Jan 14, 2013
Medieval Mondays: The Globus Cruciger, proof that people knew the world was round before Columbus
There's a popular belief that people didn't know the world was round back in the Renaissance and that it took a brave explorer named Christopher Columbus to prove them wrong. Supposedly everyone warned Columbus not to sail out into the Atlantic because he'd fall off the world's edge.
Of course my readers are smart enough to know this isn't true, but the story has widespread appeal. Anyone who has studied history knows that the Classical Greeks had already proven that the world is round and that knowledge wasn't lost among the educated.
Proof of this can be found on many medieval coins and statues. A traditional mark of Imperial or royal power was the Globus Cruciger, a globe with a cross on top of it to show that the Christian God ruled over the world and that the ruler was his representative on Earth. The globe, of course, symbolized the Earth.
The earliest use of the Globus Cruciger for a ruler is found on the coins of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, who ruled from 408 to 450 AD. You can see one above. The cross-and-globe was a popular symbol throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance and continues to be used in royal courts to this day. To the right you can see an illustration of Charles II of Hungary made in 1488, four years before Columbus made his first voyage.
So the idea that the world was round was plainly visible in the royal court and on many works of art and currency. Of course a lot of common, uneducated people back then probably did think the world was flat!
Photos from Wikimedia Commons.