How I Met Your Forefather: A History of Voyages-I

Not so long ago there was no ‘Google Maps’. Well, till a point in time there were no maps either. Maps, you see, need to show places. These places were always there, but needed to be discovered(much like Hollywood talent). Here is a list that summarizes some of the earliest explorations carried out in ancient times (with maps of their journeys):

1)The First Explorer

Timeline Explorer Voyage Description
2750BCE-2745BCE Hannu Egypt to Gulf of Aden Possibly the earliest recorded voyage, carried out for trade
Hannu's Voyage
Hannu’s Voyage

Hannu expedition led him to Punt (present day Ethiopia and Somalia) and came back with precious metals and myrrh (defined by Merriam Webster as ‘a brown slightly bitter gum obtained from African and Arabian trees and used especially in perfumes or formerly in incense’). It is as mentioned the first recorded voyage in history.

2)The female Pharaoh who pushed boundaries

Timeline Explorer Voyage Description
Circa 1470BCE Queen Hatshepsut Egypt to modern day Somalia Ordered an expedition for trade


Expedition of Queen Hatshepsut
Expedition of Queen Hatshepsut

The expedition ordered by Queen Hatsheptut (which brought riches like gold, ivory and myrrh) was perhaps amongst the less fascinating aspects of her life. She was the longest serving female pharaoh who sported a beard and wore male ornaments to make the notion of a female ruler more acceptable, and oversaw the construction of the temple at Deir el-Bahri, one of the most notable monuments of ancient Egypt.

3)The first Greek to visit India

Timeline Explorer Voyage Description
515BC-510BCE Scylax Persia(Iran) to Indus River, to Yemen, to Suez Sent by King Darius of Persia to explore the Indus River and establish new trade routes
Scylax's journey from India to Suez
Scylax’s journey from India to Suez

Scylax journeyed for King Darius who wished to explore the Indus river, which along with Nile was believed to be one of two rivers which produced crocodiles. His journey brought him great fame and even resulted in the publishing of a Naval handbook in his name.

4)The first man to record spotting a gorilla

Timeline Explorer Voyage Description
Circa 5th Century BCE Hanno Carthage(Tunisia) to Cameroon Set out to establish townships for the Kingdom of Carthage and sources of gold supply
Hanno's Journey
Hanno’s Journey

Hanno’s expedition has a lot of interesting attributes. He set sail with 60 ships and 30,000 men and women. He referred to himself as King of Carthage and founded many cities with an aim to expand the Carthaginian empire and might have traveled as far as Cameroon. His records of the journey include perhaps the earliest mention of the sighting of a gorilla.

5)The first contact with Britain

Timeline Explorer Voyage Description
Around 325BCE Pytheas Marseille to Britain through Meditrranean Sea Voyaged to find alternative routes for trade
Pytheas's expedition
Pytheas’s expedition

Pytheas’s journey was motivated by the need to find alternative sources of supply for tin, the trade of which was being controlled by Carthaginians. He was able to rich Brittany and then Belerium (Land’s End, Cornwall) which was famous for it’s tin mines. He is known for his sharp observations on the lifestyle of foreigners, and certain scientific aspects like the position of the polestar and the tidal influence of Moon’s gravity.

6)The origins of the ‘Silk Route’

Timeline Explorer Voyage Description
138BCE-125BCE Zhang Qian Longxi(China) to Central Asia, to Northern India Commanded by Emperor Wu of Han dynasty to seek political alliance, his journey resulted in the founding of the historic ‘Silk Road’
Zhang Qian's route
Zhang Qian’s route

Zhang Qian’s voyage is fascinating for a number of reasons. He was sent forth by Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty to form an alliance with the Yuezhi people of Central Asia, but was captured by the Xiongnu, nomadic enemies of China where he was detained for 10 years. He managed to escape and then chose to proceed with his mission rather than return home. Although he was unable to secure the alliance, he returned to China, after 13 years, with valuable insights about the geography, people and culture of the regions he traveled. This new knowledge was greatly appreciated by Emperor Wu and led to more explorations to the west. In 119BCE, he was sent of a second expedition, this time with the objective of forming an alliance with the Wu-Sun of the Ili River valler region(Xinjiang, China) and it is this journey that led to the establishment of the ‘Silk Road’.

We shall trace the travels of other early explorers in our next article. For a detailed account of these voyages, please check out the links below.


Images Courtesy:

Featured Image: “Wells egyptian ship red sea” by H. G. Wells – Wells, H. G. (1920). The Outline of History. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc… Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Maps of Hannu, Hatshepsut and Syclax:

Map of Hanno: “Hannon map-fr” by Bourrichon – travail personnel (own work) + File:Africa topography map.png (relief bitmap embedded in the svg) + File:Periplo de Hannón.jpg (data). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Map of Pytheas:

Map of Zhang Qian: “ZhangQianTravel”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Study more about-






6)Zhang Qian



About Madhur Oza

Aspiring artist. MBA. Erstwhile corporate cavalry. Live to eat. Nerd. Suburban Mumbaikar (pseudo Mumbaikar technically). After having been conditioned by society, it's time to be conditioned by the soul...

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