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A small section of Tabula Peutingeriana 100 A.D.

Parthian Empire 247 BC–224 AD)
Stacked Wooden Logs


Shown here are reproductions of an early road map of the imperial highways of the Roman world, covering the area roughly from southeast England to present day Sri-Lanka. It is not a 'map' in the true sense of the word, but a cartogram. No copies of the original have survived but a copy of it, now in Vienna, was purportedly made in 1265 by a monk at Colmar who fortunately contented himself with adding a few scriptural names, and who seems to have omitted nothing important that appeared in the original. The entire map was originally a long, narrow parchment roll and in its present state measures 22 feet,1.75 inches long by 13.25 inches wide (6.75 meters long but only 34 centimeters wide). Only one of these 'original' twelve section is now lost.

According to most authorities, about A.D. 250 the original tables were, themselves, copied from a larger original map of the first century A.D. (some scholars have identified that the author may have used M.V. Agrippa's world map as his source (Slide#118). About A.D. 350 the presentation of the coastal regions was improved and some islands were added. At the turn of the 5th-6th centuries the world ocean was added and improvements were made to the seas; at about the same time, the influence of this map appears in a work by an anonymous cosmographer of Ravenna (Slide #203), who made use of some new material recently added to his source. Since the Ravenna cosmographer names a certain Castorius as the author of his source in connection with material also found in the Tabula Peutingeriana, it is to be inferred that this was the maker's name for the original. The overall form of the Colmar edition, which is the basic form of the Tabula as it has reached us today, must have been fixed at this period, about A.D. 500; although a few local corrections were made subsequently, for example, in the 8th and 9th centuries.

This Colmar copy was found by Konrad Celtes (1459-1508), a German poet and scholar for the Emperor Maximilian I and later turned over to Konrad Peutinger (1465-1547) in 1508 in Augsburg and has since been known as the Tabula Peutingeriana or Peutinger Tables or Itineraries. After Peutinger's death, two of the twelve sections of the Colmar manuscript were engraved and published in 1591 with annotated text and place-names taken from the sections reproduced. A second edition by Abraham Ortelius was published in Antwerp in 1598 as part of his Theatri Orbis Terrarum Parergon which contained eight of the twelve sections of the Table. Numerous other engraved reproductions were made until 1753 when it was finally reproduced in its entirety.

In its design, the Peutinger Table makes no pretense of showing the whole world or even its major parts in correct proportion. It is merely a graphic compendium of mileages or basically an itinerary route map with the roads delineated predominantly by straight lines, often with curious jogs. The routes are drawn in red, while the sea is indicated by greenish-blue. The map does not conform to the rules of any projection, nor is it possible to apply a constant scale to determine distances from place to place; for these measurements we have to refer to the figures written in by the author. Also the Table was not apparently designed for military use, but instead gives prominence to trading centers, mineral springs, places of pilgrimage, mountain chains (in profile) and in three great cities (Rome, Constantinople and Antioch) set three rulers, believed to represent the sons of Constantine enthroned as symbols of a tripartite empire. The use of vignettes and/or medallions is also found depicting the city of Alexandria, while smaller towns are illustrated by little houses; three forest districts, two in Germany and one in Syria, are represented by sketches of trees.

Except for a very few instances, where the interpolation may be easily traced, there is nothing in the Peutinger Table which has any reference to a time later than Diocletian; and the greater number of the names it contains may be referred to an era earlier than the death of Augustus in A.D. 14. The arrangement of the barbarian tribes on the frontiers of the Empire seems to agree pretty nearly with what we know of them in the reign of Marcus Aurelius; and the importance of the name of Persia, for instance, in the far East, perhaps points to a revision of this part of the Table as late as the 3rd century, at some time subsequent to the great Persian revival of A.D. 226 - but these details leave the essential character of the plan strictly classical.

In the Jansoon edition of the Peutinger Table (1652), the first sheet shows a section of southeastern England protruding from the title cartouche, with the roads and harbors marked. France, Spain, and North Africa with roads, cities and some prominent buildings are also depicted, along with major Mediterranean islands being Corsica and Sardinia. The second page, comprising Segments III and IV, shows Italy with surrounding islands and landforms bordering adjacent seas. Special prominence is given to Rome, with many roads leading to it, of course. A royal figure, probably a Pope, or perhaps an allegory of Christ the King is portrayed as representative of the city along with a building which resembles St. Peters Basilica (or the personage could be that of one of Constantine's sons as previously mentioned). Further south is the city of Naples drawn inland, next to it is a dark mound which might represent the buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Segments V and VI illustrate the eastern Mediterranean by prominently showing the Grecian archipelago and present-day Turkey and Crete. The seventh Segment shows Cyprus, present-day Saudi Arabia, a large allegorical representation of the Holy City, and the area southeast to Mesopotamia. The last, or eighth Segment depicts Babylon to the Caspian Sea, the Indian peninsula and, in the bottom right corner, the island of Taprobane, the Ptolemaic name for Ceylon/Sri Lanka.

The Colmar manuscript of the Peutinger Tables, also known as Codex Vindobonensis 324, is presently in the National Bibliothek, Vienna and has been divided into sections for preservation. Its date of transcription is 12th or early 13th century, but it has long been recognized as a copy of an ancient map. In his will of 1508, the humanist Konrad Celtes of Vienna left to Konrad Peutinger (in whose hands it had been since the previous year) what he called Itinerarium Antonini. This was not justified as a title: it is indeed a road map, but not connected with the Antonine emperors and different from the Antonine Itineraries. It was first published in 1591 by Markus Welser, a relative of the Peutingers and since 1618 n has generally been known as the Tabula Peutingeriana or translations of that phase. Tabula is one Latin word for map, but forma is more common. Inexplicably the word tabula has been translated "table" rather than "picture" or "map" in popular usage. It is now time to call it the "Peutinger Map" to avoid any misconception that the original image was somehow carved on a table or was like a statistical table. The alternative naming of the Peutinger Map as the "world map of Castorius" has met with very little support. Castorius, a geographical writer of the 4th century A.D., is several times mentioned as a source in the Ravenna cosmography; but there is no evidence to link him directly with the Peutinger Map. The original roll at the time of its transcription in the early Middle Ages was of eleven sheets, but as such it was incomplete, since much of Britain, Spain,and the western part of North Africa were already missing at the time of copying; there may also have been an introductory sheet forming part of an earlier prototype version. It was evidently not, as was once thought, the work of the Dominican monk Konrad of Colmar, who in 1265 quite independently produced a mappamundi that he says he copied onto twelve parchment pages; the paleography suggests an earlier date. The second sheet of the Peutinger Map was treated as if it had been the first, with spellings of truncated names containing false initial capitals (for example, Ridumo for what was originally Moriduno). Hence a total of twelve sheets extant at the time of copying can be accounted for only by assuming that, when the copyist mentioned this number, he was including a title sheet.

The Peutinger Map was primarily drawn to show main roads, totaling some 70,000 Roman miles (104,000 km), and to depict features such as staging posts, spas, distances between stages, large rivers, and forests (represented as groups of trees). It is not a military map, though it could have been used for military purposes but the words of Vegetius give an indication of its possible function. They suggest that, whether or not the term itinerarium pictum [painted itinerary], was in current use, it is a convenient phrase for this unique map. The distances are normally recorded in Roman miles, but for Gaul they are in leagues, for Persian lands in parasangs, and for India evidently in Indian miles.

The proportions of the Peutinger Map are such that distances east-west are represented at a much larger scale than distances north-south; for example, Rome looks as though it were nearer to Carthage than Naples is to Pompeii. The archetype may well have been on a papyrus roll, designed for carrying around in a capsa [tool box]. As such, its width would be severely limited, whereas its length would not. In the extant map a north-south road tends to appear at only a slightly different angle from an east-west one, and distances are calculated not by the map's scale but by adding up the mileages of successive staging posts.

The date of the archtype is likely to have been between A.D. 335 and 366. Such dating is suggested by the three personifications placed on Rome, Constantinople (labeled Constantinoplis, not Byzantium ) and Antioch; and it fits in well enough with biblical references on the map. Sometime after the foundation of Constantinople in A.D. 330 as a new Rome on the site of Byzantium, Antioch was recognized as the important bastion against the Parthians. Put the suggestion that this 4th century archetype was based on a much earlier map would account for the inclusion of Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Pompeii, which had been destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 and not rebuilt, except for parts of Pompeii. It is also perhaps easier, on this supposition, to see why certain roads are omitted, such as the major routes through the Parthian empire mentioned in the Mansiones Parthicæ [Parthian Stations] of Isidorus of Charax. This work is believed to have been compiled in the late first century A.D.

Around the personification of Rome - a female figure on a throne holding a globe, a spear, and a shield - are twelve main roads, each with its name attached, a practice not adopted elsewhere. The Tiber is correctly shown with 90 percent of the city on its left bank. But owing to the personification the city surround is formally shown as a circle, enlarged in proportion to the very narrow width of the Italian peninsula. The Via Triumphalis is indicated as leading to a church of Saint Peter; the words ad scm [sanctum] Petrum are given in large minuscules on the medieval copy. Ostia is shown with a harbor occupying about one-third of a circle, in a fashion similar to that of miniatures in the early manuscripts of Virgil's Aeneid. Constantinople is represented by a helmeted female figure seated on a throne and holding in her left hand a spear and a shield. Nearby is a high column (rather than a lighthouse) surmounted by the statue of a warrior, presumably Constantine the Great . Antioch has a similar female personification, perhaps originating in a statue of the Tyche [fortune] of the city, together with arches of an aqueduct or possibly of a bridge. Nearby is the park of Daphne, dedicated to Apollo and other gods and famous for its natural beauty and as a leisure center. Even though the temple of Apollo was burned down in 362, there were many other temples, so that this is not necessarily a guide to the dating. It has been claimed that in A.D. 365-66 all three personified cities were important, since the pretender Procopius had his seat of power in Constantinople, Valentinian I in Rome and his brother Valens in Antioch. But in fact, although Valens set out for Antioch, he was diverted to fight Procopius and he cannot be correctly associated with the last-named city.

Throughout the map, mountains are marked in pale brown and principal rivers in green. Names of countries and some tribes are recorded. Apart from the personifications, cartographic signs include representations of harbors, altars, granaries, spas, and settlements. A unique sign is that for a tunnel, used for the Crypta Neapolitiana, near Pozzuoli. Harbors, if indicated, are given the accurate shape mentioned in connection with Ostia. The sign for a spa is an ideogram of a roughly square building with an internal courtyard, often with a gabled tower at each end of the near side. There are fifty-two such buildings represented, of which twenty-eight are at places specifically called Aquae; in some other cases there is reason to think that a place so denoted had prominent baths. There are also in the Peutinger Map places with cartographic signs for granaries, denoted as rectangular roofed buildings. One such is Centumcellæ [Civitavecchia], which had a corn-importing harbor of some size. Variants of a two-gabled building were used to depict some settlements, but most were distinguished by no more than a name. Attempts to differentiate between types of settlements on the map and to establish criteria for the attribution of signs have not been entirely successful. Certain important cities are shown with walls: Aquileia, Ravenna, Thessalonica [Salonika], Nicæa [Iznik], Nicomedia and Ancyra. But why would the triple-gable sign appear only at Forum Iulii [Frejus], Augusta Taurinorum [Turin], Luca [Lucca], Narona [on the Neretva River], and Tomis [Constanta]? It is interesting to see that, just as there is one personification in the West and two in the East, so two cities of the second rank, symbolically given walls, are in the West and four in the East. Important cities like Carthage, Ephesus, and Alexandria are not shown with a distinctive sign.
The road network is thought to have been based (at least within the empire) on information held by the cursus publicus, responsible for organizing the official transport system set up by Augustus. This system, extended under the late empire to troop movements, relied very largely on staging posts at more or less regular intervals; couriers traveled an average of fifty Roman miles (74 km) a day.

The part of the British section of the Peutinger Map that survives is so fragmentary that it covers only a limited area of the southeast, not even including London, and an even smaller area around Exeter. Colchester, surprisingly, is given no cartographic sign. The most northerly place extant in Britain appears as Ad Taum; but it is very far removed from the river Tay. This name, however, really consists of the ends of [Ven]ta [Icenor]um (Caistor Saint Edmund, Norwich), and the only unusual feature is ad, which may have belonged to an adjacent name.

One of the important features of the map is that it records so many small places. This can be well illustrated by a name in Italy otherwise recorded only (in corrupt form) in the Ravenna cosmography. On the Gulf of Naples, marked as being six Roman miles from Herculaneum and three miles each from Pompeii and Stabiae [Castellammare di Stabia ], is shown a large building with the name Oplont[i]s. Until recently scholars could not place this name, like a number of others. But since 1964 a large palace, which probably belonged to Nero's empress Poppæa, has been excavated at Torre Annunziata, and it seems to authenticate the detail on the map. Or again, a much earlier discovery near Aquileia in 1830 appears to correspond to an entry on the Peutinger Map. A large bathing establishment, mentioned also by the elder Pliny, was discovered on the lower reaches of the river Isonzo. This is probably the place given the cartographic sign for a spa, with the words Fonte Timavi [spring of the river Timavus]. Its fresh waters by the sea were regarded as an unusual phenomenon and obviously worth mapping.

Owing to the shape of the map, the Nile could not be represented as a long river if it were made to flow northward throughout its course. Instead it is made to rise in the mountains of Cyrenaica and to flow "eastward" to a point just above the delta. The delta itself is shown in less compressed form from south to north than most parts of the Peutinger Map. The distributaries of the Nile are shown to have many islands, three of them marked with temples of Serapis, three with temples of Isis, while the roads are somewhat discontinuous. On the Sinai desert we find the words desertum ubi quadraginta annis erraverunt filii Israelis ducente Moyse [the desen where the children of Israel wandered for forty years guided by Moses], and there are other biblical references. There is also an area in central Asia labeled Hic Alexander responsum accepit usq[ue] quo Alexander [Here Alexander was given the oracular reply: "How far, Alexander?"]. Perhaps these ample descriptions, whether Christian or pagan, were added on otherwise empty space about the 5th or 6th century A.D. In several areas research is in progress combining fieldwork with study of the Peutinger Map and of the history of place-names. One such is the area between the Gulf of Aqaba and Damascus.

LOCATION: Österreichische National Bibliothek, Vienna

Bagrow, L., The History of Cartography, pp. 37-38.
Beazley, C., The Dawn of Modern Geography, vol. I; pp. 381-383.
*Bricker, C., Landmarks in Mapmaking, pp. 21-22.
*Brown, L., The Story of Maps, pp. 54; 92-93.
Brown, L.A., The World Encompassed, No. 5.
*Dilke, O.A.W., Greek and Roman Maps, pp. 112-120, 128, 152-3, 158-9, 169-70, 193-5.
*Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Volume One, pp. 238-242., Plate 5
*Nebenzahl, K., Maps of the Holy Lands, pp. 20-23, Plate 4 (color)
*Nordenskiöld, A.E., Facsimile Atlas, p.35.
*Jansoon, Tabula Itineraria ex illustri Peutingerorum Bibliotheca quae Mugistae Vindelicorum beneficio Marci Velseri SeptemVeri Augustani in lucemedita,1741.

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