Thule

Before considering other details of the geography of the area that centers on the Column of the Sun, it is expedient to follow the meridian 824E to the north of the sources of the Danube. The meridian cuts the northern coast of Europe at the mouth of the river Weser; it runs through the middle of the Bay of Heligoland, marking well also the north of the river Elbe. Then it moves along the western coast of the Peninsula of Jutland (Esberg: 5528N, 827E; Fano Lighthouse: 5528N, 825E) which was highly important in the culture of early Europe as the Coast of Amber.

The meridian passes through the middle of the main body of Norway, the western part, and it cuts the Norwegian coast where it turns sharply east, marking the limit of what is the substantial part of Norway.

The point where meridian 824E joins parallel 6300N, the extreme northern limit of the Oikoumene, was the famous geodetic point Thule. I have explained that originally the Oikoumene extended from the Equator to 3130N, and that later this extension was duplicated.

In his Geography Ptolemy ignores the Peninsula of Scandinavia because it extends beyond latitude 63N. As Pliny (II 96) implies, in order to take Scandinavia into account, it would be necessary to add a supplementary Oikoumene (alterum orbis terrarum). Ptolemy lists only Denmark and the islands of the Baltic Sea. But at the extreme northern limit of his meridian 30 he places the island of Thule.

Since meridian 30 P corresponds to our meridian 824E, Thule must be identified with the maze of islands and fjords around the three main islands that form the city of Kristiansund (6306N, 758E). Today Kristiansund is the best sheltered harbor of the west coast of Norway; it would have been an ideal harbor for ancient sailing vessels. The geodetic point may have been placed deeper into the fjords near the present Halsa (6305N, 820E). According to Ptolemys figures Thule must have included the Peninsula of Molde with an extreme western point near Kvitholmen Lighthouse (6301N, 715E).

The point Thule was given a certain extension along parallel 6300N because the corresponding point Atlantis at the Equator was stretched out.

The point Atlantis at the Equator was given a certain extension along the Equator because it had to satisfy different requirements. It extended to the east and to the west of meridian 824E. It extended 136 east to meridian 1000E (meridian of Carthage), because this meridian not only marks the easternmost point of the African coast in the area and the eastern coast of Tunisia, but because this meridian was of fundamental importance in world geography.

The point Atlantis was understood to be identical with the island of the three Gorgones which was the intersection of the Ecliptic with the Equator and the basic meridian. If the intersection of the Ecliptic with the Tropic and with the basic meridian (Main Axis of Egypt) is placed at 2351N, 3114E, the island of the Gorgones has to be placed 2351 west and 2351 south, at the Equator and 723E.

Hence, Ptolemy places the limit of Thule at 1000E and 724E. According to him Thule also extends 15 south and 20 north of parallel 6300N. Possibly the territory of Thule was intended to extend a solar diameter in a direction north-south, on the analogy of similar calculations in Egypt. The extension in the direction north-south may have been based on some physical features of the Norwegian coast, but may also have been based on the physical features of its counterpart at the Equator, the island of São Tomé. São Tomé extends from 028N to 001S.

When Plato, in order to explain the gap between the island of São Tomé and the African coast, develops the myth of the lost territory of Atlantis, his description of this lost territory appears to have been influenced by the Norwegian fjords at Thule, at the opposite end of the meridian. Finally, the question should be raised whether the three islands that today compose Kristiansund correspond to the three Gorgones. Plato speaks of three islands joined together by bridges.

The island of Thule is described in the account of the travels of Pytheas of Marseilles, who visited it ca. 330 B.C. The texts indicate that Pytheas left the British Isles for Thule, crossing from the Orkades, or Orkney Islands, and from Thule went to the land of amber. It can be considered certain that the land of amber was the western shore of the peninsula of Jutland to the north of the estuary of the Elbe, which are well marked by meridian 824E . Most scholars of ancient geography describe this account as mere fantasy; for instance, J. Oliver Thomson concludes (p. 130): “a hearsay of Iceland seems to suggest itself as the more plausible solution.”

Scholars have tried to identify Thule with Iceland because they do not understand the meaning of the conception that Thule was at the end of the world. But those who have interpreted the texts in a realistic spirit agree that Thule must be placed on the Norwegian coast between Bergen at the south and Trondheim at the north. Richard Hennig, whose study of the problem has met with deserved approval, is inclined to identify Thule with Trondheim (6336N, 1023E) which today is a harbor of international importance. It is remarkable that Hennig, who considered only the narrative material without taking the data of mathematical geography into account and without using the text of Ptolemy, came quite close to a correct solution: Kristiansund is only half a degree below Trondheim.

Pytheas reported: “The Barbarians pointed out to us the place where the Sun goes to rest” (Geminos VI 8). This is one of the passages that has been used to heap ridicule upon him, but it contains a precious bit of information. It reveals the etymology of the name reported by the Greeks as thyle. This word is to be traced to the Germanic root dhul-, a root that means “to stop in a place, to take a rest.” In Old High German gi-twelan means “to fall asleep.” Pytheas translated Thule perfectly as “the place where the Sun goes to rest.” The natives pointed out to him the exact location of the geodetic point Thule.

Ptolemys data about Thule reveal an accurate knowledge of the details of the intricate geography of the Norwegian coast.

Ptolemy describes Thule as a diamond-shaped area with one diagonal extending along parallel 63N, from 29 P to 3140 P, and the other diagonal extending along meridian 3020 P, from 6315N to 6240N:

These figures translated into our system of coordinates are:

In spite of the fact that Ptolemy rounded his figures to units of 5, the positions can be identified quite readily from the geography. For instance, the bottom point of the diamond corresponds to the position of the present town of Sunndalsoera, at the very end of a deep fjord. The center of the diamond corresponds to the point where the river Surna empties into the sea.

Ptolemy presents Thule as a diamond-shaped area instead of a simple geodetic point, because ideally Thule should have been placed at the intersection between parallel 63N and meridian 824E (=30 P). But it happens that parallel 63N reaches the water of the Atlantic Ocean not at 824E, but at about 14 west of this longitude at the mouth of the river Surna, which I have mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Further it cannot be said that parallel 63N reaches the Atlantic Ocean near the present village of Arnes (830E) which is deep into a fjord. This location is the center point of the diamond. Parallel 63N really reaches the open sea at the western end of Island Averöy.

When these difficulties arose in ancient geography, normally they were solved by constructing a geodetic square or a geographic rectangle; but in this case the difficulty was solved by constructing a diamond, because the left upper side of the diamond fits the course of the Norwegian coast in the area of Kristiansund. Actually this side of the diamond gives the direction of the Norwegian coast from the moment it turns eastwards at latitude 62N to the moment it reaches the entrance to the Fjord of Trondheim.

Basically the geographical information could have been provided by the following triangle:

But since it was customary to use rectangular figures, the triangle was doubled symmetrically into a diamond.

The eastern end of the diamond is the peak Reisfjell (height 1174 meters), which marks exactly the latitude 63N.

The right lower side of the diamond which goes from Sunndelsörn to peak Reisfjell is marked by the peaks Snota (1689 meters) and Trollhetta (1642 meters).

The figures of Ptolemy can be translated with complete certainty in terms of minutes because his figures are rounded to units of 5 minutes. I assume that by 80 of longitude he meant a degree or 60, since counting exactly 80 of longitude according to his reckoning would be 57.6 according to our system.

If one looks at a map of Norway one can easily easily grasp why Ptolemy described Thule as being diamond shaped: the upper left side of the diamond describes perfectly the course of the Norwegian coast from parallel 63N to the north. A ship upon reaching parallel 63N would proceed along the coast in the direction ENE, passing off Kristiansund and entering the Trondheimsleider that leads to Trondheim. The present town of Trondheimsleider, “Road to Trondheim,” indicates well what was the essential element of the diamond in Ptolemys geography.

Since Thule was understood to be the westernmost limit of the Egypt-centered world, the most important part of Ptolemys diamond is its western part.

The right side corner of the diamond can be readily identified with the Peninsula of Molde. Even today Norwegians refer to the Peninsula of Molde with emotion, taking it as a particularly significant part of their country.

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The fact that the meridian indicated by the beginning of the Danube and of the equatorial Nile indicates an important terminal line, explains why Ptolemy places Thule at this longitude of 30P which corresponds to 824E Greenwich. It means that it is placed three units of 712 east of the Western Axis of Egypt (60 for Ptolemy), since Ptolemy counts each unit of 712 as 10, making the Oikoumene 180 wide instead of 120. Other geographers identified Thule with the mathematical position of the NE corner of the rectangle of the Oikoumene, which would be 63N,0P for Ptolemy.

Since by the duplication of the original band of Oikoumene extending up to 3130N, the Oikoumene extends up to 63N, Ptolemy must ignore the part of Scandinavia above latitude 63N. As a result, in his geography Scandinavia appears as two islands separated by the gulf of Oslo. The Norwegian part of lower Scandinavia is listed as Thule. Its middle point is placed at 6330N, 20P = 830E, which corresponds to the point where latitude 63N cuts the Norwegian coast and corresponds to the longitude of Cape Lopez.

The Swedish part of Scandinavia is presented as the island of Scandia.

Since the Oikoumene extends 6 units of 712 to the west of Egypt (60 for Ptolemy), the meridian passing through the extreme limit of the Norwegian coast, the source of the Danube at Donauschingen, and the point where the equatorial Nile joins the Atlantic Ocean, is at the middle point