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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numismatic and History Discussions  |  Ancient Coin Forum (Moderator: Danny Jones)  |  Topic: Did the Romans know the Earth was round?? 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Author Topic: Did the Romans know the Earth was round??  (Read 14164 times)
William J Bligh
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« on: October 11, 2003, 02:30:21 pm »

Hey folks. A few notes on this subject - There are numerous references on Imperial coinages regarding globes - The Tiberius Globe/rudder as, in particular. Also, looking at later artifacts, the giant bust of Constantine the Great in the Capitoline museum had Constantine holding a sword in one hand and a globe in the other, "to show his dominance over the entire world" as the caption said. Now....correct me if I'm wrong, but medieval society spent several centuries under the impression that the earth was flat. I imagined Romans thought the same. Does anyone have any thoughts/facts on this?? Did the Romans know we lived on a giant globe? If so, how the devil did something that momentous get 'forgotten' by the Christians??
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« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2003, 03:32:42 pm »

They are countless later coins, which show the Emperor receiving a globe from Jupiter, which I can only think it means the Emperor received the power, the rule of the world from Jupiter himself.  Also Sol holds a globe in his hand and so on. It is clear that a globe on a coin represents the world, but I dont know if the symbol is perfectly equal to what they had in mind. Maybe they tought its flat but represented it with a globe.  What is clear is the the symbol passed to the medieval people, they used it as a world representation while thinking it is actually flat. Dont ask me why didnt they change it to a eating plate or some other dish Smiley
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« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2003, 04:05:31 pm »

Since Eratosthenes worked out the diameter of the Earth some time in the 3rd Century BC, some Romans at least must have been aware of it. That's a long way from saying that every Roman knew it though. Look at the disputes which still go on about religious and scientific views of creation; back then, the 'scientific' view would have had a lot less to back it up. The Old Testament describes an Earth which appears to be flat, and even stands on pillars, but its impossible to be sure that the authors always meant what they said to be taken at face value; personally I don't think they did. I suspect most people didn't even think about it, and would have been totally gobsmacked by the idea of going all the way round a spherical Earth.
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bruce61813
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« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2003, 11:09:11 am »

There seems to be some evidence that the Romans thought of the world as round. It was not until the dominance of the Church that the "flat earth" began to be the main view, along with the earth centered view of the solar system.

Bruce
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« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2003, 12:28:49 pm »

I haven't got the evidence top hand, but I suspest they all thought of an earth-centred universe, whatever shape they thought the earth was. As far as I know the first person to postulate an infinite universe was Giordano Bruno, who was burnt at the stake in, I think, 1601.
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bruce61813
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« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2003, 01:11:42 pm »

http://es.rice.edu/ES/humsoc/Galileo/Things/ptolemaic_system.html This is some intersting backgrounnd. But to the point, Aristotle knew the Earth was a sphere. One od the Greek mathematicians of that era, calculated it's volumne within 1% of modern calculations. I'll see if I can find the reference.

Bruce
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« Reply #6 on: October 14, 2003, 04:34:36 pm »

I'll have to find the article, but there is a pole that is depicted on a coin that was used to measure the diameter of the earth. YES the daimeter and it was measured to a very close pression to the known diameter today.

By measuring the shadow of one pole and the distance to a second pole that did not cast a shodow on that day (the sun being directly over head or should I say pole) they used geometry to find the size of the sphere they were on.

YES they knew it was round.............

I will post the link to the article when I find it again

Here is one but it is not the one I was looking for.........  http://tinyurl.com/qxv1
page down to - Eratosthenes' measurement
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« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2003, 09:18:42 pm »

Hey everybody!

Tis is my very first time on the forum! Grin

Anyway, Any self respecting scholar in the middle ages knew that the world was round.  Only the peasants and clergy thought it was flat...

Just something I learned in History class...
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germanicus
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« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2003, 05:32:36 am »

"religion is the opiate of the masses" - Karl Marx

History technology science medicine - et al , were all present and understood - studied by the monks and scholars withing the monasteries and abbeys of the christian world.   Not forgotten, just not taught to the masses , the social and politcal society of the day needed an ignorant population for simpler subjugation.

generally that why many things were "rediscovered" , as the old order bagan to recede in the wake of such political and religious upheavel of the absolution of the monasteries under H VIII, the reformations etc

The key was access to information-They controlled the information and they controlled who had access to it, they controlled how to read and how to write-it was denied by virtue of ignorance and social order

As above , with social and political upheavel of the late middle ages , scholars thinkers merchants bankers industrialists etc gave birth to the romantcism  and practical reaslisation that was the renaissance.  ie da vinci had access to "galens" etc etc

The irony is that without the zealous concealement of such knowledge and their meticulous efforts to both transcribe, and preserve texts , the majority of it "would" ahve been lost to time and ignorance.

this has enormous subject matter to cover, i have tried in just a few paragraphs, and impossible task , but there you go  :)
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bruce61813
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« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2003, 08:23:02 am »

It is more than just concealment. Much of the information has been destroyed in the name of relegion, or by their authority. The library at Alexandria, the codexes of the Aztecs and writings of various new world cultures. Many of the monks and scribes that did the transscription were illiterate, hence errors were common in the transscriptions.

Bruce
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« Reply #10 on: October 16, 2003, 06:05:44 pm »

You also have to remeber that most people of the Middle Ages never traveled more than five miles in their entire life.  Life was not considered something in which one finds pleasure, so very few attempts were made to learn anything except how to tend the farms and how to pray.  Most people just didn't know or care that there was more to the world than their own village and the castle on the hill over there.  It probably never crossed the minds of most peasants (which were by far the majority) that the world was round or flat.
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« Reply #11 on: October 17, 2003, 07:15:40 am »

Piggy backing off of cscoppa's response....here is a lesson plan for students to measure the earth, just as Eratosthenes did years ago....funny it came to me just today from another source!
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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2003, 04:33:36 pm »

 Smiley  There is an interesting article on this subject by Michael Morotto n the February 1998 issue of th Celator.  In that article, he postulates that the knowledge was inherited from the Greeks.

He also mentions a coin of Commodus which shows on the reverse a half naked man holding a globe.

He discusses the idea that the round objects seen on many Roman coins were halos, not globes.

There is little doubt that educated people in ancient times knew the world was spherical.

Given modern astronomy and physics, it would be more difficult to prove that it was flat than that it was round.
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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2003, 05:52:02 pm »

    I think the globe depicted on coins and in other works of art is usually, maybe always, the celestial globe that we see above our heads when we look up, so is irrelevant to the question whether the ancients knew the earth was a globe.
    Whenever any details are added to that globe in art, I think it is stars not geographical features that are depicted, apart from the equator and ecliptic which can be indicated on either the celestial or the terrestrial globe.
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« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2003, 07:13:16 am »

Isn't the Romans' use of the word ORBIS to refer to the earth as well as to other round objects (circles, wheels, globes) an awfully good indication that they knew the earth's shape?
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« Reply #15 on: December 31, 2003, 08:43:16 am »

      Doesn't the expression orbis terrarum, the circle of lands, refer to the arrangement of occupied territories around the Mediterranean Sea?  I have long thought this, but can find no confirmation for it in the few reference works I have pulled down.
     However that may be, the Greeks and Romans knew the earth was a globe.  According to the article Geographie in Der kleine Pauly, Theophrastus, cited by Poseidonios, credited Parmenides (c. 475 BC) with the discovery that the earth is a globe.  Parmenides divided the earth into five zones, two icy regions at the poles, a hot zone at the equator, and two temperate zones in between, though this was mainly speculation rather than observed fact.  One of the main problems posed by geographers of the following centuries was where on the globe the inhabited Mediterranean lands were located; the usual answer was the correct one, north of the equator.  Eudoxos, c. 340 BC, calculated the earth's diameter at 400,000 stades, 40% too large; Eratosthenes, c. 225 BC, proposed the correct distance of 252,000 stades, based on his measurement of the difference in the angle of sunlight falling at Alexandria and Cyrene.  Ptolemy's Geography (c. 75 BC) proposed a map and location of Europe, Asia, and Africa on the spherical earth, and models of the eath in the form of globes were well known according to the Roman geographer Strabo.
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« Reply #16 on: December 31, 2003, 09:25:50 am »

That's useful, thanks; Eratosthenes was the only one of those I knew about.
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« Reply #17 on: January 01, 2004, 03:01:47 pm »

in all old times the people knew the earth is round ,spicialy through rilagen ,and those what we called as muslims the heaven rilagens(judasem,christianty,and islam),in the holey books you can find it clear that the earth is round,and the non belivers befor thought that the beast eat the moon ,just rilegens gave an explation about such things, and there are old since when you see or read about you will know that those thousands years ago people knew alot of amazing things but the problem most of the peope didnt care about what the earth look like because there where much important things to think about ,and every thing we have now is rediscoverd and pase off old since .
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« Reply #18 on: January 01, 2004, 03:52:34 pm »

There are several accounts of creation in the Old Testament, and they're all different. Those guys didn't care what it looked liked, or how and when it was made. What was important to them was the idea that God was responsible for it. They do use language which implies flatness (in one passage its described as standing on pillars), but this could very well be a case of their having used the descriptive language available to them, without intending it to be taken too literally. What is clear is that people realised it was round very early on.
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Robert Brenchley

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vic9128
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« Reply #19 on: January 08, 2004, 08:20:41 am »

 Here is a link for the Celator article by M. Marotta http://celator.com/cws/marotta.html
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Midshipman
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« Reply #20 on: September 17, 2005, 01:15:59 pm »

The whole junk about Columbus's time beleiving the world was flat is nonsense.  Greek and Roman mathemticians understood the world was round during their ages.  It's a simple matter of mathematics.
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TRPOT
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« Reply #21 on: September 17, 2005, 06:59:41 pm »

Absolutely right. The whole myth of everyone thinking the world was flat before Columbus was invented by Washington Irving.
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« Reply #22 on: September 18, 2005, 02:28:53 am »

Of course, the ancient astronomers and geographers knew that the Earth  is round, made  measurements of its diameter.
They created also the model of the whole Solar system, erroneous (the Sun rotates around the Earth), but  consistent  with observations.
The true question is, whether it was a common knowledge. It seems, the answer is positive and the numismatics confirms
this. The Christianity wiped out this knowledge but still in XV centuries there were scientists who knew this, maybe, a few. What is about the navigators?  For me, it is not clear. For the decision makers (say, kings), educated in Christian traditions,  the idea was beyond the  limits.     
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« Reply #23 on: September 18, 2005, 04:21:42 am »

When Satan leads Jesus on a high mountain to show him all kingdoms of the world (Mt.4, 1-11 The temptations of Jesus), then this is the suggestion of the flat earth. Otherwise it is not possible to see all kingdoms. Here we have the misbelief which became accepted in the Middle Ages.

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« Reply #24 on: September 18, 2005, 02:57:53 pm »

It could, of course, be metaphoric language, and in my view probably is. Who rules the nearest thing available to 'all the kingdoms of the earth'? Caesar, of course. In Revelation, which is virulently anti-Roman, the great beast (beasts in apocalyptic represent empires) is controlled by Satan, and I'm inclined to see a possible link.
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