Sign In

- Or use -
Forgot Password Create Account

The Tabula Peutingeriana -- Charting Roman Roads in the First Century BC

Fine example of Ortelius's four-sheet map of the famous Peutinger Table, based on a thirteenth-century manuscript document once owned by Konrad Peutinger, which now resides in the Austrian National Library in Vienna.  

Ortelius’ Peutinger Table (Tabula Peutingeriana) is an illustrated itinerarium (an ancient Roman road map) showing the layout of the Roman Empire’s road network, known as the cursus publicus.  The map is drawn from remarkable 13th Century manuscript map, which historians believe was, in turn, drawn from works which descend from the map made by Vipsanius Agrippa, which was created in about 12 BC and revised several times, most recently shortly after 400 AD.  Because the surviving examples were updated with information from the 4th and early 5th Centuries, the exact dating of the original Agrippa map is complex, as described below.

The map stretches from Europe, excluding Britain and the Iberian Peninsula, through North Africa and parts of the Middle East, Persia, and India. It also includes a simple cartouche in the first segment, naming the map and dedicating it to Marcus Welser (the owner of the original Peutinger Table) in the name of the cartographer Abraham Ortelius, who had recently died.

Each sheet contains two segments, and each segment is labeled at the top (e.g. Segmentum Primum), which gives the reader their order. Because the intention of the map is to show the roads of the Roman Empire, the landforms and water bodies are somewhat distorted from the typical, fairly accurate depictions of the time. The long, thin water body that stretches along the bottom of the first six segments is, in fact, the Mediterranean Sea, recognizable by the islands of Sardinia and Corsica found in the second segment.

As is typical of an Ortelius map, cities are characteristically drawn with clusters of buildings, ranging in size from one or two towers to large castles and rectangular edifices. Notable cities are Rome (Roma) in the fourth segment, Constantinople (Constantinopolis) in the sixth segment, and Antioch (Antiochia) in the seventh segment, all of which are marked by a robed figure. In addition, Rome is the meeting point of over ten named roads, giving credence to the popular saying, “All roads lead to Rome.”

This version of the Peutinger Table is notable for the amount of information present and its attention to detail. Rivers and mountain ranges are present throughout the map, and some places are particularly highlighted by notes about their geography or history. For example, in the bottom right of the sixth segment a note identifies one area as the desert in which the Israelites roamed for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt. In the bottom right of the eighth segment, a small note tells the reader that elephants live there.

From Agrippa to Ortelius

The Peutinger Table is generally thought to be a surviving copy of a map created under the direction of the Roman architect and general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa near the start of the first millennium. Agrippa was a good friend to the emperor Augustus, and when Agrippa died in 12 B.C. Augustus (along with Agrippa’s sister) had the original map engraved in marble and displayed in the Porticus Vipsania in the Campus Agrippae, an area of Rome named in honor of the architect.

The American historian Glen Bowersock supports this dating, based particularly on details of Roman Arabia found on the map that are inconsistent with a later creation date. Another important detail is the Roman town of Pompeii (Pompeis), near modern-day Naples, which was famously destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and never rebuilt. Its inclusion on the map indicates that the original was created before Pompeii’s destruction.

However, there are also details suggesting a revision of the map in the fifth century, such as the inclusion of Constantinople, which was founded in 328, and of Ravenna, seat of the Western Roman Empire from 402 to 476. The presence of certain cities of Germania Inferior that were destroyed in the mid-fifth century also indicates the map's latest likely creation date.

This revised version was copied onto parchment in the thirteenth century and is the oldest surviving copy today. It was found in a library in Augsburg by Konrad Celtes, who left it to the collector Konrad Peutinger, whose name it now bears. After his death, it went to Peutinger’s relative Marcus Welser. After this, the map was passed down within the Welser family, largely lost from view, until 1714, when it was recovered and now it is one of the treasures of the Vienna National Library. This surviving manuscript is damaged and lacking the first sheet, showing the Iberian Peninsula and Britain.

Welser sent new manuscript copies of the Peutinger example to Ortelius in 1598 at Ortelius’ request. This is why Welser is subsequently honored in this copy’s cartouche. Welser was actually the first to publish a printed version of the Peutinger Table, in Venice in 1591. However, Ortelius was displeased with the quality of the engraving and desired to improve it. He had been interested in the Peutinger Table for at least twenty years by the 1590s, and he used these accurate manuscript copies to create his own beautifully-rendered version, an ambitious project. When joined, the eight strips shown on the map stretch approximately four meters (about 13.3 feet) long. This was one of Ortelius’ last projects. He oversaw the engraving until his death in 1598.

The Ortelius Peutinger was published separately by Moretus in 1598. Bertius also included the prints in Theatrum Geographiæ Veteris in 1619. It then appeared in the 1624 edition of Ortelius Parergon. This atlas of the ancient world was a project of great personal interest and the work that Ortelius himself considered his greatest achievement. The 1624 edition was one of the only Parergon editions to be published completely separately from his modern atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. It was highly successful as indicated by its continued printing 26 years after Ortelius’ death.

Ortelius’ work on the Peutinger Table is masterful, and the detail present shows his skill and dedication to accurate historical representation. The original Peutinger Table, now residing in the Vienna National Library, is heavily damaged. Therefore, Ortelius's four-sheet engraving is generally considered to be the best surviving and one of the earliest obtainable representations of the original Roman map.

Glen Bowersock, Roman Arabia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994); Christos Nussli, "The Tabula Peutingeriana, a Roman Road Map," Histoire Et Géographie De L'Europe, last modified September 2007,; Marcel P. Van den Broecke, "Cartographica Neerlandica Background for Ortelius Map No. 227," Cartographica Neerlandica, accessed June 29, 2019,; Marcel P. Van den Broecke, "Unstable Editions of Ortelius' Atlas," Cartographica Neerlandica, accessed June 27, 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).

Konrad Peutinger Biography

Konrad Peutinger (1465-1547) was a German humanist, jurist, diplomat, politician, and economist. He was born in Augsburg, Germany, which was at the time part of the Holy Roman Empire, and he spent much of his life there. However, as a young man he also received education in Bologna and Padua, and his experience in Italy fostered a love of and enthusiasm for antiquities.

Peutinger returned home and served in the municipal government of Augsburg. He became a close counselor and friend to Emperor Maximilian I as well as his successor, Charles V. Peutinger was often called upon by the Emperor to carry out literary and artistic plans or for diplomatic missions, as his connections to influential men in Germany, Italy, and France made him particularly valuable in that regard. The city of Augsburg also benefitted from the relationship between the emperor and their municipal government.

Later in life, Peutinger took a step back from government work and devoted himself to study. Over the years he had gathered a sizeable collection of ancient Roman inscriptions, which were published in 1505, notable as he was one of the first to publish Roman inscriptions. He also published some scholarly writings about German history in 1515, which were valuable sources for future study.

Peutinger was one of the most famous antiquarians of his time, collecting manuscripts, books, coins, and other archaeological items from ancient times. Along with his wife, Margaret Welser, he formed an enormous private library, one of the largest north of the Alps. His most famous possession, though, is the one that carried on his name: the Peutinger Table.

Peutinger’s friend Konrad Celtes acquired a manuscript copy of an ancient Roman road map from a library in the late 1400s. The map was passed to Peutinger after Celtes died in 1508. This became known as the Peutinger Table, though Peutinger was never able to publish it himself before his death. After Peutinger died in 1547, the map was left to his wife’s relative Marcus Welser, who allowed it to be copied and published. Peutinger’s wealth and antiques collection was passed down through the family until 1714, when it was divided between the Augsburg Library and Vienna, where some of his collection can still be found today.