Romit Science

La Tabula Peutingeriana. A Description of the Ancient World Part 1

Codex Vindobonensis.….; you will find this name in the National Bibliotheque of Vienna (Vindobona). It is the only surviving Roman road map (Itineraria) although it is a twelfth century copy. In it is shown the known world conquered by Rome. The surviving document has the extreme western part of the map missing (the western part of the Roman Empire as it was – the greater part of Britannia and the Iberian peninsula).  This part was certainly reproduced in the original but was not reproduced in the mediaeval copy.

The Peutinger’s Map was refound in 1507 by  Konrad Celtes, librarian of Emperor Maximillian I. Where it was found is not known but the present name given to the map was by the second proprietor of the map,  Konrad Peutinger, chancellor of Augsburg.

The surviving part of Peutinger’s Map was previously a roll of parchment paper 6.74 metres long by 34 cms high made up of 11 segments sewn to each other. In 1863 the map was torn into 11 parts to preserve this extraordinary document. Peutinger’s Map embraced the known world of the ancient Romans (Europe, Asia, Africa) and that presumably extended from the columns of Hercules (Gibraltar) to the extreme oriental regions much further than the confines of the Empire (India, Burma, Ceylon, the Maldives and China (Sera Maior).

As mentioned before, the missing part of Britannia, north west Africa and the Iberian peninsula is thought to be another segment; the first one presumably thought to have been lost due to the extra use that this segment was always put to. The necessity was for the cartographer to produce an entire multi-continental design of the geographic reproduction of the Empire in one complete roll that was easily transported by anyone, miltary or otherwise. This necessity dictated the reading of the map on a linear horizontal basis on which the Empire was squashed and lengthened geographically. It is important to underline the fact that it was not a precise geographical map, but a road map; for this reason everything that was not important to the traveller was reduced to a minimum of description; e.g. the seas, the mountain ranges, the forests, the desert regions, etc. It must be noted that it was not treated as a real geographical map (based on exact proportional relationships between the configurations and the real physical elements) but a simple map that demonstrated the road system of the Roman Empire, sprinkled with resting places and more important centres, not taking into consideration the geographical elements.

The cartographer intended to supply the traveller with a true road map that indicated the exact distances between inhabited centres, distances expressed in Roman miles, in leagues (for Wales)  or in parasanghe (for the Orient), illustrating on the map in a precise and determined manner, the journey enriched with information useful to the traveller. Such “tourist” information was indicated in writing or designed along the route such as resting places, small and large centres, thermal baths or actual hostelries for example, the Fig Hostelry (Ad ficum) or Hercules’ Sandal (Ad Sandalum Herculis) or The Two Brothers (Ad duo fratres) and many other indications useful for the traveller. The thermal baths that commence with the word “Aqui….” were of particular importance to the weary traveller and were noted on the map by a square building. The Peutinger Map can be considered the father of the modern Michelin maps.

The overall definition of the map (itinerarium) is that of visualising more than 200,000 kilometres (estimated) and its representative development in a longitudinal sense showing a notable deformation of the Earth illustrated. This deformation is such that the Earth assumes a different position from the actual one in respect of the cardinal points; for this region the centre of the Roman Empire (Italy) covers 5 segments of the map (from the II to the VI).


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