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Rare, Early Map of the Adriatic Based on Ptolemy’s Famous Geographia

Nice example of Lorenz Fries’ map of part of the Adriatic and the Balkans from his 1535 edition of Claudius Ptolemy’s Geographia.

The present map depicts part of Europe in the time of Ptolemy, in the second century AD. It includes many of the provinces of the Roman Empire at the time, such as Raetia, Vindelicia, Noricu, Pannonia, Illyria, and Dalmatia (corresponding to parts of present-day France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Hungary, and the Balkans).

It is bounded by the Alps in the northwest, the Carpathian Mountains in the northeast, the Dinaric Alps in the southeast, and Corsica in the southwest. The Adriatic Sea (Sinus Hadriaticus) is shown at the center of the map, while the Danube can be seen to the north. Shading is used to designate the edges of the bodies of water.

During the second century AD, the Roman Empire reached its fullest extent, to present-day Iraq and Azerbaijan in the east, parts of Northern Africa in the south, and the Danube River and present-day Cologne, Germany in the north. While some provinces, like Dalmatia, Pannonia, and Moesia, resisted Romanization, this era saw the fullest integration of Roman cultural influences throughout the Empire. Native customs were not abandoned but rather blended with Roman ones. This was a prosperous time for the Empire, with trade facilitated by the Mediterranean and important Roman roads like the Via Egnatia, which provided a vital route to the eastern provinces. Natural resources within the Empire included iron, silver, and gold.

As stated above, the present map shows part of the Roman Empire at this prosperous time. Fries’ Geographia was first printed by Johann Grüninger in 1522, but that edition is very rare, suggesting that it was not commercially successful. In 1525, an improved edition, from which the present map originates, was issued. This edition featured a re-edit of the text by Willibald Pirkheimer, from the notes of Regiomontanus (Johannes Müller von Königsberg).

Fries based his work on Martin Waldseemüller’s edition of 1513 of the Geographia Opus Novissima, printed by Johann Schott, redrawing and re-engraving the maps at a reduced scale. Fries also prepared three new maps for the Geographia, of Southeast Asia and the East Indies, China, and the world, but the geography of these derives from Waldseemüller's world map of 1507. 

Grüninger died in 1531 and his son, Christoph, seemingly sold the Ptolemy materials to Melchior and Gaspar Trechsel. The brothers worked on a joint edition in 1535, and Gaspar published his own edition in 1541. Both of these were edited by Michael Servetus (or Villanovus). A Spanish doctor living in Lyon, Servetus was arrested for heresy and burned by Calvin at the stake, alongside several of his books. 

Ptolemy’s Geographia in Renaissance Europe

The translation of Claudius Ptolemy’s Geographia from Greek into Latin for the first time in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century spurred a wave of renewed interest and updated editions.

Ptolemy’s ideas had been absent from western European intellectual history for roughly a thousand years, although Arab scholars interacted with his ideas from the ninth century onward. In 1295, a Greek monk found a copy of Ptolemy in Constantinople; the emperor ordered a copy made and the Greek text began to circulate in eastern Europe. In 1393, a Byzantine diplomat brought a copy of the Geographia to Italy, where it was translated into Latin in 1406 and called the Cosmographia. The manuscript maps were first recorded in 1415. These manuscripts, of which there are over eighty extant today, are the descendants of Ptolemy’s work and a now-lost atlas consisting of a world map and 26 regional maps.

When Ptolemy’s work was re-introduced to Western scholarship, it proved radically influential for the understanding and appearance of maps. Ptolemy’s use of mathematics and astronomy to depict the world appealed to the intellectual climate of the Renaissance. Ptolemy employs the concept of a graticule, uses latitude and longitude, and orients his maps to the north—concepts we take for granted today. The Geographia’s text is concerned with three main issues with regard to geography: the size and shape of the earth; map projection, i.e. how to represent the world’s curve proportionally on a plane surface; and the corruption of spatial data as it transfers from source to source. The text also contains instructions as to how to map the world on a globe or a plane surface, complete with the only set of geographic coordinates (8000 toponyms, 6400 with coordinates) to survive from the classical world. 

Early printed editions of Ptolemy’s Geographia

Some of the most important, and the most numerous, early printed maps were in editions of Ptolemy’s Geographia (Cosmographia). From 1475 to 1650, there were more than forty new editions of the Geographia, which increasingly featured updates based on current knowledge, including recent voyages of discovery.

The text was first published in 1475 in Venice without the maps. An edition with the maps followed in 1477, printed in Bologna. These maps were another first—they were the first copperplate maps, in which an engraver scores copper, which is then inked and pressed. The Bologna edition included 25 of the original 26 regional maps (map XV was missing), as well as the world map. 

A second edition with maps appeared in Rome in 1478. The third edition with maps was printed in Florence in 1482, the first to be printed in a vernacular language, Italian. It included 31 copperplate engraved maps, making it the first to augment the traditional 27 Ptolemaic maps with tabulae novellae, or modern maps. The modern maps included maps of Italy, Spain, and France.

The next edition to include the maps was the 1482 Ulm edition, which was the first atlas to be printed north of the Alps, as well as the first to use woodcut, not copperplate, printing. Copperplate engraving is an intaglio method; it cuts into the surface of the printing plane in order to create an impression when the engraved lines are inked. Woodcut engraving is a relief method; the surfaces to be inked are left standing, while the blank spaces are cut away.

Martin Waldseemüller separated his 1513 edition into two sections—one with the original maps and text, and the second with updates based on current knowledge of the world, including twenty modern maps. Fries’ version follows this trend in incorporating Ptolemy’s respected work with new knowledge and 23 modern maps.

Condition Description
Minor soiling and mis-fold at centerfold.
Patrick Gautier Dalché, “The Reception of Ptolemy’s Geography (End of the Fourteenth to Beginning of the Sixteenth Century),” in The History of Cartography Volume 3, Cartography in the European Renaissance, Part 1, ed. David Woodward (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Philip Matyszak, The Roman Empire: A Beginner’s Guide [e-book] (London: Oneworld, 2014); Timothy B. Lee, “40 maps that explain the Roman Empire,” Vox, August 19, 2014,; United States Central Intelligence Agency, Europe [map] (Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 2007), AH
Lorenz Fries Biography

Lorenz (Laurent) Fries (ca. 1485-1532) was born in Mulhouse, Alsace. He studied medicine, apparently spending time at the universities of Pavia, Piacenza, Montpellier and Vienna. After completing his education, Fries worked as a physician in several places before settling in Strasbourg in about 1519. While in Strasbourg, Fries met the Strasbourg printer and publisher Johann Grüninger, an associate of the St. Dié group of scholars formed by, among others, Walter Lud, Matthias Ringmann and Martin Waldseemüller.

From 1520 to 1525, Fries worked with Grüninger as a cartographic editor, exploiting the corpus of material that Waldseemüller had created. Fries' first venture into mapmaking was in 1520, when he executed a reduction of Martin Waldseemüller's wall map of the world, first published in 1507. While it would appear that Fries was the editor of the map, credit is actually given in the title to Peter Apian. The map, Tipus Orbis Universalis Iuxta Ptolomei Cosmographi Traditionem Et Americ Vespucii Aliorque Lustrationes A Petro Apiano Leysnico Elucubrat. An.o Dni MDXX, was issued in Caius Julius Solinus' Enarrationes, edited by Camers, and published in Vienna in 1520.

Fries’ next project was a new edition of the Geographia of Claudius Ptolemy, which was published by Johann Grüninger in 1522. Fries evidently edited the maps, in most cases simply producing a reduction of the equivalent map from Waldseemüller's 1513 edition of the Geographie Opus Novissima, printed by Johann Schott. Fries also prepared three new maps for the Geographia, of Southeast Asia and the East Indies, China, and the world, but the geography of these derives from Waldseemüller's world map of 1507.

The 1522 edition of Fries' work is very rare, suggesting that the work was not commercially successful. In 1525, an improved edition was issued, with a re-edit of the text by Willibald Pirkheimer, from the notes of Regiomontanus (Johannes Müller von Königsberg).

After Grüninger's death in ca. 1531, the business was continued by his son Christoph, who seems to have sold the materials for the Ptolemy to two Lyon publishers, the brothers Melchior and Gaspar Trechsel, who published a joint edition in 1535, before Gaspar Trechsel published an edition in his own right in 1541.