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Fine Example of Ortelius’ Map of Bulgaria and Romania, bisected by the Danube River

Fine early map of Romania and Bulgaria on the Black Sea, from Ortelius' Parergon, the world’s first historical atlas. This map shows particular detail on places related to the Roman Empire, and it expresses the cultural mixing of the original inhabitants and Roman rulers.

Oriented northward, this map shows the regions of ancient Dacia and Moesia, which correspond roughly to modern-day Bulgaria and Romania. The map extends from Germany (Germaniae pars) in the west to the Black Sea (Ponti Euxini) in the east, and from Eastern Europe (Sarmatiae Europaeae pars) in the north down to Greece in the south (Thraciae pars). The land is separated into five Roman provinces.

Though the Black Sea only occupies a small part of the map, it is intricately shaded to give the appearance of choppy waters. In one area called Stethe, heaps of sand underwater are shows using stippling, which changes the way the tide moves in that area. A small ship sails the sea as well. It is these small details, both geographic and artistic, that make the map so fascinating.

Numerous mountain ranges and rivers cross the land, giving the reader a sense of the physical geography of the area. In particular, the Danube River (Danubius flu.) is carefully rendered as it cuts through the center of the map, separating various regions. Cities are drawn as miniature views and are especially emphasized along the Danube, though they are certainly present in other regions as well.

The largest city on the map is Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa (spelled here Zarmizogethusa), the capital of the Roman province of Dacia. It sits in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains (Carpates mons). Another notable city is Romulianum, which was built by the Roman Emperor Galerius in the fourth century CE and was also the site where he was buried upon his death.

This map is adorned with three strapwork cartouches. The title cartouche contains a list of cities whose locations are unknown in addition to the actual title. This cartouche is the most elaborate, with texture and some small figural elements included. The cartouche in the upper right corner dedicates the map to the Bavarian Duke Johann Georg of Werdenstein, a well-known bibliophile.

The third cartouche contains a passage from Ovid’s Tristia ex Ponto about the Greek leader Flaccus at the Bosporus Strait. In addition to Ovid, other well-known ancient scholars are cited, such as Ptolemy, Pliny, and Arrian, who had extensively traveled the Black Sea and written a Periplus, a log of the places he traveled.


Although best known for his world atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the Parergon was a project of personal interest and the work that Ortelius himself considered his greatest achievement. He had a deep curiosity about classical antiquity which spurred him to create the Parergon maps, and the amount of time and detail he put into each map is clearly evident. Ortelius hand drew each map of the Parergon, which required considerable skill and knowledge of the area’s history and geography. It is considered the first historical atlas.

Parergon means supplementary and, accordingly, the first three Parergon maps were published as supplements to the 1579 edition of the Theatrum, which had already been in print for nine years. Over time, successive editions of the Theatrum were supplemented with more Parergon maps, and there are 55 known plates overall. The Parergon was also published as its own atlas separate from the Theatrum on two occasions, once in 1595 and again in 1624.

The Parergon was highly successful both as a supplement to the Theatrum and on its own. It was variously translated into French, German, Italian, and English and regularly printed until 1612. Further editions were more sporadic but still popular, such as the 1624 edition which was published twenty-six years after Ortelius’ death in 1598.

This map first featured in 1595. It was included unchanged until 1624, when several of the place names were re-engraved. For example, "Ruconi|um" at bottom left was changed to "Ruconi:|um". At the middle left top "Zirida:|va" was added. "Zingidava" was changed to "Singidava". At central right "Sextantaprista" was changed to "Sextanta Pristis". At middle right "Bizon" was changed to "Bizona".

This is an exceptional and focused depiction of Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region. The level of detail in the map speaks to Ortelius’ commitment to historical accuracy, and this map would fit well in a collection of Ortelius maps, European maps, or maps of classical antiquity.

"Eastern Europe | Daciarum, Moesiarumque, Vetus Descriptio," Sanders of Oxford, accessed July 14, 2019,; Marcel P. Van den Broecke, "Cartographica Neerlandica Topographical Names for Ortelius Map No. 212," Cartographica Neerlandica, accessed July 14, 2019, JE
Abraham Ortelius Biography

Abraham Ortelius is perhaps the best known and most frequently collected of all sixteenth-century mapmakers. Ortelius started his career as a map engraver. In 1547 he entered the Antwerp guild of St Luke as afsetter van Karten. His early career was as a business man, and most of his journeys before 1560 were for commercial purposes. In 1560, while traveling with Gerard Mercator to Trier, Lorraine, and Poitiers, he seems to have been attracted, largely by Mercator’s influence, towards a career as a scientific geographer. From that point forward, he devoted himself to the compilation his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World), which would become the first modern atlas.

In 1564 he completed his “mappemonde", an eight-sheet map of the world. The only extant copy of this great map is in the library of the University of Basle. Ortelius also published a map of Egypt in 1565, a plan of Brittenburg Castle on the coast of the Netherlands, and a map of Asia, prior to 1570.

On May 20, 1570, Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum first appeared in an edition of 53 maps. By the time of his death in 1598, a total of 25 editions were published including editions in Latin, Italian, German, French, and Dutch. Later editions would also be issued in Spanish and English by Ortelius’ successors, Vrients and Plantin, the former adding a number of maps to the atlas, the final edition of which was issued in 1612. Most of the maps in Ortelius Theatrum were drawn from the works of a number of other mapmakers from around the world; a list of 87 authors is given by Ortelius himself

In 1573, Ortelius published seventeen supplementary maps under the title of Additamentum Theatri Orbis Terrarum. In 1575 he was appointed geographer to the king of Spain, Philip II, on the recommendation of Arias Montanus, who vouched for his orthodoxy (his family, as early as 1535, had fallen under suspicion of Protestantism). In 1578 he laid the basis of a critical treatment of ancient geography with his Synonymia geographica (issued by the Plantin press at Antwerp and republished as Thesaurus geographicus in 1596). In 1584 he issued his Nomenclator Ptolemaicus, a Parergon (a series of maps illustrating ancient history, sacred and secular.) Late in life, he also aided Welser in his edition of the Peutinger Table in 1598.