TITLE: Toscanelli's World Map
DATE: 1474
AUTHOR: Paolo Toscanelli
DESCRIPTION: Long ago, Aristotle had said: "The regions round the Pillars of Hercules are in connection with the regions round India, and between them there is nothing but sea." Strabo believed that by sailing with an easterly wind in the western ocean one "could reach the Indies". About 120 A.D the Roman philosopher Favorinus wrote that the same ocean which the Greeks knew as the Atlantic Sea was known in East Asia as the Great Sea. Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus put forward similar views in the 13th century. In the 1470s, Paolo Toscanelli (1397-1482), the Florentine physician and cosmo-grapher, was the earliest known medieval supporter of a westward voyage from Europe to the Far East to portray his theories cartographically. He contended that the Far East could be reached more directly by sailing west than by rounding the Cape of Good Hope and crossing the Indian Ocean. Toscanelli accepted Marco Polo's earliest claim of the elongated Asian continent.

One of his friends was Fernan Martinez de Roriz, a Portuguese canon who later became King Alfonso's confessor at the Court in Lisbon. It is probable that some time about the beginning of the 1470's, the canon had come to discuss geographical questions with the King, or with Crown Prince João, who was more interested in geography, and then happened to mention Toscanelli's theory about a passage to India across the ocean to the west. At that time the Portuguese believed that they had already reached the southern extremity of Africa, and that the way to the riches of India already lay open before them. But then came the disconcerting news that once past the Cameroons the coast again turned south. and continued to do so for mile upon mile; it seems almost as if all hope of ever being able to circumnavigate Africa was abandoned. It was in this situation that the King instructed his confessor to write to Toscanelli and ask him to explain his plans more clearly. Toscanelli answered at some length, enclosing a map of the sea which divided Europe from Asia. The following is a translation of this most important document in its entirety:

To Fernam Martins, Canon of Lisbon, Paulus the Physician [i.e. Toscanelli] sends greetings.
It pleased me to hear of your intimacy and friendship with your great and powerful King. Often before have I spoken of a sea route from here to India, the land of spices; a route which is shorter than that via Guinea. You tell me that His Highness wishes me to explain this in greater detail so that it will be easier to understand and to take this route. Although I could show this on a globe representing the earth. I have decided to do it more simply and clearly by demonstrating the way on a nautical chart. I therefore send His Majesty a chart. drawn by my own hand, on which I have indicated the western coastline from Ireland in the north to the end of Guinea, and the islands which lie along this path. Opposite them, directly to the west, I have indicated the beginning of India, together with the islands and places you will come to; how far you should keep from the Arctic Pole and the Equator; and how many leagues you must cover before you come to these places, which are most rich in all kinds of spices, gems and precious stones. And be not amazed when I say that spices grow in lands to the west, even though we usually say the east; for he who sails west will always find these lands in the west, and he who travels east by land will always find the same lands in the east.

The upright lines on this chart show the distance from east to west, whereas the cross lines show the distance from north to south. The chart also indicates various places in India which may be reached if one meets with a storm or head-wind, or any other misfortune.

That you may know as much about these places as possible, you should know that the only people living on any of these islands are merchants who trade there.

There are said to be as many ships, mariners and goods there as in the rest of the world put together. especially in the principal port called Zaiton [Marco Polo's Zaitum] where they load and unload a hundred great ships of pepper every year, not to mention many other ships with other spices. That country has many inhabitants, provinces, kingdoms and innumerable cities, all of which are ruled by a prince known as the Grand Khan, which in our language means 'The King of Kings', who mainly resides in the province of Cathay. His forefathers greatly desired to make contact with the Christian world, and some two hundred years ago they sent ambassadors to the Pope, asking him to send them many learned men who could instruct them in our faith; but these ambassadors met with difficulties on the way, and had to turn back without reaching Rome. In the days of Pope Eugenius, there came an ambassador to him, who told him of their great feelings of friendship for the Christians, and I had a long conversation with the ambassador about many things: about the vast size of the royal buildings, about the amazing length and breadth of their rivers, and about the great number of cities on their banks - so great a number that along one river there were two hundred cities with very long, wide bridges of marble which were adorned with many pillars. This country is richer than any other yet discovered, and not only could it provide great profit and many valuable things, but also possesses gold and silver and precious stones and all kinds of spices in large quantities - things which do not reach our countries at present. And there are also many scholars. philosophers, astronomers and other men skilled in the natural sciences, who govern that great kingdom and conduct its wars.

From the city of Lisbon to the west, the chart shows twenty-six sections, of two hundred and fifty miles each - altogether, nearly one-third of the earth's circumference before reaching the very large and magnificent city of Kinsai. This city is approximately one hundred miles in circumference, possesses ten marble bridges, and its name means 'The Heavenly City' in our language. Amazing things have been related about its vast buildings, its artistic treasures and its revenues. It lies in the province of Manji, near the province of Cathay, where the king chiefly resides. And from the island of Antillia, which you call the Island of the Seven Cities, to the very famous island of Cipangu are ten sections, that is 2,500 miles. That island is very rich in gold, pearls and precious stones, and its temples and palaces are covered in gold. But since the route to this place is not yet known, all these things remain hidden and secret; and yet one may go there in great safety.

I could still tell of 'many other things, but as I have already told you of them in person, and as you are a man of good judgement, I will dilate no further on the subject. I have tried to answer your questions as well as the lack of time and my work have permitted me, but I am always prepared to serve His Highness and answer his questions at greater length should he so wish.

Written in Florence on the 25th of June. 1474.

It is clear that Toscanelli obtained most of his information about "Furthest India" from Marco Polo's book, but he also mentions that an "ambassador'' visited Pope Eugenius. Poggio Bracciolini, the Papal Secretary who wrote about Nicolo Conti's travels in India, adds at the end of Conti's narrative: "There came a man from the northern parts of Upper India to the Pope, wishing, on the instructions of his Nestorian Patriarch, to learn of the Christians in the countries of the West. He told of the Grand Khan and of his dominion over nine powerful peoples." This man was probably the ambassador mentioned by Toscanelli, and we shall have to presume that Conti and other travellers who are unknown to us today gave Toscanelli further valuable information. Toscanelli probably based his very exaggerated idea of the size of the world on what Marinus of Tyre had said; this was later to have some very remarkable consequences, for Christopher Columbus corresponded with Toscanelli during this time. He sent Columbus an encouraging reply along with a copy of a letter and map that he had prepared at the request of Afonso, King of Portugal, outlining his ideas. The map by Toscanelli depicted the intervening ocean which Pierre d'Ailly described in his Imago Mundi as "the sea is little between the farthest bound of Spain from the east and the nearest of India from the west" and that "this sea is navigable in a few days if the wind is favorable" Slide #238. Toscanelli sent the letter and maps (or charts) to the King of Portugal in 1474 and to Columbus before 1481. These documents deeply affected the course of Columbus's life and the history of the world. Although Toscanelli's letter has survived, his historic map was lost; but the map can be reconstructed from the text of his letter and from two surviving cartographic works embodying his ideas. These are the 1490 world map of Henricus Martellus (Slide #256) and the 1492 Nuremberg globe of Martin Behaim (Slide #258), the only two extant non-Ptolemaic world maps of the 15th century to be graduated in latitude and longitude and so to convey a precise estimate of the width of the ocean between westernmost Europe and easternmost Asia.

To Toscanelli the goal was Marco Polo's Cathay [China], and within the intervening ocean he was aware of no considerable land other than the two large islands of Antillia and Cipangu [Japan]. The former is only on the Martellus map of 1490, while both islands are shown on the Behaim globe. The scholar G.R. Crone suggests that the belief that the east could be reached by the west was being reconsidered in geographical circles before the second half of the 15th century, possibly in the 14th.

Taking his departure from a port of the Iberian Peninsula and sailing down into the zone of the northeasterly trade winds, according to Toscanelli a navigator could then lay a course west or southwest on which he would find Antillia lying across his bows. These were in fact the courses set by Columbus in the late summer of 1492, and Antillia was the first land which he expected to sight on his westward passage from the Canaries, based upon the Toscanelli's reference in his letter to Columbus to "the island of Antillia which is known to you", in the latitude of Cipangu. A mapmaker who thought in terms of a globe could locate Antillia somewhat further west than might be suggested by an ungraduated mappamundi or portolan chart in which it was drawn at the left-hand edge of the parchment. Toscanelli (as he told Columbus) supposed Antillia to lie 35 degrees west of his prime meridian through the Canaries; and it is in just this longitude, a little north of the equator, that Martin Behaim lays down, in his globe of 1492, the Island of St. Brendan, with an outline very like that of Antillia in the 15th century charts and in the Vinland map (Slide #243). Behaim gives it the name Insula de sant brandan. This apparent association of Antillia and St. Brendan in Behaim's mind echoes that in the Vinland mapWe must note, however, that the globe also shows Antillia, as a triangular island lying on the Tropic of Cancer (thus nearly due west of the Canaries) and about 10 degrees east of his St. Brendan's Island. This concept is not, in substance, different from that expressed in the relevant part of the Vinland map and there copied from a model similar to Bianco's world map of 1436 (Slide #241) in which the design is compressed within the limits of the available space at the extreme left of the vellum sheet. Columbus made copious notes on all reports of land or islands in the west that came to his notice, and those were gathered together in the biography by his son Fernando. All the evidence which he could collect indicated that both his objective and the best route thither lay in tropical latitudes. Like Toscanelli, he took Antillia to lie on or near the Tropic of Cancer; and if (as we suppose) the world maps he consulted included ones like those by Henricus Martellus in 1489 and 1490, which reflects Toscanelli's views, he could see that a course along the same parallel would bring him to Cipangu and to Mangi, the "cape of Asia". Toscanelli allowed 85 degrees of longitude between the Canaries and Cipangu, Martellus indicated 90 degrees and Behaim showed 110 degrees on his globe.

LOCATION: (originals lost, exists only as a reconstruction)

Brown, L.A., The Story of Maps, p. 155.
*Hapgood, C.H., Maps of Ancient Sea Kings, p. 50.
*Landström, B., Bold Voyages and Great Explorers, pp. 200-205.
Nebenzahl, K., Atlas of Columbus, pp. 2, 15, 19, 61.
Skelton, R.A., The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, p. 154-155, 234, 237.
*Woodward, D., "Maps and the Relationship of Geographic Space", Circa 1492, pp. 83-87.
* illustrated

Index of Late Medieval Maps