattersall shows that in many vernacular works in 12th and 13th century French texts the Earth was considered "round like a table" rather than "round like an apple". "In virtually all the examples quoted...from epics and from non-'historical' romances (that is, works of a less learned character) the actual form of words used suggests strongly a circle rather than a sphere.

Portuguese
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 exploration of Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 and Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, Columbus's voyage to the Americas (1492) and finally Ferdinand Magellan
Ferdinand Magellan
Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer. He was born in Sabrosa, in northern Portugal, and served King Charles I of Spain in search of a westward route to the "Spice Islands" ....

's circumnavigation of the Earth (1519–21) provided the final, practical proofs for the global shape of the Earth.

Ancient India


The idea of a spherical Earth surrounded by the spheres of planets was finally introduced into India during the early centuries AD through the reception of Greek astronomy
Greek astronomy
Greek astronomy is astronomy written in the Greek language in classical antiquity. Greek astronomy is understood to include the ancient Greek, Hellenistic, Greco-Roman, and Late Antiquity eras. It is not limited geographically to Greece or to ethnic Greeks, as the Greek language had become the...

. Key parts of traditional Indian astronomy, heavily attacked by progressive Indian astronomers, were discarded, while others were attempted to be adapted to the new paradigm
Paradigm
The word paradigm has been used in science to describe distinct concepts. It comes from Greek "παράδειγμα" , "pattern, example, sample" from the verb "παραδείκνυμι" , "exhibit, represent, expose" and that from "παρά" , "beside, beyond" + "δείκνυμι" , "to show, to point out".The original Greek...

. Thus, the circumference of the Indian disk of the Earth was modelled into the equator
Equator
An equator is the intersection of a sphere's surface with the plane perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation and containing the sphere's center of mass....

 of the Greeks.

The works of the classical Indian astronomer and mathematician
Indian mathematics
Indian mathematics emerged in the Indian subcontinent from 1200 BCE until the end of the 18th century. In the classical period of Indian mathematics , important contributions were made by scholars like Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, and Bhaskara II. The decimal number system in use today was first...

, Aryabhata
Aryabhata
Aryabhata was the first in the line of great mathematician-astronomers from the classical age of Indian mathematics and Indian astronomy...

 (476-550 AD), deal with the sphericity of the Earth and the motion of the planets. The final two parts of his Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 magnum opus the Aryabhatiya
Aryabhatiya
Āryabhaṭīya or Āryabhaṭīyaṃ, a Sanskrit astronomical treatise, is the magnum opus and only extant work of the 5th century Indian mathematician, Āryabhaṭa.- Structure and style:...

, which were named the Kalakriya ("reckoning of time") and the Gola ("sphere"), state that the Earth is spherical and that its circumference is 4,967 yojanas, which in modern units is 39968 km (24,835 mi), which is close to the current equator
Equator
An equator is the intersection of a sphere's surface with the plane perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation and containing the sphere's center of mass....

ial value of 40075 km (24,901.5 mi).

Islamic world



In the 9th century Abbasid Caliphate, most of the Greek works of cosmology from Constantinople, including Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

's De caelo and Ptolemy
Ptolemy
Claudius Ptolemy , was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the...

's Almagest
Almagest
The Almagest is a 2nd-century mathematical and astronomical treatise on the apparent motions of the stars and planetary paths. Written in Greek by Claudius Ptolemy, a Roman era scholar of Egypt,...

were translated into Arabic in the House of Wisdom
House of Wisdom
The House of Wisdom was a library and translation institute established in Abbassid-era Baghdad, Iraq. It was a key institution in the Translation Movement and considered to have been a major intellectual centre during the Islamic Golden Age...

 in Baghdad
Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...

.
Some Islamic scholars adopted from Greek astronomy the ideas that the Earth was spherical (Spherical Earth
Spherical Earth
The concept of a spherical Earth dates back to ancient Greek philosophy from around the 6th century BC, but remained a matter of philosophical speculation until the 3rd century BC when Hellenistic astronomy established the spherical shape of the earth as a physical given...

) and at the center of the universe (Geocentric model
Geocentric model
In astronomy, the geocentric model , is the superseded theory that the Earth is the center of the universe, and that all other objects orbit around it. This geocentric model served as the predominant cosmological system in many ancient civilizations such as ancient Greece...

), that the universe was without void spaces and mainly divided into the wider planetary space composed of the Four Elements
Four elements
Four elements may refer to:* Classical elements, such as air, fire, earth and water* 4 Elements, an album by Chronic Future* Group 4 element, one of the chemical elements in Group 4 of the periodic table...

 on the one hand, and the celestial space beginning from the moon and extending to the edge of the universe on the other. By the time they were re-exported back to Europe they had been enriched by spherical trigonometry
Spherical trigonometry
Spherical trigonometry is a branch of spherical geometry which deals with polygons on the sphere and the relationships between the sides and the angles...

, which they used in these calculations and the Arabic numeral system.

Muslim scholars who held to the round Earth theory used it for a quintessentially Islamic purpose: to calculate the distance and direction from any given point on the Earth to Makkah (Mecca)
Mecca
Mecca is a city in the Hijaz and the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of above sea level...

. This determined the Qibla
Qibla
The Qiblah , also transliterated as Qibla, Kiblah or Kibla, is the direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays during salah...

, or Muslim direction of prayer.

A terrestrial globe (Kura-i-ard) was among the presents sent by the Persian Muslim astronomer Jamal-al-Din
Jamal ad-Din (astronomer)
Jamal ad-Din Muḥammad ibn Ṭāhir ibn Muḥammad al‐Zaydī al‐Bukhārī was a 13th-century Persian-speaking Muslim astronomer...

 to Kubla Khan in 1267. It was made of wood on which "seven parts of water are represented in green, three parts of land in white, with rivers, lakes etc." Ho Peng Yoke remarks that "it did not seem to have any general appeal to the Chinese in those days".

Ming China


As late as 1595, the first Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci
Matteo Ricci
Matteo Ricci, SJ was an Italian Jesuit priest, and one of the founding figures of the Jesuit China Mission, as it existed in the 17th-18th centuries. His current title is Servant of God....

, recorded that the Chinese say: "The earth is flat and
square, and the sky is a round canopy; they did not succeed in conceiving the possibility of the antipodes". The universal belief in a flat Earth is confirmed by a contemporary Chinese encyclopedia from 1609 illustrating a flat Earth extending over the horizontal diametral plane of a spherical heaven.

In the 17th century, the idea of a spherical Earth spread in China due to the influence of the Jesuits, who held high positions as astronomers at the imperial court. The Ge Chi Cao treatise of Xiong Ming-yu (1648) showed a printed picture of the Earth as a spherical globe, with the text stating that "the round earth certainly has no square corners". The text also pointed out that sailing ships could return to their port of origin after circumnavigating the waters of the Earth.

The influence of the map is distinctly Western, as traditional maps of Chinese cartography held the graduation of the sphere at 365.25 degrees, while the Western graduation was of 360 degrees. Also of interest to note is on one side of the world, there is seen towering Chinese pagoda
Chinese pagoda
Chinese Pagodas are a traditional part of Chinese architecture. In addition to religious use, since ancient times Chinese pagodas have been praised for the spectacular views which they offer, and many famous poems in Chinese history attest to the joy of scaling pagodas.-History:The pagoda is...

s, while on the opposite side (upside-down) there were European cathedral
Cathedral
A cathedral is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop...

s. Western influence of geographical
Geography
Geography is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes...

 knowledge was used by Xiong to enforce what he believed had already been argued by earlier Chinese astronomers. However, the French sinologist Jean-Claude Martzloff regards this as a retrospective interpretation:

European astronomy was so much judged worth consideration that numerous Chinese authors developed the idea that the Chinese of antiquity had anticipated most of the novelties presented by the missionaries as European discoveries, for example, the rotundity of the earth and the “heavenly spherical star carrier model.” Making skillful use of philology, these authors cleverly reinterpreted the greatest technical and literary works of Chinese antiquity. From this sprang a new science wholly dedicated to the demonstration of the Chinese origin of astronomy and more generally of all European science and technology.

"Myth of the Flat Earth" in modern historiography



During the 19th century, the Romantic
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 conception of a European "Dark Age" gave much more prominence to the Flat Earth model than it ever possessed historically.

In 1945 the Historical Association
Historical Association
The Historical Association is an organisation founded in 1906 and based in London, England. The goals of the Historical Association are to support "the study and enjoyment of history at all levels by creating an environment that promotes lifelong learning and provides for the evolving needs of...

 listed "Columbus and the Flat Earth Conception" second of twenty in its first-published pamphlet on common errors in history.

This belief is even repeated in some widely read textbooks. Previous editions of Thomas Bailey's
Thomas A. Bailey
Thomas Andrew Bailey was a professor of history at his alma mater, Stanford University, and authored many historical monographs on diplomatic history, including the widely-used American history textbook, The American Pageant...

 The American Pageant
The American Pageant
The American Pageant, initially written by Thomas A. Bailey, is an American high school history textbook often used for AP United States History, AICE American History as well as IB History of the Americas courses. Since Bailey's death in 1983, the book has been updated by historians David M...

stated that "The superstitious sailors [of Columbus' crew]  ... grew increasingly mutinous...because they were fearful of sailing over the edge of the world"; however, no such historical account is known.

Actually, sailors were probably among the first to know of the curvature of Earth from everyday observations, for example seeing how mountains vanish below the horizon on sailing far from shore.

Some historians consider that the early advocates who projected flat Earth upon Christians of the Middle Ages were highly influential (19th century view typified by Andrew Dickson White
Andrew Dickson White
Andrew Dickson White was a U.S. diplomat, historian, and educator, who was the co-founder of Cornell University.-Family and personal life:...

); current historians (late 20th century view typified by historian and religious studies scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell
Jeffrey Burton Russell
Jeffrey Burton Russell is an American historian and religious studies scholar who received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1955 and his PhD from Emory University in 1960. He is now Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara...

) have asserted that White's and other writings projecting flat Earth belief upon Christians are inaccurate, citing centuries of theological writings, and suggested the motivations for the promotion of such inaccuracies.

According to Russell, the common misconception that people before the age of exploration believed that Earth was flat entered the popular imagination after Washington Irving
Washington Irving
Washington Irving was an American author, essayist, biographer and historian of the early 19th century. He was best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle", both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works...

's publication of A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1828.
Although some of the arguments attributed by Irving to Columbus's opponents had been recorded not long after the latter's death, there is no record of their having argued that the Earth was flat, and none before Irving is known to have accused them of doing so. Modern historians have dismissed the claim that they did so as a fabrication of Irving's.

The only denial published at the time came from Zacharia Lilio, a canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran
Basilica of St. John Lateran
The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran , commonly known as St. John Lateran's Archbasilica and St. John Lateran's Basilica, is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope...

 in Rome in 1496. In a section entitled "That the earth is not round" he argues that "when they assert that the earth is round, Ptolemy and Pliny do not add to the evidence, collected on the spot, they simply make a conjecture based solely on reasoning". It is notable that Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance astronomer and the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe....

, writing only twenty years after Columbus in 1514, dismisses the idea of a flat Earth in two sentences and has to go back to the early Greeks to find a supporter, though he expends more effort on showing that other current ideas were fallacious and demonstrating the sphericity of the earth.
In reality, the issue in the 1490s was not the shape but the size of the Earth, as well as the position of the east coast of Asia.

Modern flat-Earthers



In the modern era, belief in a flat Earth has been expressed by isolated individuals and groups, but no scientists of note.

English writer Samuel Rowbotham
Samuel Rowbotham
Samuel Birley Rowbotham was an English inventor and writer who wrote Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe under the pseudonym "Parallax". His work was based on his decade-long studies of the earth and was originally published as a 16-page pamphlet , which he later expanded into a 430 page book...

 (1816–1885), writing under the pseudonym "Parallax," produced a pamphlet called Zetetic Astronomy in 1849 arguing for a flat Earth and published results of many experiments that tested the curvatures of water over a long drainage ditch, followed by another called The inconsistency of Modern Astronomy and its Opposition to the Scripture. One of his supporters, John Hampden, lost a bet to Alfred Russell Wallace in the famous Bedford Level Experiment
Bedford Level experiment
The Bedford Level Experiment is a series of observations carried out along a six-mile length of the Old Bedford River on the Bedford Level, Norfolk, England, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was an attempt to determine the shape of the Earth...

, which attempted to prove it. Rowbotham also produced studies that purported to show the effects of ships disappearing below the horizon could be explained by the laws of perspective in relation to the human eye.

In 1883 he founded Zetetic Societies in England and New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, to which he shipped a thousand copies of Zetetic Astronomy. Challenges were issued in the New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 Daily Graphic
Daily Graphic
The Daily Graphic: An Illustrated Evening Newspaper was the first American newspaper with daily illustrations. It was founded in New York in 1873 by a firm of Canadian engravers and began publication in March of that year...

 offering $10,000 to charity to anyone proving the Earth revolved on an axis.

William Carpenter
William Carpenter (1830-1896)
William Carpenter , an English printer and author was a proponent of the Flat Earth theory active in England and the United States in the Nineteenth Century...

, a printer originally from Greenwich
Greenwich
Greenwich is a district of south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich.Greenwich is best known for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, was a supporter of Rowbotham and published Theoretical Astronomy Examined and Exposed - Proving the Earth not a Globe in eight parts from 1864 under the name Common Sense. He later emigrated to Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

 where he published A hundred proofs the Earth is not a Globe in 1885.
He argues that:
  • "There are rivers that flow for hundreds of miles towards the level of the sea without falling more than a few feet — notably, the Nile, which, in a thousand miles, falls but a foot. A level expanse of this extent is quite incompatible with the idea of the Earth's convexity. It is, therefore, a reasonable proof that Earth is not a globe."
  • "If the Earth were a globe, a small model globe would be the very best - because the truest - thing for the navigator to take to sea with him. But such a thing as that is not known: with such a toy as a guide, the mariner would wreck his ship, of a certainty!, This is a proof that Earth is not a globe."


John Jasper, the black ex-slave preacher said to have preached to more people than any Southern clergyman of his generation, echoed his friend Carpenter's sentiments in his most famous sermon "Der Sun do move and the Earth Am Square", preached over 250 times always by invitation.

In Brockport, N.Y, in 1887, M.C. Flanders argued the case of a flat Earth for three nights against two scientific gentlemen defending sphericity. Five townsmen chosen as judges voted unanimously for a flat Earth at the end. The case was reported in the Brockport Democrat.

'Professor' Joseph W. Holden of Maine
Maine
Maine is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, New Hampshire to the west, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec to the northwest and New Brunswick to the northeast. Maine is both the northernmost and easternmost...

, a former justice of the peace
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...

, gave numerous lectures in New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 and lectured on flat Earth theory at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

. His fame stretched to North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

 where the Statesville
Statesville, North Carolina
Statesville is a city located in Iredell County, North Carolina, United States and was named an All-America City in 1997 and 2009. The population was 24,633 at the 2010 census...

 Semi-weekly Landmark recorded at his death in 1900: 'We hold to the doctrine that the earth is flat ourselves and we regret exceedingly to learn that one of our members is dead'.

After Rowbotham's death, Lady Elizabeth Blount created the Universal Zetetic Society in 1893 in England and created a journal called Earth not a Globe Review, which sold for twopence, as well as one called Earth which only lasted from 1901 to 1904. She held that the Bible was the unquestionable authority on the natural world and argued that one could not be a Christian and believe the Earth to be a globe. Well-known members included E. W. Bullinger
E. W. Bullinger
Ethelbert William Bullinger AKC was an Anglican clergyman, Biblical scholar, and ultradispensationalist theologian.-Life and work:...

 of the Trinitarian Bible Society
Trinitarian Bible Society
The Trinitarian Bible Society was founded in 1831 "to promote the Glory of God and the salvation of men by circulating, both at home and abroad, in dependence on the Divine blessing, the Holy Scriptures, which are given by inspiration of God and are able to make men wise unto salvation through...

, Edward Haughton, senior moderator in natural science in Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin , formally known as the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, was founded in 1592 by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I as the "mother of a university", Extracts from Letters Patent of Elizabeth I, 1592: "...we...found and...

 and an archbishop. She repeated Rowbotham's experiments, generating some interesting counter-experiments, but interest declined after the First World War. The movement gave rise to several books which argued for a flat, stationary earth (e.g.).

In 1898, during his solo circumnavigation
Circumnavigation
Circumnavigation – literally, "navigation of a circumference" – refers to travelling all the way around an island, a continent, or the entire planet Earth.- Global circumnavigation :...

 of the world, Joshua Slocum
Joshua Slocum
Joshua Slocum was the first man to sail single-handedly around the world. He was a Canadian born, naturalised American seaman and adventurer, and a noted writer. In 1900 he told the story of this in Sailing Alone Around the World...

 encountered a group of flat-Earthers in Durban. Three Boers, one of them a clergyman, presented Slocum with a pamphlet in which they set out to prove that the world was flat. Paul Kruger
Paul Kruger
Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger , better known as Paul Kruger and affectionately known as Uncle Paul was State President of the South African Republic...

, President of the Transvaal Republic
South African Republic
The South African Republic , often informally known as the Transvaal Republic, was an independent Boer-ruled country in Southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century. Not to be confused with the present-day Republic of South Africa, it occupied the area later known as the South African...

, advanced the same view: "You don't mean round the world, it is impossible! You mean in the world. Impossible!"

Wilbur Glenn Voliva
Wilbur Glenn Voliva
Wilbur Glenn Voliva was an evangelist and a prominent proponent of Flat Earth theories.-Early life and education:...

, who in 1906 took over the Christian Catholic Church
Christian Catholic Apostolic Church
Christ Community Church in Zion, Illinois, formerly the Christian Catholic Church or Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, is an evangelical Protestant church founded in 1896 by John Alexander Dowie. The city of Zion was founded by Dowie as a religious community to establish a society on the...

, a Pentecostal sect that established a utopian community at Zion, Illinois
Zion, Illinois
Zion is a city in Lake County, Illinois, United States. The population was 22,866 at the 2000 census, and estimated at 24,303 as of 2005. The city was founded in July 1901 by John Alexander Dowie. He also started the Zion Tabernacle of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, which was the only...

, preached flat Earth doctrine from 1915 onwards and used a photograph of a twelve mile stretch of the shoreline at Lake Winnebago
Lake Winnebago
Lake Winnebago is a freshwater lake in eastern Wisconsin, United States. It is the largest lake entirely within the state.-Statistics:...

, Wisconsin
Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States and is part of the Midwest. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin's capital is...

 taken three feet above the waterline to prove his point. When the airship Italia
Airship Italia
Airship Italia was a semi-rigid airship used by Italian engineer Umberto Nobile in his second series of flights around the North Pole.-Design and specifications:...

 disappeared on an expedition to the North Pole
North Pole
The North Pole, also known as the Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is, subject to the caveats explained below, defined as the point in the northern hemisphere where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface...

 in 1928 he warned the world's press that it had sailed over the edge of the world. He offered a $5,000 award for proving the Earth is not flat, under his own conditions. Teaching a globular Earth was banned in the Zion schools and the message was transmitted on his WCBD radio station.

Modern biblical literalists
Biblical literalism
Biblical literalism is the interpretation or translation of the explicit and primary sense of words in the Bible. A literal Biblical interpretation is associated with the fundamentalist and evangelical hermeneutical approach to Scripture, and is used almost exclusively by conservative Christians...

 have swung to the other extreme over flat Earth theories. For example, the Biblical Astronomer website, while supporting a geocentric
Modern geocentrism
Modern geocentrism is the belief held by some extant groups that Earth is the center of the universe as described by classical geocentric models. This belief is often based on Biblical verses...

 model of the Earth, is clear on this, although its description of the foundations shows ingenuity: "In summary, the Bible teaches that the earth is basically a sphere in shape; that there are pillars which undergird the world and which we conclude to be the crystalline rock corresponding to what we commonly call the mantle."

Mohammed Yusuf, creator of the Boko Haram
Boko Haram
Boko Haram is a Nigerian Islamist group that seeks the imposition of Shariah law throughout the whole of Nigeria. The group presently has an undefined structure and chain of command...

 Islamic sect in Nigeria
Nigeria
Nigeria , officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in...

, stated his belief in a flat Earth. Some schools of Islam in Mauritania
Mauritania
Mauritania is a country in the Maghreb and West Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the west, by Western Sahara in the north, by Algeria in the northeast, by Mali in the east and southeast, and by Senegal in the southwest...

 also hold this belief.

Flat Earth Society




In 1956, Samuel Shenton
Samuel Shenton
Samuel Shenton was the founder in 1956 of the International Flat Earth Research Society, usually known as the Flat Earth Society, based in Dover, England...

 set up the International Flat Earth Research Society, better known as the Flat Earth Society
Flat Earth Society
The Flat Earth Society is an organization that seeks to further the belief that the Earth is flat instead of an oblate spheroid. The modern organization was founded by Englishman Samuel Shenton in 1956 and was later led by Charles K...

, as a direct descendant of the Universal Zetetic Society, just before the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik. He responded to this event "Would sailing round the Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest island of England, located in the English Channel, on average about 2–4 miles off the south coast of the county of Hampshire, separated from the mainland by a strait called the Solent...

 prove that it were spherical? It is just the same for those satellites." His primary aim was to reach children before they were convinced about a spherical Earth. Despite plenty of publicity, the space race eroded Shenton's support in Britain until 1967 when he started to become famous due to the Apollo program. His postbag was full but his health suffered as his operation remained essentially a one-man show until he died in 1971.
Shenton's role was taken over by one of his correspondents, Charles K. Johnson
Charles K. Johnson
Charles Kenneth Johnson was, from 1972 until his death, the president and energetic promoter of the International Flat Earth Society, which he and his wife ran from their home in California...

, as he retired in 1972 to the Mojave Desert
Mojave Desert
The Mojave Desert occupies a significant portion of southeastern California and smaller parts of central California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona, in the United States...

, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

. He incorporated the IFERS and steadily built up the membership to about 3,000.
He spent years examining the studies of flat and round Earth theories and proposed evidence of a conspiracy
Conspiracy theory
A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.-Usage:The term "conspiracy...

 against flat-Earth: "The idea of a spinning globe is only a conspiracy of error that Moses, Columbus, and FDR all fought…" His article was published in the magazine Science Digest
Science Digest
Science Digest was a monthly American magazine published by the Hearst Corporation from 1937 through 1986. It initially had an 8 x 5 inch format with about 100 pages, and was targeted at persons with a high school education level...

, 1980. It goes on to state,
  • "If it is a sphere, the surface of a large body of water must be curved. The Johnsons have checked the surfaces of Lake Tahoe
    Lake Tahoe
    Lake Tahoe is a large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada of the United States. At a surface elevation of , it is located along the border between California and Nevada, west of Carson City. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Its depth is , making it the USA's second-deepest...

     and the Salton Sea
    Salton Sea
    The Salton Sea is a shallow, saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, predominantly in California's Imperial Valley. The lake occupies the lowest elevations of the Salton Sink in the Colorado Desert of Imperial and Riverside counties in Southern California. Like Death...

     without detecting any curvature."


The Society declined in the 1990s following a fire at its headquarters in California and the death of Charles K. Johnson in 2001. It was revived as a website in 2004.

Cultural references


The notion of a flat Earth continues to be referred to in a wide range of contexts. Indirect references to the theory include the widely used idiom "the four corners of the earth". The term "flat-Earther" is often used in a derogatory sense to mean anyone who holds views so antiquated as to be ridiculous.

An early mention in literature was Ludvig Holberg
Ludvig Holberg
Ludvig Holberg, Baron of Holberg was a writer, essayist, philosopher, historian and playwright born in Bergen, Norway, during the time of the Dano-Norwegian double monarchy, who spent most of his adult life in Denmark. He was influenced by Humanism, the Enlightenment and the Baroque...

's comedy Erasmus Montanus (1723). Erasmus Montanus meets considerable opposition when he claims the Earth is round, since all the peasants hold it to be flat. He is not allowed to marry his fiancée until he cries "The earth is flat as a pancake". In Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

's The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat, the protagonists spread the rumor that a Parish Council meeting had voted in favor of a flat Earth. The 1980 film The Gods Must Be Crazy
The Gods Must Be Crazy
The Gods Must Be Crazy is a 1980 film, written and directed by Jamie Uys. The film is the first in The Gods Must Be Crazy series of films. Set in Botswana and South Africa, it tells the story of Xi, a Sho of the Kalahari Desert whose band has no knowledge of the world beyond...

concerns a Bushman
Bushmen
The indigenous people of Southern Africa, whose territory spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola, are variously referred to as Bushmen, San, Sho, Barwa, Kung, or Khwe...

 of the Kalahari who decides to travel to "the edge of the world" to dispose of a Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola is a carbonated soft drink sold in stores, restaurants, and vending machines in more than 200 countries. It is produced by The Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta, Georgia, and is often referred to simply as Coke...

 bottle that he thinks has evil powers.

Fantasy fiction is particularly rich in references to flat worlds. In C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a fantasy novel for children by C. S. Lewis. Written in 1950, it was published in 1952 as the third book of The Chronicles of Narnia...

the fictional world of Narnia
Narnia (world)
Narnia is a fantasy world created by C. S. Lewis as the primary location for his series of seven fantasy novels for children, The Chronicles of Narnia. The world is so called after the country of Narnia, in which much of the action of the Chronicles takes place.In Narnia, some animals can talk,...

 is "round like a table" (i.e. flat), not "round like a ball", and the characters sail toward the edge of this world (although, in Lewis' subsequent Narnian novel The Silver Chair
The Silver Chair
The Silver Chair is part of The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven fantasy novels written by C. S. Lewis. It was the fourth book published and is the sixth book chronologically. It is the first book published in the series in which the Pevensie children do not appear. The main characters are...

, the Earth itself is accepted and written as being spherical, with Narnian king Caspian X being amazed by this fact). Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett
Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett, OBE is an English novelist, known for his frequently comical work in the fantasy genre. He is best known for his popular and long-running Discworld series of comic fantasy novels...

's Discworld
Discworld
Discworld is a comic fantasy book series by English author Sir Terry Pratchett, set on the Discworld, a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle, Great A'Tuin. The books frequently parody, or at least take inspiration from, J. R. R....

 novels (1983 onwards) are set on a flat, disc-shaped world
Discworld (world)
The Discworld is the fictional setting for all of Terry Pratchett's Discworld fantasy novels. It consists of a large disc resting on the backs of four huge elephants which are in turn standing on the back of an enormous turtle, named Great A'Tuin as it slowly swims...

 that rests on the backs of four huge elephants that stand on the back of an enormous turtle. Many explorers died falling off the edge trying to prove that it's not so.

Scientific satire


In a satirical piece published 1996, Albert A. Bartlett, an emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder
University of Colorado at Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder is a public research university located in Boulder, Colorado...

, uses arithmetic to show that sustainable growth on Earth is impossible in a spherical Earth since its resources are necessarily finite. He explains that only a model of a flat Earth, stretching infinitely in the two horizontal dimensions and also in the vertical downward direction, would be able to accommodate the needs of a permanently growing population and economy.

The purpose of this piece is to demonstrate the impossibility of permanent growth rather than to advocate the idea of a flat Earth, given that it does not present any evidence for a flat infinite Earth but rather lists a number of reasons which make this very unlikely, making the satirical character of this essay clear:
The satiric nature of the piece is also made clear by a comparison to Bartlett's other publications, which mainly advocate the necessity of curbing population growth.

See also

  • Bedford Level experiment
    Bedford Level experiment
    The Bedford Level Experiment is a series of observations carried out along a six-mile length of the Old Bedford River on the Bedford Level, Norfolk, England, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was an attempt to determine the shape of the Earth...

  • Denialism
    Denialism
    Denialism is choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth: "[it] is the refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality...

  • Earth's rotation
  • Geographical distance
    Geographical distance
    Geographical distance is the distance measured along the surface of the earth. The formulae in this article calculate distances between points which are defined by geographical coordinates in terms of latitude and longitude.-An abstraction:...

  • Hollow earth
    Hollow Earth
    The Hollow Earth hypothesis proposes that the planet Earth is either entirely hollow or otherwise contains a substantial interior space. The hypothesis has been shown to be wrong by observational evidence, as well as by the modern understanding of planet formation; the scientific community has...

  • Scientific mythology
  • Skepticism
    Skepticism
    Skepticism has many definitions, but generally refers to any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere...

  • Spherical Earth
    Spherical Earth
    The concept of a spherical Earth dates back to ancient Greek philosophy from around the 6th century BC, but remained a matter of philosophical speculation until the 3rd century BC when Hellenistic astronomy established the spherical shape of the earth as a physical given...


Further reading


External links