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A striking Ortelius map of Northern Europe, covering Ancient Germany and the surrounding regions.

This map was published in the Parergon, an atlas depicting the ancient world. The Parergon was generally published as an appendix to Ortelius’ magnum opus, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, which is considered the first modern atlas. However, the Parergon was also published as a separate atlas on a few occasions, including in 1595 and 1624.

The map is oriented northward and depicts central Europe from Russia (Sarmatiae) in the east to the ancient region of Gaul (Galliae pars)—which encompassed parts of present-day France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany—in the west. Northern Italy (Italiae pars) and a small part of the Adriatic Sea (Hadriatici Sinus) can be seen at the southern end of the map, while the North Sea (Oceanus Germanicus) and Denmark (Cimbricae) are visible in the north.

Much of the land is forested, and several mountain ranges are pictured in the center and south of the map. In addition, several large rivers are carefully rendered, including the Rhine (Rhenus) and the Danube (Danubius). These details help to orient the viewer and give a sense of the physical geography of the land. As is typical of an Ortelius map, cities are carefully drawn with clusters of buildings.

Four intricate strapwork cartouches take up space in the corners of the map. In the northwest corner, the title cartouche notes that this map by Abraham Ortelius depicts ancient Germany. The northeast corner’s cartouche gives the year that the map was originally drawn, 1587. The cartouche in the southeast corner dedicates the map to Iacob Monavius, a friend of Ortelius. With fruits adorning it as well as a lion’s head, it is particularly ornate. The final cartouche, in the southwest corner, contains a list of places whose location is uncertain. All of the cartouches make use of texture and shading, which give them a three-dimensional appearance.

Ortelius created this map using information from a number of classical scholars such as Pliny, Strabo, Ptolemy, Seneca, and Tacitus, to name a few. One example is the city of Augusta Treverorum (Aug. Trevirorum) located in Germania Superior, where Pliny the Elder held the procuratorship (governorship) of the province of Gallia Belgica, his last official position. Thus, the map is informed by the knowledge and writings of these learned individuals.


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 interest in 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 beautiful map blends geography and classical history, and the level of detail present speaks to Ortelius’ skill as a mapmaker and his dedication to his craft. This would be a valuable addition to a collection of European maps or Ortelius maps, or to a collector with a strong interest in the classics.

Marcel P. Van den Broecke, "Cartographica Neerlandica Background for Ortelius Map No. 199," Cartographica Neerlandica, accessed June 30, 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 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).