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The Ocean the Discovery Iberia

land, knowledge, sea, shape, world, earth and history

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THE OCEAN : THE DISCOVERY : IBERIA shape of the earth has always been of importance in history, because the distribution of heat and cold, rain and drought, forest and grassland, depends funda mentally on the way in which the earth rotates on its axis, and on its attitude with reference to the sun. We have now reached a stage when the shape of the earth is important in another way.

Hitherto it had seemed to man as if it did not matter whether the world was flat or not, and for nearly all people it was flat. Learned men, however, knew that the world was a globe. Eratosthenes of Alexandria had even calculated its size, of which he had a more accurate idea than had Columbus. The calculation was possible, since the distance from Syene or Aswan to Alexandria was very accurately known, because Egypt, with its valuable land annually flooded, required to be carefully surveyed. In the time of Eratosthenes, however, the shape of the earth did not affect history directly. It was a scientific fact the knowledge of which had no practical bearing on the lives of men. When men were able to use for their own advantage the knowledge of the fact that the earth was round, then the shape of the earth began to control history in another way. _ But the discovery of the- shape of the globe was of importance, because the discovery of its shape was related to other facts. The power of the Arabs, as we have seen, depended partly on the control of the sea which they possessed. The Roman Empire, also, owed its importance to the same fact. The power of the Phoenicians and Greeks was based almost entirely on a knowledge of seamanship. The Mediterranean Sea was the source of most of this activity, but ships did sail round other coasts. Phcenician ships may have sailed towards India. Arab merchants certainly reached China. Agricola sailed round Scotland. The Vikings crossed the sea to our islands and Iceland, and prob ably even to Greenland, and in early mediaeval times formed more or less permanent settlements on all the western shores of Europe.

The effect which the discovery of the sea has had on world-history is enormous. The ease of movement on water as compared with that on land has been already spoken of, but there were limitations to the extent of this movement. Because of the terrors of the unknown the early navigators confined their attention to the inland seas and coasting traffic on the margins of the ocean. The most important sea was the sea set in the

midst of the land. Thus the distribution of land has had a controlling effect. Owing to the limitation of man's knowledge, till 400 years ago there was one land and many seas. The great land mass of Euro-Asia-Africa extends so far to the north that there is no ice-free passage along its northern edge. Africa extends so far to the south that men had been afraid to venture, though many ancient geographers believed that Africa could be circumnavigated. There was, indeed, an idea that the world was a land mass surrounded by a "stream of ocean," but there was no suggestion that there might be other great lands set in that ocean, and for all practical purposes there were two oceans separated by a mass of land.

The achievements at the end of the fifteenth century were not simply that a seaway was found to the Indies, that America was discovered, and that Magellan sailed round Cape Horn. By the voyages of Vasco da Gama and Magellan the oceans were found to be connected, and Columbus and Magellan discovered that the oceans could be safely crossed. The shape of the world and the oneness of the ocean were discovered. Henceforward coasting traffic becomes subsidiary to ocean transport, and politically sea-power gives place to ocean-power. Of the results of these discoveries some were immediate and some are beginning to be felt only at the present time.

Now we must notice why it was that the shape of the globe and the existence of the one ocean began to control the course of history. We have seen how gradu ally the world had been growing larger ; more and more lands and seas had been brought to man's knowledge, and the special products of different lands had been used all the world over. The invasions of the tribes did much to extend ideas of what the world was, while the Arabs did much to spread knowledge of the Eastern seas. Both these advances in knowledge stimulated the minds of men, but the knowledge that the East could be reached partly by sea had a greater direct effect on the course of history just because movement is easier by water than by land. Marco Polo made his memorable journey to the East by land, but he returned as far as he could by sea.

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