Who Invented the Compass

The importance of compass is well known. The invention of compass is one of the best in the millennium. However, there exist various uncertainties about the inventors of compass. It is said to be invented during the Han Dynasty of China between 300 and 200 BC. The exact date is unknown. It was invented more than 2000 years ago and was used for navigational purposes during the Song Dynasty.

Invention of Compass in different regions of the World

1. China

Ancient Chinese Compass
Ancient Chinese Compass

From noteworthy Chinese literary references, the use and invention of compass has been found. It was known as the south governor. It was made of lodestone which is a naturally magnetized ore of iron. Lodestone is made from magnetite and thus it aligned with the magnetic fields of the Earth. Before navigation the compass was used for various other purposes like geomancy, fortune telling and various principles of Feng Shui. Later the Chinese learned how the compass can be used to measure direction and during the Song Dynasty it was used for navigational purposes. They saw an iron south pointing fish floating itself towards the south and understood the concept of direction finding

2. Medieval Europe

The use of magnetic compass has been reported by Alexander Neckam for the region of English Channel in various texts like De naturis rerum and De utensilibus. From Neckam’s understanding, description and use of the mariner compass it has been argued that compass was perhaps not a gift of China to the west, it might have been invented in Europe too. The use of compass at sea in 1218 suggests a broader understanding of compass by the people of medieval Europe. In various references, the uses of magnetic needle for navigation have been found in the year 1250. Before the invention voyages were carried in the months with clear sky but after the navigation became safer in the cloudy months too. It is after this that the traffic increased in the Mediterranean region and the actual commercial voyages started.

3. Islamic Compass

Islamic Compass
Ancient Islamic Compass

Islamic Compass also known as Qibla Compass. in the Islamic World, the use of compass has been mentioned in the Persian tale book in the year 1232 BC. An iron fish like compass was used while navigation in the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf. It is thought that this Chinese symbol spread outside China by then. Many scholars believe that the appearance of compass occurred first in the Arab World. This is so because references have been found where the author describes the use of compass during a ship trip some forty year earlier. Compass was used to find the direction to Mecca too.

4. India

In the Tamil nautical books, the use of compass is mentioned in the fourth century BC. The early name of this compass used to be Matsya-yantra which means fish machine and thus a Chinese origin. The compass had a fish shaped magnet which used to float in a bowl filled with oil. This was the typical design of the compass used in China. After the invention of these compass in the modern world dry compass, bearing compass etc. are used. The exact date of invention or the exact person’s name is still uncertain.