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First Map of Northwestern Africa & The Balearic Islands etc., Printed North of the Alps

Based upon the work of the 2nd Century Alexandrian polymath Claudius Ptolemy, this map is perhaps the single most important and decorative map of the region printed in the 15th Century.

The map covers the westernmost part of the Mediterranean, naming the Balearic Islands (Balearicum Pealgus) Maiorca (Maior), Menorca (Minor) Ebiza (Ebissus) and Formentera (Ophi Usa) in the so-called Mare Ibericum. The regions of Spain show are named Hispania Betica, Hispanie Lusitane and Hispanie Terraconeusis.

Below the Straits of Gibraltar (Fretum Herculum), a reference to the Pillars of Hercules, the ancient name for the two promontories on either side of the Strait which guarded the entrance to the Mediterranean. The name finds its origin in Greek mythology, when Hercules had to perform twelve labors, one of them (the tenth) was to fetch the Cattle of Geryon of the far West and bring them to Eurystheus, which marked the westward extent of Hercules' travels. A lost passage of Pindar quoted by Strabo was the earliest traceable reference in this context: "the pillars which Pindar calls the 'gates of Gades' when he asserts that they are the farthermost limits reached by Heracles." There is one to one association between Herakles and Melqart since Herodotus, thus "Pillars of Melqart" in the temple near Gades/Gádeira (modern Cádiz) were widely proclaimed to be the true Pillars of Hercules.

The map finds its richest detail in northwestern Africa, reflecting the then modern divisions of the Kingdom of Mauretania, as established by the Emperor Claudius in the 1st Century, A..D. The map extends south to the Atlas Mountains and the Cinnaba Mountains and the Madethubadus Mountains. and north to the coastal regions of Morocco and Algeria, which are given the Roman provincial names Mauritiana Tingam Ca and Mauritania Cesaiensis, references to the original tribal origins of the Moors. Mauretania existed as a tribal kingdom of the Mauri people (who gave their name to the wider term Moors) on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, from at least the 3rd century BC. The Mediterranean coast of Mauretania had commercial harbors for trade with Carthage since before the 4th century BC, but the interior was controlled by Berber tribes, who had established themselves in the region by the beginning of the Iron Age. The earliest recorded mentions of the Mauri are in the context of Phoenician and Carthaginian settlements such as Lixus, Volubilis, Mogador and Chellah.

King Atlas was a legendary king of Mauretania credited with the invention of the celestial globe. The Mauri were in close contact with Numidia. Bocchus I (fl. 110 BC) was father-in-law to the Numidian king Jugurtha. Mauretania became a Roman client kingdom of the Roman Empire in 33 BC. The Romans installed Juba II of Numidia as their client-king. When Juba died in AD 23, his Roman-educated son Ptolemy of Mauretania succeeded him. The mad Emperor Caligula had Ptolemy executed in 40. Emperor Claudius annexed Mauretania directly as a Roman province in 44.

In the 1st century AD, Emperor Claudius divided the Roman province of Mauretania into Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana along the line of the Mulucha (Muluya) River, about 60 km west of modern Oran:

  • Mauretania Tingitana was named after its capital Tingis (now Tangier); it corresponded to actual northern Morocco (including the Spanish enclaves).
  • Mauretania Caesariensis was named after its capital Caesarea (Mauretaniae) and comprised actual western and central Algeria as far as Kabylie.

The 1482 Ulm edition of Ptolemy's Geographia was the first edition printed north of the Alps map and the first to appear in color which was applied by the publisher. The 1482 Ulm edition of the Geographia was one of the most important cartographic texts of the early Renaissance and the first edition of the work to be printed outside Italy. The text for this edition was based upon a manuscript translated into Latin by Jacobus Angeli and edited by Nicolaus Germanus that had been brought to Ulm from Rome in 1468. The Ulm Ptolemy was first published in 1482 by Lienhart Holle, the same year as Berlingheri's Florence edition. Ashley Baynton Williams notes:

Working independently of Berlinghieri, but apparently using the same or similar models, Holle also added modern maps of Spain, France, Italy and Palestine, but also the first printed map of Scandinavia, composed by Cornelius Clavus, circa 1425-7 . Holle's maps were printed from woodcuts, and are characterised by heavy wash colouring for the sea areas, typically a rich blue for the 1482 edition, and an ochre for the 1486 edition. These bright colours, and the greater sense of age that woodcuts convey, make this series the most visually appealing of the [Ptolemeic] maps.

Holle went bankrupt shortly after the original publication and the work was taken over by Johann Reger, who issued a second edition in 1486.

As noted by Baynton Williams, the first edition can be distinguished from the second edition by the use of the blue wash color in the ocean, whereas the second edition employed a brown wash in the ocean. The appropriate blue is this lighter colored blue wash seen on the present map and can be distinguished from later colored examples which frequently apply a much darker blue, in order to mask the prior brown color.

Condition Description
Original color. Some soiling at top centerfold and repair of an old tear.
Claudius Ptolemy Biography

Claudius Ptolemy (fl. AD 127-145) was an ancient geographer, astronomer, and mathematician. He is known today through translations and transcriptions of his work, but little is known about his life besides his residence in Alexandria.

Several of his works are still known today, although they have passed through several alterations and languages over the centuries. The Almagest, in thirteen books, discusses astronomy. It is in the Almagest that Ptolemy postulates his geocentric universe. His geometric ideas are contained in the Analemma, and his optical ideas were presented in five books known as the Optica.

His geographic and cartographic work was immensely influential. In the Planisphaerium, Ptolemy discusses the stereographic projection. Perhaps his best-known work is his Geographia, in eight books. However, 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 Geographia 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 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.