The Orient

The Orient

We are so used to seeing North at the top of the map that it seems strange to consider it any other way. In fact going back through history the very first atlas in the West was made by Claudius Ptolemy around 150 CE and it had North at the top.

 A reconstruction of Ptolemy's map from medieval times.

A reconstruction of Ptolemy's map from medieval times.

However, after this point in time most maps preferred to have East at the top. Firstly this is true independent of Western Europe. In the age before navigation the most important cardinal direction was that of the East because it was the direction the sun rose in. As medieval religions spread around the world they standardised this convention by linking the idea of the sun's rise direction with that of their individual conceptions of paradise.

Any mediaeval map is known as a mappa mundi and they ranged from the simplified T-O maps, to much more complicated affairs. T-O maps represent the ocean, the O, around the three known continents, separated by smaller seas forming a sea:

 T-O Map with East at the top.

T-O Map with East at the top.

One of the most famous mappa mundi is held in Hereford Cathedral and it too has East at the top. Jerusalem is framed at the centre of the world, with heaven indicated as far in the East past Asia. The reason we call used to call Eastern Asia the Orient is because it was originally the Orient of the map. In fact even the derivation of the word Orient comes from Oriens, which is from the Latin for East.

 Hereford mappa mundi

Hereford mappa mundi

However the era of transatlantic trade was looming and suddenly the main thing you needed to consult on your map was North to successfully use you compass in locating Magnetic North. Since most of the trade was in the Northern Hemisphere, we ended up with the North biased maps that we have today. Almost every civilisation that has invented cartography indepently has made this same progression from East dominating to North dominating when it made contact with sea faring nations. I like it when convergent adaptation happens.

Let's leave you with this:  

Gabriel's Horn

Gabriel's Horn

The New(ish) Lottery Rules

The New(ish) Lottery Rules