Biography of Anaximander

The Greek Philosopher Made Significant Contributions to Geography

Compass on a map

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Anaximander was a Greek philosopher who had a deep interest in cosmology as well as a systematic view of the world (Encyclopedia Britannica). Although little about his life and world is known today he was one of the first philosophers to write down his studies and he was an advocate of science and trying to understand the structure and organization of the world. As such he made many significant contributions to early geography and cartography and he is believed to have created the first published world map.

Anaximander’s Life

Anaximander was born in 610 B.C.E. in Miletus (present-day Turkey). Little is known about his early life but it is believed that he was a student of the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (Encyclopedia Britannica). During his studies, Anaximander wrote about astronomy, geography and the nature and organization of the world around him.

Today only a small portion of Anaximander’s work survives and much of what is known about his work and life is based on reconstructions and summaries by later Greek writers and philosophers. For example in the 1st or 2nd century C.E. Aetius became compiling the work of early philosophers. His work was later followed by that of Hippolytus in the 3rd century and Simplicius in the 6th century (Encyclopedia Britannica). Despite the work of these philosophers, however, many scholars believe that Aristotle and his student Theophrastus are most responsible for what is known about Anaximander and his work today (The European Graduate School).

Their summaries and reconstructions show that Anaximander and Thales formed the Milesian School of Pre-Socratic philosophy. Anaximander is also credited with inventing the gnomon on the sundial and he believed in a single principle that was the basis for the universe (Gill).

Anaximander is known for writing a philosophical prose poem called On Nature and today only a fragment still exists (The European Graduate School). It is believed that many of the summaries and reconstructions of his work were based on this poem. In the poem, Anaximander describes a regulating system that governs the world and the cosmos. He also explains that there is an indefinite principle and element that form the basis for the Earth’s organization (The European Graduate School). In addition to these theories Anaximander also early new theories in astronomy, biology, geography, and geometry.

Contributions to Geography and Cartography

Because of his focus on the organization of the world much of Anaximander’s work contributed significantly to the development of early geography and cartography. He is credited with designing the first published map (which was later revised by Hecataeus) and he may have also built one of the first celestial globe (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Anaximander’s map, although not detailed, was significant because it was the first attempt to show the entire world or at least the portion that was known to the ancient Greeks at the time. It is believed that Anaximander created this map for a number of reasons. One of which was to improve navigation between the colonies of Miletus and other colonies around the Mediterranean and Black seas ( Another reason for creating the map was to show the known world to other colonies in an attempt to make them want to join the Ionian city-states ( The final stated for creating the map was that Anaximander wanted to show a global representation of the known world to increase knowledge for himself and his peers. 

Anaximander believed that the inhabited portion of the Earth was flat and it was made up of the top face of a cylinder (Encyclopedia Britannica). He also stated that the Earth’s position was not supported by anything and it simply remained in place because it was equidistant from all other things (Encyclopedia Britannica). 

Other Theories and Accomplishments

In addition to the structure of the Earth itself, Anaximander was also interested in the structure of the cosmos, the origin of the world and evolution. He believed that the sun and moon were hollow rings filled with fire. The rings themselves according to Anaximander had vents or holes so that the fire could shine through. The different phases of the moon and eclipses were a result of the vents closing.

In trying to explain the origin of the world Anaximander developed a theory that everything originated from the apeiron (the indefinite or infinite) instead of from a specific element (Encyclopedia Britannica). He believed that motion and the ape iron were the origin of the world and motion caused opposite thing such as hot and cold or wet and dry land for instance to be separated (Encyclopedia Britannica). He also believed that the world was not eternal and would eventually be destroyed so a new world could begin.

In addition to his belief in apeiron, Anaximander also believed in evolution for the development of the Earth’s living things. The world’s first creatures were said to have come from evaporation and humans came from another type of animal (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Although his work was later revised by other philosophers and scientists to be more accurate, Anaximander’s writings were significant to the development of early geography, cartography, astronomy and other fields because they represented one of the first attempts to explain the world and its structure/organization.

Anaximander died in 546 B.C.E. in Miletus. To learn more about Anaximander visit the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Briney, Amanda. "Biography of Anaximander." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Briney, Amanda. (2021, December 6). Biography of Anaximander. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Biography of Anaximander." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 2, 2023).