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Martin Behaim

German cartographer and navigator (1459-1507)

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Behaim, MARTIN (MARTINUS DE BOHEMIA), a German cartographer and navigator, b. at Nuremberg in 1459; d. at the German hospice of St. Bartholomew in Lisbon, Portugal, July 29, 1507, Dehaim came from a wealthy merchant family which settled in Nuremberg about 1300 and which is still in existence. He received the usual education but, according to his own statement, had among his teachers the celebrated mathematician and astronomer Regiomantanus. Behaim entered business life at an early age and became an agent at Antwerp. In 1481 or 1482 he went to Lisbon on business. Here his reputation as a pupil of Regiomontanus led to his appointment by King John (Joao) II as a member of a commission, the “junta dos mathematicos”, which was to find some improved method for determining latitude. Behaim furnished them with the so-called Jacob‘s-staff, or cross-staff, and the astronomical tables necessary for ascertaining the declination of the sun. Having in this way become favorably known, Behaim was offered the opportunity of accompanying Diego Cam (Cao) on a voyage of discovery along the west coast of Africa. In the course of his explorations Cam discovered the mouth of the Congo and went as far as Walfisch Bay. After his return Behaim was made a Knight of the Portuguese Order of Christ in 1486, and married a daughter of Jobst von Hurter, hereditary governor of the islands of Fayal and Pico of the Azores group. In 1492, while he was at Nuremberg, Behaim made the well-known globe, probably with the scientific help of Hartmann Schedel, the Nuremberg humanist.

His influence on the great discoverers of his time was formerly much overestimated; at present it is questioned whether he had any such influence at all. It cannot be proved either that Columbus was stimulated by him or that Magellan (Magalhaes) in his search for a southern passage made use of a chart of the world drawn by Behaim, as was once believed. It has even been questioned of late years whether Behaim had any right to call himself a pupil of Regiomontanus or whether he had taken part in the discoveries of Cam. Nevertheless his “apple”, the oldest of all existing globes, ensures his lasting fame. The globe is about twenty-one inches in diameter and has no network to mark longitudes and latitudes. It is provided merely with the equator, one meridian, the tropics and the constellations of the zodiac, and is a unique example of miniature painting. There is an unmistakable connection between Behaim’s manner of representing the world and the geographical views of Toscanelli whose chart is usually reconstructed with the aid of Behaim’s globe. Unfortunately the reproductions of Behaim’s globe, so far made, are not satisfactory. The first copy was published by Doppelmayr in his “Historie von den Nurnberger Mathematicis” (1730) and was reproduced by Nordenskjold in his “Facsimile Atlas to the Early History of Cartography” (1889). Another was drawn in 1847 for Jomard by Jean Muller who gave Dr. Ghillany a copy which the latter used in his biography of Behaim. This drawing is also to be found in Ruge, “Geschichte des Zeitalters der Entdeckungen” (1881), in Giinther’s biography of Behaim, and in Kretschmer, “Die Entdeckung Amerikas” (1892).


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