17th-Century Proposals for a Calendrical Date Line

Since antiquity, geographers and mapmakers located the prime meridian through the Canary Islands (often called the “Isles of the Blessed”), which were the most westerly known regions inhabited by man.

In 1612 the French historian Nicolas Bergier (1567-1623) published a work entitled Le point du jour, ou traicté du commencement des jours et de l’endroict où il est éstably sur la terre in which he proposed to adopt the meridian opposite to the one passing through the Azores, the prime meridian proposed by the renowned Flemish-German cartographer Gerard Mercator, as a suitable date line.

Apparently unaware of Bergier’s earlier proposal, the Louvain humanist and scholar Erik van de Putte (Erycius Puteanus, 1574-1646) published a work in 1632 in which he argued for the adoption of a prime meridian running through Rome, which, in honour of the ruling Pope Urban VIII, he proposed to name the ‘Circulus Urbanianus’. The meridian opposite to that of Rome he named the ‘Linea Archemerina’ and marked the line where the calendar date changed.

Puteanus pointed out that in order to be useful a date line should pass only over water without crossing any land and he conceded that his date line would have to make an eastward excursion at the latitude of ‘New Albion’ in order to satisfy this condition.

His proposal was vigorously attacked by Giacomo Micalori (1570-1645), a professor of theology and philosophy at Urbino, who described it as “mancus, supervacaneus, imaginarius et, ut omnia dicerentur, nullus”. Puteanus countered the objections from the “fool from Urbino” in a work published in the following year that in turn was criticized by Micalori in 1635.

Though Puteanus received support from his friend Godefroy Wendelin (1580-1667) and others, his proposal found little favour among cartographers with the exception of his friend Michael-Florent van Langren (1598-1675), who around 1645 published a 52½-cm terrestrial globe that depicted his meridians.

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