Is it possible the ancient Greeks knew of the New World thousands of years ago? Courtesy Christos A. Djonis

The Legendary Hyperborea and the Ancient Greeks: Who Really Discovered America?

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In his story of Atlantis, written at around 360 BC, Plato mentioned a grand island or continent across the Atlantic, one larger than Libya and Asia combined. This continent was so enormous, he said, “it encompassed (wrapped around) that veritable ocean”. Is it possible that Plato was talking about the American continent and not that of Atlantis, as many automatically assume when they read that story for the first time?

Let's not ignore that many scholars and researchers also show that proper translation of Plato's text places Atlantis in the Mediterranean and not in the Atlantic, or some other exotic location. Aside from those claims though, is it conceivable to accept that the ancient Greeks, around the 4th century BC, knew of the American continent across the Atlantic? Interestingly, several clues suggest that this may not be such an outlandish assumption after all.

Roughly twenty years ago, in 1996, Mark McMenamin, a professor of geology at Mount Holyoke College in the United States, discovered and interpreted a series of enigmatic markings on the reverse side of a Carthaginian gold coin, minted circa 350 BC, as an ancient map of the world. In the center of this world map there is a clear depiction of the Mediterranean basin. An image to the right of it is interpreted to represent Asia, while the image to the left is interpreted to represent the American continent. Professor McMenamin also found that all known specimens of this type of coin formed the same type of “world” map. This was an interesting discovery, no doubt; however, what is most interesting about this find, is that this particular Carthaginian coin was minted within the same decade when Plato unveiled the story of Atlantis and revealed that there was a large continent across from the Pillars of Hercules.

Carthaginian coins from circa 310–290 BC. Representational image only.

Carthaginian coins from circa 310–290 BC. Representational image only. (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. / CC BY-SA 2.5 )

The Piri Reis Map

The Piri Reis world map, named after its maker, a Turkish admiral and renowned cartographer (1465-1553), drawn in 1513, merely two decades after the ‘discovery’ of America by Christopher Columbus, depicts the west coast of Africa, Europe, as well as the entire American continent on the Atlantic side. According to Piri Reis, however, his controversial map was based on several other charts, many dating as early as the 4th century BC!

Map of the world by Ottoman admiral Piri Reis, drawn in 1513.

Map of the world by Ottoman admiral Piri Reis, drawn in 1513. ( Public Domain )

While by any means the famous map does not come close to a satellite image, it still properly depicts the continents on both sides of the Atlantic, although with one major flaw. It shows the horn of South America turning sharply eastwards, almost at a 90-degree angle, as if South America "wraps around" the Atlantic at the bottom of the map. Of course, some go on to speculate that the horizontal body of that land could be that of Antarctica, thus the controversy, since Antarctica was not discovered until 300 years later.

Although the controversy in Piri Reis' map significantly diminishes without Antarctica in it, the existence of this map still helps reinforce a couple of assumptions made earlier. If truly Piri Reis borrowed from other ancient maps dating back to the 4th century BC, then unquestionably this reinforces the suggestion that Plato, at 360 BC, could have been aware of the American continent in order to include it in his story.

Moreover, is it possible that the apparent flaw on Piri Reis' map, which most likely also appeared on the much older originals, explains why Plato was under the false impression that the immense continent across from the Pillars of Hercules “encompassed” (wrapped around) the Atlantic Ocean. Just as in the northern hemisphere, where North America, along with Greenland, Iceland and few other islands seem to encompass the North Atlantic.

Map by Abraham Ortelius, Amsterdam 1572: at the top left Oceanvs Hyperborevs separates Iceland from Greenland.

Map by Abraham Ortelius, Amsterdam 1572: at the top left Oceanvs Hyperborevs separates Iceland from Greenland. ( Public Domain )

Legendary Hyperborea

Additional clues, though, not only suggest that the ancient Greeks knew of North America across the Atlantic, but as it appears, they were also familiar with the region around the Arctic Circle—in essence the broken bridge that connects northern Europe to North America. They called this land Hyperborea (a Greek word that means "Extremely North".)


Alexander the Great would've certainly conquered it if only he had known about it.

Check this. It’s description of Shlaraffenland and painting of mountain that leads to that land, mountain in centre of Hyperborea. And here we have painting from The Basilica of Saints Cosmas & Damian in Rome – . It’s very similliar mountain, with 4 rivers. I consider this more just coincidence.

Plato may have lived and written in the 4th century BCE, but then again, he might just have come out of the imagination of Gemisto Pleton (same basic name) in the 15th century.

The Greeks not only said Hyperborea had 24 hours of sunshine, they also said it had a wonderful warm climate. Modern geology shows it once had a tropical climate.

If you would like to learn a lot about ancient maps such as the Mercator map pictured in this article, watch the great video called the Lazeria Map Collection on youtube.

And if you like it, watch other Harry Hubbard videos on history and other interesting subjects.

Tom Carberry

Who Discovered America? - Native Americans!

There is no american continent. There is North America and South America no continent called america.
Was this article written by a geographically chellenged USA'er?

Whats the chance of getting both western continents renamed? I propose dumping the "america" which comes from a charlaton named Amerigo Vespucci. I would like to see North America renamed to "Turtle Island". The Southern continent can be renamed something else, but please let's dump "america".


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