Voyages of Discovery of the Romans.
Consequences of the Fall of the Roman Empire.
Now came the time when earth-ruling Rome called the whole civilized world her
own, and her victorious eagles expanded their triumphant wings from the Red Sea to
the coasts of the Northern Ocean. One would assume that the Romans had
repossessed the maritime spirit and knowledge of the subdued Phoenicians
after conquering Carthage.
Under the reign of Augustus a Roman fleet sailed round the
promontory of Skagen. About sixteen years after the birth of Christ they discovered
the Island of Fionia or Funen, and probably have reached the entrance of the
Gulf of Finland. In the year 84 A.C. Julius Agricola, the conqueror
of Britain, sailed for the first time round Scotland, and discovered the Orcadian
In Pliny's time the real magnitude of the earth was
still so little known that according to the calculations of that great naturalist, Europe
occupied a third, Asia only a fourth, and Africa about a fifth of the whole world.
The geographer Ptolemy, who lived about the middle the second
century, under the reigns of Hadrian and Marcu Aurelius, describes the
limits of the earth as far as they were known in his time. To the west, the coast of
Africa had been explored as far as Cape Juby; and the Fortunate Islands or Hesperides,
the present Canaries, rose from the ocean as the last lands towards the setting
To the north discovery had reached as far as the Shetland Isles,
and the promontory Perispa at the entrance of the Gulf of Finland; while on
the east coast of Africa Cape Brava former the ultimate boundary of the known
Soon after Ptolemy's time the whole coast of Malacca (Aurea
Chersonesus) and the Siamese Sea, as far as the Cape of Cambogia
(Notium promontorium), was explored, and the Romans even appeared to have had
some knowledge of the great islands of the Indian archipelago, Java, Sumatra, and
It may well be asked whether the Phoenicians had not embraced a
wider horizon than the Romans in the full zenith of their fortune. Even though we
reject the circumnavigation of Africa under Necho, it is quite certain that they
had explored the west coast of Africa to a much greater extent than the Romans
and extremely probable that they knew at least as much of the lands which bound the Indian
Ocean. But, because of their narrow-minded mercantile policy, they kept many of
their discoveries profoundly secret and all knowledge of them perished with their ruin. In
ancient times, when the defeat of a people too often led to its complete destruction, too
often the useful discoveries were erased from the memory of mankind.
When the western Roman Empire succumbed to the barbarians of the
North, the bands which for centuries had united the cities of the east and west were
violently separated. Civilization vanished from the lands which had so long been
flourishing, only to dawn again after a long and obscure night. Commercial intercourse
ceased between the sea-ports of the Mediterranean. All communication with distant
countries was cut off, and the boundaries of the known earth became more and more narrow,
as the ignorance of a barbarous age increased.
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