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Abraham Ortelius

Abraham Ortelius was born in 1527 in Antwerp, Belgium. He died 1598 and was buried in Antwerp and his tomb has the inscription “Quietis Cultor sine bit, uxore, prole,” which loosely translated means “served quietly, without accusation, wife, and offspring.” 

Now, how come he made an impression, given the obituary? What was his greatest achievement?
Abraham was world known by the fact he put together a world atlas called the first modern World “Theatrum Orbis Terrarum” published in the 1570’s. He is also considered to be the one who first who came up with the theory of continental drift; he thought he could see how the Americas were “torn” away from Europe and Africa. That was what he managed to achieve in 71 years. 
However the most important achievement was probably that he had the ability and diplomacy to convince the other cartographers to unify around one common pattern how to make maps of the world. In this way the work could be much more effective and new ideas could take off from a greater understanding of the whole. His works included several other cartographers’ works, no fewer than 87 pieces mentioned in the first edition 1570’s. The number had by the year of 1601, three years after his death, grown to no less than the 183. 

Made for continuous improvement

Continuously the world map was improved as more modern works where incorporated in the common Terrarum. In the first edition from 1570 is South America very badly designed and does not fit with how the continent really is. In the French edition in 1587, this is corrected. Ortelius world map consisted of several “loose” sheets and it was therefore made to be improved. It was possible to change the parts without having to throw away what has already been made. This created a sustainable, yet flexible solution. 

Ortelius did not created an accurate picture of the whole world at once, but he set in motion a continuous process of improvement that resulted in his map of the world. It became a living common point of reference for many cartographers and by iterations were improved not less than 25 editions, during the 28 years he lived after the first publication. 


Abrahamn Ortelius



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