Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta [also spelled Buttuta] (1303-1365), was a Moroccan explorer who traveled through Africa, the Middle East, and parts of the Far East. A Muslim, he set off on a Hajj (a pilgrimage to the holy town of Mecca) from Tangier, Africa, in 1325 and traveled for almost three decades, covering over 75,000 miles (120,700 km) by boat and over land. He did sail his own boat, but was a passenger on many trading boats. In India, Buttuta was appointed a Magistrate of Delhi (1334-1341). He also traveled to China, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, and much of Africa. Buttuta later recorded his adventures in a popular book, “Travels (Rihala) of Ibn Battuta.” He died in Fez, Morocco, in 1365.
Saint Brendan, also known as Saint Brendon, Brendan the Bold, and Brendan the Voyager (484 or 486-578) was an Irish abbot, monastery founder, and legendary sea voyager. Brendan sailed in the Atlantic Ocean, traveling to the Hebrides (islands off the west coast of Scotland), Scotland, and perhaps to Wales and Brittany (the northwestern coast of France along the English Channel). He may have also sailed to the Canary Islands (off the northwest coast of Africa), the Azores (islands far off the coast of Portugal), and Iceland. The Irish epic poem “Voyage of Brendan” recounts his voyages.
Zhang Qian, also called Chang Ch’ien (?-114 BC) was a Chinese explorer who traveled to the steppes of Central Asia during the reign of the Han dynasty Emperor Han Wudi (also called Wu Ti, he reigned from 140-87 BC). He was the first person to bring information on this area to China.
Emperor Wudi sent Zhang Qian to visit the Indo-European Yüeh-chih tribe of central Asia in order to establish a trade relationship. On his way northwest in 138 B.C. with about 100 men, Zhang Qian was imprisoned by the nomadic Hsiung-nu people (the Huns) for 10 years. He escaped and made his way to the Yueh-chih tribe (a journey of over 2,000 miles), returning to China 3 years later. Upon his return from this 12-year journey, Zhang Qian was named supreme counselor of the palace by the Emperor.
Many years later, the Emperor sent him to visit the Wu-sun people to the northwest of China, another Indo-European tribe living in what is now Russia. His travels, and those of his assistants (who visited Uzbekistan and Afghanistan) opened up Chinese trade and helped begin the Silk Road, an important trade route connecting the east and the west.
Eric the Red (950?-1003 or 1004?) was a Viking explorer who was the first European to sail to Greenland. He sailed from Iceland in 982 and led a group of colonists to Greenland in 985-986.
Leif Ericsson (also spelled Eriksson) the Lucky (980?-1020?) was a Viking (Norse) explorer who was possibly the first European to sail to North America. Leif sailed north from the southern tip of Greenland, then went south along the coast of Baffin Island down to Labrador, and then landed in what is now called Newfoundland (which he called Vinland). Ericsson sailed around the year 1000.
Ericsson was born in Iceland and was one of the sons of the explorer Eric the Red.
Ericsson was probably preceded to Vinland by the Icelandic explorer Bjarni Herjulfsson, who spotted the coast of North America in 985 or 986 when blown off course from Iceland to Greenland (but he did not go ashore). Hearing of Herjulfsson’s discovery, Ericsson sailed for North America in the year 1000 with a crew of 35. He landed in what is probably southern Baffin Island (which he called Helluland, meaning the “land of the flat stone”). He then went on the what is now Labrador (which he called Markland, meaning “forest land”). In 1001 they reached Vinland (perhaps the southern tip of Newfoundland), where remains of an ancient Norse settlement have been found). Ericsson and his crew returned to Green land in the spring of 1002.
Ericsson later inherited his father’s position as leader of the Norse colony in Greenland.
Hannu was an ancient Egyptian explorer; he made the first recorded exploring expedition. Hennu is said to have sailed down the Red Sea to explore the southeastern areas of the Arabian peninsula (called Punt) around 2750 B.C (during Egypt’s 2nd dynasty). He sailed to what is now part of eastern Ethiopia and Somalia. He returned to Egypt with treasures, including myrrh (a spice) and precious metals. Hannu wrote of his exploration in stone. (Hannu is sometimes called Hennu, which is also the name of a sacred boat of Egyptian gods).
Heriolf was one of the Viking settlers who who sailed with Eric the Red in A.D. 986 and settled in the new colony that Eric established in Greenland. Heriolf was among 400 to 500 settlers who traveled with Eric the Red from Breidafjord, Iceland, in 14 ships to settle in southern Greenland. After doing well for a while, the settlement experienced unusually cold weather. What happened to Heriolf after settling in Greenland is unknown.
Bjarni Herjulfsson was an Icelandic explorer who was possibly the first European to see the continent of North America, but he did not go ashore. In 985 or 986, he spotted Vinland (what is now probably Nova Scotia) after being blown off course on a journey from Iceland to Greenland. Upon his return, he spoke of a hilly, forested land west of Greenland. Leif Ericsson probably heard of Vinland from Herjulfsson, and roughly 14 years later, sailed there.
Marco Polo (1254-1324) was an Italian voyager and merchant who was one of the first Europeans to travel across Asia through China, visiting the Kublai Khan in Beijing. He left in 1271 (he was a teenager at the time) with his father (Nicolo Polo) and uncle (Maffeo Polo); they spent about 24 years traveling. [Nicolo and Maffeo had previously made a trip to China, from 1260-1269, during which the Kublai Khan (the conqueror of China) requested holy oil blessed by the Pope.]
Scylax of Caryanda was an ancient Greek explorer who explored the Middle East, including the Indus River, in the 6th century B.C. Scylax’s small expedition sailed from the city of Caspatyrus (in Pactyica) toward the sea and explored for 30 months. Scylax was sent by the Emperor Darius of Persia (now Iran), who wanted the information in order to expand his empire and conquer India.