The period from the fifth to the fifteenth century was one of sporadic and limited geographic work in Europe. Elsewhere， however， especially in the Islamic world and China， geography flowered. Again， what we find is a close relationship between geography on the one hand and societies experiencing expansion， and hence a thirst for geographic knowledge， on the other.
Medieval Europeans knew little beyond their immediate domain as geographic horizons retreated and mapping deteriorated. Many of the advances made by the Greeks were lost and it was only in monasteries that serious geographic work continued. During the Middle Ages， geography as such no longer existed； the word “geography” did not enter the English language until the sixteenth century. The clearest evidence of decline relates to maps. Greek maps were drawn by scholars with expertise in astronomy， geometry， and mathematics. Medieval map makers， although scholarly， are less easily described. Their maps were symbolic， not geographic. They stylized geographic reality to arrive at a predetermined desired structure. These maps are less detailed and accurate than maps produced some 1，500 years earlier. The best example is the twelfth to the fifteenth century‘s T-O maps， which are a T drawn within an O. T-O maps show the world as a circle divided by a T-shaped body of water. East is at the top of the map. Above the T is Asia， below left is Europe， and below right is Africa. The cross of the T is the Danube-Nile axis and the perpendicular part of the T is the Mediterranean. These maps are ones of scriptural dogma； what was drawn was what Christians were expected to believe. Symbols triumphed over facts. A second type of medieval map divided the world into climatic zones， largely hypothetical， on either side of the equator. Other medieval maps were replete with decoration； the Ebstorf Mappemonde （c.1284） had as background a picture of the crucifixion， while the Hereford map （c. 1 300） is really an encyclopedia. Overall， medieval maps reflect medieval European geography， which， in turn， reflects medieval scholarship. Possibly the exceptions are the maps known as Portolano charts， which date from about 1300. These maps were used at sea and utilized a series of radiating lines. The lines did not serve to locate positions on the map， nor did the maps use any projection. Nevertheless these maps often succeeded in locating coastlines accurately.
Medieval Europeans made very few additions to geographic knowledge. Norsemen sailed to Greenland and North America， but no books resulted. Christian Europeans indulged in a series of crusades and military invasions to the Holy Land， but the result， as far as geographic knowledge was concerned， was minimal. The most significant exploratory journey was that of Marco Polo （1254-1323）， a Venetian who visited China and wrote a description of the places he visited. However， Marco Polo was unable to add to Greek knowledge because he was largely unaware of it. The distinction is not always an easy one， but Marco Polo was an explorer， not a geographer. It was outside Europe that the major geographic advances took place during the period after the Greeks and prior to the fifteenth century. Two contributions need to be noted.
In China， a great civilization， clearly the parent of contemporary China， developed before 2000 BC. The longest-lasting civilization in the world， China inevitably made major contributions to geographic knowledge. Chinese writings describing their known world date back to at least the fifth century BC. The Chinese also explored and described areas beyond China； in 128 BC， for example， Chang Chi‘en discovered the Mediterranean region， described his travels， and initiated a trade route. Other Chinese geographers reached India， central Asia， Rome， and Paris. Indeed， Chinese travelers reached Europe prior to the travels of Marco Polo. There is one important aspect in which early Chinese geography differed from the European equivalent. It is a difference of geographic perspective， that is， a different way of looking at the world. Traditionally， Chinese culture views the individual as a part of nature whereas Greek and subsequent European culture typically view the individual as apart from nature. This distinction is closely tied to the differing attitudes incorporated in Confucianism （which dates from about the sixth century BC） and Christianity. Given the concern with humans and land as one， it is evident that Chinese descriptive geographies often focused on an integrated human and physical description. Maps were also central to geography in China. There is evidence of a grid system used during the Han dynasty （third century BC to third century AD）。 It appears that the Chinese map makers began as civil servants whose job it was to draw and revise maps. Viewed in this light， the map maker was an important individual in the service of the state. Maps were symbolic statements， asserting ownership of some territory.
The second contribution to geography outside Europe came from the Islamic world. The religion of Islam began in the seventh century AD （the prophet Muhammad died in 632） and very quickly proved to be a powerful unifying force of previously disparate tribes. Consequently； at much the same time as Europe was immersed in the Dark Ages， civilization flowered in Arabia. Conquests beyond the Arab region commenced， increasing the geographic knowledge base to include north Africa， the Iberian Peninsula， and India. By the ninth century， Islamic geographers were recalculating the circumference of the earth. From then until the fifteenth century， a wealth of geographic writings and maps was produced based on earlier Greek work and Islamic travels. Geographic descriptions included that by Edrisi （1099-1180）， whose book on world geography corrected many of the errors contained in the work of Ptolemy. Perhaps the best-known traveler was ibn-Batata （1304-c.1368）， who journeyed extensively in Europe， Asia， and Africa. A third major addition to geography came from ibn-Khaldun （1332-1406）， a historian who wrote extensively about the relations between humans and the environment. Maps produced by Islamic geographers， including Edrisi， centered on Arabia.
Chinese and Islamic geography prior to the fifteenth century were roughly comparable to Greek geography. Mathematical and literary traditions were evident and map making was central to most geographic endeavors. Both descriptions and maps had horizons that corresponded to the knowledge and needs of particular societies.