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Striking Map of the Holy Land Featuring the Twelve Tribes of Israel

Fine example of the Jansson/Hornius 8-sheet map of the Holy Land. Illustrated with east at the top, the map provides one of the finest large-scale depictions of the Holy Land available in the seventeenth century.

Jansson based his map on Christian van Adricham's “Situs Terrae Promissionis” of ca. 1590. This version is both expanded and carries additional vignettes and details. Georgius Hornius wrote the text that accompanied the map in volume six of Jansson’s Novus AtlasAccuratissimia Orbis Antiqui Delineatio.

The map shows the region divided into domains of the Twelve Tribes of Israel on both sides of the Jordan River, with the shoreline running from Sidon to Alexandria. The Cison Torrens (Kishon River) is shown as connecting the Sea of Galilee with the Mediterranean Sea, and there are many rivers, some of which do not exist; for example, there is a river connecting Jerusalem with the Dead Sea. In the Dead Sea, four burning cities are shown: Sodom, Gomorra, Seboim, and Adama.

The map is intricately engraved to show topographical features, major roads, towns and villages. It is also richly embellished with dozens of biblical illustrations. Inset maps in the top corners depict Abraham's journey (left) and the wandering of the Israelites through the desert (right).

The six panels are individually titled:

Tribus Ruben, et Gad et partes orientales tribuum Beniamin, Ephraim, et dimidiae Manasse intra Iordenem. This is usually thought to the be the first panel in the series. It includes several vignettes, such as Jesus and Satan arguing on a mountaintop, Moses looking across the Jordan, the entry point of the Hebrews into the land of Milk and Honey, and a stairway ascending to heaven. This panel shows the lands controlled by Ruben and Gad, as well as the eastern lands of Benjamin, Ephraim, and part of Manasseh beyond the Jordan River. It also shows the western part of the Dead Sea.

Tribuum Ephraim, Beniamin, et Dimidiae Manasse intra Iordanem partes occidentales, et partes septentrionales Dan et Iuda. This second panel shows the lands of Ephraim, Benjamin, and part of Manasseh beyond the Jordan river. More Biblical scenes include a scene where Jonas is cast from a sailing ship into the open jaws of a whale. Also, the panel shows the lands of Palestine and numerous armies.

Tribus Aser, et partes occidentales tribuum Zabulon et Isachar. One of two enlarged panels in this series, this map shows the lands of Asher and the western reaches of Zebulon and Issachar. More Biblical illustrations include St. George and the Dragon, the city of Tyre, Nazareth, and the Tabernacle of Abraham.

Dimidia Tribus Manasse Ultra Iordanem, Tribus Neptalim et partes orientales tribuum Zabulon et Isachar. The second enlarged panel details the parts of Manasseh lying on the western shores of the Jordan River, the tribe of Naphtali, and parts of the lands of Zebulon and Issachar. This sheet includes the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberius), as well as several scenes from the life of Jesus, such as his walking on water, Jesus preaching from onboard a boat, and other. The large inset map in the upper left quadrant, entitled Peregrinatio Abrahae, shows the route followed by Abraham from Ur into Canaan.

Pars maxima Tribus Iusa Versus Orientem. This southeastern-most sheet depicts much of the Dead Sea, as well as the lands claimed by the tribe of Judah. It also features the smoking ruins of Sodom, Gomorrah, Adaima, and Seboim. In the upper right, there is a large inset, Itinera et Mansiones Deserti, which shows the route taken by the Hebrews as they fled from Egypt. Finally, it also shows the parting of the Red Sea.

Tribus Simeon et pars meridionalis Tribus Dan, et orientalis Tribus Idua. Usually considered the last in the series, this panel is mountainous, depicting the lands of Simeon, as well as parts of Dan and Judah. It also identifies the lands of the Philistines and timber lands rich in cedar.

For easy orientation, there is a reference grid pattern which overlays the topographical details.  Grids were first used by the Chinese in the first century CE for the purposes of surveying land. However, perhaps the best-known gridded Chinese map is the Yu ji tu, or “Map of the Tracks of Yu” in English, created ca. 1137. Interestingly, one of the first maps using a rectilinear grid system in medieval Europe was another map of the Holy Land, that of Pietro Visconti of ca. 1320.

With the rediscovery of Ptolemy in Europe in the late Middle Ages, graticules on maps became increasingly associated with precision and geodesic accuracy. Ptolemy used the graticule to represent lines of latitude and longitude, a practice that returned to European maps in the fourteenth century. However, grids could also be used as a reference system, in this case each box is assigned a corresponding letter and number value in order to find places quickly.

Maps of the Holy Land and the early history of Israel

Maps of the Holy Land, a popular genre in the early modern period, allowed users to better understand events from religious traditions. For the mapmaker, the relationship between religion and geography acted as a powerful storytelling tool, allowing viewers to spatialize religious stories. The maps show the centrality of religion to early modern European culture, as well as an enduring interest in historical geography.  

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, shown here, descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. According to Deuteronomy, the twelve sons were Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim, and Manasseh.

In the tenth century BCE, the Israelites made up about 300 highland villages with a population of approximately 40,000 people. These villages would begin to conglomerate in the ninth century BCE. The kingdom formed by their joining was referred to by its neighbors as the House of David. After the kingdoms of Samaria and Judah were destroyed, the resulting Babylonian captivity caused a merging of the south Levantine groups into a unified cultural identity.

This unified kingdom would ultimately not last, however. Tensions between the tribes of Israel mounted over a disagreement as to the location of the mountain on which Moses attempted to sacrifice Isaac. Eventually, the tensions exploded when the Hasmonean King destroyed the temple of another tribe, which caused the lower Levant to devolve into chaos. This civil conflict would last until the Roman Empire invaded, with future emperor Vespasian leading an army into Israel under the pretense of restoring order. This resulted in Roman dominance over the lower Levant until the Muslim conquests of the seventh century CE.

Georgius Hornius and universal history

Although published by Jan Jansson, the map was made in collaboration with Georgius Hornius (1620-1670). Indeed, it is often called the “Hornius Map.” Hornius was a renowned cartographer and historian who published maps as well. His family was forced to flee to Nuremberg during the religious violence of the Thirty Years War. He would eventually attend the University of Altdorf, studying religion and medicine there.

Hornius’s first notable work was a history of the English Civil War, which he witnessed firsthand as a traveler. In 1648 he completed his doctorate in Leiden; by this time, his historical works had drawn the attention of many universities which sought him as a professor. He eventually decided to accept a professorship at the University of Harderwijk where he quickly became rector in 1652, a position he would hold until his death in 1670.

Hornius’s historical works were influential, propagating the idea of universal history, which was an understanding of history as a whole, concurrent unit. He also prepared the text for portions of Jansson’s Novus AtlasAccuratissimia Orbis Antiqui Delineatio, including the text that accompanied this map. Hornius’s works would continue to be relevant after his death, with many posthumous editions of his writings published.


The map appears occasionally on the market, but rarely laid on linen and in old color.

Condition Description
Six sheets, laid on linen.
Joffe, The Rise of Secondary States in the Iron Age Levant, (Pheonix, University of Arizona Press, 2006); Mick Ashworth, Why North is Up, (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 2019), 29-34; Samer Akkach, “Religious Mapping and the Spatiality of Difference,” Thresholds, no. 25 (2002): 68-75; Van der Krogt, P. (Atlantes) 8150:1D; Koeman, C. (Atlantes) Me 177A, 6-11; E. Laor, Maps of the Holy Land: Cartobibliography of Printed Maps, 1475 – 1900 (A. R. Liss, 1986), 343-349; J. Keuning, “The Novus Atlas of Johannes Janssonius,” Imago Mundi 8 (1951): 71-79. KAP with research input by OO.
Jan Jansson Biography

Jan Janssonius (also known as Johann or Jan Jansson or Janszoon) (1588-1664) was a renowned geographer and publisher of the seventeenth century, when the Dutch dominated map publishing in Europe. Born in Arnhem, Jan was first exposed to the trade via his father, who was also a bookseller and publisher. In 1612, Jan married the daughter of Jodocus Hondius, who was also a prominent mapmaker and seller. Jonssonius’ first maps date from 1616.

In the 1630s, Janssonius worked with his brother-in-law, Henricus Hondius. Their most successful venture was to reissue the Mercator-Hondius atlas. Jodocus Hondius had acquired the plates to the Mercator atlas, first published in 1595, and added 36 additional maps. After Hondius died in 1612, Henricus took over publication; Janssonius joined the venture in 1633. Eventually, the atlas was renamed the Atlas Novus and then the Atlas Major, by which time it had expanded to eleven volumes. Janssonius is also well known for his volume of English county maps, published in 1646.

Janssonius died in Amsterdam in 1664. His son-in-law, Johannes van Waesbergen, took over his business. Eventually, many of Janssonius’ plates were sold to Gerard Valck and Pieter Schenk, who added their names and continued to reissue the maps.