The oldest map of the world is the best and easiest way to chart the course of humanity throughout the many centuries of interesting history.

Humans have been making maps for countless thousands of years. These tools are some of the oldest modes of communication that mankind has ever used and even predated written language. However, only a handful of the maps made during the earlier times managed to survive. 

The good news is that some of them still exist to this day, including the examples drawn from different places and periods. These ancient maps give people a glimpse of the diverse and fascinating ways that the early ancestors identified their locations in the world. 

These maps that went through development and improvement through the years showcase the ever-changing thoughts and beliefs of the human race, with some of them even serving as great indicators of civilizations and cultures. 

Anaximander’s World

Anaximander, the Milesian philosopher in Greece, pursued the goal of mapping the entirety of the world. Although his original work was already lost in history, several scholars have attempted to reconstruct it with the use of the descriptions from Herodotus, the historian. 

This was circular and flat similar to a disc with the ocean surrounding it. The centre is filled with the three land masses of Asia, Europe, and Libya with the Black and Mediterranean Seas and the Nile River separating them. 

oldest maps of the world from 500 B.C.
Hecataeus improved the map of Anaximander, which he saw as a disc encircled by Oceanus. He was a Greek geographer and researcher, designer of one among the oldest maps of the worls and author of a book on chronology.

The philosopher is often dubbed as among the founders of Geography together with his fellow Milesian Hecataeus who enhanced the map further with even more details.

Australian Songlines

Several prehistoric cultures came up with less conventional kinds of maps. The Indigenous People of Australia perceived their world in the so-called songlines. These are oral maps that were based on the landscape’s sacred features. 

For starters, these maps record the traditional beliefs regarding the Dreamtime, which is a mythological era during which the world that people see and live in now has been shaped by the ancestors of different living creatures. 

However, the songlines involve some recognizable objects and places as well, which makes them handy for navigational purposes, too. There was more to the mapping of the eternal patterns than being a mere set of spiritual beliefs. This was also a practical way that help with the survival of the Aboriginal tribes. 

Ptolemy’s Geography

Ptolemy’s geography is no doubt the most influential oldest map of the world. The notably comprehensive Geography of Claudius Ptolemy that was completed during 150 AD was the one that defined the concept of mapmaking in the two millennia that followed. 

most influential oldest map of the world
Ptolemy’s geography is no doubt the most influential oldest map of the world, also known by its Latin names as the Geographia and the Cosmographia, is a gazetteer, an atlas, and a treatise on cartography.

The map itself wasn’t in a standard format instead, it was a book with eight volumes claiming to describe the whole known world based on mathematical principles complete with latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates for different locations. 

Geography boasted a whopping 8,000 place names which include those regions that are as far flung as China and Iceland. However, the originals are now long gone. Similarly, the oldest version ever known comes from Byzantium in the 13th century where the scholars restored the map to life that would soon inform and dominate the efforts in cartography for the many centuries to come in the future. 

The Bedolina Petroglyph

The people of northern Italy dwelling in the mountains drew the Bedolina map into the glacially polished granite in the valley of Valcamonica which contains one of the finest rock art collections of the world. 

oldest map of the world first millenium B.C.
The Bedolina Petroglyph is famous for the Rock of the Map even though, there was a disagreement among scholars on whether this oldest map of the world was intended to portray a real area of geography.

The petroglyph standing at 8 by 14 feet is among the hundreds of thousands of others that were possibly made during the first millennium BC. The numerous abstract symbols are meant to depict paths, fields, and buildings among many other things. 

However, there was a disagreement among scholars on whether this oldest map of the world was intended to portray a real area of geography or was just a symbolic statement showing the relationship between the environment and the creators, for instance. 

The Imago Mundi

The Imago Mundi is the earliest known attempt to show the entirety of the Earth. This Babylonian map of the world is believed to date as far back as 600 B.C. Babylon City itself is depicted as a big rectangle that is bisected by one more rectangle that represents the Euphrates River. 

The nearby area is also dotted with several neighbouring cities and all of them are surrounded by a ring labelled as the Salt Sea. Eight islands lie beyond the circular waterway which legendary beings are believed to inhabit.  

oldest map of the world Imago Mundi tablet
The Babylonian clay tablet Imago Mundi Considered is considered to be the oldest map of the world by some people.

Considered by some people as the oldest map of the world, the Imago Mundi is just among the many maps that are inscribed in Mesopotamia’s clay tablets. However, it seems to be distinct in its scope. Many clay maps from ancient times are large-scale depictions of smaller areas that show fields, irrigation, and most likely ownership. 

These are quite precise as well. On the other hand, the relative location and size of most of the features found on the World Map are seemingly unbelievable. However, it seems to have served just fine if you consider that its purpose is only to mythologize and not to settle land disputes. 

The Peutinger Table

The Peutinger Table is often dubbed as the grandfather of all roadmaps stretching 22 feet to make way for every single thoroughfare of the ancient Roman Empire. Today, the version that continues to exist is only a replica of the original from the 13th century and some scholars also believe that it was made during the first century BC in response to the command of Marcus Agrippa, a Roman general. 

The Tabula of Peutinger is the only Roman roadmap known to have survived antiquity.

This extends from Italy as far west as Spain and Britain and as far east as India. It also charts around 50,000 miles of a stone-paved highway. Although it wasn’t drawn to scale, this map also lists the mileage between the towns and provides travellers with prominent landmarks they can follow. 

The Bottom Line

The oldest map of the world is the best way to get a glimpse of the way of life, beliefs, cultures, and traditions of the bygone past.

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