This map is taken from the 1588 edition of the Cosmographia, the earliest German language description of the world by the notable cartographer Sebastian Munster. This is a Ptolemaic map, meaning that it was constructed based on Ptolemy’s coordinates in the Geographia from circa 150 CE. By the time of the printing of this map geographic knowledge had advanced considerably. However, European cartographers still paid due reverence to Ptolemy by including his map in their atlases.
Ptolemy’s oikoumene, the habitable world, is made up of three continents. Europe, Libye (Africa) and Asia. To someone accustomed to viewing modern maps of Asia several errors stand out. First, the familiar peninsular shape of the Indian Subcontinent is blunted; Second, the island of Taprobana, representing Sri Lanka is disproportionately large; Third the eastern edge of the map representing China and Southeast Asia are basically unrecognizable with any modern counterparts and most remarkably Eastern Asia is joined by a land bridge to Eastern Africa turning the Indian Ocean to a landlocked sea.
For well over a thousand years after Ptolemy, his maps were still the standard European view of the geography of the world. Word started trickling in from intrepid European land travelers like Marco Polo (1254-1324) and Niccolo de Conti (c.1395-1469) of the fabulous riches of the East. This prompted European maritime powers to search for a sea route to Asia in order to circumvent the Muslim ruled lands of North Africa and the Middle East. By the early Fifteenth Century there was skepticism about Ptolemy’s assertion of the Indian Ocean as landlocked. Successive Portuguese expeditions under royal sponsorship pushed further down along the west coast of Africa, until Vasco da Gama in 1498 rounded the Cape of Good Hope to reach the Indian port city of Calicut (Kozhikode, Kerala) on the Malabar Coast.
In his Geographia , Ptolemy divides Asia into 12 parts. Bengal straddles the tenth and eleventh maps: Tabula Decima Asiae and Tabula Undecima Asiae.