PART 1 - THE CARDINAL POINTS

(For Part 2 - The Division Systems, please click here)


The word cardinal is taken from the Latin cardo which means a hinge. The oldest names known (in the Mediterranean area) for the four cardinals are probably the ones used in ancient Egypt and in the Old Testament and were hence coined at least 4000-3500 years from now.
The Egyptians, like the Chinese by the way, defined the directions with the south in front of them (henti) and the north behind (mehet) them. East and west where hence called like left (...?) and right (...?). South was not only the position of the sun (the god Ra) at noon, it was also the origin of the life-sustaining river Nile.
The cardinals also were Israel's borders, i.e. the verdant mountains of Lebanon in the north (in Hebrew Tsafon), the barren mountains of Edom in the east (Kedem), the desert in the south (Negev) and the Mediterranean in the West  (Yam = sea) - Cited after Amir D. Aczel in The riddle of the compass.

The linguist Guy Deutscher explains in the New York TIMES how the native speakers of the Australian aborinal tongue Guugu Yimithirr (North Queensland) use the cardinal directions to describe things where we usually say left or right, in front of or behind oneself, words that they don't know, and orientate themself immediately and automatically while speaking.

The rose of the winds (or wind rose) was so named because the divisions of the circle were originally named after the main winds blowing in the Mediterranean. The four main ancient Greek wind names were: Boreas (cold north wind), Apeliotes (east wind), Notus (dry south wind), Zephyr (warm west wind) from the tower of the winds in Athens.
These wind names were later noted with their initial letter (see below and examples above: Spanish map dated 1583, and in the section Nautical Compasses the instruments signed by BAUDUF and ROUX). The names are indicated in full words in different languages on some descriptions, such as on the print at the top of page) generally in Italian, but also in Spanish, Provençal or Latin. The windrose at right also gives names for a further subdivision (32 points) like aquilin or zéphyr,  which should be well-known to all those who learned the famous French poems written by La Fontaine, Le Chêne et Le Roseau: " Tout vous est aquilin / Tout me semble zéphyr " (The oak and the reed: "what for you is a North wind is for me but a Zephyr").  
Pic. at right - This print was part of an ancient book by the famous French cartographer Nicolas Sanson d'Abbeville (1600/1667),
re-edited bei TERRES in Naples in 1794. Click on image for enlarged view

At some time in the Greek antiquity, only north and south were fixed directions. The names of the winds blowing in between gave birth to a total of twelve names in four groups (Aristotle, more details in Thomson - see Bibliography below):
Northern: Thrakias, Aparktias, Boreas
Eastern: Kaikas, Apeliotes, Euros
Southern: Euronotos/Phoinikias, Notos, Libonotos
Western: Libs, Zephiros, Argestes.

The letters for the eight winds were generally (clockwise in 45° steps):
- NorthT for Tramontane before the fleur-de-lys (heraldic lily) was generally used at some mome in the  16th c. Some authors like L. de Saussure presume that the fleur-de-lys design evolved from the uppercase letter T. Other names: bise (cold north wind in French), septentrio (Latin), also represented by seven stars. It was long argued that the origin of the lily might have been the fact that the makers of nautical compasses who lived in Naples (Italy) had maybe chosen this symbol because it was in the coat-of-arms of the "Anjou Empire"  (i.e. France) whom the Kingdom of Sicily and Naples then belonged (13th C.) but this is historically inconsistent.
- N-E: G for Graeco (Greek), a wind blowing from Greece to south Italy/Sicily.
- East: sometimes L for levante, i.e. the direction of the rising sun as well as various decorations (see table below). The symbol used for the East was a christian cross showing the way to Jerusalem but also the letter E for este (see above on the map of Puerto Rico). This information, which only had a religious background, is no longer used on contemporary maps or just for decoration. The most recent that we know of was printed on a Corfu, Greece, tourist map for the year 1990.
- S-E: S for Sirocco, a warm wind blowing from Africa
- South: O for Ostro (also austro = south, as in Austria and Australia) but also called meridio, vent marin, vent de midi (mezzogiorno),
- S-W: L for Libeccio, labech, lebeche, a wind crossing Italy and Corsica,
- West: P for Ponant, ponente (setting sun),
 - N-W: M for Maestro, Maestrale, Mistral (strong wind).

For more information read L'origine de la rose des vents et l'invention de la boussole by Leopold de Saussure, Geneva 1923, 64 p. : critical review and complement to the famous Lettre au baron Alexander von Humboldt sur l'origine de la boussole by J. Klaproth and also the The rose of winds: the origin and development of the compass card by Silvanus P. Thompson, London 1913, 45 p. (check also Miscell. / History and Literature).
TOP OF PAGE
Wind roses with decorated East cardinal on ancient maps:

Map of Puerto Rico
(drawn South up)



(Click on the picture for an enlarged view)
Portuguese map
(1590)

Spanish map
(1583)

Dutch map
(c. 1700)

Map of Corfou
(Greece, 1990)


East-decorated compasses

Ship's compass by
J. B. Leroy, Jersey


Ship's compass by
David Stalker, Leith



Sundial by
J. Urings, London



Surveyor's compass by
J.& H. M. POOL, Eston, Mass.



(All pictures by Jaypee - priv. coll.)


THE NAMES OF THE CARDINALS ON COMPASSES IN SOME LANGUAGES


Nowadays, the cardinal points of almost all compasses in the world are written in English (N-E-S-W for North - East - South - West). In ancient times though, the abbreviated Latin designations were used by Westerner compass makers and in many countries the cardinals were indicated in the national language. Here are some examples:

LATIN ARABIC BULGARIAN CHINESE CZECH DANISH
DUTCH FRENCH GERMAN HUNGARIAN INDIA JAPANESE
POLISH ROMANIAN RUSSIAN SERBO-CROATIAN (Yugosl.) SWEDISH TURKISH

LATIN

North: SE = septentriones
East: OR = oriens
South: ME = meridies
West: OC = occidens

For more details on this item,
go to Sundials/Equinoctial, Augsburg type

(Picture by courtesy of E. Tulchinsky/seattlesbestart)

Right: View of Rainkam castle (Bavaria) with a compass scheme by M. Wening, 1701 (picture Jaypee, click for enlarged view)



ARABIC

North: shamal, etymology: Sham-al = a statue / god which stood North of Arabia
East: sharq (q = hard k), etym. shoroq = sunrise
South: janoub, etym.: janb = side
West: raRb (pronounce the 1st r like in French and the 2nd like in Spanish), etym.: ghorob = sunset
(source: Yahoo! Q/A - Hakim)

See also category Religion (Islam)
Other example: OMI (Saudi Arabia)

pts_card_arab   

In the picture above, East is written in the old way with the letter Q for qibla but on the compass dial the letter SHIN was used for both North and East.

BULGARIAN

Like Russian except for the East which is called (pronounce iztok) instead of BOCTOK (pronounce vostok).


CHINESE (= Japanese)

The different ancient systems are described in the sections RELIGION / Chinese Tradition and Nautical Compasses / China.

Traditional symbols in astronomy:
North = black turtle
East
= blue dragon
South = red bird
West = white tiger

North:  
East:   
South:  
West:   西
Below: written names on compasses. Each sign is to be read from the compass center point.
NOTE: The transcripted phonetic value can strongly differ in the different languages (see the words used by J. Klaproth in 1834) in RELIGION and NAUTICAL compasses.


Classical characters (Click on image for enlarged view)
 

Modern characters  (military compass)
TOP OF PAGE

CZECH

North = SEVERNÍ
East = VÝCHOD
South = JIH
West = ZAPÁD
 
Note : The dial features a graduation in 6400 mils (see Divisions/Mils)

Descr. : Bézard / Imitations / Czechoslovakia

DANISCH


North : norden
East : øst
South : syd
West : vest

DUTCH

Like German, except South which is called Zuiden


FRENCH

Nord - Est - Sud - Ouest

These letters were also used in most roman languages like Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.

Romanian is a little bit different (see below)
TOP OF PAGE

GERMAN

Nord
Ost
Süd
West

NOTE: This compass features a division in 6400 Mils (see explanations in Divisions).



HUNGARIAN

North: észak
East: kelet
South: dél
West: nyugat

On this compass, the zero/6400 MILS faces the South mark (D) and North (É) is facing 3200 MILS.
(See Bézard, Gamma and MOM for explanations)

INDIA

Sanskrit:
North: ...
East: ...
South: ...
West: ...

The dial of the compass at left features cardinals (only E, S and W, North being represented by a fleur-de-lis) both in Urdu and Sanskrit languages

(Click on pic. for detailed views)
          

Picture above left by courtesy of The Boreal Arrow - At right: a ship's compass card in Sanskrit

JAPANESE (= Chinese)

North =
East =
South =
West = 西
A compass is said in Japanese language: rashinban ( 羅針盤 ) i.e. tool for finding direction.

(see examples in pocket and wrist compasses here: Japan)

POLISH

North = PÓŁNOC
East = WSCHÓD
South = POŁUDNIE
West = ZACHÓD


ROMANIAN

Nord 
Est 
Sud
Vest

NOTE: This compass features a division in 6000 Mils (see explanations in Divisions).


This compass was made by IOR, see also Bézard
TOP OF PAGE

RUSSIAN

Sometimes the German abbreviations N-S / W-O are used instead of С-Ю / З-В.  This tradition dates back to Peter the Great who created the Russian NAvy. The older ship compasses featured these markings and were even marked with a Z (Zuid in Dutch) instead of S. Example: see "AZIMUT".
(Compare with Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian).


SERBO-CROATIAN

North:      sever
East:        istok
South:      jug
West:       zapad

Left col.: latin letters,
Right col.: cyrillic letters

TOP OF PAGE

SWEDISH

North: norden
East: öster
South: söder
West: väster

NOTE: This compass features a division in 6300 Mils. (see explanations in SILVA and Divisions).



TURKISH


In Turkey, three different systems were used. During the Ottoman era, the Arabic alphabet (see below and pics at right) was used. After the Kemalist revolution the latin alphabet was introduced and some words of the language replaced by new ones. The cardinals points were among the latter (see 2nd row: Bézard Compass).

Depending on the transcription some letters may differ:

(Source: Wikipedia - click on image for enlarged view)

The cardinal points written in the Arabic alphabet in old Turkish on an antique compass. North is marked by a fleur de lis (heraldic lily) with the equivalent names in English.

(Compare with ARABIC above)


Picture by courtesy of Kornelia Takacs

English / Old Turkish / New Turk.
 
North = Şimal (Ş) / Kuzey (K)
East = Şark (SK) / Doğu (D)
South = Cenup (C) / Güney (G)
West = Garp (GP) / Batý (B)





The cardinals (only N, E and W) in old Turkish but in the latin alphabet on a Bézard compass dated approx. 1930

NOTE: We have no example of a compass with cardinals in modern Turkish. Thanks for sending us a picture.
TOP OF PAGE
(CONT'D: Part 2 - The Division Systems)