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FUAT SEZGIN

THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY


OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT
BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS

Excerpt from

GESCHICHTE DES ARABISCHEN SCHRIFTTUMS

Vol. XIII

(in print)

Vol. X appeared in English translation under the title:


Mathematical Geography and Cartography in Islam and their Continuation
in the Occident, vol. I, Historical Presentation, Part 1, Frankfurt 2005.
English translation of Vol. XI in print.

2006

Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science

at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University

Frankfurt am Main

www.uni-frankfurt/fb13/igaiw
2 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY OF THE


AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS

Fuat Sezgin

T HE Q UESTION of a possible pre- Ymana.2 He concludes that Antilia


Columbian discovery of the Americas and Satanazes are Puerto Rico and
has been pondered by many schol- Guadeloupe “… but that meant that
ars throughout the second half of the somebody had actually surveyed the
20th century. Recently, stimulated by islands some seventy years before
the publication of the book 1421. The Columbus reached the Caribbean”.
Year China Discovered The World 1 by In pursuit of this matter Menzies
Gavin Menzies in the year 2002, the convinced himself he had found solid
interest in this issue has once more evidence that someone indeed had
increased considerably. reached the Caribbean 70 years be-
The author, a retired submarine- fore Columbus and even established a
commander, maintains his book was colony there. He considered whether
intended for a broad public rather those early discoverers could have
than for experts. Yet this modest been Portuguese but found it quite
statement is contradicted by the way unlikely.3
Menzies assumes, throughout the In addition to the fact that the ap-
book, the status of a would-be au- pearance of this archipelago on maps
thority for the history of cartogra- predating the Columbus voyages has
phy. been discussed for about 200 years,
According to Menzies one map I would like to remark that it was
in particular from the collection of in fact Armando Cortesão who dis-
Sir Thomas Phillips, which is now in covered the Zuane Pizzigano Map of
the James Ford Library, Minnesota, 1424. In his book The Nautical Charts
drew his attention. It bears the of 1424 and the Early Discovery
name of Zuane Pizzigano, a Venetian and Cartographical Representation
cartographer, and is dated 1424. of America. A Study on History of
Menzies’ interest in this map was Early Navigation and Cartography
mainly aroused by the appearance of (Coimbra, 1954) he first expressed
four islands in the western Atlantic the opinion that Portuguese navi-
called Satanazes, Antilia, Saya and gators brought the knowledge about
the Caribbean islands and possi-
Bantam Press, London – New York – To-
1 bly even the American mainland to
ronto – Sidney – Auckland. Europe prior to 1424.4
2 1421. The Year China Discovered The

World, l.c. pp. 29-31,


3 Ibid, p. 31. 4 The Nautical Charts of 1424, l.c. p. 109.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 3

This view was further ex- Europeans filled me with dread.”9 So


pounded by Cortesão in his History far Menzies’ assumptions.
of Portuguese Cartography5 and In the course of some unac-
has caused widespread discussion. counted further investigations
Menzies could well have known that, Menzies claims to have “discovered”
for example from Tony Campbell’s ar- that “… several Chinese fleets had
ticle in the History of Cartography6. indeed made voyages of exploration
However, by further considera- in the early years of the fifteenth cen-
tions and research Menzies came to tury. The last and greatest of them
the conclusion that the Portuguese all—four fleets combining in one
were far from being in the position to vast armada—set sail in early 1421.
discover the Caribbean islands.7 The last surviving ships returned to
“They [the explorers] must have China in the summer and autumn of
been skilled in astro-navigation and 1423. There was no extant record of
must have found a method of deter- where they had voyaged in the inter-
mining longitude to draw maps with vening years, but the maps showed
negligible longitude errors.”8 that they had not merely rounded the
“There was only one nation Cape of Good Hope and traversed the
at that time with the material re- Atlantic to chart the islands I had
sources, the scientific knowledge, the seen on the Pizzigano map of 1424,
ships and the seafaring experience to they had then gone on to explore
mount such an epic voyage of discov- Antarctica and the Arctic, North and
ery. That nation was China, but the South America, and had crossed the
thought of searching for incontest- Pacific to Australia. They had solved
able proof that a Chinese fleet had the problems of calculating latitude
explored the world long before the and longitude and mapped the earth
and the heavens with equal accu-
racy.”10
Passing over the question
5 Vol. II, Coimbra 1971, pp. 125–139. “The whether Menzies is justified in at-
more I study the subject, taking into consid- tributing these achievements to the
eration the various criticisms of my book of Chinese (more on this later) I would
1954, the more convinced I am that the Antilla
like to explain that we are talk-
group of Islands in Zuane Pizzigano’s chart of
1424 represents for the first time some unde- ing about seven military missions
termined American land sighted during an un- that were dispatched by the Chinese
known Portugese voyage to the western Atlan- Emperor Chéng Zĭ (title of reign:
tic” (p. 139). Yŏng Lè) in the first quarter of the
6 Vol. I, 1987, pp. 371–458, esp. 410–411;
fifteenth century to the “western bar-
Campbell’s contribution is entitled: Portolan
Charts from the Late Thirteenth Century to barians” in order to establish or re-
1500.
7 1421. The Year China Discovered The

World, l.c. p. 31. 9 Ibid, p. 34.


8 Ibid, p. 33. 10 Ibid, pp. 36–37.
4 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

Fig. 1. After Louise Levathes, When China Ruled the Seas—


The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne 1405–1433. NewYork, 1994, 252 pp.

new diplomatic relations and claim tination in thirty-six countries bor-


tribute. dering the Indian Ocean, covering
These naval expeditions which the south as far as Borneo, Timor
took place between 1405 and 1433 and Zanzibar, but not Madagascar
are well documented in Chinese and Australia.12 None of the three
records. surviving contemporary sources in-
The three oldest reports about cludes any maps. Yet the historian
the expeditions were written by sur- Máo Yuán Yí was able to reconstruct
viving participants. One of them was a nautical chart based on their data
Mă Huān, a Muslim who knew Arabic. in his book Wŭ Bèi Zhì (“Complete
His work entitled Yíng Yaí Shèng Lăn Military Chronicle”, 1651).13
(“Comprehensive Investigation of the As early as 1885 the sinolo-
Ocean Shores”) is predominantly of gist Georg Phillips had called atten-
scientific content.11 Sinologists have tion to the fact that “The latitude of
been working on these sources since places on the map along the Western
the second half of the nineteenth cen- coast of India, and also along the
tury. They include unambiguous and eastern coast of Africa is shown by
nearly exhaustive information about 12 Ibid, vol. IV, 3, 1971, p. 490; Louis Le-
the fleets’ itinerary and ports of des- vathes, When China ruled the Seas. The Treas-
ure Fleet of the Dragon Throne 1405–1433,
Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation
11 New York 1994.
in China, Vol. III, Cambridge – London – New 13 Cf. J. Needham, l.c. vol. III, p. 959, vol. IV,

York – Melbourne 1959, p. 558. 3, pp. 425, 493.


OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 5

Fig. 2. World map by Fra Mauro (1459).


¸
the North Star being reckoned at so the Arab geographer Abu l-Fidā , it
many digits and so many eights high. occurred to Phillips that these terms
These are called in Chinese chih ( ) (zhĭ, finger or inch and jüé, angle)
and chio ( )…”14 might be equivalents to the words
˛
Reading J.-T. Reinaud’s intro- is.ba und zām, as used by Arab nav-
duction to the Taqwīm al-buldān by igators in the Indian Ocean.15 The
schematic chart from the Wŭ Bèi Zhì
14 The Seaports of India and Cylon, described was edited by Phillips and reprinted
by Chinese Voyagers of the Fifteenth Century,
by Youssouf Kamal.16
together with an account of Chinese navigation,
in: Journal of the China Branch of the Royal
Asiatic Society (London) 20/1885/209–226, esp.
218f.; idem, Seeports… Navigation from Su- 15F. Sezgin, GAS XI, 333.
matra to China, Ibid 21/1886, 30–42; see also: 16 Monumenta Cartographica Africae et
F. Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrift- Aegyptii, Leiden 1926–52, vol. IV, p. 1415 (re-
tums, Vol. XI, p. 333. print VI, 170–171).
6 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

But how could Menzies come to was triangular?”19 He remembered


the conclusion that Chinese fleets the name of the Venetian Voyager
had travelled beyond the Cap of Good Nicolò da Conti who returned to
Hope, traversed the Atlantic all the Venice probably around 1444 af-
while surveying and charting the new ter a sojourn in Syria, where he
territories notwithstanding the fact had learnt Arabic and converted to
that the sources yield clear infor- Islam, and after extensive travels
mation concerning the actual routes in Iran, India and South-east Asia.
and activities (for a survey of these Menzies supposes that Conti must
routes v. fig. 1), and leave no room for have travelled with a Chinese fleet
speculations concerning any further for some time during which he ob-
south- or west-bound voyages be- tained the world map that Mauro
yond modern Mozambique. It seems later based his version on. Let me
that arbitrary conclusions drawn just remark that, aside from many
from the study of several other ex- other objections, Conti’s own trav-
tant maps17 which shall be discussed elogue contradicts the alleged jour-
below, have led Menzies into making ney with a Chinese fleet around 1420.
such claims. Historians of geography believe that
Hoping that the world map Conti’s voyage started in 1419 and
drawn by Fra Mauro in 1457 (fig. 2) took until ca. 1444 and that upon his
would yield further clues, Menzies return he travelled in the company
travelled to Venice. There he noticed of his Arab wife and his children via
the following inscription on the map: Socotra, Aden, Jiddah, the Red Sea
“Around A.D. 1420 a ship or so- and Alexandria to Venice.20
called Indian junk coming from the In the course of his “research”
Indian Ocean and on its way to ‘the Menzies found further support for
Isles of Men and Women’ was driven his assumptions on “a copy of a
beyond Cap de Diab and through the Chinese/Korean chart known collo-
Green Islands in the Dark Ocean to- quially as the Kangnido”21. It is kept
wards the Algarve in the west. For today at the Ryukoku University in
forty days they found nothing but Kyoto (Japan) (fig. 3). Here too he
sky and water.”18 was mainly interested in the repre-
Menzies thereupon asked him- sentation of Africa: “So accurately
self “… how did Fra Mauro get this
information? How did he know the
shape of a junk, and that the Cape 19 Menzies, l.c. pp. 115ff., 122f.
20 Fr. Kunstmann, Kenntnis Indiens im 15.
Jahrhundert, München 1863; O. Peschels Ge-
G. Menzies, l.c. p. 38.
17 schichte der Erdkunde bis auf Alexander von
Menzies (l.c. p. 122) quotes the transla-
18 Humboldt und Carl Ritter, München (2nd edt.)
tion by Needham (vol. IV, 3, p. 572); I follow 1877, pp. 182–184; R. Hennig, Terrae incogni-
the German translation in Terrae incognitae tae, 4 vols., Leiden 1944–56, here vol. IV, pp.
by Richard Hennig, vol. IV, Leiden 1944–1956, 33–34.
p. 44. 21 G. Menzies, l.c., p. 127.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 7

Fig. 3 . Kangnido-world map (1402).

does the Kangnido depict the coasts


of East, South and West Africa that To this I would like to remark
there cannot be a shred of doubt that that the Kangnido map which is ad-
it was charted by someone who had duced by Menzies as evidence for
sailed round the Cape. Europeans his argumentation is in fact one of
did not reach South Africa for an- several surviving copies or adapta-
other sixty years; Arab navigators tions of a world map compiled by
on the west coast never sailed south Zhū Sī-Bĕn, the chief cartographer
of Agadir in modern Morocco, eight of the Sino-Mongolian Yuán Empire.
thousand kilometres away, and the Unfortunately the original seems to
Mongols never reached Africa at be lost. A revised version published
all. The accuracy of the Kangnido 1524–1564 complements the Sino-
told me that Mauro /da Conti’s de- Korean Version of 1402 mentioned
scription made absolute sense. A above. Both maps have been pub-
Chinese navigator could indeed have lished in several editions since 1938
reached ‘Garbin’ and then drawn the and they have been scrutinised and
Kangnido.”22 evaluated by a number of scholars.
The studies devoted to the subject
22 Ibid p. 128.
8 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

by the renowned sinologist Walter (i.e. Middle Asia). They were deliv-
Fuchs since 1946 seem to have been ered by a man called Jamāl al-Dīn.
decisive for the formation of a clear He also composed a geography of the
assessment.23 Fuchs was followed by entire Mongol realms, apparently in
Joseph Needham24 in tracing the or- the service of Qubilai Khān. The de-
igins of these charts back to the pe- scription of the earth globe Kurat al-
riod around 1300. At such an early ard. (Persian: kura-i arż), transcribed
date the triangular shape of South in Chinese as Kū-laí-yì à-ér-zĭ tells us
Africa and the very precise delinea- that it was made of wood, the “seven
tion of the Mediterranean must sur- waters” painted blue-green and the
prise the historian of cartography. three continents with their rivers
For Fuchs and Needham it was and inland waters bright (white). A
evident that such modern features grid was drawn on its surface in such
could only be explained by knowl- a way that the proportions of the var-
edge borrowed from the Islamic ious regions and the distances along
world. The Arabic names of about travelling routes could be quantified
one hundred places and countries in from it.25 Without taking the liberty
Europe and thirty-five in Africa that to expand any further on the subject
have already been identified support of the Sino-Korean map I have to ex-
this view. Only the actual channels press my astonishment by the fact
through which the process of trans- that Menzies ignores all studies writ-
mission had occurred were yet to be ten on the subject since 1938.
rediscovered. Fuchs assumed that The next thing Menzies hit
the knowledge of the Arabic–Islamic upon during his “research” was “a
world map came to China with the description by the Portuguese histo-
globe that was sent in 1267 (together rian António Galvão (died 1557) of a
with six other astronomical instru- world map the Portuguese dauphin,
ments) from Marāgha, capital of the Dom Pedro, Henry the Navigator’s
western Mongol (Ilkhanid) empire to brother, had brought back with him
the court of Qubilai Khān. There is from Venice in 1428.”26 This report27
an interesting chapter in the Records
of the Yuán-Dynastie (Yuán Shĭ), ed-
25 cf. Sezgin, GAS, vol. X, p. 312; cf. Kuei-
ited by Sóng Lián (1310–1381) that
Sheng Chang, Africa and the Indian Ocean.
deals at length with the instruments Chinese maps of the fourteenth and fifteenth
and models imported from the west centuries, in: Imago Mundi 23/1970/21–30.
26 1421. The Year China Discovered The

World, l.c. p. 137.


23Drei neue Versionen der chinesisch-korea- 27 Tratado dos descobrimentos, Terceira edi-

nischen Weltkarte von 1402, in: Studia Sino- ção, Porto 1944, pp. 122–123; The Discover-
Altaica, Festschrift für Erich Haenisch zum ies of the World, from their first original unto
80. Geburtstag, edt. by H. Franke, Wiesbaden the year of our Lord 1555 by Antonio Galvano,
1961, pp. 75–77. Gouvernor of Ternate, London 1601, new edi-
24 Science and Civilisation in China, vol. III, tion with Portuguese text. Ibid 1862, pp. 66–67.
l.c., p. 555f.; F. Sezgin, GAS, vol. X, p. 323. cf. GAS, vol. XI, p. 358.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 9

reads thus: “In the yeere 1428, it is Magellan have appeared on a map—
written that Dom Peter, the King of for simplicity, I shall call it the 1428
Portugal’s eldest sonne, was a great World Map—nearly a century before
traveller. He went into England, Ferdinand Magellan discovered it?
France, Almaine [Germany] and To emphasize that this was no mis-
from thence into the Holy Land, and take, Galvão continued:”28 (here fol-
to other places; and came home by lows the second part of the above
Italie, taking Rome and Venice in his quotation).
way: from whence he brought a map This reference which Menzies
of the world, which had all the parts claims to have discovered in pursuit
of the world and earth described. The of his “research” in Venice has also
Streight of Magelan was called in it been known for a long time. As early
the dragon’s taile [cola do dragam]: as mid-19th century the geography-
the Cape of Boa Esperança, the fore- historian Joachim Lelewel called at-
front of Afrike [fronteira de Africa] tention to Galvão’s29 account and
and so foorth of other places: by which drew the correct conclusion, that the
Map Dom Henry [the Navigator] the semi-insular shape of Africa must
King’s third sonne was much helped have been known to the Portuguese
and furthered in his Discouveries.” through foreign, acquired maps
“It was tolde me by Francis de rather early on. The reference to the
Sousa Tavares that in the yeere 1528, Strait of Magellan on a map in circu-
Dom Fernando, the King’s sonne and lation by 1428 however he considered
heire did show him a map which was unbelievable and called it a halluci-
found in the studie of the Alcobaza natory presumption. As I intend to
which had beene made 120 yeeres be- show below (p. 28), current research
fore which map did set forth all the leads to a different conclusion.
navigation of the East Indies with Without even noticing that
the Cape of Boa Esperança accord- Galvão alludes to a second map in
ing as our later maps have described the passage quoted above—one that
it; whereby it appeareth that in an- back-dates the cartographic repre-
cient time (em tempo passado) there sentation of the Cape of Good Hope
was as much or more discovered than to the year 1408 and thus contra-
now there is.” dicts the purported discovery by the
Menzies comments upon the Chinese expedition fleet in 1421—
first part of the above quote: “Here Menzies makes a connection with
was an unequivocal assertion that yet “another chart that would prove
by 1428 both the Cape of Good Hope one of the most valuable keys to
(Boa Esperança) and ‘the Streight
of Magelan’ (separating Argentina
from Tierra del Fuego) had been 28 G. Menzies, 1421. The Year China Discov-
charted on a map. It was an extraor- ered The World, l.c. p. 137f.
29 Géographie du moyen age, vol. II, Brüssel
dinary claim. How could the Strait of
1852–1857, p. 83, note 172.
10 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

¸
Fig. 4 . Map of the Atlantic by Pīrī Re īs (927/1521–930/1524).
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 11

Fig. 5 . World map by Alberto Cantino (1502).

unlocking the secrets of the Chinese with the aid of satellite navigation”31
voyages.”30 too bears witness to “Chinese exper-
He refers to the well-known par- tise”, for “who else but the Chinese
tial map by the Ottoman admiral Pīrī could have drawn this astounding
¸
Re īs (fig. 4). He supposedly incorpo- chart?”32 After explaining why the
rated cartographic materials which Portuguese can be ruled out as pos-
were seized by the Ottomans during sible originators of the map, he goes
a naval battle with the Spaniards in on wondering “if Arab navigators
1501. Menzies is particularly inter- could have been the original cartog-
ested in the south-western section raphers.”33 Menzies’ unconsidered
of the chart, as he presumes this in- answer is no, because he “found not
formation would be ultimately de- one detailed Arabic chart of the east
rived from the Chinese map which coast of Africa in Youssuf Kamal’s
allegedly was also the source of the Monumenta Cartographica. Although
Portuguese world map of 1428. the Arabs understood how to calcu-
On his quest for support of his late longitude by lunar eclipse, they
theories Menzies became aware of never mastered how to measure time
the surprisingly modern delineation with the necessary accuracy, some-
of Africa, especially of its east coast, thing that the Chinese achieved”.34
on the map charted assumedly in It is impossible to deal at length with
1502 by Cantino (fig. 5). For Menzies
this map “where the coast of East
31 G. Menzies, 1421. The Year China Discov-
Africa is depicted with such accuracy
ered The World, l.c. p. 375f..
that it appears to have been drawn 32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid. Interestingly, this passage has been


30 G. Menzies, 1421. The Year China Discov-
omitted in the second English edition (l.c., p.
ered The World, l.c. p. 140.
377).
12 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

Fig. 6. Method for the determination of distances on the open sea by triangulation. After taking the latitude
at the point of departure A one sailed in a known angle  to the equator to point B, took its latitude and thus
the distance B H. Thereupon one changed the course towards C (back at the same latitude as A). The distance
A C = A H + H C was calculated trigonometrically. This triangulation was repeated until the destination was
reached. Latitudes were determined by measuring polar altitudes.

all the statements, claims and as- Data found in extant Arabic and
sumptions Menzies abounds with, Turkish navigation manuals from
yet I would like to concede one point the 9th/15th and 10th/16th centuries
to him, viz. that the Portuguese can- confirm that ample and adequate
not possibly have been the origina- measurements of the Indian Ocean
tors of the Cantino map. Not only did were taken to the extent that a com-
they lack proper methods for the de- prehensive cartographic represen-
termination of longitudes as well as tation was rendered feasible. Hence
accurate chronometry, but especially Wilhelm Tomaschek was able to re-
because the charting of such a stun- construct very fine partial maps ac-
ningly realistic map of Africa must cording to those data available to
have been a far more time-consuming him in the year 1897, i. e. at a time
project than Menzies seems to real- when the most important Arabic
ise, a mistake that, incidentally, per- nautical books had not even been re-
vades his whole line of argumenta- discovered.35
tion. For centuries the Indian Ocean One of the most eccentric of
has effectively been like a huge lake Menzie’s theories postulates that a
enclosed by the Arabic-Islamic cul- Chinese fleet had passed the Cape of
ture area. Good Hope and continued its west-
In addition to the familiar meth- ward voyage, discovered America,
ods for the determination of longi- surveyed and charted its coast line
tudes on land, the navigators in the finally to return home via the Arctic
Indian Ocean developed a highly so- Ocean, along the shores of Europe
phisticated method of measuring dis- and Asia.36 In the second half of the
tances on the open sea parallel or 16th century the possibility of such
oblique to the meridian as well as a route was fervently discussed in
parallel to the equator. The last case Europe. Some cartographers of re-
is equivalent to a determination of nown such as Gerhard Mercator and
longitude. It was a true triangula-
tion, suited for reliable and accurate 35 Cf. F. Sezgin, GAS, vol. XI, pp. 419-426,
measurements of trans-oceanic dis- vol. XII, pp. 318–333.
tances on the open sea (fig. 6). 36 G. Menzies, 1421. The Year China Discov-

ered The World, l.c. pp. 238, 356.


OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 13

Fig. 7 . World map by Martin Waldseemüller (1507).

Abraham Ortelius would disavow surveys of Siberia did not take place
its assumption while John Dee pro- for another two centuries, and the
moted it based on statements in the first Russian map did not appear un-
¸
Geography of Abu l-Fid. ā .37 Menzies til the nineteenth century.”39
became also aware of the first world After all, we should be grate-
map ( fig. 7 ) by Martin Waldseemüller ful that Menzies raised this issue, it
(1507)38 and found himself flabber- being a weak point in the history of
gasted, as expressed in the following cartography. As far as I am aware,
passage: “The Waldseemüller map, the question where the fairly real-
published in 1507, shows the north istic cartographic representation of
coast of Siberia from the White Sea northern Asia in Waldseemüllers
in the west to the Chukchi Peninsula map—that breaks fundamentally
and the Bering Strait in the east. with the Ptolemean tradition—came
The whole coast, with its rivers and from has never been earnestly posed
islands, is clearly identifiable. If not in the entire history of cartography.
the Chinese, who could have sur- On what sources are the delinea-
veyed that enormous coastline? How tions of rivers flowing into the Arctic
was this chart drawn, showing lands Ocean which are found on early, non-
that were not ‘officially’ discovered Ptolemaic maps, based? Are the grat-
by Europeans for another three cen- icules drawn in many early maps of
turies, unless the Chinese had also Asia connected with reality at all and
travelled there? The first Russian if so, in which culture area were the
underlying empiric data collected?
37Cf. F. Sezgin, GAS, vol. XI, p. 80f.
38Ibid, vol. X, p. 357, 477, 570; vol. XI, pp. 87, 39G. Menzies, 1421. The Year China Discov-
94, 346; vol. XII, p. 155. ered The World, l.c. p. 312 in 1st edt.
14 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

Fig. 8 . Map of Asia in the time of the Mongols (presumably 7th/13th cent.),
from the French edition of the book by Abu l-Ġāzī Bahādūr Hān (Leiden 1726).
˘
As even modern historians of cartog- survey of North and Central Asia
raphy know hardly anything about dates back to the 5th/11th century.
the creative period of the Arabic- An extant copy of a map40 from the
Islamic culture which lasted about 7th/13th or 8th/14th century (fig. 8)
eight hundred years, Menzies consid- bears witness to the amazing devel-
ers himself authorised to ascribe the opment in the cartographic survey of
quite detailed cartographic survey of that area in the tradition of Arabic-
North Asia to Chinese naval officers. Islamic geography.
In spite of the fact that the collection It would lead too far to pursue all
of data in question must have taken questionable claims in Menzies’ book
a very long time, Menzies assumes and neither is it my purpose. Yet one
that this incredibly vast area could more, particularly dubious theory of
have been charted in the course of his I would like to discuss briefly.
the Chinese naval expedition of 1421 It concerns the attempt to trace
to 1423. even the notorious ‘Vinland’-map of
In vol. X of the Geschichte des Greenland back to the Chinese ex-
arabischen Schrifttums (pp. 334–545) pedition of 1421–23.41 As this would
I have addressed the issue of where imply a substantially reduced glacia-
the type of Asia-map which turned tion of Greenland, Menzies resorts to
up in Europe early in the 16th cen-
tury could have originated. I came to 40 Cf. F. Sezgin, GAS, vol. XII, map no. 107,
p. 173.
the conclusion that the cartographic 41 G. Menzies, 1421…, l.c. pp. 345–356;.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 15

the utterly preposterous statement converts an unsustainable line of


that the equator had shifted to 03°40' thought into an unaccounted claim.
N at the time. This he claims to have On the page before he had stated:
calculated using the sailing instruc- “To justify that belief, I had to answer
tions and stellar guide in the Wŭ Bèi the question of whether Greenland
Zhì supposedly composed in 1422.42 really could have been circumnavi-
Besides the fact that this book by Máo gated. It is completely impossible to-
Yuán Yí, as mentioned above, was day, even in a nuclear-powered ice-
written in 1628 not 1422, and pass- breaker, for the seas surrounding
ing over the question what particular the far north are frozen solid all year
data from this source Menzies might round. However, there is direct ev-
have exploited for his purpose and idence that conditions in the early
how exactly he arrived at his results, 15th century were markedly differ-
not to mention the consequences of ent from those ruling today.”44 As
such an increase of the earth’s ax- this evidence turns out spurious
ial tilt by almost 4°— above all it that should be the end of all specula-
should be born in mind that astron- tions about a northern journey of the
omers and geographers in the Arabic- Chinese fleet.
Islamic culture area have observed With this I shall conclude my
the sky continuously over long peri- remarks on some of Gavin Menzies’
ods of time and in diverse regions of countless outrageous theories. As a
the world. They measured latitudes science-historian I am, needless to
and longitudes using impressive ob- say, not exactly delighted that convo-
servatories, equipped with precision luted and ill informed opinions of this
instruments and drew or corrected ilk receive such an undue level of pub-
maps of the earth according to the licity through the enormous number
collected data. They would have no- of copies printed and a lecture which
ticed and documented such a change Menzies gave, of all places, at the
of the ecliptic with great astonish- Royal Geographic Society. According
ment. Moreover, the suggested dis- to his own account, “it was broadcast
placement of the equator would have around the world to thirty-six coun-
had to reverse itself later, which in- tries populated by two billion peo-
cident again would have left its mark ple”.45 On the other hand it could be
in the astronomical records. useful to demonstrate with such a
Menzies omitted this passage in manifest example the piteous state
the second English edition or rather of the history of cartography. Above
was forced to drop it and replaced it all it is the ignorance regarding the
by the sentence: “and this at a time eight centuries of flourishing in the
when the climate was much colder
than in 1422 ”.43 Yet this merely
44Ibid, p. 349.
42 Ibid p. 350. 45First Engl. edit. p. 407f. Omitted in the
43 Ibid, p. 352; second Engl. edition.
16 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

Fig. 9 . World map from Ptolemy’s Geography in a manuscript from the late 13th century.

sciences and culture in the Arabic- that the content of this book, which
Islamic area that causes such a phe- was reprinted about twenty times,
nomenon. vexed many people, exposing it to
* * * criticism and square refusal. Yet the
The question of a possible pre- basic proposition that inhabitants of
Columbian encounter of people com- the Old World reached the landmass
ing from the Old World with the beyond the Atlantic Ocean time and
fourth continent has engaged scien- again since antiquity appears to be
tists already in the last century fre- generally corroborated. In all likeli-
quently and seriously. Leo Wiener hood these encounters between in-
presented a large scale study on habitants of Old and New World
the subject from an anthropological came about—up to a certain point
point of view, entitled Africa and the in history—by chance rather than on
Discovery of America 46. The most purpose. In order to venture a delib-
consummate treatment however, in- erate discovery journey, a clear cut
corporating the progress achieved notion of the globe and its circumfer-
in the half century since Wiener, ence — not to mention seaworthy ves-
was supplied by Ivan van Sertima sels and adequate navigation skills —
and is entitled They Came Before were required.
Columbus47. It goes without saying

46 Vol. I–III, Philadelphia 1920–1922. 47 New York 1976.


OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 17

It was crucial for the rapid and remembered. It states that the oikou-
far reaching cartographic survey of mene was enclosed by an all-embracing
the earth in the Arabic-Islamic cul- ocean that separates its western and
ture area that the notion of the vari- eastern (outermost) shores and possi-
ous oceanic basins being enclosed by bly isolates also another continent or
land, as inherited from the prede- inhabited island in between.49
˛
cessors Marinos and Ptolemy (fig. 9), The polyhistor al-Mas ūdī (died
was abandoned in favour of the con- 345/956) relates50 that he had writ-
¸
cept of an insular configuration of ten in his lost book Mir āt az-zamān
the oikoumene. about mariners from Arabic Spain
The first world map (fig. 10), cre- who risked their lives attempting to
ated by Arabic-Islamic geographers sail westwards across the Atlantic at
upon commission of the Calif al- various times. “Amongst them was
¸
Ma mūn early in the 3rd/9th century, a man called H . aikhas hailing from
already represents the oikoumene in Cordova who hired a couple of young
an insular configuration. The oceans men on ships he provided and trav-
are laid-out in a peculiar manner: the elled out to the ocean. After a fairly
entire landmass of the oikoumene is long time they came back with rich
surrounded by an ocean of restricted booty.” Yet others would not return;
navigability (al-bah. r al-muh.īt.) which this was a well known fact in the re-
in turn is enclosed by a second ‘ob- gion. This somewhat obscure account
˛
scure’ ocean that was considered un- of al-Mas ūdī is cleared up in the light
navigable due to its darkness. This of al-Idrīsī’s more detailed report
concept alone would have discour- (548/1154). According to the latter
aged potential adventurers from any these voyages were actually ventured
attempt to reach Asia via the west- in search of remote shores beyond
ern route across the Atlantic as long the ocean or hitherto unknown land-
as it held sway. It took in fact quite masses in it. Al-Idrīsī relates at
a long time until the theory of an un- length about a failed attempt—at the
navigable, dark ocean was dismissed time apparently quite notorious—by
˛
for good. Abū Abdallāh al-Zuhrī, who
¸
revised the Ma mūn Geography in the
49 Ibid, p. 128; al-Bīrūnī, Tah. qīq mā li-l-
6th/12th century, raised objections
Hind, Ed. E. Sachau, London 1887; reprint:
against the ‘dark zone’. At any rate, Islamic Geography vol. 105; engl. transl. von
according to his account the offshore E. Sachau, London 1910; reprint: Islamic
distance known to be navigable had Geography vol. 106–107.
˛
50 Murūǧ ad-dahab wa-ma ādin al-ǧawāhir,
by this time been expanded to 800 - - ˛
vol. I, Paris 1861, pp. 257–259; Abū Abdallāh
parasangs (ca. 2400 Arabic miles or ˛
al-H . imyarī, K. ar-Raud . al-mi .tār fī ˘habar al-
4800 km).48 In this context an impor- ˛
aqt. ār, Ed. Ih. sān Abbās, Beirut 1975, p. 509;
tant yet still little known concept by H. J. Olbrich, Die Entdeckung der Kanaren
al-Bīrūnī (died 440/1048) should be vom 9. bis zum 14. Jh.: Araber, Genuesen, Por-
tugiesen, Spanier, in: Almogaren (Graz) 20/
48 Cf. F. Sezgin, GAS, Vol. X, p. 127. 1989/60–138, esp. 64.
18 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

¸
Fig. 10 . World map by the geographers of al-Ma mūn (first third of the 3th/9th cent.).
˛
Above: from Masālik al-abs. ār by Ibn Fad. lallāh al- Umarī (ca. 740/1340); below: reconstruction.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 19

eight members of a family to cross It seems that expeditions like


the ocean in a vessel constructed spe- that even reverberate in Chinese
cially for that purpose.51 As such en- sources: the two Song Dynasty ge-
deavours seem to have been quite ographers Zhōu Qù-Fēi (1178) and
frequent a dockside street in Arab Zhào Rŭ-Gùa (1225) both quote re-
Lisbon was named darb al-maghrū- ports from Muslim merchants ac-
rīn (“Strayer’s Road”). Reports about cording to which Arab ships coming
those expeditions appear to have en- from West Africa reached a fertile
joyed a certain circulation in the country in the west after approxi-
western parts of the Islamic World. mately one hundred days of travel
Further attempts were launched across the Atlantic. Thus reads the
from Mali in West Africa. Shortly be- Chinese scholar Li Hui-Lin’s53 inter-
fore 712/1312 Sult.ān Muh.ammad Abū pretation of the passage. I am how-
Bakr is reported to have dispatched a ever not entirely convinced, because
fleet with the aim to reach “the other it does not appear to state unambig-
side of the ocean”. According to Ibn uously that the expedition in ques-
˛
Fad. lallāh al- Umarī’s narrative, af- tion was indeed west-bound across
ter the necessary preparations the the Atlantic.
fleet sailed out heading for the open
sea. There it was seized by a peril- vrir l’Amérique, in: Bulletin de l’Institut
ous current and sank with the excep- d’Égypte (Kairo) 2/1919–1920/57–59, re-
tion of but one vessel. Thereupon the print in: Islamic Geography Band 239, pp.
Sult.ān equipped a second fleet and 44–46; Egmont Zechlin, Das Problem der
vorkolumbischen Entdeckung Amerikas…,
personally embarked with it in pur-
in: Historische Zeitschrift (München) 152/
suit of the same quest but never re- 1935/1–47, esp. 46 ; R. Hennig, Terrae in-
turned.52 cognitae, vol. III, pp. 161–165; Basil Dav-
idson, The Lost Cities of Africa, Boston, To-
51 Al-Idrīsī, Nuzhat al muštāq fi htirāq al- ronto, 1970, pp. 74–76 (not seen), v.a. Ivan
˘
aflāq, Vol. I, pp. 220–548; Julius Klaproth, van Sertima, They Came Before Columbus,
Ueber die Schiffahrten der Araber in das l.c., p. 67, 70.
Atlantische Meer, in: Asiatisches Magazin 53 Mu-lan-p’i. A case for pre-Columbian

(Weimar) 1/1802/138–148 (reprint in: Is- transatlantic travel by Arab ships, in: Har-
lamic Geography, Frankfurt 1994, Vol. 237, vard Journal of Asiatic Studies 23/1960–
pp. 47–51); R. Hennig, Terrae incognitae, 1961/114–126. The two Chinese books were
Vol. II, pp. 424–432; F. Sezgin, Wissenschaft translated into English by Friedrich Hirth
und Technik im Islam, Vol. I, Einführung, and W.W. Rockhill, Chau Ju-Kua: His Work
Frankfurt 2003, p. 173. on the Chinese and Arab Trade in the 12th
˛
52 Ibn Fadlallāh al- Umarī, Masālik al-
. and 13th Centuries, entitled ‹Chu-Fan-Chi›,
abs. ār facsimile edition, vol. IV, Frankfurt translated from the Chinese and annotated,
1988, p. 43; French transl. in: M. Gaude- St. Petersburg 1911 (reprint in: The Islamic
froy-Demombynes, Masālik el abs. ār, vol. World in Foreign Travel Accounts, Vol. 73),
I: L’Afrique, moins l’ Égypte …, Paris, 1927 v. a. F. Hirth, Chao Ju-Kua, a new source
(Reprint in: Islamic Geography, vol. 142), p. of mediaeval geography, in: Journal of the
˛
74 f ; cf. al-Qalqašandī, S. ubh
. al-a šā, vol. V, Royal Asiatic Society (London) 1896, pp. 57–
Kairo 1915, p. 294f.; A. Zéki Pacha, Une se- 82 (reprint: The Islamic World in Foreign
conde tentative des Musulmans pour décou- Travel Accounts, Vol. 74, pp. 299–324).
20 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

Hence I would like to shed light presented in 923/1517 to Sultan Selīm,


on the question of a possible pre- consisted of two parts: one part com-
Columbian discovery of the fourth prising the eastern regions of Middle
continent from the study of historic America and the Caribbean, the sec-
maps. Unfortunately no Arabic orig- ond part with the eastern shores of
inals are extant that could be useful South America. The northern part
in that respect but there are some would supposedly correspond to the
Portuguese-Spanish ones and the lost Columbus-map. Kahle suggested
¸
copy of a Javanese map that offer im- that Pīrī Re īs had obtained this
portant clues. source from a Spanish mariner whom
¸
First, I would like to put two Kemāl Re īs had captured on a seized
maps under closer examination: “the Spanish vessel in 1501. According to
lost Columbus-map of America dated his own account this captive had ac-
1498” in a version of the Ottoman ad- companied Columbus on his first
¸
miral Pīrī Re īs and the Portuguese three journeys across the Atlantic.
copy of a Javanese map showing the The importance of this map—which
east coast of South America. The Pīrī mainly shows several archipelagos
¸
Re īs-map (fig. 4) was discovered in in the Caribbean mistaken as part
the library of the Topkapı Sarayı in of the coastline of East Asia—would
1929 and published by Paul Kahle in then primarily be imputed to it be-
193154. It was examined some years ing a copy of the Columbus-map that
later by Kahle and by several other had long been considered lost. As far
historians of cartography who fol- as the southern part was concerned
lowed him. Interest in this map has one had to presume it was based
once more increased during the past on a Portuguese map. In the course
two decades and even expanded be- of preparations for a lecture on the
yond circles of experts. I had previ- topic of pre-Columbian discovery of
¸
ously studied this map but my fo- America I dealt with the Pīrī Re īs-
cus then was confined to aspects that map once more at some length where-
had been dealt with by Kahle, whose upon I came to revise my opinion.
treatise55 I believe is still the most When I first read the detailed
thorough one dedicated to the sub- and excellent description of the South
¸
ject. Hence I assumed that this map, American part of the Pīrī Re īs-map
¸
drawn by Pīrī Re īs at Gallipoli and in Paul Kahle’s commendable arti-
cle56, I received the impression that
¸
54 P. Kahle, Un mapa de América hecho por Pīrī Re īs was the first cartographer
el turco Piri Re’îs, en el año 1513, bésandose who undertook to compile a map of
en un mapa de Colón y en mapas portugueses.
the new continent using all the re-
In: Investigacion y Progreso, Anno V (1931)/12/
169–172. sults from encounters of Portuguese
55 P. Kahle, Die verschollene Columbus-Karte navigators with the shores of South
von 1498 in einer türkischen Weltkarte von America (between the southern part
1513. Berlin and Leipzig 1933 (repr. in: Islamic
Geography, vol. 22, pp. 165–225). 56 Ibid p. 180 ff.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 21

map with the earliest sur-


viving Portuguese maps
up to 1502. Although the
representation of a part of
South America found there
betrays a certain affinity
¸
with Pīrī Re īs’, it is still
substantially less devel-
oped both in terms of con-
tent and the area covered.
An example that Kahle had
already noticed is the es-
tuary of the river La Plata
in the vicinity of mod-
ern Buenos Aires which is
clearly delineated by Pīrī
¸
Re īs even though it was
supposedly not discovered
until 1515.57 Particularly
perplexing too is the re-
¸ sult of superimposing the
Fig. 11 . Projection of the Pīrī Re īs-map on the modern atlas. ¸
Pīrī Re īs-map on the mod-
ern atlas (fig. 11) with a
of the Caribbean to about 50° south computer. The coordinates of the La
of the equator) that we know today Plata estuary (Parana, ca. Long. 58°;
and even some that have meanwhile Lat. 35° south) for example turn out
fallen into oblivion, with astounding almost congruent. As seen on the
exactitude—actually quite incred- map fig. 11, the match is very close
ible by the standards of European in the northern part of the coast-
navigators and cartographers of line between about Long. 75° in the
that time. This however would lead north-west to about Long. 45°. In
to new questions: would these mar- other words, the coastline of the Pīrī
¸
iners who reached South America Re īs map deviates in longitudes and
mostly by coincidence and stayed latitudes in some points hardly at all,
only briefly, be at all in the position in some points only 0.5° to 2° from
to determine longitudes? Did Pīrī the modern atlas. This is a degree
¸
Re īs use a graduated map of South
America from which he extracted 57 Die verschollene Columbus-Karte von
his data? According to Kahle, Pīrī Amerika vom Jahr 1498 in einer türkischen
¸
Re īs supposedly based his map on a Weltkarte von 1513, in: Forschung und Fort-
model of Portuguese provenance. Let schritte (Berlin) 8/1932/248–249, esp. p.
¸ 248 f (reprint in: Islamic Geography, vol. 22,
us therefore compare the Pīrī Re īs
pp. 162–163, esp. 162).
22 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

of exactitude which was unknown in Portuguese cartography, concluded


the history of European cartography that there must have been some
prior to the 18th century. knowledge about Brazil prior to the
Kahle had already made a pass- first recorded Portuguese expedition
ing remark on the amazing accuracy (1501) and that consequently “the at-
of the delineation of South America tribution of such a discovery to any-
on that map.58 The Turkish histo- one else is no more than a mere leg-
rian Afet [İnan] also dealt with this end.”62 It must have escaped the
phenomenon in a lecture given for two scholars that the coastline as
the Société de Géographie de Genève shown on the Cantino map shortly
in 1937.59 She demonstrated the lat- after the first, allegedly acciden-
itudinal and longitudinal fidelity tal contact of Pedro Álvares Cabral
in the representation of the South with Brazil on his journey to India
American east coast by means of a (March 9 1500 – May 15 1501) al-
chart which is quite close to our com- ready approaches a fairly realistic
puter-aided projection. The question shape and that the Caribbean is-
how, when and by whom such precise lands Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto
coordinates could have been meas- Rico and Antillas, still absent in the
ured, she unfortunately answered map drawn by Bartholoméo Colombo
with the bizarre and rather nation- (1503), are also clearly delineated in
alistic assumption that the Turkish this 1502 map. Christopher Colombo
cartographer had compiled his map— (Columbus) had visited these achipel-
using the Columbus materials but agos on his four journeys to America
based on the Ptolemean Geography and mentioned them in his reports,
that was still prevalent by the 10th/ yet in order to survey them carto-
16th century—in what had to be de- graphically with any degree of ac-
scribed as a stroke of genius.60 curacy it would have taken far more
Another, inferior representa- time and improved acquaintance
tion of Brazil appears already on the with measuring latitudes and espe-
ungraduated world map by Alberto cially longitudes.
Cantino (fig. 5) of 1502.61 Armando Another important map should
Cortesão and Avelino Teixeira da be consulted in the discussion about
Mota, two assiduous scholars of a possible pre-Columbian discovery
of America. It was composed by the
58 Ibid, p. 10f. Spanish navigator Juan de la Cosa
59 Un amiral, géographe turc du xvie siècle. (fig. 12) who had served Columbus
Piri Reis, auteur de la plus ancienne carte de as a navigator on the first three jour-
l’Amérique, in: Belleten (Ankara) 1/1937/333–
neys. The map bearing his name was
349 (reprint in: Islamic Geography, vol. 22, pp.
288–308). drawn in the year 1500 and is kept
60 Ibid p. 347 (reprint, p. 302).

61 Portugaliae Monumenta Cartographica,

vol. I, 1960, p. 13ff; F. Sezgin, GAS, Vol. XII, 62 Portugaliae Monumenta Cartographica,
p. 270. vol. I, p. 10f.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 23

Fig. 12

at the Museo Naval of


Madrid.63 Superimpos-
ing the de la Cosa map
in the computer on the
modern atlas (fig. 13)
reveals that the dis-
tances between West
Africa and the north–
eastern shores of Bra-
zil are quite realistic.
The only feasible expla-
nation is that this map
was based on an orig-
inal featuring a grid
of parallels and me-
ridians relying on ac-
curate determinations
of longitudes. The is-
lands Cuba, Haiti, Ja- Fig. 13

maica, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas


63See F. Sezgin, GAS, vol. XII, Karte 190, p. are also well drawn; their maximum
269. In its colophon the map is dated: “Juan latitudinal and longitudinal error is
de la Cosa la fizo en Puerto de S.Ma en año de
only about 5°. Even the Gulf of Mex-
1500”, cf. George E. Nunn, The Mappemonde of
Juan de la Cosa. A critical investigation of its ico and the south-eastern shores of
date. Jenkintown 1934, p. 1. North-America are rendered in a way
24 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

Fig. 14 . Part of the coast of Brazil, copied from the “Javanese Atlas”.

that gives a certain idea of the ac- which delineates the eastern shores
tual configuration; the coordinates of Brazil between Latitude 6°30' and
deviate from modern ones between 27° South. The original atlas com-
5° and 10°. prising 26 partial maps had been
The inclusion of the South seized by the Portuguese during the
American coastline and the Carib- conquest of Malakka in 1511. Alfonso
bean achipelagos which were sup- Albuquerque (1445–1515), conqueror
posedly discovered—not to mention and new viceroy, refers to it in a let-
mapped—only between 1503 and ter to King Emanuel I (died 1521),
1508, led George N. Nunn to reject the German translation of which I
the date stated in the colophon of the have already published in Vol. XI of
de la Cosa map and to presume it was the GAS65; because of its momen-
a later copy in which more recently tousness for the history of cartogra-
gathered information had been in- phy I would like to quote the relevant
corporated.64 This is in fact the only passage here once more:
plausible conclusion outside a pre- “I also send thee a part of the
Columbian discovery of America. copy of a large map which was made
The fourth (fig. 14) map that I by a Javanese pilot, representing the
would like to discuss is the part of Cape of Good Hope, Portugal, the
the Javanese atlas mentioned above land Brazil, the Red Sea, the Persian

64 Ibid, p. 51f. 65 L.c., p. 327f.


OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 25

Sea, the Spice Islands (Moluccas), the the turn of the 10th/16th century. A
sailing routes indicating the direct good example is the delineation of
way to China and Formosa as taken Madagascar which is amazingly
by the ships, together with the inside close to the modern configuration.
[the hinterland] of the countries bor- It excels all subsequent representa-
dering to each other. It seems to me tions which were based on it; differ-
the most beautiful thing I have ever ences found in them are no improve-
seen. Your Majesty will be delighted ments but deformations. Corrections
to see it. The place names were writ- of some points were achieved only
ten in Javanese characters, but I had since the end of the 19th century.67
the aid of a Javanese who could read The South American coastline found
and write. I send your Majesty the in the Javanese atlas had drawn the
part which was copied by Francisco attention of Gabriel Ferrand, the em-
Rodrigues after the original. In it inent scholar of Arabic–Islamic nau-
your Majesty will find laid out where tical science in the Indian Ocean, al-
the Chinese and the inhabitants of ready in 1918. At this early stage in
Formosa come from, which course the study of Arabic-Islamic geogra-
your Majesty’s ships will have to phy he was at a loss to explain it. He
steer in order to get to the Clove asked himself how a Javanese car-
Islands where the gold mines are tographer in 1511 or even earlier
found, to the islands Java and Banda, could have known anything about
the island of Muscat and Muscat the terra do brazyll and couldn’t
blossoms, the kingdom of Siam, the think of an answer.68 In the course of
Cape of the Chinese which they cir- my own research into Arab cartogra-
cumnavigate before returning home phy of the Indian Ocean and its influ-
and which they will never pass. The ence on Portuguese maps, I had come
original was lost [sank] with the Frol to the conclusion that this must be
de la Mar. I discussed the content a case of adoption of a Portuguese
of this map with the pilot and with contribution by Javanese naviga-
Pedro Dalpoem in order to render it tors, probably mediated by mari-
as lucid as possible for your Majesty. ners from the Ottoman empire.69
This map is very accurate and well Now I would like to revise my opin-
known because it is used for naviga- ion. Upon repeated examination of
tion. The part with the archipelago the matter and the sources it be-
called ‘Selat’ (betwixt Malakka and came evident that the representation
Java) is missing.” of the South American coast on the
The surviving Portuguese copy
67 Ibid, vol. XI, p. 410–413.
of this atlas66 bears testimony to the 68 A propos d’une carte javanaise du XVe siècle
advanced stage which cartography in in: Journal Asiatique 11ème sér. 12/1918/158–
the Islamic World had reached before 169, esp. 166 (Reprint in: Islamic Geography,
vol. 21, p. 1–12, esp. p. 9); cf. F. Sezgin, GAS,
vol. XI, p. 441.
66 Cf. GAS, vol. XII, map 198 a–z. 69 GAS, vol. XI, p. 441.
26 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

the crucial aspect is that the repre-


sentation of the Brazilian coastline
on all three maps and the first two
in particular is amazingly correct
in terms of both latitudes and lon-
gitudes. These common grounds are
also betrayed by the position of sev-
eral islands from which it can be con-
cluded that the sources were origi-
nally graduated and based upon a
significant number of reliable co-
ordinates. At that time the Arabic-
Islamic culture area was the only
one where the determination of lon-
Fig. 15 . The coastal line from the “Javanese”
gitudes was practiced with the re-
Atlas (red) projected on the modern map. quired degree of exactitude. The
method of reckoning differences in
“Javanese” map is totally independ- longitude from the time elapsing be-
ent of the three other maps discussed tween the occurrence of a particular
above and that it must be a copy of a astronomical event, notably lunar
chart depicting the region as elabo- eclipses, as observed from distant
rated by Arabic-Islamic navigators in longitudes was known in Europe but
the 9th/15th century. Unfortunately, did not yield acceptable accuracy
we lack any point of reference for mostly because precise and portable
judging the longitudinal accuracy in chronometers were lacking. This is
the Javanese delineation of Brazil, illustrated by the outrageous errors
such as an island in the Atlantic or the coordinates ostensibly measured
the coast of Africa. Yet it runs quite by Columbus himself are afflicted
congruent with the modern map of with.70 According to his own account
the part of the Brazilian coast (fig. he determined the longitudinal differ-
15) lying between latitude 6°30' and ence between the little island Saona
27° south, which slants some 15° to- (to the south-east of Haiti) and Cape
wards west in this section. St. Vicente in Portugal as 51⁄2 hours
Let me briefly summarise the i.e. 82°30’ by observation of the lu-
matter as discussed above: three of nar eclipse on September 14, 1494.
the four maps under consideration,
¸ 70Cf. O. Peschel, Geschichte der Erdkunde, p.
those by Pīrī Re īs, Juan de la Cosa
401; Hermann Wagner, Die Entwicklung der
und Alberto Cantino, appear to be re- wissenschaftlichen Nautik des Zeitalters der
lated without any indications that Entdeckungen nach neuern Anschauungen, in:
one would have been copied from Annalen der Hydrographie und maritimen Me-
the other. It is possible that they are teorologie (Berlin) 46/1918/105–118, 153–173,
215–233, 276–283, esp. 277; see also F. Sezgin,
based on a common source. Certainly,
GAS, vol. XI, p. 296.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 27

The true value is 59°40'. Another title Esmeraldo de situ orbis gives
measurement taken on the northern the latitudes of eighteen places on
shore of Jamaica relative to Cadiz the Brazilian east coast.74 Those
in Spain on February 29 Columbus amongst them that are found in the
reports in detail, this time the er- modern atlas bear errors between 3°
ror amounts to a formidable 38°45'. and 5°. Longitudes are not even men-
He writes: “The distance of the cen- tioned at that stage.
tre of the island Janahica (Jamaica) The fact that Portuguese navi-
in India and the Isle of Calis (Cadiz) gators and even astronomers failed
in Spain is seven hours and 15 min- at the determination of longitudes
utes, that is to say the sun goes down or longitude differences is not made
71⁄4 hours earlier in the latter than in a secret of by the two pioneering
Janahica.”71 Hence he estimated the historians of cartography Armando
difference in longitude as 108°45'; it Cortesão und Avelino Teixeira da
really is about 71°. Columbus’ skills Mota.75
in the determination of latitudes was One more testimony which seems
also not remarkable “for example he rather important to me I would like
states a latitude of 42° (compared to to add, viz. that of Bartolomé de las
actual 21°) for the coast of Cuba…”.72 Casas (1484–1566), historian and
Yet other European ‘discoverers’ do son of a merchant who participated
not qualify as originators of reliable in the second voyage of Columbus.
maps either. An exorbitant measure- He was acquainted with Diego the
ment taken of the longitudinal dif- son and Bartolomeo the brother of
ference between the bay of Rio de Columbus. In his Historia de las
Janeiro and Sevilla is reported by Indias he relates: “Columbus carried
Magellan’s navigator Andres de San a map with him on which this land
Martin. Upon observation of the con- India [i.e. the shores of the newly dis-
junction of the moon with Jupiter on covered land he believed to be India]
December 17, 1519 he arrived at 17h and the islands, especially Española
55min, viz. 268°45'; in reality the dif- which was called Zipangu [Japan],
ference is only 37°13'.73 The table of were depicted.”76
latitudes which Duarte Pacheco com- This source amongst others
piled around 1507–1508 under the convinced P. Kahle that Columbus
had possessed a map which served as
71 H. Wagner, Die Entwicklung der wissen-
schaftlichen Nautik, l.c., p. 277.
72 Arthur Breusing, Zur Geschichte der Kar- 74 Cf. F. Sezgin, GAS, vol. XI, p. 286.
tographie. La toleta de Marteloio und die lo- 75 Portugaliae Monumenta Cartographica,
xodromischen Karten. In: Zeitschrift für vol. I, p. 24.
wissenschaftliche Geographie (Weimar) 2/ 76 Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, in: Co-

1881/129-195, esp. p. 193; F. Sezgin, GAS, vol. leccion de Documentos inéditos para la Histo-
XI, p. 98. ria de España, vol. 62–66, Madrid 1875–76, esp.
73 Cf. H. Wagner, Entwicklung der wissen-
vol. 2, p. 278; P. Kahle, Die verschollene Colum-
schaftlichen Nautik, l.c., p. 282. bus-Karte, l.c., p. 26 (reprint, l.c., p. 190).
28 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

a basis for his first journey.77 Several navigators began to re-check the po-
other extremely interesting passages sition.”79
in this connection are found in the This was in all likelihood the
letters of Columbus included in the same map that Columbus had ob-
Raccolta Columbiana.78 For instance, tained from the Florentine astron-
one which mentions that natives omer Paolo dal Pazzo Toscanelli.80
of the Caribbean told a story about According to his own account Las
ships belonging to the “great Khan” Casas kept this map and updated
which had visited them in the past. it for Columbus when new islands
It would, however, be quite futile and coasts were discovered.81 This
to speculate about which particular and various other passages leave no
historical person could be referred to doubt that Kahle was convinced that
here as “the great Khan”. Columbus embarked on his travels
An entry in the Santa Maria’s with a map of the Atlantic on which
log on September 25, 1492 is quite several meso-American islands were
enlightening as well. It relates how already drawn-in. Kahle even real-
Columbus had sent a map on which ised that this map must have been
he had marked out certain islands, graduated (l.c. p. 41 f, reprint p. 205)
to the captain of the convoying ship which of course implies at least one
Pinta, Martin Alonso Pinzón, three successful pre-Columbian expedition
days before. “Martin Alonso said from a culture area adept in cartog-
they should now be in the very po- raphy. Unfortunately Kahle did not
sition at which those islands were pose the question as to which partic-
drawn in the map whereupon the ad- ular culture offered the potential to
miral [Columbus] answered that he accomplish such a thing.
thought so too, but it could be they António Galvão provides us with
had missed them due to currents an utterly significant clue to this
that had driven the flotilla to the problem in his 1555 Tratado dos
north-east with the effect that the descobrimentos mentioned above.82
distance covered was actually less According to his report (s. above p. 8)
than what the navigators had calcu- the Straits of Magellan and the Cape
lated by the speed. The admiral re- of Good Hope inter alia were delin-
quested the map be sent back and it eated in an early 9th/15th century
was returned on a twine. Hereupon map “according as our later maps
the admiral with his officers and have described it”. This map was

77 Die verschollene Columbus-Karte, l.c., p. 79 Raccolta Columbiana, I, p. 10. p. Kahle,


21, 40f (reprint, l.c., p. 185, 204f). l.c., p. 37 (reprint p. 201).
78 Raccolta di documenti e studi pubblicati 80 Cf. F. Sezgin, GAS, vol. XI, l.c., p. 66ff.

dalla R. Commissione Colombiana… (Joaquim 81 Las Casas, Historias de las Indias, vol. I,

Bensaude, Ed.), Rom 1892–1894, vol. I/1, p. 31; l.c., p. 279; P. Kahle, Die verschollene Colum-
P. Kahle, l.c., p. 26 (reprint, l.c., p. 150) bus-Karte, l.c., p. 40f (reprint., l.c., p. 204f).
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 29

brought back to Portugal from a long This is also confirmed by the


journey to the Holy Land via Rome testimony of Antonio Pigafetta (ca.
and Venice by Dom Pedro (the King’s 1490–1536), chronicler and travel
son) in 1428.83 companion of Fernão de Magelhães
In my treatment of this subject (Magellan, ca. 1480–1521), who re-
in vol. XI (p. 359) of the GAS, I fol- ports to have seen these straits on
lowed the geography-historian J. a map that was kept in the Royal
Lelewel.84 Yet today, with deepened Treasury of Portugal. According
understanding of the matter, I be- to Pigafetta this map was drawn
lieve my interpretation was incorrect. by an excellent man called Martin
In fact I have come to the conclusion Behaim.85 It is hardly surprising
that Galvão’s report undoubtedly im- that this report86 —which ever since
plies that the passage, which was 1682 has been highly estimated by
later called the Straits of Magellan many scholars87 —has perplexed the
after its assumed discoverer, was historians of cartography as it states
known in the Arabic-Islamic culture unambiguously that Magellan used
area, from whence cartographic rep- a map made by Behaim (died 1507)
resentations had reached Europe by which already included the pas-
the early 9th/15th century. sage on the southern extremity of
America.
After lengthy discussion of the
82 Terceira edição, Porto 1944, p. 122f.; cf. issue Alexander von Humboldt came
GAS, vol. XI, l.c., p. 358; to the conclusion that Magellan had
83 The first author who called attention to
attributed the map erroneously to
this text was probably Placido Zurla, Il map-
pamondo di Fra Mauro, Venice 1806, p. 86; cf.
von Humboldt, Kritische Untersuchungen, l.c.,
p. 255, 286 (refers to p. 7, 86, 87, 143); Hum-
boldt (l.c., p. 287) wondered: “How could the
inclusion of an American strait in a Portu- 85 Anton Pigafetta’s Beschreibung der von
guese map predating Magellan’s travels be ex- Magellan unternommenen ersten Reise um die
plained?” He answered himself: “I would like Welt. Aus einer Handschrift der ambrosiani-
to refer to the circumstances which might have schen Bibliothek zu Mailand von Amoretti zum
pointed to the existence of a strait; and it is erstenmale herausgegeben. Translated from
well known that in the Middle Ages specula- the French, Gotha 1801, p. 45f; Gian Battista
tions were religiously incorporated in the maps Ramusio, Delle Navigationi et Viaggi. Venice
as was the case with Antilia…”. To this I would 1563–1606, Reprint: Amsterdam, 1968-1970,
like to remark that Humboldt appears to pre- vol. I, p. 354b; Magellan’s Voyage. A narrative
sume that the map in question was originally account of the first circumnavigation by Anto-
from Portugal. Yet according to my reading nio Pigafetta, vol. I, translated and edited by R.
this was the very map which Dom Pedro had A. Skelton…, New Haven, London 1969, p. 51;
procured on his travels in the Arabic-Islamic vol. II, (facsimile) p. 17.
culture area. The fact that the Cape of Good 86 Joh. Christoph Wagenseil, Sacra parenta-

Hope was apparently also delineated in this lia quae manibus… Frid. Behaimi, Nürnberg
map should be kept in view. 1682, p. 16 (not seen).
84 Géographie du moyen Âge, vol. II, Brux- 87 Cf. R. Hennig, Terrae incognitae, vol. IV,

elles, 1850–1857, p. 83, note. 177. p. 394.


30 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

Fig. 16 . The southern extremity of America by Antonio Pigafetta (ca. 1521). Original southern-oriented (left).

Behaim who had acquired enormous 1517 possessed a map on which the
fame.88 southern parts of America were rep-
R. Hennig expounded the prob- resented which he ascribed by mis-
lem in a chapter entitled Martin take to Martin Behaim. The true au-
Behaim’s angebliche Vorentdeckung thor is impossible to establish.” My
Amerikas und der Magellanstraße in explanation is that the map might
his book Terrae incognitae.89 He ten- have actually been drawn by Behaim
tatively concluded: “By way of a brief but as a copy made upon Royal com-
summary it can, without reservation, mission from a highly valued, old
be stated as true that Magelhães by original. It seems that the carto-
graphic representation of the South
American strait did gain some circu-
88 A. von Humboldt, Kritische Untersuchun- lation through the map introduced to
gen…, Vol. I, Berlin 1836, pp. 255, 277–308. Portugal by Dom Pedro in the year
89 Vol. IV, pp. 390–418, esp. 414f; cf. O. Pe-
1428 not only amongst the Portuguese
schel, Geschichte der Erdkunde, p. 277f; Sieg-
mund Günther, Martin Behaim, Bamberg 1890, but also in Spain. This assumption is
p. 43; Johannes Willers, Leben und Werk des corroborated by a map made by the
Martin Behaim, in: Focus Behaim Globus, vol. Spaniard Juan de la Cosa (fig. 12) in
I, Nürnberg 1993, pp. 173–188, esp. 183; Er-
1500 on which the southern extrem-
nest George Ravenstein, Martin Behaim, His
Life and His Globe, London 1908, pp. 34–38.
ity of America appears circumnavi-
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 31

Fig. 17 . Sailing lines across the Atlantic (ca. 1420).

gable and there is even an island fur- an Arab naval expedition of the pe-
ther in the south. riod around 1420: “Around A.D. 1420
A rough delineation of the south- a ship or so-called Indian junk com-
ern parts of America including the ing from the Indian Ocean and on its
Straits, drawn up by Magellan or par- way to ‘the Isles of Men and Women’
ticipants of his expedition, namely was driven beyond Cap de Diab and
his chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, has through the Green Islands in the
fortunately survived in a travelogue Dark Ocean towards the Algarve [al-
written by the latter. It is particu- garb = Arab.: the west] in the west.
larly noteworthy that this map is For forty days they found nothing
southern-oriented, as was the Arab but sky and water. Making good way
custom (fig. 16). they covered 2000 miles according to
Finally, confirming my view that their own estimation. After seventy
navigators from the Arabic-Islamic days they finally returned to said
culture area knew a substantial Cap de Diab.”91 P. Zurla had already
amount of the landmasses in the identified diab in Cape Diab as the
Ocean, and brought home at least Arabic word diyāb (pl. of wolf), hence
some cartographic sketches, is the
inscription on the world map of Fra
Mauro90 (fig. 2) (1459) mentioning 91 R. Hennig, Terrae incognitae, vol. IV, p. 44;
for the original text cf. Il mappamondo di Fra
90 Cf. GAS, vol. X, pp. 554–558; XII, map 63, Mauro Comaldolese. Descritto ed illustrato da
p. 122. Placido Zurla, Venice 1806 (cf. note 83 above).
32 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

one could read Cape of the Wolfs or Even more than by reports such as
Promontory of the Wolfs.92 To this A. these, my notion, that the maps used
von Humboldt remarked93 that a pe- by European ‘discoverers’ must have
culiar kind of wolf was indeed strik- been of Arabic-Islamic provenance,
ingly common on the southern ex- was reinforced by the above men-
tremity of Africa. In the term Dark tioned fact that many of the new is-
Ocean Hennig94 justly recognised lands and coastlines are drawn in
the denomination used by Arab ge- those maps with a degree of longi-
ographers for the open sea of the tudinal precision that was not ap-
Atlantic. proached in Europe prior to the 18th
Being well aware of the extensive century. It has been a well known fact
debate about possible identifications in the history of geography for quite a
of ‘the Isles of Men and Women’ I ven- while that the difficulties with exact
ture to propose, not without reserva- determinations of longitudes could
tion, that the Virgin Islands (of the not be overcome in the European cul-
lesser Antillas)—allegedly named af- ture area for such a long time. Yet
ter their inhabitants (11000 virgins) the fact that the method of determin-
and apparently already on the map ing longitudes through lunar eclipses
used by Columbus—could be meant was greatly improved in the Arabic-
here.95 The ‘Green Islands’ are prob- Islamic culture area by refined obser-
ably the Cape Verde Islands located vation techniques, and that new, re-
24°W, 16°N off the shores of Africa. liable methods were developed and
Along all of the southern part of the extensively used since the 5th/11th
West-African coast they provide the century, are still ignored by modern
most convenient harbour on a jour- historians of geography. Even more
ney across the Atlantic (fig. 17). It important is the method devised by
is also noteworthy that the westerly navigators of the Indian Ocean for
course taken to the ‘Green Islands’ the determination of longitudes on
ran roughly parallel to the equator. open sea with such accuracy that co-
All this is included in the short ordinates in surviving maps and ta-
inscription that by coincidence sur- bles put us in awe even today. In
vived on a map made in 1457. The order to account for the exactitude
latter was copied from an original of the geographical configurations
that also had reached Venice only by of the ungraduated maps discussed
chance. Nevertheless it assumes ut- above, the astonishing congruence
most importance for our subject in of their coastlines with modern ren-
connexion with other extant sources. ditions, I do not see an alternative to
assuming they were created by nav-
92 Zurla, l.c., p. 86. igators from the Arabic-Islamic cul-
93 Kritische Untersuchungen, vol. I, p. 280f. ture area, well versed in astronomy
94 Terrae incognitae, vol. IV, p. 48f.
and geography.
95 P. Kahle, Die verschollene Columbus-Karte,

l.c., p. 22f, (reprint, l.c., p. 186f).


OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 33

Studying this matter we find gist Walther Fuchs gave a very apt
ourselves confronted with two ma- summary pointing out that the car-
jor issues: first, that the creative pe- tographic heritage of the Arabs was
riod of sciences in the Arabic-Islamic evidently fragmentary; moreover it
culture area which lasted for roughly would not always reflect the actual
eight centuries has as yet hardly state of art in navigation.96 A copy of
¸
been recognised by the modern histo- the famous world map of the Ma mūn
riography of this branch, let alone its geographers survived only due to
importance being appreciated. Hence, its integration in an encyclopae-
the prerequisites for an assessment dia written in 740/1340. The Idrīsī
of the position of the Arabic–Islamic map (548/1154, fig. 18) survived ex-
culture area in the universal history clusively through manuscript copies
of geography are lacking to this day. of the book version. Also the twenty-
The second major issue consists six partial maps of the extremely im-
in the fact that Arab geographers portant Javanese atlas mentioned
and map makers left only sparse above (seized on a captured ship by
and incidental information about Albuquerque, the Portuguese con-
the extensive achievements of their queror of Malakka, who had it trans-
culture. Many important discover- lated into Portuguese and sent to his
ies and innovations found their way king) owe their survival to the inclu-
into contemporary historiography sion in a book.97 Finally the map of
too late or not at all. Apparently the North Asia from the 7th/13th or 8th/
Arabic-Islamic navigators and car- 14th century (fig. 8)—a document of
tographers were hardly aware of unique significance—should be men-
the significance which the progress tioned, which the Swedish officer
they achieved had for world history. Ph. J. Strahlenberg obtained around
Historians or chroniclers—and that 1715 (while in Siberian captivity) as
is true for all culture areas—may part of a book on the genealogy of
have been in the position to judge the the Turks. It became available to us
importance and authenticity of his- through his translation or participa-
toric sources and to make reasona- tion in it.98
ble assessments of their position in By the 9th/15th century car-
the history of science. Yet they of- tography in the Arabic–Islamic cul-
ten failed to grasp the significance of ture area had developed (besides
contemporary inventions and discov- the progress in the survey of Asia
eries and hence passed over them in and Europe) a more or less modern
their works. What is more, separate
maps stood very little chance to sur- 96 Walther Fuchs, Was South Africa already
vive for a long time—this too applies known in the 13th century? In: Imago Mundi
not only to the Arabic-Islamic cul- 10/1953/Sp. 50 a, b; F. Sezgin, GAS, vol. X, p.
ture—unless they were handed down 324.
97 Cf. ibid, vol. XI, p. 327f., 427f.
as a part of some book. The sinolo- 98 Ibid, vol. X, p. 378 ff.
34 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

Fig. 18.
The
world map
of al-Idrīsī
(549/1154). Recon-
structed according to
the surviving regional maps.

representation of the entire Indian ready a large Muslim community in


Ocean. The standard reached at the Chinese seaport Canton. As re-
that time was the result of contin- ported unequivocally by the historian
˛
uous and hard work carried out in al-Ya qūbī (died towards 290/903),99 a
the Islamic world from the 3rd/9th regular traffic between Māssa (in the
century until towards the end of the south of Agadir) and China was es-
10th/16th century. Of course it was tablished by the 3rd/9th century (cf.
based on the achievements of Greeks, fig. 19), relying on ‘sewn’ ships (as op-
Iranians and Indians. As early as the posed to nailed) built in Ubulla upon
1st/7th century Muslims had reached Tigris. This and the highly developed
Madagascar and by the 3rd/9th cen- navigation in the area in general has
tury Islam had spread through large
areas of East Africa to Mozambique. 99 K. al-Buldān, Leiden 1892, p. 360…, F.
In the 1st/7th century there was al- Sezgin, GAS, vol. X, p. 562, XI, p. 383f.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 35

Fig. 19 : Trading route between Māssa, south of Agadir, and China (3rd/9th cent.).

so far been completely ignored by the navigation, and not least the exten-
modern history of cartography. Thus, sive tables which provided informa-
it is little known that navigators of tion about all kinds of distances filed
the Indian Ocean were able to meas- after latitudes and directions, the
ure distances on the open sea in all Portuguese got to know almost the
directions including parallel to the entire Indian Ocean in a short pe-
equator (fig. 6). Portuguese mari- riod of time. The almost perfect map
ners who reached the Indian Ocean of Africa that fell into the hands of
guided by existing maps found them- the Portuguese was the fruit of work
selves dependent on the help of that was done in the course of several
Muslim pilots. Vasco da Gama was centuries.
awestruck by huge, oceangoing ves- Arab navigators who, sure of
sels, equipped with compasses and their navigational skills, crossed the
maps with grids of parallels and me- Indian Ocean non-stop between East
ridians, which he encountered on the Africa and Sumatra on a regular ba-
east coast of South Africa. Thus fur- sis, would have been generally dis-
nished with superb maps, excellent couraged from attempts to cross the
pilots, the Jacob’s staff (cross staff, Atlantic because they knew the true
balestilha, fig. 20) that replaced the distance between West Africa and
astrolabe which had proved unapt on China (as deduced from the astro-
a reeling ship’s deck, advanced nauti- nomically determined circumference
cal compasses (fig. 21), only partly di- of the earth). On the other hand con-
gested rules of contemporary Islamic sidering the currents in the Atlantic
36 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

Fig. 20 . Jacob’s staff (balistilha) and an instrument


used by the navigators in the Indian Ocean for the
same purpose, the measuring of the altitude of celes-
tial bodies. Below left a sketch illustrating the use
of the latter.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 37

Fig. 21 .
Mariner’s compasses,
as used by navigators
in the Indian Ocean.

and the dense traffic around Africa sion)100 might have caused this error.
it is very likely that in the course of Anyway, he reckoned with 70° rather
the centuries ships drifted across the than 220° and apparently still be-
Atlantic time and time again. At any lieved on his fourth and last journey
rate the Brazilian coast and some that he had reached Asia.
of the Caribbean islands appear to Let me conclude with a brief re-
have been known. The reports about view of the matter discussed above:
Islamic expeditions mentioned above there is historic evidence that Muslims
also support this view. Unfortunately resp. Arabs tried repeatedly to travel
the currently available sources do westwards across the Ocean from the
not permit any further conclusions. first half of the 4th/10th century on, at
Columbus however substantially un- first from Portuguese and later from
derestimated the distance across the West African harbours. The aim was
Atlantic even though he doubtless quite often defined as reaching “the [op-
knew from Arabic–Islamic sources posite] end of the Ocean”. Based on our
that one equatorial degree equals knowledge of the cartographic achieve-
56²⁄³ miles. Confusion between Arabic ments and the remarkably advanced
and Italian miles and the notion that navigation in the Arabic-Islamic cul-
the western hemisphere of the earth ture area along with the cartographic
was not indeed spherical but drawn materials mostly surviving in European
out like a pear towards the south
(based upon some misapprehen-
100 Cf. GAS, vol. X, p. 219.
38 FUAT SEZGIN: THE PRE–COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY

copies, I arrive at the considered opin- the first three voyages of Columbus,
ion that it must have been Muslim nav- carried a map (which was made by
igators who had not only reached the the latter, showing the parts of the
new oceanic continent certainly by the American islands and mainland that
beginning of the 9th/15th century but had been explored) when he was cap-
even started to survey it. The passage tured by Ottomans in 1501103 which
from Fra Mauro already quoted above was subsequently delivered to Pīrī
¸
(p. 6, 31) in which he states (in the Re īs involves quite a stretch of the
year 1457) that in 1420 a ship coming imagination. I find it more likely that
from the Indian Ocean had passed the a map also comprising the southern
Cape of Good Hope and travelled via areas, possibly including additions
the Cape Verde Islands apparently on and corrections by Columbus and cir-
course to the ‘Isles of Men and Women’ culating in several copies, reached
¸
in the Caribbean and back to the Cape the Ottomans. Pīrī Re īs himself
of Good Hope, implies at least that this states in one of the inscriptions on
route was already known in 1420 and his map that he had taken the west-
that reports about these activities had ern part of his world map from the
reached Venice by 1457. Also, the docu- Columbus map104 and specifies in
ments I have quoted above as examples another inscription that he had
of pre-Columbian cartographic rep- adopted the coastlines and islands
resentations of the region must have in the western part of his world map
taken a long time to generate, judged from the said original.105 As far as
by the exactitude of the geographic co- I am concerned this leaves no room
ordinates, the area covered and the for speculations that only the north-
numerous details included. Amongst ern part of the Atlantic region was
the extant cartographic documents based on the “Columbus map” while
the map of the Atlantic (fig. 4) by Pīrī the southern part had to be derived
¸
Re īs101 seems to be the most exhaus- from other, supposedly Portuguese,
tive and important. Contrary to the originals. This map bearing the
conventional wisdom concerning its name of Columbus is indeed quite
derivation it is probably based on the different from the sketch which was
Italian version of an Arabic original drawn upon repeated demands of the
which had been sent in the year 1474 Spanish crown by Columbus’ brother
by the Florentine Paolo Toscanelli to Bartoloméo who had participated
the Canonicus Fernam Martins in only in the first and the last voyage
Lisbon. Columbus had a copy of this with the former. Besides various er-
map in his possession.102 rors and confusions and the fact that
Paul Kahle’s theory that a the new landmasses are designated
Spaniard, who had participated in
103 Ibid, pp. 15, 35, 48 (reprint pp. 179, 199,
101Cf. GAS, vol. XII, map 39, p. 78. 212).
102 Cf. P. Kahle, Die verschollene Columbus- 104 Ibid, p. 14 (reprint p. 178).
Karte, pp. 40–42 (reprint l.c., pp. 202–204). 105 Ibid.
OF THE AMERICAN CONTINENT BY MUSLIM SEAFARERS 39

Fig. 22 . Sketch by Bartoloméo Colombo (1503).

as the East Coast of Asia, the most missionary Guillaume Adam who
remarkable thing about this sketch lived in the Islamic World between
is how small Columbus and his com- 1305 and 1314, during which time
panions had conceived the distance he spent twenty months travelling
between Asia and Europe-Africa (fig. in the southern parts of the Indian
22). Ocean, made a note at one of his
This context brings about yet stations situated Lat. 23° South of
another question, namely about the the equator (apparently on the East-
¸
landmass delineated on the Pīrī Re īs African coast) that merchant vessels
map south of the American continent embarking at this port used to sail
extending eastwards. According to my southwards up to a position “where
former interpretation I was inclined the altitude of the South Pole is 54°”
to see this as a relic of the Ptolemean i.e. they advanced very far in the
concept of the oceans being enclosed southern hemisphere.106 This is con-
by continents. After continued study firmed by the Italian geographer Livio
of this matter I am now considering Sanuto (1588) who reported that the
whether this might rather be a trace Arabs travelled from Zanzibar on tar-
of an early, however fleeting contact get for the Antarctic and thus passed
with the Antarctic. The Dominican the Cape of Good Hope.107

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106 Cf. GAS, vol. XI, p. 386.


107 Ibid, p. 387.