Flat earth

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The creation of the world. On the outer wings of the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (around 1500), Hieronymus Bosch depicted the earth as a disk floating in a transparent sphere.

The idea of ​​a flat earth (also: earth disk ) can be found as a mythological idea in many early cultures . The earth's surface is thought of as flat and often in the shape of a disk . In educated circles since the true antiquity a model of the globe or globe . Eratosthenes calculated in the 3rd century BC After precise earth measurements the circumference of the earth . Since then, the globe as a model of the earth has remained the predominant doctrine in the European Middle Ages and in modern times .

The arisen in the 19th century legend that medieval Christianity believed in a flat earth was as a historical error debunked (see. " Dark Ages "). The story The Life and Travels of Christopher Columbus (1828) by Washington Irving contributed to its distribution . Even in the 21st century there are proponents of the thesis that the earth is flat. This is a conspiracy theory , whose adherents in English (loosely translated: "Flacherd [l] he") "flat earthers" call.

The idea of ​​the disk shape of the earth

Reconstruction of the "World Map of Hecataeus of Miletus ", 6th century BC Chr.

Different disc models can be found in many myths of origin , e.g. B. in Mesopotamia and with the early Greek philosophers Anaximander and Hekataios . A creator or elementary forces of nature (water, fire) should have created the world as an island on a primordial ocean, often connected to the known oceans. In some pictures there is a central world mountain reaching to the sky or, for example in Iranian mythology , a ring mountain Qaf at the outer edge of the disk.

In the Old Testament , among the variants of older myths, there are also fragments of the Mesopotamian disk image, which obviously contradict one another.

In Norse mythology , Midgard , the human world, is also described as a disk. It is surrounded by a huge sea in which the Midgard serpent dwells.

The rejection of the disc shape


In the biblical book Isaiah it says in Isa 40,22  ELB : "It is he who is enthroned over the circle of the earth ...". The ancient Hebrew word חוּג (chug), which has been translated here as circle, does not imply a spherical shape. The linguistic root occurs only once as a verb in Job 26.10  ELB ("He has drawn a barrier as a circle over the surface of the water ..."). As a noun in Job 22.14  ELB ("circle of heaven") and Proverbs 8.27  ELB ("When he measured a circle over the surface of the deep ..."). And once in the noun מְחוּגׇה (mechugah; Isaiah 44.13  ELB ) as a compass: “The carpenter tensions the cord and draws with the pen. He cuts the wood and cuts it off… ”.
In the mentioned biblical passages with chug there are further elements of a flat earth concept: a stretched sky, supporting pillars, and "above" and "below" as absolute directions.

In the world view of the Homeric epics the earth was a water of Okeanos umflossene disc which is surmounted by the hemisphere of the sky. The cosmological speculations of the pre-Socratic philosophers already broke away from this idea .

The globe model of the earth was used in ancient times by Pythagoras , who lived in the 6th century BC. BC, or attributed to the mythical king Atlas of Mauritania . Even Plato started from the spherical shape. His pupil Aristotle gave in his book About Heaven from the 4th century BC. The following reasons for the spherical shape of the earth:

The earth's shadow during a partial lunar eclipse
  • All heavy bodies strive to the center of the universe. Since they do this equally from all sides and the earth is in the center of the universe, it must assume a spherical shape.
  • In southern countries, southern constellations appear higher above the horizon.
  • The earth's shadow during a lunar eclipse is always round.

The first measurement of the earth's circumference is made by Eratosthenes in the late 3rd century BC. Attributed to BC. He used the observation that the sun in Syene (today Aswan in southern Egypt ) is at its zenith at midday on the summer solstice and at the same time in Alexandria (about the same longitude in northern Egypt) it is 7 ° away from the zenith. From the distance between Syene and Alexandria, which was assumed to be 5000 stages from the course of the Nile , and the angle of incidence (7 ° or about 150 of the full circle), the calculation resulted in a 50 times larger circumference of the earth, i.e. 250,000 stages. Since the two cities are about 850 km apart as the crow flies, Eratosthenes comes close to the true circumference of the earth (40,007.76 km). Its exact unit of measurement has not been passed down.

In the 1st century, Pliny the Elder passed on as a further argument that the hull of ships departing from the coast was hidden from view from the sails. In the Mediterranean and the Orient at that time, the spherical shape was generally accepted among scholars.

The creation of a globe and the indication of the location by geographical longitude and latitude go back to Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD . In his model of a geocentric view of the world , Ptolemy assumed a spherical earth and calculated a circumference of 30,000 km (40,075 km equatorial circumference are correct).

A special feature is the description of the terrestrial globe from above, from a point of view in the (geocentrically imagined) cosmos, in Cicero .

The writer Ovid describes the shape of the earth in his work Metamorphoses as a sphere and also mentions the different climatic zones in the northern and southern hemisphere.

Since a monotheistic creator god is indicated in the metamorphoses, the work was known and spread throughout the Middle Ages, and with it the passage about the spherical shape of the earth.

Late antique criticism of the spherical shape

World view of the Cosmas Indicopleustes : flat earth in a tabernacle , 6th century

The following late antique Christian authors took positions that differed from the spherical shape:

The influence of these authors was small: Lactantius only found attention with his opinion on the shape of the earth in the age of humanism ; the work of Cosmas Indicopleustes, written in Greek, only became known in the West in the early 18th century. Theodore of Mopsuestia as a Nestorian and Kosmas as a Monophysite were not acceptable to Orthodox and Catholic Christians.

middle Ages

Possibly a view of the globe with different seasons at the same time (12th century), from Hildegard von Bingen's Liber Divinorum Operum (12th century)
Illustration of the spherical earth in an L'Image du monde - manuscript of Gossouin de Metz (14th century)
impression of a round earth from John Gower's Vox Clamantis (around 1400)
Behaimscher Erdapfel , oldest still preserved terrestrial globe, 1490/1493 Nuremberg .

Contrary to the legend of the 19th century, the spherical shape of the earth was not only known in the medieval Arab-Islamic culture , but also in the European Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the ground (eg. Was often depicted as a disk in works of art Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch still around 1500).

  • As a representative of the spherical shape, Aristotle was considered an authority on questions of natural science in the high and late Middle Ages. His works became popular from the 12th century when the original Greek scripts were recovered in Western Europe. and translations from Arabic .
  • The influential book of natural history by Pliny the Elder († 79), who adopted Aristotle's view and supplemented it from his own observation, was distributed in more than 300 manuscripts in the Middle Ages.
  • In the 5th century Martianus Capella wrote his works, which were long studied in the European Middle Ages; in Geografia he stated:

"The shape of the whole earth is not flat, as some think, who compare it to a spreading disc (discus) , and it is not concave either, as others assume, who spoke of the rain falling into the lap of the earth, but round, even spherical, as Dikaearchus clearly testifies "

  • Isidore of Seville (around 570 - 636 AD) deals with the shape of the earth several times in his encyclopedia Etymologiae and in the text De natura rerum ('About the nature of things'). He uses expressions such as orbis ('earth circle') and rota ('wheel'), which have sometimes been interpreted as referring to a world view of the earth. Obviously, he is only concerned with the “roundness” of the earth's shape, since he also uses the term pila (“ball”) when he speaks of the imperial orb as a picture of the earth. In a covering letter to De Rerum Natura it straight refers to the Earth as globe ( "ball"). In addition, he stated the length of the equator as 800,000 stadia , which implies a spherical shape.
  • Beda Venerabilis (672-735) in De natura rerum also taught.
  • The caliph al-Maʾmūn determined the circumference of the globe in the 9th century much more precisely than Columbus.
  • Later medieval encyclopedias in the succession of Honorius Augustodunensis (12th century) explicitly taught the spherical shape and fundamental circumnavigation of the earth.
  • The Lucidarius , a textbook created at the end of the 12th century, described the shape of the earth as spherical (sinewel) , and the book Sidrach (13th century ) , which is also popular and is widely used in many languages, compares it to an apple. The spherical shape of the earth can also be found in the Mainau theory of nature (around 1300), which is based primarily on Johannes de Sacrobosco's Computus ecclesiasticus (around 1230 ), a summary of scientific knowledge.
  • The imperial orb , one of the imperial insignia of the Holy Roman Empire , symbolizes the globe.
  • Thomas von Aquin (1225–1274), the most influential theologian and doctor of the Church of the High Middle Ages, also represented the spherical shape of the earth: "Astrologus demonstrat terram esse rotundam per eclipsim solis et lunae" (the astrologer proves through solar and lunar eclipses that the earth is round ) ( Summa theologica I q1 a 1 ad 2).

Authors who advocated the theory of a spherical earth

The following authors, among others, represented the teachings of a spherical earth:

Kings and politicians
Church fathers, popes, bishops, religious and priests
Theologians, natural philosophers and encyclopedists
Poets, travelers, printers, seafarers, traders

Early modern age

At the time of Christopher Columbus (late 15th century) the spherical shape of the earth was not questioned.

The circumnavigations of the world by Ferdinand Magellan (1519–1522) and Francis Drake (1577–1580) (→  circumnavigation of Francis Drake ) confirmed the globe model, and the spherical shape of the earth was now undisputed.

Modern reception of the "myth of the flat earth"

Azimuthal equidistant projections of the sphere like this one were also adapted as images of the flat Earth model, which depicts the Antarctic as an ice wall around a disk-shaped earth.

The following researchers did away with the legend that in the European Middle Ages the church taught the disk shape of the earth:

  • The historian Jeffrey Burton Russell of the University of California, Santa Barbara believes the "disc-shaped Earth" of the Middle Ages was a of modern myth (myth) , which appeared in 1830 and had the intention of the church dominated the Middle Ages as "primitive" and To portray “the church” as anti-science (cf. political myth ). He counts Thomas Paine (1737–1809), Jean Antoine Letronne (1787–1848), Washington Irving (1783–1859) and Andrew Dickson White (1832–1918) among the authors who would have pursued this for anti-church motives .
  • Similarly, the Bonn Scandinavian Rudolf Simek , who demonstrated the idea of ​​a ball earth for Scandinavia around the year 1000.
  • According to Reinhard Krüger, a professor of Romance studies from Stuttgart, the polemics , which ascribed a world view with a disc-shaped earth to the Middle Ages, began before the Enlightenment . He locates the “at least three [known] earth disk theorists” outside the mainstream of medieval thought, which is based on the symbiosis of Christian doctrine and Greco-Roman science: “Neither lactance nor Kosmas Indicopleustes or Bonifatius are characteristic of medieval cosmological thought. And one or the other churchman from Asia Minor such as Severianus von Gabala or others, who could be named here, remain marginal figures in view of the broad stream of ancient cosmological knowledge that can now be found precisely in the tradition of the church fathers . The figures mentioned remain outsiders, whose texts are no longer even read or quoted. ”The views of Laktanz and Kosmas Indicopleustes were only cited again in European literature after Magellan's circumnavigation, and as early as the 8th century Bonifatius (who Bishop Virgil von Salzburg had sued the Pope as a heretic because of his postulation of the existence of antipodes ) forbade the then Pope Zacharias from further dealing with the subject.

A study carried out in collaboration with the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research , which examined German and Austrian history textbooks from the first decade of the 21st century (reference year 2009), came to the conclusion that in a large part of the textbooks to this day the Thesis of the medieval belief in a disk of earth is spread. Since the middle of the 20th century, according to the historian Roland Bernhard , there has been a shift in textbooks to increasingly fictional modes of representation, among others in the tradition of Washington Irving's stories. On the other hand, the myth of belief in the flat earth has been removed from many American school books in recent decades.

Today's representatives of the disc shape

In the USA, the Flat Earth Society advocated the teaching of a disc-shaped earth as the only one that conformed to the Bible. However, the existence of the organization has been uncertain since the death of its last president. Websites that claim to be part of the Flat Earth Society are satirical . Some observers argue that the entire flat-earth movement of modern times is a joke that journalists and the general public like to fall for. That the notion of the flat earth shape is gaining a growing following suggests at least that this theory is being taken increasingly seriously. Some celebrities in the US refer to themselves as their followers such as B. Tila Tequila and BoB .

Belief in the flat earth is one of the forms of science denial today . Since around 2015, the flat earth thesis has been spreading again to a certain extent by various conspiracy ideologues on the Internet. A 2018 US survey of 8,000 people found that around one sixth of the population is not entirely convinced of the Earth's spherical shape; Another poll in Brazil found that 7% of the population reject the existence of the spherical shape. In the USA there are various conferences of Flat Earthists, some of which strictly reject representation by the Flat Earth Society, as they see it as a "state-controlled organization" whose goal is "disinformation" so that the theory seems "far-fetched" . According to CNN, decidedly anti-scientific attitudes and strong belief in other conspiracy theories among the majority of Flat Earth supporters are striking . For example, vaccination opponents , 9/11 conspiracy theorists and people who believe in the existence of the Illuminati are always present at their meetings . A German representative of the Flat Earth is the singer Xavier Naidoo .

See also


  • Rolf Nowotny: The Flat World Theory . In: Skeptiker , 1/2018, pp. 4–8.
  • Roland Bernhard: History myths about Hispanic America. Discovery, conquest and colonization in German and Austrian school books of the 21st century (= Eckert. Die Schriftenreihe. Studies of the Georg Eckert Institute for International Educational Media Research, 134). V&R Unipress, Göttingen 2013.
  • Roland Bernhard: The entry of the “myth of the flat earth” into German and Austrian history textbooks in the 20th century. In: History in Science and Education, 64/2013, pp. 687–701.
  • Reinhard Krüger: An attempt on the archeology of globalization. The spherical shape of the earth and the global conception of the earth's space in the Middle Ages. In: Interactions , yearbook of teaching and research at the University of Stuttgart, 2007, pp. 28–52.
  • Peter Aufgebauer : "The earth is flat" - The medieval worldview as perceived in modern times. In: History in Science and Education. Issue 7/8, 2006, pp. 427-441.
  • Jürgen Wolf: Modernism invents its Middle Ages - or how the 'medieval globe' became a 'modern disc' (=  Colloquia academica No. 5). Stuttgart 2004.
  • Rudolf Simek: Ball or Disk? The image of the earth in the Middle Ages. In: Spectrum of Science Special. 2/2002, pp. 20-24.
  • Reinhard Krüger: The Survival of the Globe Model in Late Antiquity (approx. 60 B.C.E. - approx. 550) (A world without America II), Berlin 2000.
  • Reinhard Krüger: The Latin Middle Ages and the tradition of the ancient globe model (approx. 550 - 1080). (A world without America III). Berlin 2000.
  • Brigitte English: “… navigemus contra occidentalem plagam ad insulam que dicitur terra repromissionis. The discovery of America from the worldview of the Middle Ages ” (= Paderborn University Speeches, 81; edited by Peter Freese). Paderborn 2002.
  • Jürgen Hamel : The idea of ​​the spherical shape of the earth in the European Middle Ages up to the end of the 13th century - presented according to the sources. Lit Verlag Münster, 1996, ISBN 3-8258-2751-8 .
  • Klaus Anselm Vogel: online Sphaera terrae: The medieval image of the earth and the cosmographic revolution , phil. Diss., Göttingen 1995.
  • Rudolf Simek: Earth and Cosmos in the Middle Ages. The worldview before Columbus. Munich 1992.
  • Anna-Dorothee von den Brincken: Fines Terrae. The ends of the world and the fourth continent on medieval world maps. Hanover 1992 (=  Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Schriften , Vol. 36).
  • Jeffrey Burton Russell: Inventing the Flat Earth. Columbus and modern historians. Praeger, New York / Westport / London 1991.
  • Uta Lindgren : Why was the earth mistaken for a sphere? A research report. In: History in Science and Education 41, 1990, pp. 562-574.
  • Paul Huber: Holy Mountains. Benziger Verlag, 1980, ISBN 3-545-25047-4 , pp. 48-115: Das Byzantinische Weltbild .

Web links

Commons : Earth Disk  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Earth globe  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ernst Gombrich : Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights": A Progress Report . In: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 32 (1969), p. 162.
  2. Cornelis Houtman: Heaven in the Old Testament: Israels Weltbild und Weltanschauung (=  Old Testament Studies. Volume 30). Brill, Leiden 1993, p. 290 f.
  3. David S. Noss: Man's Religions . MacMillan, New York 1984, p. 66.
  4. J. L. Stocks: Aristoteles: On the Heavens (English), Book II, chap. 14th
  5. Jürgen Mau : Eratosthenes 2. In: Der Kleine Pauly , Vol. 2: Dicta Catonis-Iuno. dtv, Munich 1979, column 345.
  6. Pliny, Naturalis historia 2.65.
  7. Cicero, De re publica 6.16 f .; 6.20 f.
  8. Metamorphoses. Retrieved April 16, 2020 .
  9. ^ Gotthard Strohmaier : Avicenna. Beck, Munich 1999. ISBN 3-406-41946-1 , p. 157.
  10. Hamel 1996, p. 34.
  11. ^ Sylvain Gouguenheim: Aristote au mont Saint-Michel: Les racines grecques de l'Europe chrétienne.
  12. "Formam totius terrae non planam, ut aestimant, positioni qui eam disci diffusioris assimulant, neque concavam, ut alii, qui descendere imbrem dixere telluris in gremium, sed rotundam, globosam etiam, <sicut> Dicaearchus asseverat." Quoted from Klaus Anselm Vogel : Sphaera terrae - the medieval image of the earth and the cosmographic revolution . Dissertation, Georg-August-Universität zu Göttingen 1995, p. 65.
  13. Umberto Eco : The History of the Legendary Countries and Cities. Hanser, Munich 2013, p. 12.
  14. ^ Gotthard Strohmaier : Avicenna. Beck, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-406-41946-1 , p. 157.
  15. ^ Francis B. Brévart: The 'Mainauer Naturlehre'. An astronomical-dietetic-computist textbook from the 14th century. With a source investigation. In: Sudhoffs Archiv 71, 1987, 2, pp. 157-179; supplemented by Sabine Kleine: The Mainauer Naturlehre. In: Sudhoffs Archiv 79, 1995, pp. 101-114.
  16. Reinhard Krüger (2007), p. 36.
  17. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Reinhard Krüger: An attempt on the archeology of globalization - the spherical shape of the earth and the global conception of the earth's space in the Middle Ages . In: Interactions, yearbook from teaching and research of the University of Stuttgart (2007) . doi : 10.18419 / opus-5251 (25 pages).
  18. ^ Robert J. Schadewald: The Flat-out Truth: Earth Orbits? Moon Landings? A fraud! Says This Prophet. In: Science Digest July 1980
  19. ^ Theodore Schick, Lewis Vaughn: How to think about weird things: critical thinking for a new age. Houghton Mifflin, Mayfield 1995, ISBN 978-1-55934-254-4 , p. 197.
  20. GEO Magazin 02/2003, p. 172 f .: Interview with Rudolf Simek: Too flat thought
  21. a b Reinhard Krüger (2007), p. 47
  22. ^ Gotthard Strohmaier : Avicenna. Beck, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-406-41946-1 , p. 157.
  23. Roland Bernhard: The entry of the “myth of the flat earth” in German and Austrian history textbooks in the 20th century. In: History in Science and Education , 64 (2013), pp. 687–701.
  24. Jazz Shaw: The Entire 'Flat Earth Conspiracy' Is A Hoax And The Media Is Loving It. In: hotair.com. January 15, 2018, Retrieved October 4, 2018 (American English).
  25. Flat Earth Theory: "Evidence" of the Bible & Current Maps (Flat Earth). In: sohomen.de. September 28, 2018, accessed October 4, 2018 .
  26. Sage Lazzaro: Tila Tequila Truly Believes the Earth Is Flat and Won't Stop Yelling About It on Twitter. In: observer.com. Retrieved April 13, 2019 .
  27. Ellen Brait: 'I didn't wanna believe it either': Rapper BoB insists the Earth is flat. In: theguardian.com. January 26, 2016, accessed October 26, 2017 .
  28. ^ Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer: Motivated Rejection of Science . In: Current Directions in Psychological Science . tape 25 , no. 4 , 2016, p. 217-222 , doi : 10.1177 / 0963721416654436 .
  29. Karsten Frei: And Hitler lives behind the ice wall with the reptilians… In: noz.de. March 25, 2016, accessed May 6, 2018 .
  30. Most flat earthers consider themselves very religious | YouGov. Retrieved December 8, 2019 (American English).
  31. ^ The flat-earth conspiracy is spreading around the globe. Does it hide a darker core? In: CNN , November 17, 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
  32. Flat Earth and solidarity with Hildmann: Xavier Naidoos confused 24 hours on Telegram . In: Rolling Stone , May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 24, 2020.