The next ancient map in our series is the Tabula Peutingeriana, a fascinating ancient Roman itinerarium, or road guide, which illustrates not only the impressive road system of the Roman Empire, but also much about the manner in which the Empire rose and fell. Though the extant version is not the original document, it is believed to have been copied directly from a fourth century copy which itself had been drawn from first century sources and antecedents. This spectacular example is illustrated and annotated. Measuring twenty-two feet long and a little over a foot wide, this travel guide provides a wealth of information about the Roman Empire and parts of Europe through the fourth or fifth century CE. Rome is personified holding orb, sceptre and shield, enthroned at the centre of the map.
The extant example was copied by a monk in the early medieval era and is the only known pictorial map featuring the Roman Empire of the period in which it was initially drawn. The original is thought to have originally been drawn on a papyrus scroll which would have been kept in a scroll case.
The Peutinger parchment map, transcribed by an unknown monk, was discovered in 1494 in a library in Worms, Germany by Conrad Celtes. He knew its value but it was not published in his lifetime. On his death, it was bequeathed to German antiquarian Konrad Peutinger, from whom it gained its current name. The map remained in the family for several hundred years until being sold to German royalty in the early 18th century whereupon it was placed in the Imperial Court Library in Vienna, where it resides to this day.
The map’s expanse is viewed by some as a metaphor for the vast reach of the Roman Empire itself as it covers about 70,000 miles worth of Roman roads, including more than 120,000 main and ancillary in all, replete with major cities, settlements, grand palaces, governmental edifices and granaries, with altars depicting places of pilgrimage. It also depicts the Mediterranean, its harbors and ports, the grand lighthouse at Alexandria which was one of the wonders of the ancient world, and river systems, mountains and deserts from Britain to Sri Lanka are included. The Sinai Desert features Moses and the children of Israel in their 40 year sojourn. This remarkable scroll with its origins in antiquity provides in one place beautifully illustrated encyclopedic information regarding the Roman Empire and its reaches on one long narrow piece of medieval parchment.
Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria