Old Color Ortelius Map of Persia from the World’s First Modern Atlas
Highly-influential and beautifully-detailed map of Persia from Abraham Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first modern atlas of the world.
The map shows the Persian Gulf and the eastern portion of the Arabian Peninsula. At center is what is today the country of Iran and is here Persia. To the east is a bit of what is today Afghanistan and Pakistan and here is labeled as parts of Tartary and India. The land is covered in settlements (marked with a building sign), rivers, and mountain ranges.
The Caspian Sea features prominently, yet it is shown horizontally and indefinitely. Within the body of water is a block of text. It translates to:
The Hyrcanian or Caspian sea is nowadays referred to by various names; the Ruthenians call it Chualenska More, and the Mauri call it Bobar Corsun (the same word as the one they use for the Arabic Gulf), which means enclosed sea. I observe that it is called differently by others, such as Mare de Bachu, Cunzar, Giorgian, Terbestan, and Corusum after the names of adjacent areas and places. It is the largest lake in the entire world, and has salt water. It has fish in abundance.
The map contains a few decorative elements as well. In the lower right is a title cartouche. Birds perch on the strapwork which is characteristic of Ortelius’ style. In the lower right is the scale bar, which is topped with a well-endowed, winged mermaid. The text in the bottom left corner reads:
Scale of miles or Farsangæ of 3000 strides with which the Persians and Maures, who occupy a large part of Asia, measure the distance between places. Both the measure and its name correspond with the ancient [Greek] parasanga. The other Asians usually measure distances in days.
These text blocks reveal the depth of research that Ortelius performed in making his maps. This map draws particularly on a map of Asia Minor by Giacomo Gastaldi from 1564, as well as Ortelius’ earlier map of Asia, dated 1567.
This map was included in Ortelius’ important 1570 atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the world’s first modern atlas. It was printed in three states, although the changes between states was minimal, and appeared in atlases from 1570 until the mid-seventeenth century.
The map includes marvelous detail for the period and would be a fine addition to any Ortelius or Persian map collection.
Abraham Ortelius is perhaps the best known and most frequently collected of all sixteenth-century mapmakers. Ortelius started his career as a map colorist. 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 of 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 Basel. 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 70 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 (1598).