GEO 466/566: The Profession of Geography

The Middle Ages and the Age of Exploration

The Middle Ages

The thousand years that followed the fall of Rome are often called the Medieval Period or the Middle Ages (400-1400).

They were a time of diverse events where geography is concerned.

Christian Europe

Southern Europe, after the fall of Rome, emerged as a stronghold of Christianity.

The net effect of the new theology was that geographical ideas were viewed increasingly in light of Biblical scripture.

One legacy of the Roman era was the widespread use of Latin, a factor that aided the retreat of geography during this period.
Though no one knows why, mapping skills also seem to have deteriorated during the Middle Ages.
The intellectual "doldrums" of Medieval Europe began ending after about 1100 A.D.

Muslim Geography

The end of the intellectual stagnation in Christian Europe may have been prompted by an unlikely group—the Muslims of the Near East.

Viking Geography

Chinese Geography

The Age of Exploration

The key to this new period of investigation and learning that marked the end of the Middle Ages in Europe was exploration or travel. This travel was:


The first concerted efforts towards exploration came from the most unlikely of places—the small country of Portugal.

The individual responsible for initiating Portuguese exploration was Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460).

With some experience, the next step for the Portuguese was to sail down the African coast.


As remarkable as the Portuguese voyages were, they were not the only ones being conducted at this time, for Portugal's Iberian neighbor—Spain—was getting involved in exploration as well.

Spain's greatest achievement in exploration was carried out by Christopher Columbus.

Another notable achievement by the Spanish was carried out by Ferdinand Magellan.

With the knowledge gained from these and many other later voyages, Europeans began correcting several longstanding errors or misconceptions.

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Created by JTK and last revised on 23 September 1996.