A Compilation of Knowledge to cross the Oceans

  • 1560, (Portugal)
  • 1 bound volume, manuscript on paper and parchment; 241 folios;
  • 42,5 x 30,0 x 6,0 cm (cover), 40,3×27,7 cm (folios)
  • Portuguese National Archive of Torre do Tombo
  • Ref Code: PT/TT/CRT/166

Starting in the 15th century, several European nations initiated a maritime expansionist movement that led to the creation of vast colonial empires.

Long-distance ocean voyages posed many technical challenges and great efforts were made to overcome those difficulties, requiring the contribution of professionals from different disciplines.

The document presented here is a collection of diverse texts on the technical aspects of oceanic navigation. Some of these works are attributed to João de Lisboa, a celebrated Portuguese pilot from the first half of the 16th century. Whereas some of the works contained in this document may have been authored by him, it is likely that in other cases he was just the compiler of information that circulated in nautical circles.

A particularly noteworthy document covers the use of the magnetic compass on board, the first of its kind.

This document also contains a collection of rutters (sailing directions) for the most important routes from Europe to America, Africa and Asia.

Despite their importance, the texts in this 16th century manuscript were not printed. This document reminds us that while some technical literature was printed in early modern Europe, much of it still circulated in manuscript form.