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Intricate Example of Ortelius’ Map of the Carthaginian Empire, Inspired by the Famous Giacomo Gastaldi

Interesting Ortelius map of North Africa and the nearby Mediterranean including Sicily and Malta. Based on Gastaldi’s famous eight-sheet map of Africa, this map contains exceptional detail and is one of the only Ortelius maps to focus on either Northern Africa or the Carthaginian Empire.

This map is oriented northward and shows the northern coast of Africa between modern-day Algeria (Mauritaniae Caesariensis) and Libya (Libyae Interioris pars). The map centers on the Carthaginian Empire (modern-day Tunisia and Libya). Also depicted are the islands of Sicily (Siciliae) and Malta (Melita).

This map is impressively detailed, particularly when compared to other Ortelius maps that give much less detail to the African coast. Mountain ranges and forests dot the landscape, giving readers a sense of the physical geography of the area. Rivers are carefully rendered, and cities are drawn as miniature views.

The detail of this map comes from a variety of sources, both ancient and contemporary to Ortelius. Giacomo Gastaldi’s famous eight-sheet map of Africa was certainly an influence for Ortelius; having been published less than 50 years prior, it would have some of the most up-to-date information on the landforms and configuration of the African continent. However, as usual, Ortelius also cites classical scholars such as Pliny and Ptolemy, whose writings include information about many landforms and cities.

The map is adorned with a large, striking title cartouche which refers to the Punic region (Punica was the Latin name for Carthage). Ornate strapwork is embellished by fruits and a number of angelic figures. Beneath the title is text dedicating the map to the honorable and illustrious Lord Christophorus from Assonleville. Lord Christophorus was the ruler of Altevilla as well as a knight, diplomat, and advisor to King Philip II. This is one of two Ortelius maps dedicated to him.

An additional cartouche in the bottom left corner shows an inset map of the Carthage, including notable buildings inside the city as well as important cities nearby. Several small boats sail the waters outside the city. Next to the inset map is a list of places whose locations are unknown. Like the title cartouche, the strapwork on these cartouches is embellished with flora and fauna, making them particularly ornate.

Carthage and the Punic Wars

The city-state of Carthage was a major power in the western Mediterranean from the sixth to the second centuries BCE. It controlled the Carthaginian Empire, which spread from North Africa to Spain to various islands in the Mediterranean such as Sardinia, Malta, and part of Sicily. Carthage was both a commercial center and a military power, which allowed the city to maintain a strong hold on its wealthy Mediterranean empire.

As Rome gained power in the 200s BCE, the two cities came into conflict over land and resources. Rome attacked Carthage in a conflict over control of Sicily, sparking the first of three long Punic Wars. The Punic Wars lasted over a century and cost the lives of many soldiers on both sides. Rome eventually destroyed the city of Carthage and emerged victorious. Rome’s victory in the Punic Wars set the foundation for the expansion of the Roman Empire and its rise to power in the Mediterranean.


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 curiosity about 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 map first appeared in the 1590 edition of the Parergon. It eventually appeared in two states, as in the 1624 edition additional hatching was added to the lower left and upper right corner cartouches.

This detailed map is an exceptional depiction of North Africa and a testament to Ortelius’ skill. It would be an impactful addition to a collection of African maps, Ortelius maps, or maps of classical antiquity.

"Carthaginian Empire," New World Encyclopedia, last modified July 31, 2008,; Marcel P. Van den Broecke, "Cartographica Neerlandica Background for Ortelius Map No. 218," Cartographica Neerlandica, accessed July 14, 2019,; Marcel P. Van den Broecke, "Cartographica Neerlandica Topographical Names for Ortelius Map No. 218," Cartographica Neerlandica, accessed July 14, 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).