Behaim Globe 1492 – Digital Edition


Project duration: 1993 - 2025 Date coverage: 1492 - 2020 Website Contact

Martin Behaim’s Globe of 1492 is the oldest extant globe of the earth. It is an early masterpiece of various scientific and technological achievements; nowadays it is a famous exhibit of the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg. The globe’s map image is primarily Ptolemaic, including elements of medieval universal cartography and of sea charts. Its luxurious decoration shows 100 pictorial illustrations plus 60 banners and coats of arms, more than 2000 place names, and more than 50 long inscriptions. The Behaim Globe is one of the very few extant cartographical works where different traditions of late medieval mapmaking are bound together. It presents the last pre-columbian encyclopedic account of late medieval world knowledge in a georeferenced arrangement. At the beginning of early modern globalization, there is a focus on information relevant to long-distance trade as practiced by the merchants of the Nuremberg city republic: information about foreign countries, peoples and their habits, about fauna and flora, and about merchandise, in particular spices, gold, and precious stones. At the same time, there are indications of the upcoming change to a more “modern” empirical, scientific image of the Earth. Not the quality of the information, but its quantity and selection make the globe an important primary source for historical research.

The Behaim project aims at a new digital presentation – and also a printed edition – of the globe. The georeferenced information is stored in a semantically indexed database and together with high-resolution photographs, orthorectified globe gores, and a 3D model accessible in our portal:

The contribution of this project to the “Nuremberg Time Machine” consists of three levels above the timeline:
– The genesis of the globe’s map image from antiquity to the Renaissance;
– Its significance for the European expansion and early globalization;
– Elucidating Nuremberg’s central role in long-distance trade as well as a place for the production of the finest astronomical instruments and astronomical books;
– The varied object history of the globe in Nuremberg – its innovative production technology and its way from a public presentation in the city hall to an outstanding museum object and its digital preservation.

Historical maps are cognitive maps in the first place, which indicates a requirement for a formal qualitative representation of (abstract) places, regions, their relative positions, but also of direction, orientation, and distance. Therefore, from a technical point of view, a comprehensive catalog of all visually relevant places including the text fields has been set up. It is semantically indexed by means of a domain ontology for medieval cartography, which in turn is an extension of the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model CRM for cultural heritage documentation. Integration with a logical representation framework will lead to a system of hybrid reasoning to processing complex spatial queries over the Behaim globe database. Furthermore, we are planning access to the original object by means of an Augmented Reality application.

In addition to the high-resolution 3D model and images as well as the transcriptions and explanations, which will be of interest for a general audience, the data are freely accessible as Linked Open Data for linguistic, historic, and cartometric research.

Project partners

With financial support by