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Improvements in geography by Ptolemy. It attained to the highest point of perfection and accuracy to which it cver arrived in the ancient world, by the industry and genius of Ptolemy the philofopher. He flourished in the second century of the Christian æra , and published a description of the terrestrial globe, more ample and exact than that of any of his predecessors.
The invasion of the Roman empire by barbarous nations.
But, foon after, violent convulsions began to shake the Roman ftate; the fatal ambition or caprice of Conftantine, by changing the seat of government, divided and weakened its force; the barbarous nations, which Providence prepared as its instruments to overturn the mighty fabric of the Roman power , began to assemble and to muster their armies on its frontier ; the empire tottered to its fall. During this decline and old age of the Roman state , it was impossible that the sciences should go on improving. The efforts of genius were at that period, as languid and feeble as those of government. From the time of Prolemy, no confiderable addition seems to have been made to geographical knowledge, nor did any important revolution happen intrade, excepting that Conftantinople, by its advantageous situation, and the encouragement of the eastern emperors, became a commercial city of the firft note.
Effeas of their conquests on commercial intercourse.
At length, the clouds which had been fo * long gathering round the Roman empire, burst $ into a storm. Barbarous nations rushed in from E several quarters with irresistible impetuosity, and, 1 in the general wreck , occafioned by the inuni dation which overwhelmed Europe, the arts,
sciences, inventions and discoveries of the Romans, perished in a great measure, and disappeared f). All the various tribes, which settled in the different provinces of the Roman empire, were incivilized, strangers to letters, destitute of arts , unacquainted with regular government, subordination, or laws. The manners and institutions of fome of them were so rude, as to be hardly compatible with a state of social union. Europe, when occupied by such inhabitants, may be said to have returned to a second infancy, and had to begin a new its career in improvement, science, and civility. The first effect of the settlernent of those barbarous invaders was to diffolve the union which the Roman power had cemented mankind together. They parcelled out Europe into many small and independent states , differing from each other in language and customs. No intercourse subsisted between the members of those divided and hoftile communities. Accuftomed to a simple modeof life, and averse to industry they had few wants to supply,and no fuperfluities, f) Hift. of Charles V. vol. 1. p. 18. 72. ROBERTSON Vol. I. : C
to dispofe of. The names of stranger and of enemy became once more words of the same import. Customs every-where prevailed, and even laws were established, which rendered it difagreeable and dangerous to visit any foreign country g). Cities, in which alone an extensive commerce can be carried on, were few, inconsiderable and destitute of those immunities which produce security or excite enterprise. The sciences, on which geography and navigation are founded, were not cultivated. The accounts of ancient improvements and discoveries, contained in the Greek and Roman authors, were neglected or misunderstood. The knowledge of remote regions was luft, their situation, their commodities, and almost their names, were unknown.
Commercial intercourse still preserved in ihe Eastern empire.
One circumstance prevented commercial in. tercourse with distant nations from ceasing altogether. Constantinople, though often threatened by the fierce invaders , who spread defolation over the reft of Europe, was so fortunate as to escape their destructive rage. In that city, the knowledge of ancient arts and discoveries was preserved; a taste for fplendour and elegance fübfifted; the productions and luxuries of foreign countries were in request; and commerce continued to flourish there, when it was almoft
) Hiß. of Charles V. vol. 1. p. 77. 327.
extinct in every other part of Europe. The citizens of Constantinople did not confine their trade to the islands of the Archipelago, or to adjacent coasts of Asia; they took a wider range, and following the course which the ancients had marked out, imported the commodities of the East Indies from Alexandria. When Egypt was torn from the Roman empire by the Arabians, the industry of the Greeks discovered a new channel, by which the productions of India might be conveyed to Conftantinople. They were carried up the Indus, as far as that great river is navigable; thence they were transported by land to the banks of the river Oxus , and proceed
yn its stream to the Caspian sea. There they entered the Volga , and failing up it, were carried by land to the Tanais, which conducted them into the Euxine sea , where vessels from Constantinople waited their arrival h). This extraordinary and tedious mode of conveyance merits attention, not only as a proof of the violent passion which the inhabitants of Constantinople had conceived for the luxuries of the east, and as a specimen of the ardour and ingenuity with which they carried on commerce; but because it demonstrates, that, during the ignorance which reigned in the rest of Europe,an extensive knowledge of remote countries was still preserved in the capital of the Greeck empire, I b) Ramulio, void 1. p. 372. F.
Among the Arabians,
At the same time, a gleam of light and knowledge broke in upon the east. The Arabians having contracted some relish for the sciences of the people whose empire they had contributed to overturn , translated the books of several of the Greeck philosophers into their own language. One of the first was that valuable work of Ptolemy , which I have already mentioned. The ftudy of geography became, of consequence, an early object of attention to the Arabians. But that acute and ingenious people cultivated chiefly the speculative and scientific part of geography. In order to ascertain the figure and dimensions of the terrestrial globe, they applied the principles of geometry, they had recourse to astronomical observations, they employed experiments and operations, which Europe , in more enlightened times, has been proud to adopt and to imitate. At that period , howewer the fame of the improvements made by the Arabians did not reach Europe. The knowledge of their discoveries was reserved for ages capable of comprehending and of perfecting them.
Revival of commerce and navigation in Europe.
By degrees , the calamities and desolation brought upon the western provinces of the Ro. man empire by its barbarous conquerors , were forgotten, and in some measure repaired. The