Claudius Ptolemy was a mathematician, astronomer and geographer who worked in Alexandria, then a part of the Roman Empire, in the 2nd century AD. One of the most learned and influential men of his time, his theories dominated both astronomy and geography for nearly 1500 years. His writings were kept alive by Arabic scholars during the Middle Ages and reemerged in Europe during the Renaissance. The birth of printing led to wide dissemination of his great works on astronomy and geography. There were a number of editions of his Geographia beginning in 1477. These early editions contained maps based on his original writings, known as Ptolemaic maps. As geographic knowledge increased with the explorations of Columbus, Magellan, Cabot and others, maps of the New World were added, and maps of the Old World were revised. Ptolemy's Geographia continued to be revised and published by some of the most important cartographers including Martin Waldseemuller, Sebastian Munster, Giacomo Gastaldi, Jodocus Hondius, and Gerard Mercator (whose last edition was published in 1730).
This woodcut map of southern Africa is a reduced version of Waldseemuller's map of 1513. The map extends north to the equator, and includes part of Madagascar. The coastlines are filled with the names of rivers and bays, primarily from Portuguese sources. The Mountains of the Moon (Mone Lune) are shown at top with a notation that they are the source of the Nile River. The interior contains a few additional sparse details, including additional loaf-like mountain ranges, spurious rivers, three kings on their thrones, an elephant, a dragon, and several serpents. The King of Portugal is depicted riding a sea monster while holding the flag of Portugal. This edition was printed by Gaspar Treschel and edited by Michael Villanovus (known as Servetus). Servetus was charged with heresy by John Calvin in 1553, in part due to the text in this atlas. The courts found him guilty and sentenced him to burning at the stake, atop a pyre of his own books, including this atlas.