Northern Greece in Classical Times
Fascinating map of "The Northern Part of Greece," first issued by the French cartographer Guillaume De L'Isle, delineating the topographic and sociopolitical features of ancient northern Greece.
The map is a finely executed representation of the northern Greek regions, capturing the Hellenic landscapes in vivid detail. The map is drawn predominantly in the old language of Latin, the lingua franca of scholarly communication in Europe during the era of its creation.
The ancient road system, a significant part of the map, is particularly noteworthy. The Greeks, during their time, built an extensive network of roads, which were crucial for the movement of armies, citizens, and goods. The map expertly reconstructs this system, marking the major routes that crisscrossed the regions.
The Via Egnatia, one of the most significant routes of the ancient Greek road system, is a prominent feature of the map. This road was a central artery of the Roman Empire, running from Dyrrachium on the Adriatic Sea across the territories of modern-day Albania, North Macedonia, and Greece to Byzantium (Istanbul) on the Bosporus Strait. This road allowed Rome to reinforce its eastern frontier rapidly, while also facilitating trade and cultural exchange.
Other minor but equally important routes are shown, such as those leading to various city-states, towns, and villages. These routes demonstrate the interconnectedness of the Greek world and the complexity of its infrastructure. The road system also illustrates the Greeks' ability to navigate their rugged terrain, which is dotted with mountains and interspersed with deep valleys.
However, the map's depiction of the road system goes beyond just geographical representation. It offers insight into the social and political landscape of ancient Greece, reflecting the importance of transportation in warfare, trade, and cultural exchange. Roads were not merely paths from one place to another; they were conduits of ideas, goods, and people that shaped the evolution of ancient Greece.
Guillaume De L'Isle (1675-1726) is probably the greatest figure in French cartography. Having learned geography from his father Claude, by the age of eight or nine he could draw maps to demonstrate ancient history. He studied mathematics and astronomy under Cassini, from whom he received a superb grounding in scientific cartography—the hallmark of his work. His first atlas was published in ca. 1700. In 1702 he was elected a member of the Academie Royale des Sciences and in 1718 he became Premier Geographe du Roi.
De L'Isle's work was important as marking a transition from the maps of the Dutch school, which were highly decorative and artistically-orientated, to a more scientific approach. He reduced the importance given to the decorative elements in maps, and emphasized the scientific base on which they were constructed. His maps of the newly explored parts of the world reflect the most up-to-date information available and did not contain fanciful detail in the absence of solid information. It can be fairly said that he was truly the father of the modern school of cartography at the commercial level.
De L’Isle also played a prominent part in the recalculation of latitude and longitude, based on the most recent celestial observations. His major contribution was in collating and incorporating this latitudinal and longitudinal information in his maps, setting a new standard of accuracy, quickly followed by many of his contemporaries. Guillaume De L’Isle’s work was widely copied by other mapmakers of the period, including Chatelain, Covens & Mortier, and Albrizzi.