atlas, in geography, collection of maps or charts. It usually includes data on various features of a country, e.g., its topography, natural resources, climate, and population, as well as its agriculture and main industries. In astronomy, a star atlas is a collection of maps or photographs covering much or all of the celestial sphere and showing the locations of stars and other objects. Although the first known atlas was compiled by the Greek geographer Ptolemy in the 2d cent. A.D., its modern form was introduced in 1570 with the publication of Theatrum orbis terrarum by the Flemish geographer Abraham Ortelius. In 1595 his close friend Gerardus Mercator published Atlas sive cosmographicae. Its frontispiece was a figure of the titan Atlas holding a globe on his shoulders. The name Atlas subsequently came to be applied to volumes of maps and information in this format.
Atlas, in astronomy, one of the named moons, or natural satellites, of Saturn. Also known as Saturn XV (or S15), Atlas is a small, irregularly shaped (nonspherical) body measuring about 25 mi (40 km) by 12.5 mi (20 km); it orbits Saturn at a mean distance of 85,544 mi (137,670 km), and has an orbital period of 0.6019 earth days—the rotational period is unknown but is assumed to be the same as the orbital period. Atlas was discovered by Richard J. Terrile in 1980 from photographs taken by Voyager 1 during its flyby of Saturn. Atlas is probably a shepherd satellite (a moon that limits the extent of a planetary ring through gravitational forces) of Saturn's A ring.
An atlas is a collection of maps, typically of Earth or a region of Earth, but there are atlases of the other planets (and their satellites) in the solar system. Atlases have traditionally been bound into book form, but today many atlases are in multimedia formats. In addition to presenting geographic features and political boundaries, many atlases often feature geopolitical, social, religious and economic statistics.


The earliest atlases were not called by that name at the time of their publication, as it was introduced in 1595 by Gerardus Mercator.

The first book that in hindsight could be called an atlas was constructed from the calculations of Claudius Ptolemy, a geographer working in Alexandria circa A.D. 150. The first edition was published in Bologna in 1477 and was illustrated with a set of 27 maps, though scholars say that it is not known whether the printed maps were engraved versions of original maps made by Ptolemy, or whether they were constructed by medieval Greek scholars from Ptolemy's text.

From about 1544, many maps were produced, especially in the important trading centers of Rome and Venice. Each publisher worked independently, producing maps based upon their own needs. The maps often varied dramatically in size. Over time, it became common to bind the maps together into composite works. Although the term atlas was not in use in 1544, these works are now called "IATO" atlases - (Italian, Assembled to Order) or more frequently "Lafreri atlases" after one of the leading publishers of the period.

Abraham Ortelius is credited with issuing the first modern atlas on May 20, 1570. His Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, contained 53 map-sheets covering the countries of the World. This work was the first book of its kind to reduce the best available maps to a uniform size. It was an immediate critical and commercial success.

However, use of the word "atlas" for a bound collection of maps was not to come into use until the 1595 publication of Gerardus Mercator's "Atlas, Sive Cosmographicae Meditationes De Fabrica Mundi ..." (Atlas, or Description of the Universe) (Duisburg, 1585-1595).

"Atlas" etymology

The origin of the term atlas is a common source of misconception, perhaps because two different mythical figures named 'Atlas' are associated with mapmaking.

  • King Atlas, a mythical King of Mauretania, was, according to legend, a wise philosopher, mathematician and astronomer who supposedly made the first celestial globe. It was this Atlas that Mercator was referring to when he first used the name 'Atlas', and he included a depiction of the King on the title-page.
  • However, the more widely known Atlas is a figure from Greek mythology. He is the son of the Titan Iapetus and Clymene (or Asia), and brother of Prometheus. Atlas was punished by Zeus and made to bear the weight of the heavens (the idea of Atlas carrying the Earth isn't correct according to the original myth) on his back. One of Heracles's labours was to collect the apples of the Hesperides. Heracles went to Atlas and reasoned with him. Eventually, Atlas agreed to collect the apples, and Heracles was left to carry the weight. Atlas tried to leave Heracles there, but Heracles tricked him and Atlas was left to carry the heavens forever. In his epic Odyssey, Homer refers to this Atlas as "one who knows the depths of the whole sea, and keeps the tall pillars who hold heaven and earth asunder".

In works of art, this Atlas is represented as carrying the heavens or the Celestial Sphere, on his shoulders. The earliest such depiction is the Farnese Atlas, now housed at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli in Naples, Italy. This figure is frequently found on the cover or title-pages of atlases. This is particularly true of atlases published by Dutch publishers during the second half of the seventeenth century. The image became associated with Dutch merchants, and a statue of this figure adorns the front of the World Trade Center in Amsterdam.

The first publisher to associate the Titan Atlas with a group of maps was Lafreri, on the title-page to "Tavole Moderne Di Geografia De La Maggior Parte Del Mondo Di Diversi Autori ...". However, he did not use the word "atlas" in the title of his work.

Modern atlases

With the coming of the global market, publishers in different countries can reprint maps from plates made elsewhere. This means that the place names on the maps often use the designations or abbreviations of the language of the country in which the feature is located, to serve the widest market. For example, islands near Russia have the abbreviation "O." for "ostrov", not "I." for "island". This practise differs from what is standard for any given language, and it reaches its extremity concerning transliterations from other languages. Particularly, German mapmakers use the transliterations from Cyrillic developed by the Czechs which are hardly used in English-speaking countries.

Selected general atlases

Some cartographically or commercially important atlases include the following:17th century and earlier

See also

External links


Online atlases

History of atlases

Historical atlases online

Other links

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