Rare etched and engraved map of the southern Mediterranean and North Africa, from the famous Rome Ptolemy, first published in 1478.
This map, which covers parts of modern-day Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Malta, Sicily, and Sardinia, was based on the cartography of the 2nd-century polymath Claudius Ptolemaeus. Ptolemy's detailed mapping of the ancient world was lost until the 13th century when it was rediscovered and redrawn (only a set of coordinates remained) by Byzantine Greek monk Maximus Planudes. Planudes's hand-drawn atlas formed the basis for a Ptolemy atlas manuscript tradition that continued until the advent of commercial printing in the middle of the 15th century. In 1477 the first engraved Ptolemaic atlas appeared in Bologna, Italy. A year later the present map was engraved for an atlas published in Rome.
Because of the map's Ptolemaic sources, the placenames are reflective of ancient and Medieval history. "Melita" is named on the Island of Malta, with "Iunonis Templum" noted in the neighboring island to the east.
The Rome Ptolemy corrected some of the problems with the 1477 Bologna Ptolemy. Its key improvements included clearer captioning, more accurate projections, and more legible overall design and engraving.
Rarity and Dating
Historically, it was difficult (if not impossible) to date separate maps from editions of the 1478/1490/1507-08 Rome Ptolemy. In 2017, R.H.J. Peerlings, F. Laurentius, and J. van den Bovenkamp undertook a study of the watermarks in the different editions of the atlas to establish a chronology of watermarks that could be used to date separate maps.
The present map has a crossbow-in-circle watermark. These kinds of watermarks appeared in both the 1478 and 1507-08, though this one is apparently associated with the later edition.
Maps from all editions of the atlas are rare, though the 1478-datable maps appear to be up to an order of magnitude rarer than the later editions.
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.