1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Behaim, Martin

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BEHAIM (or Behem), MARTIN (1436?-1507), a navigator and geographer of great pretensions, was born at Nuremberg, according to one tradition, about 1436; according to Ghillany, as late as 1459. He was drawn to Portugal by participation in Flanders trade, and acquired a scientific reputation at the court of John II. As a pupil, real or supposed, of the astronomer “Regiomontanus” (i.e. Johann Müller of Königsberg in Franconia) he became (c. 1480) a member of a council appointed by King John for the furtherance of navigation. His alleged introduction of the cross-staff into Portugal (an invention described by the Spanish Jew, Levi ben Gerson, in the 14th century) is a matter of controversy; his improvements in the astrolabe were perhaps limited to the introduction of handy brass instruments in place of cumbrous wooden ones; it seems likely that he helped to prepare better navigation tables than had yet been known in the Peninsula. In 1484-1485 he claimed to have accompanied Diogo Cão in his second expedition to West Africa, really undertaken in 1485-86, reaching Cabo Negro in 15° 40' S. and Cabo Ledo still farther on. It is now disputed whether Behaim's pretensions here deserve any belief; and it is suggested that instead of sharing in this great voyage of discovery, the Nuremberger only sailed to the nearer coasts of Guinea, perhaps as far as the Bight of Benin, and possibly with José Visinho the astronomer and with João Affonso d'Aveiro, in 1484-86. Martin's later history, as traditionally recorded, was as follows. On his return from his West African exploration to Lisbon he was knighted by King John, who afterwards employed him in various capacities; but, from the time of his marriage in 1486, he usually resided at Fayal in the Azores, where his father-in-law, Jobst van Huerter, was governor of a Flemish colony. On a visit to his native city in 1492, he constructed his famous terrestrial globe, still preserved in Nuremberg, and often reproduced, in which the influence of Ptolemy is strongly apparent, but wherein some attempt is also made to incorporate the discoveries of the later middle ages (Marco Polo, &c.). The antiquity of this globe and the year of its execution, on the eve of the discovery of America, are noteworthy; but as a scientific work it is unimportant, ranking far below the portolani charts of the 14th century. Its West Africa is marvellously incorrect; the Cape Verde archipelago lies hundreds of miles out of its proper place; and the Atlantic is filled with fabulous islands. Blunders of 16° are found in the localization of places the author claims to have visited: contemporary maps, at least in regard to continental features, seldom went wrong beyond 1°. It is generally agreed that Behaim had no share in Transatlantic discovery; and though Columbus and he were apparently in Portugal at the same time, no connexion between the two has been established. He died at Lisbon in 1507.

See C. G. von Murr, Diplomatische Geschichte des berühmten Ritters Behaim (1778); A. von Humboldt, Kritische Untersuchungen (1836); F. W. Ghillany, Geschichte des Seefahrers Martin Behaim (1853); O. Peschel, Geschichte der Erdkunde, 214-215, 226, 251, and Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, esp. p. 90; Breusing, Zur Geschichte der Geographie (1869); Eugen Gelcich in the Mittheilungen of the Vienna Geographical Society, vol. xxxvi. pp. 100, &c.; E. G. Ravenstein, Martin de Bohemia (Lisbon, 1900), Martin Behaim, His Life and His Globe (London, 1909), and Voyages of Diogo Cão and Bartholomeu Dias, 1482-1488, in Geographical Journal, Dec. 1900; see also Geog. Journal, Aug. 1893, p. 175, Nov. 1901, p. 509; Jules Mees in Bull. Soc. Geog., Antwerp, 1902, pp. 182-204; A. Ferreira de Serpa in Bull. Soc. Geog., Lisbon, 1904, pp. 297-307. (C. R. B.)