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
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.
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:
- 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 1 ⁄ 50 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 .
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
The following late antique Christian authors took positions that differed from the spherical shape:
- Lactantius (* around 250; † around 320) described the idea as nonsensical, since people on the underside (" antipodes ") stand on their heads and rain would fall from below upwards. Nicolaus Copernicus criticized him in de Revolutionibus in 1543 .
- Cyril of Jerusalem (313–386) understood the earth as a firmament floating on water .
- John Chrysostomos (349-407) saw the spherical earth as a contradiction to some statements in the Bible .
- Severian von Gabala , the bishop of Gabala (around 408), Diodorus of Tarsus (around 394) and Theodor of Mopsuestia (350-428) spoke of a disk shape of the earth.
- Kosmas Indicopleustes (6th century AD) described the earth around 550 in his Christian topography as "a parallelogram , flat and surrounded by four seas".
The influence of these authors was 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.
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
- Basil of Caesarea
- Ambrose of Milan
- Aurelius Augustine
- Paul Orosius
- Jornandes (or Jordanes) from Ravenna
- Isidore of Seville
- Beda Venerabilis
- Theodulf of Orléans
- Virgilius of Salzburg
- the Irish monk Dicuil
- Rabanus Maurus
- Remigius of Auxerre
- John Scotus Eriugena
- Archpriest Leo of Naples
- Gerbert d'Aurillac (Pope New Year's Eve II)
- Notker the German of Sankt Gallen
- Hermann the Lame
- Hildegard von Bingen
- Peter Abelardus
- Honorius Augustodunensis
- Gautier de Metz
- Adam of Bremen
- Albertus Magnus
- Thomas Aquinas
- Berthold of Regensburg
- Master Eckehart
- Enea Silvio Piccolomini (Pope Pius II)
Theologians, natural philosophers and encyclopedists
- Martianus Capella
- William of Conches
- Philippe de Thaon
- Bernardus Silvestris
- Petrus Comestor
- Thierry de Chartres
- Walter of Châtillon
- Alexander Neckam
- Alanus from Insulis
- Moshe ben Maimon
- Lambert de Saint-Omer
- Gervasius of Tilbury
- Robert Grosseteste
- John de Sacrobosco
- Thomas of Cantimpré
- Peire de Corbian
- Vincent de Beauvais
- Robertus Anglicus
- Juan Gil de Zámora
- Perot de Garbelei
- Roger Bacon
- Ristoro d'Arezzo
- Cecco d'Ascoli
- Fazio degli Uberti
- Levi ben Gershon
- Konrad von Megenberg
- Nicholas of Oresme
- Pierre d'Ailly
- Alfonso de la Torre
- Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli
- Daniel of Morley
- Gottfried of Viterbo
- Herrad von Landsberg
- Ramon Llull
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"
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 .
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- 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.
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