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7000 Years of Thinking Regarding Earth's Shape

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« on: June 26, 2007, 12:18:52 am »

Ethical Atheist

A Detailed Study of Personal Bias and Historical Thinking.

Analysis of 7000 Years of Thinking Regarding Earth's Shape


The following table presents a summary of historical thinking regarding the shape of the earth over the past 7000+ years.  Where possible, we've attempted to locate and cite original translated works such as:
De Caelo (On the Heavens), by Aristotle, written in 350 BCE.
De Rerum Naturâ (On the Nature of Things), by Lucretius, written in 50 BCE
Divinæ Institutiones (Divine Institutes), by Lactantius, written approx. 320 CE
Christian Topography, by Cosmas Indicopleustes, written approx. 547 CE

An author being included in this table DOES NOT necessarily mean they believed the earth was flat.  In fact, you will find many spherical views in this table.  The table represents a chronology of the various views.  It also includes quotations which have caused confusion in the past.  In these cases, the material is presented along with a discussion of why the misinterpretations exist.

We consider this a work in progress which will be updated as new facts are found. You will notice excruciating detail and a huge list of references here.  The reason is that we want everyone to know where we found our information and we request that anyone wanting to add or correct this work do the same.  Rash correspondence containing personal opinions without references will not be acknowledged.

Note on time references:
CE stands for "Common Era."  New term expected to replace AD, which stands for "Anno Domini" in Latin or "the year of the Lord" in English, referring to the approximate birth year of Christ.
BCE stands for "Before the Common Era." Expected to replace BC, which means "Before Christ."
Commonsimply refers to the most frequently used calendar system: the Gregorian Calendar.  This removes the misnomer of the calendar being based on Christ's birth.  Historians currently believe his birth was anywhere between 12-4 BC.


(Flat, Spherical, Cylindrical, Etc.) Circa Discussion
5000 BCE Sumer (now southern Iraq) was one of the world's first civilizations; it may have actually been the first.  It lasted for about three millennia, until finally collapsing under the Amorites circa 2000 BCE. They developed the concept of a multi-layered universe. "The boundary between heaven and earth was a solid (perhaps tin) vault, and the earth was a flat disk. Within the vault lay the gas-like 'lil', or atmosphere, the brighter portions therein formed the stars, planets, sun, and moon." [1]  Variations of this belief spread across the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. One version is seen in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).  In Mesopotamia, the 3500 BCE Sumerian civilization, "The first and simplest astronomical instrument, the gnomon, was able to give some indication of the time of day and the season of the year; it consisted of a straight vertical rod and is based on the same principle as the modern sundial." [56]
4500 -
500 BCE Babylonians - "According to the cosmology of Eridu, water was the origin of all things; the inhabited world sprung from the deep and is still encircled by Khubur, the ocean stream."  The sun comes out of a door in the east every morning and leaves through a door in the west every evening.  The world had the form of a mountain, the heaven was a solid vault, "the foundation of which rested on a vast ocean, "the deep" which also supported the earth."  "Inside the crust of the earth is the abode of the dead, the entrance to which is in the west." [15] Note: Numerous verses in the Old Testament detail these same ideas.  Dreyer's book provides many biblical references to this on p.3.  We can thank the Babylonians for developing the first known studies in credulous astrology (ugh!).  In many ways, however, Babylonians were surprisingly advanced with their work in calendars and study of the planets.  They knew of at least 5 planets and with the Sun and Moon derived our 7-day calendar.   The Babylonians & Mesopotamians generally believed in the "theory that the earth was a flat circular disk surrounded by a primordial sea." [17]
2100 BCE Abraham, Hebrew Wanderer - Credited as the Father of Three Religions (see "Origins of Christianity, Islam and Judaism").  Abraham led his tribe out of Ur and began the monotheistic (single god) view of religion.  Christianity and its strict literal interpretation of the Bible, which is based on the flat Sumerian/Babylonian view of the earth, would later have a profound impact on science, geography, astronomy, etc.
545 BCE Thales of Miletus - Believed the earth was flat [16] and was "a circular disc floating like a piece of wood on the ocean." [15]  "The earth rests on water... to the effect that it rests on water, floating like a piece of wood or something else of that sort." (Aristotle referring to Thales)   [47]
547 BCE Anaximander of Miletus (Anaximandros) (pupil of Thales) - Believed it was flat, or convex, on the surface, but made it a "cylinder or stone column".  Homeric poems present a picture of the earth as "a flat circular disc surrounded by the mighty river Okeasnos".   [15] "He says that the earth is cylindrical in form, and that its depth is as a third part of its breadth." Ps.-Plut. Strom. fr. 2 (R. P. 19)  [43],[46] 
500 BCE Pythagoras - Noted that the altitudes of stars varied at different places on Earth and how ships appeared on the horizon.  As a ship returned to port, first its mast tops, then the sails, and finally its hull gradually came into view.  Aristotle, who lived 300 years before Christ, observed that the Earth cast a round shadow on the moon.  When a light is shined on a sphere, it casts the same shadow.  The Greeks calculated the general size and shape of the Earth.  They also created the grid system of latitude and longitude, so that with just two coordinates one can locate any point on the Earth.  Greek philosophers also concluded that the Earth could only be a sphere because that, in their opinion, was the "most perfect" shape.
Pythagoras introduced the concept of 'antipodes' by being the first to claim that people could live on the opposite side of the world.  Pode is Greek for feet, so Pythagoras coined the term antipodes, meaning feet pointed in a direction that was opposite. "The earth, which is also spherical and inhabited all over, that there are antipodes..." [15]

 (See Antipodes discussion in Chapter 3)

"The earth, after the analogy of the sphere of the all, is divided into five zones, arctic, antarctic, summer, winter, and equinoctial of these the middle one he defines to be the middle of the earth, called for this very reason the torrid zone [antipodal]; but the inhabited one [the one between the arctic and the torrid zone] being well-tempered." (Aet. iii. 2; 366.)  [48]

The earliest claim for the round shape of the Earth is probably from Pythagoras (500 BCE). It was reported that Pythagoras reasoned from the perpetual round shape of lunar eclipses that the Ea rth could neither be flat nor cylindrical, but only spherical. [4] Pythagoras "Taught that the Earth was a sphere at the centre of the Universe." [9]
? BCE Anaximenes of Miletus (pupil of Anaximandros) - "The earth and heavenly bodies are flat."  "Celestial bodies do not set beneath the earth..., but instead turn at an angle... so that many are obscured by the "higher" parts of earth to the north (Aristot. Meteor. 354a 28)."   [25] 
"The sun is hidden not by going underneath the earth, but because it is covered by some of the higher parts of the earth..."   [45]
428 BCE Anaxagoras of Klazomenae - "The earth is flat in form, and keeps its place in the heavens because of its size and because there is no void; and on this account the air by its strength holds up the earth, which rides on the air. And the sea arose from the moisture on the earth..."  Hipp. Phil. 8 ; Dox. 561.   [44]
420 BCE Leukippos (Leukippus) of Abdera - "The earth resembles a tympanon (tambourine), that is to say, it is flat on the surface but probably with a slightly elevated rim."  [15]
322 BCE Aristotle - He, and Greek astronomers in general, knew that the earth is round. In his Physics, Aristotle gives two or three arguments.   One is from the shape of the earth's shadow on the moon during an eclipse of the moon. Another is from the well known phenomenon of a ship's leaving port -- the ship soon is lost to view but the sails of the ship are visible for quite a while longer.  Finally, the Greeks knew that people located on a high promontory could see considerably farther out to see than someone low. All these Aristotle regards as settling the shape of the earth empirically. 
[Clearly states that there is controversy over the earth's shape.]  "There are similar disputes about the shape of the earth. Some think it is spherical, others that it is flat and drum-shaped. For evidence they bring the fact that, as the sun rises and sets, the part concealed by the earth shows a straight and not a curved edge, whereas if the earth were spherical the line of section would have to be circular. In this they leave out of account the great distance of the sun from the earth and the great size of the circumference, which, seen from a distance on these apparently small circles appears straight. Such an appearance ought not to make them doubt the circular shape of the earth. But they have another argument. They say that because it is at rest, the earth must necessarily have this shape. For there are many different ways in which the movement or rest of the earth has been conceived. "  (De Caelo, Book II, Part 13, Para III)  [7] 


"Anaximenes and Anaxagoras and Democritus give the flatness of the earth as the cause of its staying still." ... "This seems to be the way of flat-shaped bodies: for even the wind can scarcely move them because of their power of resistance. The same immobility, they say, is produced by the flatness of the surface which the earth presents to the air which underlies it."  (De Caelo, Book II, Part 13, Para III)  [7] Anaxagoras of Klazomenae said that our world is flat "cylindrical", i.e., shaped like a modern coin.  Democritus agreed.
"Again, what holds of one holds of all, and the evidence of our eyes shows us that the moon is spherical. For how else should the moon as it waxes and wanes show for the most part a crescent-shaped or gibbous figure, and only at one moment a half-moon? And astronomical arguments give further confirmation; for no other hypothesis accounts for the crescent shape of the sun's eclipses. One, then, of the heavenly bodies being spherical, clearly the rest will be spherical also." (De Caelo, Book II, Part 11)  [7] 

"Again, our observations of the stars make it evident, not only that the earth is circular, but also that it is a circle of no great size. For quite a small change of position to south or north causes a manifest alteration of the horizon. There is much change, I mean, in the stars which are overhead, and the stars seen are different, as one moves northward or southward. Indeed there are some stars seen in Egypt and in the neighbourhood of Cyprus which are not seen in the northerly regions; and stars, which in the north are never beyond the range of observation, in those regions rise and set. All of which goes to show not only that the earth is circular in shape, but also that it is a sphere of no great size: for otherwise the effect of so slight a change of place would not be quickly apparent." (De Caelo, Book II, Part 14) [7]
230 BCE Aristarchus - Knew the earth, moon and sun were spherical.  Used the lunar eclipse to estimate the relative sizes of the earth and moon from the curvature of the moon and the curvature of the earth's shadow on the moon. [56] 
196 BCE Eratosthenes, Born B.C. 276., died at the age of 80, about B.C. 196.  His most celebrated work was a systematic treatise on geography, entitled Geographika, in three books. The first book, included investigations concerning the form and nature of the earth, which, according to him, was an immovable globe. This important work of Eratosthenes forms an epoch in the history of ancient geography.  [6] Eratosthenes calculated the earth's circumference to be about 40,000 km (25,000 miles) -- a fairly accurate estimate.  [10]
127 BCE Hipparchus of Nicaea - In his work Against the Geography of Eratosthenes, (150 BCE), Hipparchus  offered important rules about the proper methods to use in drawing world maps (though he generally was against doing so).  He provided new ways of determining latitude and marked of climata lines which, if numbered, would provide a set of coordinates for locating every place on earth! [60]
By this point, the view of a spherical earth had advanced so far that it would resemble our view today.
55 BCE Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus) - Opposed to spherical earth due to antipodes concept.  In his book "On the Nature of Things" (50 B.C.), he believes that telling the story of antipodes is "To tell the dark discoveries of the Greeks... They contend, with like procedure, that all breathing things had downward roam about, and yet cannot tumble from earth to realms of sky below, no more than these our bodies wing away spontaneously to vaults of sky above;.. " It is "But a vain error has given these dreams to fools". [29]   "Lucretius assures us, namely, that the earth has no centre towards which everything strives, and that there are no antipodes." [30] (Note: As a result of his beliefs, we prefer to call him "Ludicrous", rather than Lucretius.)
Biblical Bible references: In Isaiah [11:12], Ezekiel [7:2] it states that the Earth has four corners. In Revelation [7:1], four angels were "standing on the four corners of the earth". In Daniel [4:10-11, 20], it refers to seeing to the end of the Earth; and then seeing all kingdoms of the world in Matthew [4:8] and Luke [4:5] (implying a flat, rather than spherical Earth).  Revelation [1:7]: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye shall see him..." 
Others:  Deut. 5:8; 13:7; 28:64; 33:17; I Samuel 2:10; Psalms 48:10; 61:2; 65:5; 88(89):11-12; 98:3; 103:3; 104:2-3; 135; Proverbs 17:24; 30:4; Isaiah 5:2; 11:2; Jeremiah 25:33; Job 37:3;  Revelation 20:8., Isaiah 40:22; Job 22:14; Amos 9:6; Matthew 24:31.

In short, the cosmology of the Bible draws heavily from the cosmology of the Babylonian and Sumerians. That is, it is basically a picture of a flat earth.  (As a side note, this doesn't reflect favorably on the Bible being the word of God.  Why would God provide a confusing and most times wrong picture of the Earth and universe?  Why would it be a view held by prior civilizations rather than a correct one?)

For additional Bible references and discussion of the flat earth belief, see "The Flat-Earth Belief of Bible Writers", by Adrian Swindler in The Skeptical Review. [73]
79 CE Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus) - In his Natural History, he claims that everyone agrees on the spherical shape of the earth.  However, there is not agreement on antipodes and there is a question about how water can hold to a spherical shape.
"But her shape is the first fact about which men's judgment agrees.  We do undoubtedly speak of the earth's sphere, and admit that the globe is shut in between poles.  Nor yet in fact do all these lofty mountains and widely spreading plains comprise the outline of a perfect sphere, but a figure whose circuit would produce a perfect sphere if the ends of all the lines were enclosed in a circumference."  (Natural History, LXIV - [115])

"Here there is a mighty battle between learning on one side and the common herd on the other: the theory being that human beings are distributed all round the earth and stand with their feet pointing towards each other, and that the top of the sky is alike for them all and the earth trodden under foot at the centre in the same way from any direction, while ordinary people enquire why the persons on the opposite side don't fall off - just as if it were not reasonable that the people on the other side wonder that we do not fall off.  There is an intermediate theory that is acceptable even to the unlearned crowd - that the earth is of the shape of an irregular globe, resembling a pine cone, yet nevertheless is inhabited all round." (Natural History, LXV - [115])

It seems there was some question about how water can hold to a spherical shape and he provides arguments as to why it tends towards a center.  "But what the crowd most debates is if it must believe that the conformation of the waters also rises in a curve.  {examples of how water does this...} therefore follows that all the water from every direction converges towards the centre, this pressure inward being the cause of its not falling off." (Natural History, LXV - [115])

"Thus there are seas encircling the globe on every side and dividing it in two, so robbing us of half the world, since there is no region affording a passage from there to here or from here to there. This reflexion serves to expose the vanity of mortals, and appears to demand that I should display to the eye and exhibit the extent of this whole indefinite region in which men severally find no satisfaction." (Natural History, LXVII - [115])


Side Note: Pliny the Elder died during the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Italy.  A detailed account of his death can be found in F.M. Bullard's Volcanoes (Austin. University of Texas Press, 1968, 441 pp.).  We found this online at UC Santa Barbara's Volcano Information Center at "Derivation of the name Plinian".
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« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2007, 12:19:59 am »

168 CE Ptolemy, Claudius - a Greek geographer, mathematician, and astronomer, compiled an encyclopedia of the ancient world from the archives of a legendary library in Alexandria, Egypt. His eight-volume Geography included extensive maps of the known world, all based on a curved globe. The framework and vocabulary of Ptolemy are still used today: the grid system of latitude and longitude including coordinates for eight thousand places in his Geography!  A truly amazing feat!   [60], [61]  From Ptolemy's Almagest, "That the earth, too, taken as a whole, is sensibly spherical can best be grasped from the following considerations: we can see, again, that the sun, moon and other stars do not rise and set simultaneously for everyone on earth, but do so earlier for those more towards the east, later for those towards the west." (Almagest, section i.4)  [101]
220 CE Tertullian - Ecclesiastical writer who provides us with good examples of anti-intellectualism and the conflict developing between the Christian Church and science.  Notable quotations include this one where Tertullian criticizes the Greek philosophers and the Athens Academy, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, the Academy with the Church? What between heretics and Christians? ... We have no need for curiosity since Jesus Christ, nor for inquiry since the Gospel".  Another is a result of the story of Thales who supposedly fell into a well while observing the stars.  Tertullian said, "Tell me, what is the sense of this itch for idle speculation? What does it prove, this useless affection of a fastidious curiosity, notwithstanding the strong confidence of its assertions?  It is highly appropriate that Thales, while his eyes were roaming the heavens in astronomical observation, should have tumbled into a well.  This mishap may well serve to illustrate the fate of all who occupy themselves with the stupidities of philosophy." [56], [57], [58],[59]

Tertullian represents an element of opposition to 'pagan' knowledge which certainly did manifest itself in the early Church, but it was a view which did not prevail.  (Also see discussion on "Influential or Fringe Writers?" in Chapter 3.)  He is often mentioned in flat earth debates for his anti-Greek remarks, yet this does not imply he believed the earth to be flat.  We could not find any material of his mentioning a flat earth.
325 CE
 Lactantius (full name: Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius)- Ridiculed the idea that people could walk with their feet above their heads or that rain and snow could fall upwards towards the earth. [1] This argument, based on Biblical grounds, was that the world was not spherical, but flat.  Lactantius repeatedly criticizes philosophers in his writings as fools.
"How is it with those who imagine that there are antipodes opposite to our footsteps? Do they say anything to the purpose? Or is there any one so senseless as to believe that there are men whose footsteps are higher than their heads? or that the things which with us are in a recumbent position, with them hang in an inverted direction? that the crops and trees grow downwards? that the rains, and snow, and hail fall upwards to the earth? ... The origin of this error must also be set forth by us. For they are always deceived in the same manner. ... that last consequence also followed, that there would be no part of the earth uninhabited by men and the other animals. Thus the rotundity of the earth leads, in addition, to the invention of those suspended antipodes.  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,  ... 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; but that I sometimes imagine that they either discuss philosophy for the sake of a jest, or purposely and knowingly undertake to defend falsehoods... " (Lactantius, Divine Institutions (302-323 A.D.), Book III - "Of the False Wisdom of Philosophers"  [37])

"About the antipodes also one can neither hear nor speak without laughter. It is asserted as something serious, that we should believe that there are men who have their feet opposite to ours. The ravings of Anaxagoras are more tolerable, who said that snow was black." (Lactantius, The Epitome of the Divine Institutes, Chapter XXXIX - Of Various Philosophers, and of the Antipodes.)  [38])

"The great majority of the early fathers of the Church, and especially Lactantius, had sought to crush it beneath the utterances attributed to Isaiah, David, and St. Paul, the better opinion of Eudoxus and Aristotle could not be forgotten." [14]


Lactantius was a flat earther, pure and simple.  However, some argue that Lactantius was not influential on the medieval world view.  They believe e should not be presented as representative of later thinking on the shape of the earth.  They point to the fact that Lactantius is rarely ever referenced in later works, showing that his influence was practically non-existent.
Others argue, (see discussion on "Influential or Fringe Writers?" in Chapter 3), that this is hard to determine.  In Lactantius' case, we find him referenced in St. Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana.  Augustine seems to be looking favorably on Lactantius, at least regarding Egyptian gold.  In his De Doctrina Christiana, (On Christian Doctrine), Book II., Chapter 40, Augustine discusses the how Egyptians were worshipping idols and had "vessels and ornaments of gold and silver".  He says that "we must take and turn to a Christian use", "not doing this on their own authority, but by the command of God".  Referring specifically to Lactantius, he states, "And what else have many good and faithful men among our brethren done? ... How much Lactantius brought with him?" [91]  It is stated that other views of Lactantius eventually led to his posthumous condemnation as a heretic, but the influential St. Augustine's reference to him as among "good and faithful men" appears to show that he wasn't yet deemed a heretic by this time.
386 CE St. Cyril of Jerusalem -  It is said that he followed Basil's teaching. Seems to have been in the flat earth camp.  Quotes frequently from the Bible and portrays earth as firmament floating on water using Gen. i. 6.  He wrote in his Catechetical Lectures: Lecture IX: "Him who reared the sky as a dome, who out of the fluid nature of the waters formed the stable substance of the heaven. For God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the water. God spake once for all, and it stands fast, and falls not. The heaven is water, and the orbs therein, sun, moon, and stars are of fire: and how do the orbs of fire run their course in the water? But if any one disputes this because of the opposite natures of fire and water, let him remember the fire which in the time of Moses in Egypt flamed amid the hail..." [85]   For a biography, see [83] 


Some argue that he was not influential and note that his view did not prevail.  (Also see discussion on "Influential or Fringe Writers?" in Chapter 3.)
379 CE Saint Basil, Bishop of Caesarea (Saint Basil the Great)- Presumed to have possessed profound knowledge in astronomy.  Attempted to incorporate modern thought into his interpretation of the Scriptures.  However, it appears that he foresaw the problems presented with the shape of the earth being a sphere and its contradiction to the Scriptures.  To avert such a showdown, he took the position that we don't need to know that and such knowledge was quite unnecessary.  [32] "Moses, is silent as to shapes; he has not said that the earth is a hundred and eighty thousand furlongs in circumference; he has not measured into what extent of air its shadow projects itself whilst the sun revolves around it, nor stated how this shadow, casting itself upon the moon, produces eclipses. He has passed over in silence, as useless, all that is unimportant for us. Shall I then prefer foolish wisdom to the oracles of the Holy Spirit? Shall I not rather exalt Him who, not wishing to fill our minds with these vanities, has regulated all the economy of Scripture in view of the edification and the making perfect of our souls?" (Saint Basil the Great - Hexaemeron 9, HOMILY IX., The creation of terrestrial animals.) [49]
390 CE St. Gregory Nazianzen - Is said to have opposed antipodes by White, and showed that to sail beyond Gibraltar was impossible. [3]  Without a direct quote from Nazianzen, it's hard to know whether he opposed a spherical earth or just inhabited antipodes.  {Still looking for good reference on this.}


** Included here only as a reference to works cited in the flat earth debates of contemporary authors.  Opposition to inhabited antipodes does NOT necessary mean opposition to a spherical earth or prove flat earth thinking.  (See Antipodes discussion in Chapter 3)
408 CE St. John Chrysostom (considered a "doctor of the Church", bishop of Antioch, archbishop of Constantinople in 398) - opposed the earth's sphericity based on Scripture.  Regularly refers to the Earth having four corners as the Bible does in his sermons.  For example, the following quotations come from Homilies Against the Jews: "every corner of the earth", "her action is known in every corner of the earth", "every corner of the earth seen by the sun" [27]  Exerted his influence against a spherical earth. [2]  He is quoted by Kosmas (Cosmas) as stating "Where are those who say that the heaven is in motion?  Where are those who think it is spherical?  For both these opinions are here swept away." (in commenting on Hebrews 8:1.)
Knew that truly ending the 'heretical' study of the Greeks meant wiping out Greek writings -  happily declared, "Every trace of the old philosophy and literature of the ancient world has vanished from the face of the earth." [79]

Very critical of Greek teaching because it conflicted with Scripture and writings of the Church, including his own!  In his "Homily 2, Trinity, Sophists, Philosophers", Para 5, he takes pleasure in the fact that the Church is successfully silencing the Greeks - "And as for the writings of the Greeks, they are all put out and vanished, but this man's shine brighter day by day.  ...since then the (doctrines) of Pythagoras and of Plato, which seemed before to prevail, have ceased to be spoken of, and most men do not know them even by name."   [77], [78]  He continues to claim, "Pythagoras... practiced there ten thousand kinds of sorcery.... but by his magic tricks he deceived the foolish.  And neglecting to teach men anything useful."  He then calls Pythagoras a "barbarian"!  Chrysostom is quite animated at times while continuing to bash Pythagoras, stating "And as, if you uncover those sepulchers which are whitened without you will find them full of corruption, and stench, and rotten bones."  We'll stop for now, but rest assured there is a lot more Greek bashing in Chrysostom Homilies.  See: [77], [78]


Chrysostom was "definitely a strong fundamentalist if not an absolute Biblical literalist and he certainly seems to have believed the earth was flat.  Like Tertullian, he was skeptical of any 'pagan' knowledge which seemed to cast doubt on any aspect of the Bible.  His oratory and theology were influential.  His belief in a flat earth was not."  [82]   Note: We do not share this view that he was influential in oratory and theology, but not flat earthism.  Though his flat earth views did not eventually previal, it is our opinion that he was probably influential in all three areas during his time.  But, we present both sides of the argument for you to make your own conclusions.  (Also see discussion on "Influential or Fringe Writers?" in Chapter 3.)
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« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2007, 12:20:45 am »

408 CE Severian, Bishop of Gabala - Depended upon Scriptures for view of the earth.  "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"  [15]  He shared John Chrysostom's fundamentalism and opposition to pagan learning.  His view of the earth and its flat shape seems to indicate that this opposition to pagans also extended to a certain ignorance of it as well.


Some argue that he was not influential and note that his view did not prevail.  (Also see discussion on "Influential or Fringe Writers?" in Chapter 3.)
430 CE St. Augustine - For scriptural reasons, Augustine was opposed to inhabited antipodes, not a spherical earth.
Wrote De Genesi ad Litteram (The Literal Meaning of Genesis).  Like Saint Basil, when he diverted questions of the earth as Dreyer [15] states of Augustine, "The authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of the human mind.".  However, he also seemed concerned that Christians would be laughed at for the Scriptural beliefs and urged them not to discuss the earth or the heavens: "Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,...  and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience.  It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture.  We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn." (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim [50]) This quote has been used and abused by many writers trying to prove all manner of arguments.  It is likely that all he meant by this is that Christians should not speak on scientific topics for which they are uneducated.  Augustine was probably just concerned that Christians argue back with unbelievers and make incorrect statements, thus giving unbelievers more ammunition to be used against themselves.

"Though he seemed inclined to yield a little in regard to the sphericity of the earth, he fought the idea that men exist on the other side of it, saying that "Scripture speaks of no such descendants of Adam."  He insists that men could not be allowed by the Almighty to live there, since if they did they could not see Christ at His second coming descending through the air.  But his most cogent appeal, one which we find echoed from theologian to theologian during a thousand years afterward, is to the nineteenth Psalm, and to its confirmation in the Epistle to the Romans; to the words, "Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." He dwells with great force on the fact that St.  Paul based one of his most powerful arguments upon this declaration regarding the preachers of the gospel, and that he declared even more explicitly that "Verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." Thenceforth we find it constantly declared that, as those preachers did not go to the antipodes, no antipodes can exist; and hence that the supporters of this geographical doctrine 'give the lie direct to King David and to St.  Paul, and therefore to the Holy Ghost.' Thus the great Bishop of Hippo taught the whole world for over a thousand years that, as there was no preaching of the gospel on the opposite side of the earth, there could be no human beings there."  [14]

"There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger.  This is the disease of curiosity. ... It is this which drives us to try to discover the secrets of nature, those secrets that are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which men should not wish to learn..." (St. Augustine of Hippo d. 430 CE)

St. Augustine stated, "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 on us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, there is no reason for believing it.  Those who affirm it do not claim to possess any actual information; they merely conjecture that, since the earth is suspended within the concavity of the heavens, and there is as much room on the one side of it as on the other, therefore the part which is beneath cannot be void of human inhabitants.  They fail to notice that, even should it be believed or demonstrated that the world is round or spherical in form, it does not follow that the part of the earth opposite to us is not completely covered with water, or that any conjectured dry land there should be inhabited by men.  For Scripture, which confirms the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, teaches not falsehood; and it is too absurd to say that some men might have set sail from this side and, traversing the immense expanse of ocean, have propagated there a race of human beings descended from that one first man." (De Civitate Dei, xvi, 9):   [36]


** Included here only as a reference to works cited in the flat earth debates of contemporary authors.  Opposition to inhabited antipodes does NOT necessary mean opposition to a spherical earth or prove flat earth thinking.  (See Antipodes discussion in Chapter 3). In St. Augustine's case however, it seems clear that he was NOT a flat earther.  He definitely opposed inhabited antipodes, but gives other indications, as shown in the quotes above, that he believed the earth to be spherical (or at least was not in opposition to it).
A good example of the errors in interpreting the meaning of Antipodes by some modern authors of flat earth works is demonstrated in the following quote.  This author correctly states Augustine's view regarding the Antipodes, but then proceeds to elaborate based on his incorrect interpretation:

"St. Augustine reasoned that since the Bible contains no references to people living on the other side of the earth, that therefore there was no other side. The world must be flat."  [1]
As stated already, opposing the idea of people living on the other side of the world is NOT the same as promoting a flat earth.  These types of misinterpretations have caused much confusion in the flat earth debate.  (We made this mistake initially too!)
420 CE Orosius, Paulus - Spanish historian and priest who wrote famous encyclopedia Historiae Adversum Paganoslibri septem (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans), 418  A.D.  Accepts a threefold division of the world into Europe, Asia and Africa - thus no Antipodes or people living anywhere on the other side of the earth.  [64]


** Included here only as a reference to works cited in the flat earth debates of contemporary authors.  Opposition to inhabited antipodes does NOT necessary mean opposition to a spherical earth or prove flat earth thinking.  (See Antipodes discussion in Chapter 3)
394 CE Diodorus of Tarsus (Diodore) - In his book "Against Fatalism", he criticizes atheists who believe in the geocentric system.  His view was based on various Scriptures of the Bible and the common belief then that Heaven was a tent or vault over a presumably flat earth.  However, Diodorus' opinion on the matter is known to us only by a criticism of it by Photius.  [15]
439 CE Martianus Capella - wrote De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (Marriage of Philology and Mercury) which presented proofs of the spherical earth as part of his popular poem.  {We have not found a good quote from this material yet.  What we have found is the concept of the celestial sphere presented, but in depicting the celestial sphere, the earth is shown as also being a sphere at the center of the rings.} [100]  (Referenced in David Lindberg's The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious and Institutional Context, 600 BC to 1450.)
518 CE Father Procopius of Gaza - Procopius believes that according to a text of Luke, antipodes are theologically impossible. "If there be men on the other side of the earth, Christ must have gone there and suffered a second time to save them; and therefore there must have been, as necessary preliminaries to his coming, a duplicate Adam, Eden, serpent, and Deluge!" We see again, how the Christian "plan of salvation" depends confessedly and utterly upon Adam, the garden, and the talking snake!"  [33]


** Included here only as a reference to works cited in the flat earth debates of contemporary authors.  Opposition to inhabited antipodes does NOT necessary mean opposition to a spherical earth or prove flat earth thinking.  (See Antipodes discussion in Chapter 3)
480 -
526 CE Boethius, Ancius Manlius Severinus - In commenting on the love of fame and reputation in The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius provides the following to explain how trivial these are in the grand scale of the universe: "As you have learnt from astronomers' shewing, the whole circumference of the earth is but as a point compared with the size of the heavens.  That is, if you compare the earth with the circle of the universe, it must be reckoned as of no size at all.  And of this tiny portion of the universe there is but a fourth part, as you have learnt from the demonstration of Ptolemæus, which is inhabited by living beings known to us. If from this fourth part you imagine subtracted all that is covered by sea and marsh, and all the vast regions of thirsty desert, you will find but the narrowest space left for human habitation." (Book II, p.49)  [111]   From this quote, one could argue both sides: spherical or flat disk; for both have a circumference.  But, then he refers to the 'circle of the universe' which leads us to believe he is speaking of spheres in both cases.   Though he uses the term 'circle', even the most primitive views of the universe were at least that it had the shape of a sphere or dome around the earth.  But, later in Book IV, we find "Yea, airy wings are mine to scale the heights of heaven; when these the mind has donned, swiftly she loathes and spurns this earth. She soars above the sphere of this vast atmosphere,...". (Book IV p.103)  [111]   This, combined with the previous quote, may be argued as evidence that both earth and the universe were viewed as spheres.  Finally, we have the following quote which appears to put the spherical view strongly in the forefront: "Homer with his honeyed lips sang of the bright sun's clear light; yet the sun cannot burst with his feeble rays the bowels of the earth or the depths of the sea. Not so with the Creator of this great sphere.  No masses of earth can block His vision as He looks over all. " (Book V, p.144) [111]
547 CE Cosmas Indicopleustes of Alexandria -  The Egyptian monk prepared a "complete and detailed system of the universe" in a book called "Topographia Christiana (Christian Topography)".  Based on Hebrews 9 and other passages, 1 he concluded that "the earth is a parallelogram, flat, and surrounded by four seas. It is four hundred days' journey long and two hundred broad. At the outer edges of these four seas arise massive walls closing in the whole structure and supporting the firmament or vault of the heavens, whose edges are cemented to the walls. These walls inclose [sic] the earth and all the heavenly bodies.". 
Some contemporary authors claim, "This theory held for some 600 years..." [1,2]  We haven't found any flat earth material to support this conclusion.

Cosmas states in his book that he learned his system from the man who later became Bishop Catholic of all of Persia (head of the Nestorian Church).

Cosmos' Christian Topography was meant to address the "wave of infidelity sweeping over the land" concerning the flatness of the earth and said it was "intended to denounce the false and heathen doctrine of the rotundity of the earth."  Let's examine the last statement:  It gives the impression that spherical thinking was, in fact, widely held in Cosmas' time.  Otherwise, why would he have felt compelled to oppose this 'wave of infidelity'?  Doesn't a 'wave ... sweeping across the country' imply that lots of people hold that view?)

Another quotation from "Christian Topography": "Although the figure of a man is upright, somehow it happens that those four are not standing upright at the same time; but wherever you turn them, those four never appear at once; so how can it be that we entertain these empty and false hypotheses? So how can it be that the rain falls on all four of them at once? So why do you vainly propose what neither our nature nor our mind can accept?" [13]

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« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2007, 12:21:52 am »

Figure I in "Christian Topography" illustrates a map.  Cosmas explains that the land inhabited by mortals is surrounded by the ocean.  On his map the inhabited earth is shown as a rectangle, framed by a rectangular band of sea.  Four large gulfs can be seen opening into the inhabited land, each identified by an inscription - the "Romaic Gulf" (that is, the Mediterranean), the "Arabian Gulf" (the Red Sea), the "Persian Gulf," and the "Caspian Sea." Surrounding the rectangular band of sea there is another band representing "the earth beyond the ocean." It is here in the east that the Earthly Paradise is located, recognizable from its trees, which, according the Early Christian writers, bore ripe fruit constantly at all times of the year.  From the Earthly Paradise flow its four rivers, which traverse the "earth beyond the ocean," then pass under the ocean to come out again in the inhabited earth as the "Tigris'" the "Euphrates," the "Phison," and the "Gehon," or Nile. 

As Boorstin states in The Discoverers (1983), "There was, of course, only one 'face' of the earth - that which God gave to us the descendants of Adam - which made any suggestion of Antipodes both abuser and heretical.  Cosmas' work is still very much worth consulting as a wholesome tonic for any who believe there may be limits to human credulity."  [63]

On the influence of Cosmas:
According to Russell, Cosmas Indicopleustes' work Christian Topology "was widely ignored at the time and Christian scholars like John Philoponus derided it as the work of an uneducated fool" [63] (Note: We have searched for these references in Philoponus' works which deride Cosmas' flat earth views, but haven't found them yet.)

Some writers discount flat earth references as metaphors of speech.  Or, they state that flat-earthers with clear religious ties were just fools that nobody listened to such as Cosmas Indicopleustes and Lactantius.   Russell and others also admit that Lactantius, a Church father, believed the earth was flat, but state "no one paid much attention to him either."

Some argue that Cosmas and Lactantius were fringe writers whose works were either completely unknown or highly obscure in the medieval West.  So how can they be held up as being representative of, let alone influential on, medieval thinking on the shape of the earth?  Bede, by stark contrast, was one of the most influential and widely disseminated writers of the medieval period, and his clear and well demonstrated belief that the earth was spherical was well known. [82]


See Cosmas Indicopleustes and Lactantius: Influential or "Fringe Writers"? in Chapter 3.
636 CE St. Isidore of Seville (Isodurus Hispalenis, Bishop of Seville) - Isidore was a highly influential encyclopaedist who was widely copied and cited throughout the Middle Ages.  Opinion is divided as to how he saw the shape of the earth, especially in light of his etymology regarding the Latin for 'world' being derived from the word for 'wheel'. The wheel analogy seems to be referring to the northern temperate zone - a disc-shaped 'slice' of the globe between the inhabitable arctic and the (supposedly) inhabitable equatorial zone.  Hrabanus Maurus (780-856 - Bishop of Mainz) also used this wheel analogy for the 'habitable' part of the northern hemisphere, even though he clearly saw the earth as a globe.  Isidore was NOT opposed to antipodean lands and was even open to the possibility that they were inhabited.
The discussion of Isidore is included here because his symbolic maps are often perceived as proof of flat earth thinking (see Medieval Maps: Symbolic or Cartographic? in Chapter 3).  In fact, the Ethical Atheist initially viewed them in this manner.


Famous for his flat "T-shaped" maps, also known as "wheel" maps or "T-O" maps.  These maps had a circular O-shape, with a T-shaped waterway which divided the entire habitable earth into 3 parts: Asia, Africa and Europe.
In his book Etymologies (sometimes called Origins or Etymologiarum), he is creative in dealing with dangerous topics, such as the figure of the world, he does not lay down the law himself, but quotes 'the philosophers' as teaching this or that, though without finding fault with them".  [15]

"Etymologiarum consists of 20 Books on 175 leaves, including a mappamundi (map of the world), and was meant to be an encyclopedia that summed up the knowledge accumulated by early 7th century Europe." ... " Isidore's sources were primarily the Spanish presbyter Orosius and, secondarily, Solinus, who is quoted some 200 times, and Pomponius Mela., as well as the teachings of the Church Fathers." ... "Concerning the earth we are told that it is named from its roundness (orbis) which is like a wheel; whence the small wheel is called "orbiculus". For the Ocean flows round it on all sides and encircles its boundaries." ... "Europe and Africa, occupy half of the world and that Asia alone occupies the other half. The former were made into two parts because the Great Sea (called the Mediterranean) enters from the Ocean between them and cuts them apart . . ."  [39]

"Admits the possible existence of Antipodean lands:  Moreover beyond [these] three parts of the world, on the other side of the ocean, is a fourth inland part in the south, which is unknown to us because of the heat of the sun, within the bounds of which the Antipodes are fabulously said to dwell. Indicates that he more than half believed in the sphericity of the earth and quite fully in the doctrine of the Antipodes." [39]

Maps show his belief in the Scriptures and his desire to depict their legends.  The maps included Jerusalem at the center based on Ezekiel V:5: "This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her."  Some maps bore the Biblical names only; others had explanatory inscriptions stating, for instance, that Asia was named after a Queen Asia, "of the posterity of Shem, and is inhabited by 27 peoples; that Africa is derived from Afer, a descendent of Abraham, and has 30 races in 360 towns"; and that Europe, named from the Europa of mythology, "is inhabited by the 15 tribes of the sons of Japhet and has 120 cities" [39] 

Recommend viewing Isidore's maps of the world at "Index of Cartographic Images Illustrating Maps of the Early Medieval Period, 400-1300 A.D."

** Included here only as a reference to works cited in the flat earth debates of contemporary authors.  See previous discussion on "Medieval Maps: Symbolic or Cartographic".
735 CE The Venerable Bede - an English monk, took his cosmology from Pliny.  His De temporum ratione shows a knowledge of latitude and the annual movement of the sun into the north and south hemispheres from the evidence of varying lengths of shadows.
In our view, Bede  represents a major turning point. He not only wrote of a spherical earth, but he did so without the cautious approach described above.  This seems to indicate that a spherical view is widely held AND that the Church is not concerned about a scriptural conflict.

Another important fact with Bede is that he clearly held a spherical view, yet a 12th century edition of Bede's De natura rerum contained some of the well known T-O maps. [113]  If these maps were meant to depict a flat earth, as some have claimed, why would they have been included in Bede's De natura rerum which clearly supports a spherical view?  It simply wouldn't make sense. While this says nothing of Bede, it gives credit to the argument that T-O maps are NOT proof of flat earth thinking.  (See previous discussion on "Medieval Maps: Symbolic or Cartographic".)
755 CE St. Boniface - There is considerable debate regarding the conflict between St. Boniface and Vergilius (see below).  Some material, such as The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV (1912), plainly state that  "St. Boniface accused Vergilius of teaching a doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth, which was "contrary to the Scriptures". [35] {see also "St. Virgil of Salzburg (Vergilius), Bishop" discussion below} [33]  Others in the debate say the conflict was not the 'rotundity' of the earth, but the old debate about the inhabitants of the Antipodes.  We present it here so you can make your own conclusion.  However, it is revealing to note, as discussed below, that Vergilius later continued his ascent up the Catholic hierarchy so he must have defended his position well before Pope St. Zachary I.
784 CE St. Virgil of Salzburg (Vergilius), Bishop - One of the best educated people in Northern Europe, but his intellectualism may have worked against him.  "His doctrine that the earth is a sphere was derived from the teaching of ancient geographers, and his belief in the existence of the antipodes was probably influenced by the accounts which the ancient Irish voyagers gave of their journeys." [35] "St. Boniface accused Vergilius of teaching a doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth, which was "contrary to the Scriptures". Pope Zachary's decision in this case was that "if it be proved that he held the said doctrine, a council be held, and Vergilius expelled from the Church and deprived of his priestly dignity" (Jaffe, "Biblioth. rerum germ.", III, 191). " [35]  St. Virgil believed "that beneath the earth there was another world and other men, another sun and moon" (antipodes).  Pope St. Zachary I censured Vergil for believing that people exist in the Antipodes but took no drastic action.  In 767, Vergil was appointed Bishop of Salzburg.  Worth stressing that Virgil was appointed bishop after the heresy investigation. [34]   Note: Some claim that the writer Aethicus of Istria, author of Cosmography of the World (Cosmographia Aethici Istrii), was actually Virgil of Salzburg. [40] Aethicus wrote that the "earth of course is flat, the sun likewise (it is spoken of as a table, mensa solis), and it passes through the gate of the east every morning to lighten up the world, and passes in the evening through the gate of the west to return during the night to its starting-point through the south."  [15]


Was the Boniface/Vergilius conflict over the 'rotundity of the earth' or inhabited antipodes?  (See St. Boniface, above.) We don't feel we have enough original material to make a conclusion.  Therefore, we didn't include their conflict in our Summary of Findings in Chapter 2.  You can make your own conclusion, but in either case, it seems obvious that Vergilius was playing the role of the "brave scholar championing the truth of ancient knowledge being accused by a pious idiot before the Pope." [82]


Regarding Aethicus of Istria we also do not feel we have enough evidence to believe this writer was in fact St. Virgil.  This would be critical in the flat earth debate because it would push flat earth belief forward from 547 CD (Cosmas) to 784 CE (St. Virgil).  Any help in resolving this would be greatly appreciated.
1154 CE William of Conches - one of the most famous masters of the schools which flourished in Northern France.  In his Dragmaticon Philosophiae (Dialogue on Natural Philosophy), he affirmed that it not the task of the Bible to teach us about nature.  [Chapter in this work entitled "The Form of the Earth" (Book VI, Chapter 2).]   [103]   Reveals that not only did intellectuals understand the Earth to be spherical, but they also felt the need to have a ready explanation for those who had never had the opportunity to think about it very carefully.  "William also wrote commentaries, which he called Glosae (Glosses), on Plato’s Timaeus, on Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, on Macrobius’ Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, on Priscian’s Institutiones grammaticae.  These commentaries, often written in haste, reflect the everyday life of a school more faithfully than elaborated treatises. Thanks to these Glosae, the  modern reader is ushered into a medieval school and introduced to the methods and the spirit with which teaching was offered there by masters like William of Conches."   [104] 
Dragmaticon was written as a dialogue between a philosopher and Duke Geoffrey le Bel of Anjou of Normandy.  The following is from Dragmaticon, pp. 121-222:

DUKE.  I do not care about disproving these, but I do have some doubts about the shape of the earth.  Please, therefore, explain your standpoint.
PHILOSOPHER.  Some people, like animals trusting their feelings ahead of their reason, have said that the earth is flat: for wherever they move, they do not sense its roundness.  I will set myself to destroy their opinion with probable arguments.  If the earth were flat, rainwater falling on its surface would not run off but collect in one place to form a lake.

Again, if it were flat, a city situated in the east would have morning and midday at the same time: for no sooner had the sun risen there than it would be high above that city; but a city located in the west would have midday and evening at the same time.  And the closer the cities were to the east, the smaller would be the space between morning and midday, the greater between midday and evening; but the closer they were to the west, the other way round [that is, the greater would be the space, and so forth].  So that you can understand this better I shall sketch a figure in which I shall draw a line for the flat earth and at the two ends of it two cities, and above it I shall draw in the curve of the sun and above each of the two cities the [rising and setting] sun, in this way [fig. 25].

Since for all people the time interval from morning till midday and from midday till sunset is equally long, it is clear that the earth is not flat but round.  For this reason people in the east experience sunrise, midday, and sunset earlier than those in the west.  I shall draw four cities for you in one circle: one in the west, the other opposite this in the east, the third [midway] between east and west above the earth, the fourth opposite that below the earth; I shall indicate the eastern city with A, the midday one with B, the western city with C and the midnight one with D [fig. 26].

When the sun rises for the city at A, then it sets for its opposite C, it is midday for D and midnight for B.  When the sun rises at B, it sets at its opposite D, it is midday at A and midnight at C.  When it rises at C, it sets at its opposite A, it is midday at B and midnight at D.  When it rises at city D, it sets at city B, C has midday and A midnight.  Nor should it surprise you if there are no cities in [all] the [axial] points of the earth mentioned, but certainly there are places in which the sun rises and sets.  So at every single hour the sun rises for one quadrant [pars] of the earth, sets for another, it is at midday for one quadrant and at midnight for another.  This is a proof for the roundness of the earth.

There is another proof for the same tenet, namely, the fact that the stars that appear at one latitude [in uno climate] do not appear at another: the star of Canopus, which is visible in Egypt, is not visible at our latitude.  This would never happen if the earth were flat.  Therefore, the earth is round and spherical.

DUKE.  When on the earth's surface we see how very deep some valleys are, and see mountains soaring above the clouds, how can the earth be round?

PHILOSOPHER.  Our smallness makes the smallest things appear large.  How big do you think Mount Olympus is when the whole earth has no dimension at all in comparison with the sky? Take a ditch one foot deep, which you could cross with a stride: you would consider it neither a valley nor a mountain.  But let a louse enter it: it would think itself in a huge valley surrounded by huge mountains.  Therefore valleys and mountains do not detract from the roundness of the earth.

The interaction above seems to be revealing.  At this point in history, we are surprised to find this dialog in William of Conches' Dragmaticon.  Is the Duke really this naive or he simply being used as a character for the dialog?  We have not read the full book, so it is hard to judge the context and intentions of William.  As mentioned above, it appears that he felt the need to have a ready explanation for questions like the Duke put forth (or at least to document an explanation for colleagues and others facing these questions).  It does appear indicative of some residual flat earth thinkers.  Since William was a teacher, maybe this thinking was still held by some of the young or uneducated.  We did not include this in our Summary of Findings or Conclusions because it requires some speculation to arrive at a belief of flat earth thinking.  Without reading the complete work, it could be argued that it is simply a dialog to demonstrate logic and debate.
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« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2007, 12:22:49 am »

Century Astrolabes: The usage and construction of Astrolabes implies an understanding of the spherical earth.  "The astrolabe is a very ancient astronomical computer for solving problems relating to time and the position of the Sun and stars in the sky. ... The history of the astrolabe begins more than two thousand years ago. The principles of the astrolabe projection were known before 150 B.C., and true astrolabes were made before A.D. 400.  The astrolabe was highly developed in the Islamic world by 800 and was introduced to Europe from Islamic Spain (Andalusia) in the early 12th century." 
"The Astrolabe in Europe: The astrolabe moved with Islam through North Africa into Spain (Andalusia) where it was introduced to European culture through Christian monasteries in northern Spain. It is likely that information about the astrolabe was available in Europe as early as the 11th century, but European usage was not widespread until the 13th and 14th centuries." [102]
1120 CE Honorius Augustodunensis - wrote his Elucidarius where he draws analogies between aspects of cosmology and the human body and states that the human head is round in reflection of the roundness of the earth.  And this was no obscure scholarly treatise - it was a handbook for the instruction of lower order clergy.  So as early as the twelfth century we have evidence that the people who were out teaching the peasants had a clear understanding that the earth was a globe.  {Note: Haven't yet obtained a good original supporting quote for this.}
1256 CE Johannes de Sacrobosco (aka John of Holywood) - a monk of English origin.  An author of a handful of widely read medieval texts on mathematics and astronomy.  His astronomical textbook "De Sphaera" (The Sphere) was used at many universities for several centuries.  He describes the earth is a sphere as follows.  The original text, probably written around 1231, was hand-copied for over two centuries by a succession of scribes, and the first printed edition appeared in 1471.
"THE EARTH A SPHERE. -- That the earth, too, is round is shown thus. The signs and stars do not rise and set the same for all men everywhere but rise and set sooner for those in the east than for those in the west; and of this there is no other cause than the bulge of the earth. Moreover, celestial phenomena evidence that they rise sooner for Orientals than for westerners. For one and the same eclipse of the moon which appears to us in the first hour of the night appears to Orientals about the third hour of the night, which proves that they had night and sunset before we did, of which setting the bulge of the earth is the cause."

"SURFACE OF THE SEA SPHERICAL. -- That the water has a bulge and is approximately round is shown thus: Let a signal be set up on the seacoast and a ship leave port and sail away so far that the eye of a person standing at the foot of the mast can no longer discern the signal. Yet if the ship is stopped, the eye of the same person, if he has climbed to the top of the mast, will see the signal clearly. Yet the eye of a person at the bottom of the mast ought to see the signal better than he who is at the top, as is shown by drawing straight lines from both to the signal. And there is no other explanation of this thing than the bulge of the water."   [87]

In the paragraph titled "MEASURING THE EARTH'S CIRCUMFERENCE", he references the works of philosophers Ambrose, Theodosius, and Eratosthenes in measuring the circumference.

"De Sphaera" (The Sphere) became the standard textbook in astronomy until the mid-fifteenth century.  (Side note: While he may have been correct about a spherical earth, in the very next paragraphs he goes on to argue that the earth is the center of the universe and is immobile.)
Century The mid-thirteenth century Norse Koenigsspiegel uses the analogy of the earth as an apple and the sun as a candle to explain night and day.
IMPORTANT: Beyond this point, spherical earth references are so common that it's almost not worth proceeding.  The remaining references serve only to clarify confusion over some arguments in the flat earth debates.  In addition, some simply curiosities are presented, though we are in NO way proposing they support true flat earth belief.
The commonplace spherical earth view is described by a reader.  We have not yet verified all these references ourselves, but we have good reason to trust the source.


There's much symbolism in the globes and orbs representing the earthly power of kings.  Chaucer assuming his nine year old son Lewis understands that the earth is round in his Treatise on the Astrolabe. Medieval Kings held scepters (representations of the mace, the power to smite and deal justice) and the orb (representative of the earth, and their rule over it).  If they held a flat earth view at this point, they may have been holding a spatula instead of an orb.
Medieval travelers who crossed the equator are as follows.  Orderic of Pordenone traveled by sea through India and Ceylon and then through Sumatra, Java and Borneo sometime before 1320.  Polo traveled from China via Java and Sumatra to Ceylon in 1290 (or 1292).  John of Marignolli sailed from China to southern India and seems to have realized that he had crossed the equator at one point in this journey - he is one of several medieval travelers, including Polo, John of Monte Corvino and Jordan of Severac, who noted that the Pole Star was either barely visible or completely invisible above the horizon during their trips.  A Genoese world map of 1457 takes into account information on India, Java, Sumatra and the Moluccas drawn from the travels of Nicolo Conti, who also traveled to Burma and Malaya between 1419 and 1444.  The Portuguese seem to have sighted the north coast of Australia as early as the 1520s.

The idea of a passable equatorial zone was become well known in Europe by the Fourteenth Century, as can be seen by a long a very interesting section in the popular Middle English work The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.  This is a jumble of fiction, fact and curiosities and there was almost certainly no real John Mandeville who undertook these travels, but in Chapter 20 it tells of the island of 'Lamory' (Sumatra) and then goes into a long discourse about how the earth is round and how the Pole Star can no longer be seen once the equator is passed:

And you must understand that in this land and many others thereabouts, the star Polus Arcticus cannot be seen; it stands ever in the north and never moves, and by it seamen are guided. It is not seen in the south.
The work then gives a series of astrolabe readings for the Pole Star from various latitudes and explains that there is a southern equivalent of the Pole Star which is used by navigators south of the equator.  He goes on to describe how the earth can be circumnavigated:
So I say truly that a man could go all round the world, above and below, and return to his own country, provided he had his health, good company and a ship, as I said above.
He goes on to tell an (almost certainly fictional) story of a young Englishman who actually did travel around the whole world:
He passed India and many islands beyond India, where there are more than 5,000 islands, and traveled so far by land and sea, girdling the globe, until he reached a land where he heard his own language being spoken.
The author then conjectures that this was because he had actually reached his own country again by circumnavigating the earth.  He goes on to explain that while people in the Antipodes seem, to those 'of limited understanding', to be 'beneath' us, so we seem to Antipodeans to be 'beneath' them.  He finishes with an account of the circumference of the earth, which he gives as 20,425 miles.  And, this was in a popular, vernacular work written largely for entertainment around 1356.


In Dante's Divine Comedy [98], he assumes his early fourteenth century audience understands that the earth is round.  In Inferno, Canto XXVI, where Ulysses discusses his voyage into the Southern Hemisphere (towards the "other pole").  "Already all the stars of the other pole.  The night beheld, and ours so very low.   [96]
Dante's geography places Mount Purgatory at the antipodes of Jerusalem. The notes to Robert Pinsky's excellent translation do a very good job of describing and explaining all the various references.

"To run o'er better waters hoists its sail; The little vessel of my genius now, That leaves behind itself a sea so cruel;" (Purgatory, Canto I), "Already had the sun the horizon reached; Whose circle of meridian covers o'er; Jerusalem with its most lofty point..." (Purgatory, Canto I, [97])

" 'In exitu Israel de Aegypto!' They chanted all together in one voice, With whatso in that psalm is after written. Then made he sign of holy rood upon them, Whereat all cast themselves upon the shore, And he departed swiftly as he came.  The throng which still remained there unfamiliar. Seemed with the place, all round about them gazing, As one who in new matters makes essay. On every side was darting forth the day. The sun, who had with his resplendent shafts. From the mid-heaven chased forth the Capricorn, When the new people lifted up their faces. Towards us, saying to us: 'If ye know, Show us the way to go unto the mountain.'  And answer made Virgilius: 'Ye believe Perchance that we have knowledge of this place, But we are strangers even as yourselves. Just now we came, a little while before you, Another way, which was so rough and steep, That mounting will henceforth seem sport to us.'  The souls who had, from seeing me draw breath, Become aware that I was still alive, Pallid in their astonishment became." (Purgatory, Canto II,  [97])

It is also said that Byrthferth of Ramsey was teaching young monks the computus and that the Earth was round in the early 11th century (his Enchiridion was being written during 1011).  The passage that deals with this is from AElfric's De Temporibus Anni (actually an Old English work), written around 993 and largely drawing on Bede as its source.  Here's the relevant passage from AElfric  [82]:
AElfric's De Temporibus Anni, i,19-21:

"AEfre heo bith yrnende ymbe thas eorthan, 7 eal swa leohte scinth under thaere eorthan on nihtlicere tide, swa swa heo on daeg deth bufon urum heafdum.  On tha healfe the heo scinth thaer bith daeg, 7 on tha healfe the heo ne scinth thaer bith niht.  AEfre bith on sumere sidan thaere eorthan daeg, 7 aefre on sumere sidan niht."
Byrthferth's Enchiridon, ii.3, 143-148:
"The sun is always revolving around this earth, and it shines just as bright under the earth at midnight as it does above the earth at midday. On the half [see below] where it is shining there is day, and on the half where it is not shining there is night. It is always day on one side of the earth and night on the other side".
(This forms part of a larger section on the divisions of the night that Byrthferth has adapted from AElfric but supplemented directly from Bede.)

Byrthferth's Enchiridon, ii.1, 253-255,:
"Heaven encloses the whole earth in its bosom, and is always turning above us; it is swifter than any mill-wheel, just as deep under this earth as it is above.  It is entirely spherical and whole and adorned with stars."  (Again, though this doesn't explicitly state that the earth is spherical, the passage only makes sense if it is.)
(Also, see other computistic sources such as Hrabanus Maurus or Helperic.  Other widely read thirteenth century authors who discussed the round earth model were Macrobius and Albertus Magnus. [82] )
1310 CE Peter of Abano - In another example of 'creative writing', some authors say Peter of Abano 'revived' earlier theories of a round earth.  [1]  However, it appears clear that spherical earth belief was commonplace by this time, so we recommend that readers carefully evaluate any claims that Peter was 'reviving' these theories.  He was charged by the Inquisition of practicing Black Arts (though these reasons had nothing to do with a round earth). For reader's entertainment only: Sent to prison where he died on the eve of his execution for heresy.  However, as not to escape, "his bones were burned for his heresy" by the Church!  [80]
1327 CE Cecco d'Ascoli (a.k.a. Francesco degli Stabili) -  Italian astrologer.  Also claimed by some authors to have 'revived' earlier theories of a round earth. [1]   However, as mentioned under Peter of Abano, spherical thinking was commonplace.  It is regrettable that d'Ascoli was burned at the stake for some of his beliefs, though the reasons for his demise had nothing to do with his discussions of the earth being round.  It is said that his abrupt end was for accusing the great poet and scholar Dante of heresy while defending astrology against the poet's attacks in the Divine Comedy.
1300s CE Russell states that there was some belief in disc-earth in France, before 1300, seems to allow that 'simple people' believe that one would fall off the earth at the antipodes. [5]  {Note: We have not yet investigated his references on this.}
1455 CE Tostatus - Spanish theologian, reported to have opposed antipodes and "even as late as the age of Columbus, felt called upon to protest against it as 'unsafe.' He had shaped the old message of St.  Augustine into the following syllogism: "The apostles were commanded to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature; they did not go to any such part of the world as the antipodes; they did not preach to any creatures there: ergo, no antipodes exist."  [14]


** Included here only as a reference to works cited in the flat earth debates of contemporary authors.  Opposition to inhabited antipodes does NOT necessary mean opposition to a spherical earth or prove flat earth thinking.  (See Antipodes discussion in Chapter 3)
1521 CE Ferdinand Magellan - Portuguese explorer whose voyage around the world in 1519 provided firm evidence for a round world.  It is claimed by White that some "religious leaders did not fully accept it for two more centuries." [1]  {We have looked and have not found any original quotes to support this claim.} 
There is a quote often attributed to Magellan (though we have not found any of his works to contain it): "The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church."  Any help in finding the true source of this quote would be greatly appreciated.
1543 CE Copernicus, Nicholas - Though it was commonly known by this point that the earth was a sphere, Copernicus belabors the point in his book De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres).  He sent this book to Pope Paul III with an introductory letter titled "TO HIS HOLINESS, POPE PAUL III".  This is very curious...
Why does Copernicus feel that he needs to document proof that the earth is a sphere?  Why does he feel compelled to state that the shape of the earth must not be like that proposed by Leukippus, Heraclitus, Democritus, Anaximander and Xenophanes?  Why does he feel compelled to send this to the Pope???  Could it be that stating the obvious and sending it to the Church implies that it was NOT, in fact, obvious?  Using reason, it seems to suggest that even as late as 1543, a spherical earth may not have been a universally held belief... as outrageous as this sounds.  {We are NOT promoting this idea.  It is just curious.}
A possible answer to the above questions was provided by reader:. 
Because at that time it was a standard academic convention that you define and, where necessary, prove all the assumptions or predicative arguments relevant to your thesis, even if they are well understood and universally accepted.  He felt compelled to send this to the Pope because he knew the other part of his theories were going to be highly controversial.  The round earth idea was not.  [82]


Relevant portions from De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) discussing a spherical earth:  [41] 


"The earth also is spherical, since it presses upon its center from every direction.  Yet it is not immediately recognized as a perfect sphere on account of the great height of the mountains and depth of the valleys.  They scarcely alter the general sphericity of the earth, however, as is clear from the following considerations.  For a traveler going from any place toward the north, that pole of the daily rotation gradually climbs higher, while the opposite pole drops down an equal amount.  More stars in the north are seen not to set, while in the south certain stars are no longer seen to rise.  Thus Italy does not see Canopus, which is visible in Egypt; and Italy does see the River's last star, which is unfamiliar to our area in the colder region.  Such stars, conversely, move higher in the heavens for a traveler heading southward, while those which are high in our sky sink down.  Meanwhile, moreover, the elevations of the poles have the same ratio everywhere to the portions of the earth that have been traversed.  This happens on no other figure than the sphere.  Hence the earth too is evidently enclosed between poles and is therefore spherical.  Furthermore, evening eclipses of the sun and moon are not seen by easterners, nor morning eclipses by westerners, while those occurring in between are seen later by easterners but earlier by westerners."

"The waters press down into the same figure also, as sailors are aware, since land which is not seen from a ship is visible from the top of its mast.  On the other hand, if a light is attached to the top of the mast, as the ship draws away from land, those who remain ashore see the light drop down gradually until it finally disappears, as though setting.  Water, furthermore, being fluid by nature, manifestly always seeks the same lower levels as earth and pushes up from the shore no higher than its rise permits. Hence whatever land emerges out of the ocean is admittedly that much higher. "


"Discussing all the new lands that have been found, he refers to America's size, "...America, named after the ship's captain who found it.  On account of its still undisclosed size it is thought to be a second group of inhabited countries.  There are also many other islands, heretofore unknown.  So little reason have we to marvel at the existence of antipodes or antichthones.  Indeed, geometrical reasoning about the location of America compels us to believe that it is diametrically opposite the Ganges district of India." ... Later, he concludes that the earth must be a sphere, not shapes proposed by in earlier times: "The earth together with its surrounding waters must in fact have such a shape as its shadow reveals, for it eclipses the moon with the arc of a perfect circle.  Therefore the earth is not flat, as Empedocles and Anaximenes thought; nor drum-shaped, as Leukippus; nor bowl-shaped, as Heraclitus; nor hollow in another way, as Democritus; nor again cylindrical, as Anaximander; nor does its lower side extend infinitely downward, the thickness diminishing toward the bottom, as Xenophanes taught; but it is perfectly round, as the philosophers hold." [41] 

It is interesting that Copernicus held up publication for nearly 20 years (until his death) of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium.  Some have speculated that that he believed it would cause conflict with the Church.  Also of interest is that Andreas Osiander, a leading Protestant theologian, handled the publication and anonymously inserted his Preface to look like it was written by Copernicus.  Osiander's Preface stated that the contents of the book should be treated as hypothetical and not intended to represent reality!  He wrote, "For these hypotheses need not be true nor even probable.  ... So far as hypotheses are concerned, let no one expect anything certain from astronomy, which cannot furnish it..."  [41]  This Preface ended up becoming the official position of the Roman Catholic Church!  [56]  Note that this preface of hypothetical theories was probably intended for the controversial aspects regarding astronomy, not the earth's shape.
1626 CE Francis Bacon - Wrote Novum Organum in 1620 criticizes the Church Fathers: "89. Nor did some of the old fathers of Christianity treat those much better who showed by the most positive proofs (such as no one now disputes) that the earth is spherical, and thence asserted that there were antipodes." [51]
1859 CE Washington Irving -  Irving was a writer of satirical fiction.  His book The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828) is often pointed to as an early promoter of the flat earth myth.  In it, Irving portrays Columbus standing before the Council of Salamanca who believed the Earth was flat.  [112]  (See discussion on Irving in Chapter 4 - Flat Earth Myth Invented by Secular Writers?)  His embellishment and stretching of the facts were probably intentional.  He obviously wanted to sell books and therefore wanted to tell a 'good story'.  Was he involved in an evil hoax to make the Church look bad?  We don't think so, but we'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.  We haven't had time to research his sources.  Could it just be a jab at Europe, not Christianity?  There were constant jabs during this time between the 'Evil Empires' of Europe and the 'Lowly British Colonies' of America.
1848 CE Samuel Birley Rowbotham - Read a paper before the Royal Astronomical Society on the evening of Dec. 8, 1848 which presented a "description of several experiments which prove that the surface of the sea is a perfect plane, and that the earth is not a globe." [22] 
Samuel Birley Rowbotham, founder of the modern flat-earth movement, cited 76 scriptures in the last chapter of his monumental second edition of Earth not a Globe. Apostle Anton Darms, assistant to the Reverend Wilbur Glenn Voliva, America's best known flat-earther, compiled 50 questions about the creation and the shape of the earth, bolstering his answers with up to 20 scriptures each. [23] 

"From the foregoing, it's not surprising that flat-earthism has been associated with Christianity since the beginning. Many of the Fathers of the Church were flat-earthers, and they developed a system with which to oppose the Greek astronomy then becoming popular.  As late as 548 A.D., the Egyptian monk Cosmas Indicopleustes was vigorously defending the flat earth in his book Christian Topography."  "The modern flat-earth movement was launched in England, in 1849, with the publication of a 16 page pamphlet, Zetetic Astronomy: A Description of Several Experiments which Prove that the Surface of the Sea Is a Perfect Plane and that the Earth Is Not a Globe! by "Parallax."  For the next 35 years, "Parallax" -- his real name was Samuel Birley Rowbotham -- toured England, attacking the spherical system in public lectures. His completely original system, still known to its adherents as "Zetetic Astronomy," is best described in Rowbotham’s 430 page second edition of Earth Not a Globe, published in 1873.  The essence of Zetetic Astronomy is as follows: The known world is a vast circular plane, with the north pole at the center and a 150 foot wall of ice at the "southern limit." The equator is a circle roughly halfway in between. The sun, moon and planets circle above the earth in the region of the equator at an altitude of perhaps 600 miles. Their apparent rising and setting is an optical illusion caused by atmospheric refraction and the Zetetic law of perspective. The latter law also explains why ships apparently vanish over the horizon when sailing out to sea. The moon is self-luminous, and it's occasionally eclipsed by an unseen dark body passing in front of it. The entire known universe is literally covered by the "firmament" (vault) so often referred to in the King James Bible.  Rowbotham and his followers made "Zetetic Astronomy" a household word in Victorian England, and the movement spread to America and the rest of the English speaking world. Few professional academics embraced it, though there were exceptions. Alexander McInnes, of Glasgow University, was a vehement flat-earther. So was Arthur V. White of the University of Toronto."  [21]
1886 CE John Hampden calls the spherical theory "that Satanic device of a round and revolving globe, which sets Scripture, reason, and facts at defiance." [19]
1887 CE Brockport, N.Y., in March 1887, two scientific gentlemen defended the sphericity of the earth against flat-earther M.C. Flanders on three consecutive nights. When the great debate was over, five townsmen chosen to judge the matter issued a unanimous verdict. Their report, published in the Brockport Democrat, stated clearly and emphatically their opinion that the balance of the evidence pointed to a flat-earth. [19]
1901 CE David Wardlaw Scott - Flat-Earther wrote "I believe the real source of Modern Astronomy to have been SATAN". "From his first temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden until now, his great object has been to throw discredit on the Truth of God..." [20]
1930s CE Cash offers are another way Bible-Scientists taunt opponents. In the 1920s and 1930s, Reverend Wilbur Glenn Voliva of Zion, Illinois, offered $5,000 to anyone who could prove to him that the earth isn't flat. No one ever collected. [21] 
1980 Robert J. Schadewald - then President of the "International Flat Earth Research Society", Schadewald speaks out on his flat earth views.  Article published in Science Digest, July 1980, "The Flat-out Truth: Earth Orbits? Moon Landings?  A Fraud! Says This Prophet", quotes Schadewald: "The facts are simple.  The earth is flat.  ... 
"You can't orbit a flat earth.  The Space Shuttle is a joke--and a very ludicrous joke.  ...  The known, inhabited world is flat. Just as a guess, I'd say that the dome of heaven is about 4,000 miles away, and the stars are about as far as San Francisco is from Boston."  In a map published by Johnson, the known world is as circular
and as flat as a phonograph record. The North Pole is at the center. At the outer edge lies the southern ice, reputed to be a wall 150 feet high; no one has ever crossed it, and therefore what lies beyond is unknown. [114]   (See also Charles K. Johnson below)
1992 Jeffrey Burton Russell - Medieval and theological historian publishes "Inventing the flat earth: Columbus and modern historians".  Provides convincing arguments that flat earth thinking in the medieval ages is a myth.  However, also proceeds to make accusations:  claims flat-earth myths were created as "incessant attacks on Christianity" by "secular writers"; blames Darwinists trying to defend evolution; spins a conspiracy between a French historian Antoine-Jean Letronne and American writer of satirical fiction Washington Irving.   (For more on Russell, see Chapter 4 - Flat Earth Myth Invented by Secular Writers?)
1992 Rudolf Simek - German author writes "Heaven and Earth in the Middle Ages -- The Physical World Before Columbus"  [93]Covers very similar material as Russell's, above, yet is more technical and comprehensive.  Simek is more concerned with showing the incorrect belief of flat earth thinking than with pointing the finger at Darwinists, humanists, secular writers, etc.  This makes his book a better reference, especially for those like ourselves who are offended by Russell's accusations and placing of blame.
Present... Charles K. Johnson - President of the "International Flat Earth Research Society" known as FLAT EARTH SOCIETY. According to the society: "The International Flat Earth Society is the oldest continuous Society existing on the world today.  It began with the Creation of the Creation. First the water...the face of the deep...without form or limits...just Water. Then the Land sitting in and on the Water, the Water then as now being flat and level, as is the very Nature of Water. There are, of course, mountains and valleys on the Land but since most of the World is Water, we say, "The World is Flat. … One thing we know for sure about this world...the known inhabited world is Flat, Level, a Plain World.  …  The Fact the Earth is Flat is not my opinion, it is a Proved Fact.  Also demonstrated Sun and Moon are about 3,000 miles away are both 32 miles across. The Planets are 'tiny.' Sun and Moon do Move, earth does NOT move, whirl, spin or gyrate."


What to think of Johnson and the Flat Earth Society?  We're not sure!  Will historians 1500 years in the future point back to Johnson as proof that we believed in a flat earth?  Is the society just an example of poor mental health?  Should we view Cosmas and Lactantius the same way we view Johnson?  You decide.
 Should we discuss any more present day flat-earth thinkers?  They are all "quacks" right?!


So, that's Europe... what about other parts of the World.
It is important to note that the entire question of the shape of the earth during the early Medieval  Age appears to be isolated to Europe where some Christian belief in a flat earth existed, as did opposition to the antipodes.  In other parts of the world such as China, India (Romaka Siddhanta - 400 CE, Ibn al Adami - 920 CE), Egypt (Ibn Junis - 1009 CE), and Islam in general, where the was a complete absence of intolerant hostility towards science.  There was not the issue of literal interpretation of Scriptures to hinder the work of geographers and scientists who were trying to answer questions on the shape of the earth and astronomy theories.  (Note: The Chinese were so advanced in astronomical observation that they recorded the supernova of 1054 CE which caused the Crab nebula.  This has been very important in helping modern astronomers to estimate ages of objects and formation in the universe.)

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