Whether you’re an avid lover of cartography, world history, or grand strategy games specializing in this
fascinating part of human history (*cough* Europa Universalis IV), this just might be the shirt for you.
The 15th century was a period of monumental change throughout much of the world. In eastern Asia, the Ming Dynasty was at the height of its power, exerting control over the entire eastern half of the continent and enjoying the stability and prosperity brought by the mandate of heaven. Meanwhile, Japanese clans battled for control of the fractured shogunate and empires rose and fell throughout the southeast. In South Asia, Hindu kingdoms and Muslim sultanates fought for control of India’s resources, people, and faith, while the once mighty Timurid empire quickly descended into ruin and chaos. Their old enemy, the Ottomans, quickly rose to fill their place and began a campaign of domination in the Middle East that would last for centuries.
The coming changes in Europe were profound and would have lasting implications. The last vestiges of the ancient Roman Empire were extinguished by the Ottoman invasion, which swept across the east all the way to the walls of Vienna. The once powerful Holy Roman Empire would cling to its power for some centuries more, but was waning as the years went by, as German and Italian lords sought to increase their power. England and France were in the twilight years of the long Hundred Years War, while Gaelic Ireland was the strongest it had been since before the first English Invasion (it didn’t last) :(]. The Christian nations of Iberia were finally ending the long Reconquista (with some unfortunate implications) and expanding their power overseas in search of new wealth. The social climate was rapidly shifting; the old feudal system was quickly dying out (the deaths of half the workforce in the preceding century may have contributed) and nation states were emerging. Armies were abandoning age old weapons in favour of gunpowder, which would go on to revolutionize combat forever (and kill a lot of people). The Renaissance
was emerging as a massive change in both the artistic and social worlds, as people began to reject and question the doctrines of the Catholic church, by far the most powerful force in Europe. This paved the way for the Reformation, Enlightenment and two centuries of the bloodiest warfare in European history, topped only by the World Wars (demonstrating that life was NOT, in fact, much better in the olden days). Anxious to grow their power and spread the faith, explorers from nations were beginning to set out in search of a new way to the East (the trek from Europe to basically anywhere was not very fun), but would find something very different … Truly a fascinating era of human history.
What better way to immortalize it than getting a 15th century map of Eurasia stamped on a shirt? This image, the Fra
Mauro map, dates back to about 1450 and is widely “considered the greatest memorial of medieval cartography”. This map of the world (give or take a few continents) by Venetian cartographer Fra Mauro was hand-drawn on parchment and set in wood. It is a truly stunning piece of work. While some of his estimations for the exact shape and location of anything outside Europe (or inside Europe, for that matter) were rather questionable, it still is an
incredible relic of medieval mapping. While Mauro didn’t exactly have satellite mapping, his cartographical work is probably more detailed than anyone else’s at that point. No other European map had ever depicted Japan, and Africa was almost shockingly accurate, as was the Mediterranean, especially around Italy (I wonder why…). The unusual orientation was due to the fact that contemporary compasses (at least for his people) were south pointing, while most Arab maps also placed south at the top (in contrast, Europeans generally made their maps facing east, and occupationally north). He still took flak for it, but what else is new. (It’s also worth noting that Mauro knew the earth was more or less a sphere, as was common knowledge then, and apparently not so much today).
Overall, whether you love cartography, world history, and/or grand strategy games specializing in this intriguing part of human history (Europa Universalis IV, for example), this would be a great tee shirt for you.
Iain Donnelly is a student with a keen interest in both arts and sciences (especially palaeontology and evolutionary biology). He has long been an ardent admirer of trilobites.
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