Flat Earth

The idea of a flat earth (also: flat earth ) is found in many early cultures. It has already been criticized by authors of antiquity and replaced by the notion of the earth as a sphere ( " earth "). The latter remained the dominant school of thought in medieval Europe.

The erroneous assumption modern, especially that medieval Christianity believed in a flat earth, is listed by the Historical Association of Britain as far as widespread historical error. Recent studies, particularly since the 1990s showed that " except a very few exceptions no educated person believed since the 3rd century BC in the history of the West, the earth is flat " and that the sphericity of the earth always the dominant school of thought remained. The modern misconception that medieval man believed in a disk-shaped earth, therefore, found only in the 19th century dissemination, mainly due to Washington Irving's story The life and voyages of Christopher Columbus ( 1828).

In particular, since the 19th century, scientists devoted from geodesy and cartography a refinement of the spherical model and developed the geoid as a physical model of the spheroidal figure of the earth. In the following article, however, the spherical shape is generally simplistic compared with the disk shape, with no differences between the spherical shape - to distinguish - perfect or flattened ball.

The idea of ​​the disc shape of the Earth

The most widely used pictorial idea of ​​the earth as a flat disk can be found in the myths of the origin of many nations. By the driving force of a Creator God and a tiny bit as a seed for the future world, the earth was created as an island on the primeval ocean. This picture of the Earth, there was in ancient Asian civilizations such as Mesopotamia - taken from there in the Old Testament - as well as in non-literate peoples, as long as the earth as a whole was ever subject. This model was followed by the early Greek philosopher Anaximander and Hecataeus. To the widespread, especially in Asia notion of floating on the primeval ocean flat earth include an up reaching up to the sky Roof world mountain in the center and in addition in Central Asia a mountain ring at the outer edge of the disc, which is known in Iranian mythology under the name Qaf.

The rejection of the disk shape


The idea of ​​a spherical earth was represented in Greece since ancient times. Pythagoras advocated this view in the 6th century BC, especially for aesthetic reasons and assumed that the celestial bodies were spherical.

Even Plato assumed a spherical shape of the earth. His pupil Aristotle gave in his book On the Heavens from the 4th century BC, the following reasons for the sphericity of the earth:

  • All serious bodily aspire to the center of the universe. As they do so from all sides evenly, and the earth is at the center of the universe, they must assume a spherical round shape.
  • In wegfahrenden of the coastal vessels the hull is hidden from the sailing point of view.
  • In southern countries southern constellations appear higher above the horizon.
  • The Earth's shadow during a lunar eclipse is always round.

The first of these arguments is based on the a priori not unjustifiable assumption that all bodies should strive toward a common point. The remaining three are correct.

The first measurement of the circumference of the earth will be awarded in the late 3rd century BC, Eratosthenes. He took advantage of the observation that the sun in Syene (now Aswan in southern Egypt ) is noon on the summer solstice at the zenith and at the same time in Alexandria (Northern Egypt ) at an angle of about 7 ° incident. Using simple geometric considerations, it follows from the distance between Syene and Alexandria (5000 stages, nearly 800 km) and the angle of incidence ( 1/50 of the full circle ) a circumference of the earth by 50 × 5000 = 250,000 stadia, almost 40,000 km, which is the true size of 40007.76 km ( circumference of the earth over the poles ) comes surprisingly close.

In the Mediterranean and the Orient since the 1st century the sphericity among scholars was generally accepted and gradually became known among the people.

On Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD, the creation of a globe and the Location by latitude and longitude is reduced. In his model of a geocentric Ptolemy went out by a spherical earth and calculated as circumference 30,000 km ( 40,075 km are properly equatorial circumference).

Late Antiquity support the lens shape or criticism of the spherical shape

Few authors of late antiquity are known, inserted the opposition against the hypothesis of a spherical earth:

  • Lactantius (c. 250, † 320 ) described the idea as absurd, because people on the bottom ( " antipodes " ) stand on your head and rain would fall from below upwards. Nicolaus Copernicus criticized him in 1543 in de Revolutionibus.
  • Cyril of Jerusalem ( 315-386 ) understood the earth as a floating on water firmament. It is unclear, however, whether this is to be understood as a religious- poetic or as a scientific statement.
  • John Chrysostom ( 349-407 ) saw in a spherical earth is a contradiction to the Bible.
  • Severian of Gabala, Bishop of Gabala ( about 408 ), Diodorus of Tarsus (c. 394) and Theodore of Mopsuestia ( 350-428 ) spoke of a disk shape of the earth.
  • Kosmas Indicopleustes ( 6th century AD). Described the Earth around 550 in his Christian Topography as " a parallelogram, flat, and surrounded by four seas ".

The influence of these authors was mostly extremely low: Lactantius was with his opinion on the earth's only with the advent of humanism attention; the texts drawn up in Greek work of Kosmas Indicopleustes was only in the early 18th century, known in the West. Theodore of Mopsuestia and Kosmas were not as Nestorian or Monophysite for Orthodox and Catholic Christians acceptable.

Middle Ages

Contrary to a view that was popular in the 19th century, the spherical shape of the Earth in medieval Europe was known. Between the 6th and 12th centuries, the Alps north passed the spatial concepts of Earth as a disc and a spherical shape next to each other, experience and knowledge derived from ancient Greece education knowledge eventually led to the knowledge of the spherical Earth.

  • Aristotle, who led evidence of a spherical earth, was in the high and late Middle Ages as the greatest authority in matters of science. His works have been known since the 12th century through direct rediscovery of Greek and translations from the Arabic.
  • The influential book of the Natural History of Pliny the Elder ( † 79), who took the view of Aristotle, and added from his own observation was common in the Middle Ages in more than 300 manuscripts.
  • In the 5th century Martianus Capella wrote his long studied in medieval Europe works; in the Geografia he stated: " The shape of the world is not flat, as some think, they compare got a large disc ( discus ), and it is not concave, as others believe, who spoke from the rain, the falls within the womb of the earth, but round, even spherical as Dikaearchus clearly testifies "
  • Isidore of Seville (ca. 570-636 AD) goes in his Encyclopedia Etymologiae as well as in the De rerum natura (' On the Nature of Things ') several times a to the earth's shape. He used herein the terms as orbis (' globe ') and rota (, wheel ' ), which were sometimes interpreted as an indication of a Erdscheiben worldview. Obviously he's doing but only to the " roundness " of the earth's shape, as he simultaneously the term pila (' Ball' ), when he speaks as a picture of the Earth from the orb. In a covering letter to De natura rerum, he refers to the earth as a globe straight (, ball ').
  • Venerable Bede ( 672-735 ) in De natura rerum taught as well.
  • Later medieval encyclopedias in the successor of Honorius Augustodunensis (12th century) taught explicitly the spherical shape and principled Umrundbarkeit the earth.
  • The orb, one of the regalia of the Holy Roman Empire, symbolizes the globe.
  • Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the most influential theologian and doctor of the Church of the Middle Ages, was also of the spherical earth's shape: " astrologer demonstrat terram esse rotundam by EclipSim solis et lunae " ( the astronomer proves by solar and lunar eclipses that the Earth is round ) ( Summa Theologica I q 1 a 1 ad 2).

Authors who represented the doctrine of a spherical earth

Among other things, the following authors represented the teachings of a spherical earth:

Kings and politicians

Brunetto Latini, Visigoth Sisebut, King Alfred of England, Alfonso X

Church fathers, popes, bishops, religious and priests

Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose of Milan, Aurelius Augustinus, Paulus Orosius, Jornandes (or Jordanes ) from Ravenna, Cassiodorus, Isidore of Seville, the Venerable Bede, Theodulf of Orléans, Virgilius of Salzburg, Irish monk Dicuil, Rabanus Maurus, Remigius of Auxerre, John Scotus Eriugena, Archpriest Leo of Naples, Gerbert d' Aurillac ( Pope Sylvester II ), Notker the German of Sankt - Gallen, Hermann the Lame, Hildegard of Bingen, Peter Abelard, Honorius Augustodunensis, Gautier de Metz, Adam of Bremen, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Berthold of Regensburg, Meister Eckhart, Enea Silvio Piccolomini ( Pope Pius II )

Theologians, philosophers and Enzyklopädiker

Ampelius, Calcidius, Macrobius, Martianus Capella, Boethius, William of Conches, Philippe de Thaon, Abu- Idrisi, Bernardus Silvestris, Petrus Comestor, Thierry de Chartres, Walter of Châtillon, Alexander Neckam, Alanus from Insulis, Ibn Rushd, Moshe ben Maimon Lambert de Saint- Omer, Gervase of Tilbury, Robert Grosseteste, John de Sacrobosco, Thomas Cantimpré, Peire de Corbian, Vincent of Beauvais, Robertus Anglicus, Juan Gil de Zamora, Perot de Garbelei, Roger Bacon, Ristoro d' Arezzo, Cecco d' Ascoli, Fazio degli Uberti, Levi ben Gershon, Conrad of Megenberg, Nicole Oresme, Pierre d' Ailly, Alfonso de la Torre, Toscanelli

Poets, travelers, book printer, Seafarers, merchants

Snorri Sturluson, Marco Polo, Dante Alighieri, Brochard the German, Jean de Meung, Jean de Mandeville, Christine de Pizan, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton, Martin Behaim, Christopher Columbus

Early Modern Times

At the time of Christopher Columbus (end of 15th century ) the sphericity of the earth was, contrary to a widespread view today, no longer questioned. There were differences over the correct determination of the earth's circumference and on the livability of the opposite hemisphere. Columbus, who accepted a lower circumference of the earth and a greater extension of the Eurasian land mass, in contrast to prevailing expert opinion, China and India stopped on the way to the west to reach. For the contemporary state of the shipbuilding industry, this would have been a futile enterprise. Only the fact that "coincidentally " America existed, saved his expedition of failure.

The Portuguese explorers South Africa and Asia and then in particular the explorers, Magellan and Francis Drake ( → circumnavigation of Francis Drake ) gave ultimately the practical proof of the sphericity of the earth.

It is often brought into the popular debate Galileo Galilei and his confrontation with the Catholic Church with the question of the earth's shape in combination. However, this is inaccurate, since the dispute between Galileo and his followers with the then established science on their side, also questioned the Catholic Church, centered on the question whether the earth (→ geocentric world view ) or the sun (→ heliocentric world view ) is at the center of the universe, for which Galileo entered. For the geocentric worldview was speaking, because of the above-mentioned first argument of Aristotle and in ignorance of the law of gravitation, the sphericity of the earth.

In the 20th century was often claimed that they had believed in a disc shape of the earth in medieval Europe and was also of Church doctrine. Several researchers have worked in recent years that this view was prevalent until later.

  • The historian Jeffrey Burton Russell of the University of California, Santa Barbara, believes the " disc-shaped earth " of the Middle Ages was a modern-day fairy tale ( myth ), the emerging in the 19th century, from about 1830, and the intention of pursuing, the church embossed depict the Middle Ages as "primitive " and the Church as hostile to science (see Political myth ). Among the authors who have operated from the anti-clerical motives, he is one of Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Jean Antoine Letronne (1787-1848), Washington Irving (1783-1853) and Andrew Dickson White ( 1832-1918 ).
  • Similarly, the Bonn Skandinavist Rudolf Simek, who in the year 1000 proved the idea of ​​a globe Earth for Scandinavia.
  • The Stuttgart Romance Professor Reinhard Krüger According to the polemic that attributed to the medieval worldview with a disc-shaped Earth, have already used before the Enlightenment. He locates the "at least three [ known ] Erdscheibentheoretiker " outside the main current of medieval thought that the foot on the symbiosis of Christian doctrine and Greco-Roman Science: "Neither Lactantius still Kosmas Indicopleustes or Boniface are characteristic of the medieval cosmological thinking. And the one or the other Asia Minor church man like Severian of Gabala, or others you could mention here, marginal figures remain given the broad stream ancient cosmological knowledge, can be done exactly locate in the tradition of the Fathers of the Church now. The figures mentioned remain outsiders, are no longer even read or quoted the texts. " The views of Lactantius and Cosmas Indicopleustes were ever again quoted in European literature until after the circumnavigation of Magellan and Boniface was already by then- Pope Zacharias provide additional information on the theme prohibited.

Modern views on the disk shape

In the U.S., the Flat Earth Society held the doctrine of a disk-shaped earth as the only compliant with the Bible. However, the existence of the organization is uncertain since the death of its last president. Web sites considered for the Flat Earth Society duly claim to have created satirical.