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First State of one of the earliest obtainable modern maps of the Franconia Region 

Rare first state of Sebastian Munster's "Franconia XII Nova Tabula" from his monumental Geographia.

First published in 1540, the map is one of the earliest obtainable modern maps of the Franconian Region located east of what is present-day Frankfurt Am Main.  The region depicted in Munster's map is dense with urban centers that held immense historical importance, including Würzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Wertheim, and Fulda.

A deeper look into the map reveals a meticulous detailing of the region's rivers, with the Main, Tauber, Regnitz, and Pegnitz flowing like arteries, sustaining life and enabling movement. Such detailing was crucial for traders, travelers, and planners of the time as it provided them with essential information for navigation and commerce.

Yet, one of the most captivating aspects of Munster’s map is its depiction of the Franconian region’s natural landscapes. The region, celebrated for its lush forests and undulating hills, is brought to life through the map's artistry. The forests, represented in dense clusters, and the sporadic representations of mountains provide a tantalizing glimpse into the topographical nuances of the region. This not only served a practical purpose for travelers but also encapsulated the region's beauty and ruggedness.

Franconia in the 16th Century: A Nexus of Power and Transition

The 16th century marked an era of profound change throughout Europe, with the German region of Franconia being no exception. The Middle Ages were giving way to the Renaissance, and as with much of the Holy Roman Empire, Franconia saw religious, political, and social upheavals that would shape its destiny and the broader European landscape.

As part of the Holy Roman Empire, the region was under the overarching rule of the Emperor, yet it retained significant autonomy thanks to its collection of smaller territories governed by these local rulers. In the middle part of the 16th century, one could not discuss the empire without acknowledging Charles V, who ruled from 1519 to 1556. Under his reign, the empire expanded its territories and faced the transformative impacts of the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation, ignited by Martin Luther in 1517, had profound implications for Franconia. With religious reform came social and political consequences. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555, a treaty signed within the Holy Roman Empire, allowed rulers of the German states to choose between Lutheranism and Catholicism, leading to further fragmentation and tension. Franconia, with its patchwork of territories, witnessed a mosaic of religious choices, creating a complex tapestry of Lutheran and Catholic regions.

Several local rulers stand out in Franconia’s history. One notable figure was Albrecht Alcibiades, Margrave of Brandenburg-Kulmbach. A Protestant, he became embroiled in the tumultuous religious wars of the time. The Schmalkaldic War (1546-1547), which saw Protestant princes of the Schmalkaldic League face off against the Catholic Emperor Charles V, drew in figures like Alcibiades. Although the war concluded with a Catholic victory at the Battle of Mühlberg, it set the stage for further religious confrontations in the empire.

Economic growth and development also characterized Franconia in the 16th century. The region's cities, such as Würzburg, Bamberg, and Nuremberg, grew in prominence as centers of trade, art, and education. Nuremberg, in particular, rose as a hub of the Northern Renaissance, with artists like Albrecht Dürer playing pivotal roles in making the city a beacon of culture and innovation. 

Münster's Geographia

Münster's 1540 Geographia deserves a number of superlatives. First, it established the convention that a world atlas should include world and continental maps. To that end, it was the first atlas to include specific maps of the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. This change was in no small part influenced by the first circumnavigation of the globe by Ferdinand Magellan in 1522. The Geographia was the first printed work to render latitude and longitude in their now-standard degree-minute-second form. And it was the book that ushered in a series of "modern"-style world atlases culminating in the 1570 Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of Abraham Ortelius.

Sebastian Munster Biography

Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was a cosmographer and professor of Hebrew who taught at Tübingen, Heidelberg, and Basel. He settled in the latter in 1529 and died there, of plague, in 1552. Münster made himself the center of a large network of scholars from whom he obtained geographic descriptions, maps, and directions.

As a young man, Münster joined the Franciscan order, in which he became a priest. He then studied geography at Tübingen, graduating in 1518. He moved to Basel, where he published a Hebrew grammar, one of the first books in Hebrew published in Germany. In 1521 Münster moved again, to Heidelberg, where he continued to publish Hebrew texts and the first German-produced books in Aramaic. After converting to Protestantism in 1529, he took over the chair of Hebrew at Basel, where he published his main Hebrew work, a two-volume Old Testament with a Latin translation.

Münster published his first known map, a map of Germany, in 1525. Three years later, he released a treatise on sundials. In 1540, he published Geographia universalis vetus et nova, an updated edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia. In addition to the Ptolemaic maps, Münster added 21 modern maps. One of Münster’s innovations was to include one map for each continent, a concept that would influence Ortelius and other early atlas makers. The Geographia was reprinted in 1542, 1545, and 1552.  

He is best known for his Cosmographia universalis, first published in 1544 and released in at least 35 editions by 1628. It was the first German-language description of the world and contained 471 woodcuts and 26 maps over six volumes. Many of the maps were taken from the Geographia and modified over time. The Cosmographia was widely used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The text, woodcuts, and maps all influenced geographical thought for generations.