Geography (Gr. the earth, and to write), the description of the earth. The science comprises three principal divisions: mathematical, physical, and political geography. Mathematical or astronomical geography treats of the figure, magnitude, and motion of the earth; of the construction of globes, and the solution of problems; of the mode of determining the position of places on the earth's surface, and of representing any portion of that surface on maps or charts. Most of these topics belong as much to astronomy as to geography. (See Astronomy, and Earth.) Physical geography treats of the earth and its features of land, water, and air, its animal and vegetable inhabitants, without reference to national or political divisions, (See Physical Geography.) Political geography describes the countries and nations of the earth as they are politically divided, and deals with mankind in their social aspect and organization. The details of this branch of the science will be found under the names of the various countries, cities, and towns. The Phoenicians were the first who made any great progress in extending the bounds of geographical knowledge.
They explored all the coasts of the Mediterranean, and at an early period passed the strait of Gibraltar, and visited the Atlantic shores of Europe and Africa, extending their voyages northward and northeastward as far as Britain and the Baltic coasts, and southward to the tropic of Capricorn. Their neighbors, the Hebrews, probably acquired from them some knowledge of distant lands. In the Scriptures the remotest regions mentioned are, to the north, Gomer (Gen. x.), which probably designated the Kimraerii of Herodotus, and Kir, the Caucasian region of the Kur; to the east, India (Esther i. 1), and very probably China, called the distant "land of Sinim" (Isaiah xlix. 12); to the south, Cush (Ethiopia), Ludim or Lubim (Libya), Dedan (on the Persian gulf), Sheba (S. W. Arabia), and Ophir, concerning whose situation many conjectures have been made, the most probable of which seems to be that it was in southern Asia. To the west, the extreme land was Tarshish, which was probably Tartessus in Spain, though various other identifications have been attempted by critics.
The first attempt to enlarge the bounds of geographical knowledge by an exploring expedition was made by Necho, king, of Egypt, shortly before 600 B. C. He sent down the Red sea into the Indian ocean a fleet manned by Phoenicians, which in the third year, after circumnavigating Africa, reached, the pillars of Hercules or strait of Gibraltar, and returned to Egypt by the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians asserted that during a part of the voyage the sun was in the north. This statement, which shows conclusively that they must have sailed to the south of the equator, Herodotus, naturally enough, wholly discredited. The geographical knowledge of the ancients was greatly enlarged by the Carthaginians, whose extended commerce led necessarily to long voyages, but the only authentic account of any of their maritime expeditions which has reached us is that of Hanno, the time of which is uncertain, but is plausibly conjectured to have been in the 5th century B. C. With 60 vessels he passed the strait of Gibraltar, and sailed down the coast of Africa, as some writers suppose, to the gulf of Benin, while according to others he proceeded no further than the river Nun. About 320 B. C, Pytheas, a seaman of Massilia, the modern Marseilles, sailed out into the Atlantic, coasted the shores of Spain and Gaul, visited Britain, and passing onward discovered an island, which from that time was famous among the ancients as Ultima Thole. Some modern geographers have conjectured that this was Iceland, others that it was Jutland, and others that it was Shetland; but nothing certain is known about it.
In a second voyage he passed into the Baltic. The expedition of Alexander the Great, 830 B. C, greatly enlarged the knowledge of India. He penetrated to the Hyphasis, the modern Sutlej. The ambassadors of Seleucus, one of his successors, reached the Ganges and visited the city of Palimbothra, which was probably on or near the site of the modern Allahabad. Beyond this the Greeks seem to have known little or nothing of eastern Asia. The first systematic attempt at scientific geography was made by Eratosthenes, who flourished at Alexandria in the latter part of the 3d century B. C. The globular form of the earth was at this time known to the scientific schools of Alexandria, and the system of Eratosthenes was based upon its recognition, though he disregarded the great primal features of modern geographical science, the equator, the poles, and the tropics. The base line of his geography was a parallel drawn through all the places where it was supposed that the longest day was 14 1/2 hours. It stretched from Cape St. Vincent in Spain eastward through Rhodes, Asia Minor, Persia, and India, till it terminated at the city of Thinae, which was supposed to be on the shores of the eastern ocean, at the utmost extremity of the earth.
The length of this line, according to Eratosthenes, was about 70,000 stadia, or a little more than 8,000 English miles. At right angles to this Eratosthenes traced a meridian which passed through Rhodes and Alexandria southward, through Syene and Meroe, till it reached what was supposed to be the uninhabitable region, the northern bounds of which were fixed at 12 degrees from the equator. Thule was regarded by Eratosthenes as the extreme northern end of the earth, and the distance from there to the habitable limit toward the equator was computed at 38,000 stadia, or nearly 4,400 miles. Beyond these limits it was commonly supposed that nothing existed but an impassable ocean, though Eratosthenes cautiously conjectures that conti-. nents and islands might be reached by sailing westward. Hipparchus, a Bithynian who lived at Rhodes and Alexandria about the middle of the 2d century B. C, carried still further the system adopted by Eratosthenes, and subjected the whole science of geography to astronomical principles. He made numerous observations of latitude in addition to the few previously existing, and pointed out the mode in which longitudes might be ascertained by observing the eclipses of the sun and moon.