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Chapter 1


In a general work of this kind it would be tedious and out of place to embark on a long and detailed history of cartography; newcomers to the subject might well be bored, the knowledgeable could not be blamed for regarding it as trivial. In any case, the subject has been splendidly covered by many writers and all we attempt to do is to provide some background which we regard as an essential part of a fascinating study, and which we hope will have some interest for all our readers.


Plate 3: CORNELIS DE JODE Novae Guinea. From the Speculum Orbis Terraum published in Antwerp in 1593. This is one of the first printed maps to hint at a possible coastline of an Australian continent: the first landfall was not made until 1605-6.

When the first maps, in whatever form, were used it is impossible to say but, as soon as writing and the use of symbols evolved, man undoubtedly felt the need to illustrate a route by land or sea, to show a river crossing, to warn of a mountain barrier or simply to draw the locality in which he lived. The oldest recorded representation of this sort is a 9-ft (275 cm)-long wall-painting found in 1963 in Catal Hoyuk, a prehistoric site in Anatolia, which is dated between about 6100 and 6300 BC. The painting outlines a town 'plan' showing very clearly some eighty 'buildings' with a volcano, possibly erupting, in the background. Later plans sketched on papyrus by the Egyptians and on moulded clay tablets by the Assyrians and Babylonians have survived and it is recorded that about 600 BC. Greek thought was turning to geographical problems. Strabo, writing in Alexandria in the period 20-10 BC, tells us that the first map of the world was compiled by Anaximander of the School of Philosophy at Miletus in the early part of the sixth century BC, followed soon afterwards by a treatise on geography, including a map showing the earth as a plane or disc by Recataeus. They and others of that school believed in the Homeric theory of a disc-shaped world surrounded by the great river Okeanus with Delphi and the Aegean at the centre of the habitable world. Others, however, leaned to the Pythagorean theory of a spherical world, a theme taken up by Plato, Herodotus and Aristotle, which gradually came to be accepted throughout the Hellenic world.

Over the centuries, answers to the practical problems of calculating the size of the earth and its habitable areas, the partitioning into climatic zones and the relative positions of different countries and places were sought by mathematicians and astronomers, especially in Alexandria. There, Strabo in his 17-volume Georaphica summarized the long story for posterity, fortunately as it happened, for few of his original sources survived the destruction of the great library. Not that his record was always critical or accurate; his mis-interpretation of the rival calculations of the circumference of the world made by Eratosthenes and Posidonius was accepted a century later by Claudius Ptolemy who consequently presented a distorted view of the world which influenced geographical thought until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Ptolemy, a Greek mathematician, astronomer and geographer, living in Alexandria, assembled and codified his predecessors' cartographic theories including those of Marinus of Tyre (c. AD 120) to whom he was especially indebted. In about AD 150 he published his Geographia, a work in 8 volumes, supposedly illustrated with a world map, z6 regional maps and a profusion of smaller maps. Although, as we shall see later, the text of the Geographia survived, no maps older than about the twelfth century have come down to us and, in consequence, we have no means of knowing whether the 'Ptolemy' maps on which we set so much store were, in fact, drawn by him or were the interpretations of later map makers using his text as a basis.

Although Ptolemy's work was compiled at the time of Rome's greatest power it seems to have had little influence on Roman ideas of mapping which were practical rather than scientific. A map, known only from literary sources, entitled Orbis Terrarum (Survey of the World), was made in the years round 10 BC for the Emperor Augustus by his son-in-law Vipsanius Agrippa, but apart from this and our knowledge of a stylized road map, known from a thirteenth-century copy as the Peutinger Table, there is little direct evidence of their interest in cartography. All the same, considering their highly developed administrative abilities, it is hard to believe that maps were not in common use even though so few have survived.

MARTIN WALDSEEMULLER British Isles Strassburg 1522

Plate 4: MARTIN WALDSEEMULLER British Isles Strassburg 1522. This very early woodcut map of the British Isles, with Scotland on an East-West axis and Ireland somewhat misplaced, was derived from the Ptolemaic map puiblished in Rome in 1478.

With the fall of the Roman Empire the accumulated wisdom of earlier civilizations was dissipated, the great libraries destroyed or dispersed, scientific thought and speculation rejected in favour of religious fanaticism and, eventually, a return to belief in a flat or disc-shaped world, now with Jerusalem at the centre. Maps of these times in their simplest diagrammatic form are known as T-O maps, showing the world with East at the top surrounded by a circular ocean (the letter 0), the three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, being separated by the arms of the T representing the Mediterranean, the river Nile to the South and the river Don flowing into the Black Sea to the North.

From the seventh to the fourteenth century there is little evidence of any real development in map making in Western Europe, although a dozen or so maps do survive, but in that period Ptolemy's work had a powerful influence on Islamic thought and translations of the Geographia were certainly available to the Arabs from about the year 500 onwards. In turn, Arab knowledge of astronomy and mathematics influenced cartographers in Italy and Majorca and from the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there are surviving manuscript sea charts known to the Italians as portulan charts (from the Italian portolano), which formed the basis of many later maps. Of particular fame is the Catalan Atlas of 1375, a masterpiece of its time, produced in Majorca, consisting of an 8-sheetmap of the world on which Asia, for the first time, has acquired recognizable form.


Plate 5: MARTIN WALDSEEMULLER World Map. The Modern World as shown in Waldseemuller's Geographia published in Strassburg in (1522) 1525.

In the Middle Ages some of the finest manuscript maps were produced in England, reflecting the strong monastic and religious influences then dominant. They were probably intended for the guidance of pilgrims and crusaders travelling to Dover and the Continent and, although crude in execution, give a recognizable diagrammatic picture of the country. The best-known surviving maps are those of Matthew Paris, a monk of St Albans, drawn about the year 1250, the 'Gough' map of about 1360, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi of about 1300, preserved in Hereford Cathedral. This richly decorated circular map on vellum illustrates the medieval idea of the Biblical world with Jerusalem at its centre.

In Europe the initial awakening of interest in geography arose from the revival of knowledge of Ptolemy's Geographia soon after the year 1400. Greek manuscript copies made in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries were brought by scholars to Italy from Constantinople and were subsequently translated into Latin and widely studied. This work coincided with, and was much influenced by, the development of printing techniques, particularly, of course, by the invention of movable-type printing by Gutenberg about 1450, which made possible for the first time the production of printed books in quantity. Apart from this factor, other more far-reaching influences were compelling the peoples of Western Europe to look beyond the horizon they had known for so many centuries. With the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 the Turks effectively closed Europe's trade routes to the East and shut off access to traditional sources of luxuries and precious metals from Asia and, above all, denied the supply of the spices which had become so important in the lives of ordinary people. Other factors often based on long-believed myths and legends added to the urge to break out into the unknown world.

It would be tempting at this stage to launch into a chapter on the 'Age of Discovery' but we must content ourselves with only a passing reference to the influence of Henry the Navigator and the voyages of the Portuguese southwards down the coast of Africa and subsequently to India, to those of Columbus to the West Indies, of Cabral to Brazil, Cabot to Labrador and to Magellan's circumnavigation of the world, and to the long controversies over the merits and possibilities of the North-West and North-East passages to the Orient. Suffice it to say that in rather less than a century knowledge of the geography of the world changed profoundly, a change which was reflected in the gradual abandonment of the Ptolemaic ideas which appeared in the early printed editions of the Geographia from 1477 onwards. Furthermore, from about the year 1500, the development of improved geometrical methods of survey and the invention of more precise instruments by geographers in Germany and the Netherlands enabled relatively large land areas to be surveyed more rapidly and accurately and, on a wider scale, Gerard Mercator, regarded as the greatest name in cartography since Ptolemy, produced the first map on his new projection in 1569. Publication of Ptolemy's maps continued during the century under many names including Waldseemuller, Munster and Gastaldi; successive editions contained an increasing number of 'modern' maps until, in 1570, the Ortelius Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, composed entirely of contemporary maps, was published in Antwerp. This Atlas, containing at first about 70 maps, was an immediate success and publication continued through 40 or more editions until 1612, but it was not the only success story of the time. There was extraordinary activity in every facet of map making: Mercator's Atlas in three parts was printed in Amsterdam between 1585 and 1595; also printed there in 1584 was the first Atlas of engraved sea charts De Spiegel der Zeevaerdt by Waghenaer with an English edition in London in 1588 and many editions in other languages; in the Rhineland, there was the superb collection of over 500 town plans in 6 volumes compiled by Braun and Hogenberg, published between 1572 and 1618; and, not least, Christopher Saxton's survey of England and Wales was being carried out soon after 1570 followed by publication of his Atlas in 1579 which set a standard unsurpassed for the best part of two centuries.

Considering the all-important role played by the Spanish and Portuguese in the events of the time it is remarkable that only a handful of early charts made by them have survived. Understandably, fear of trading competition imposed secrecy on their pilots and chart makers until new discoveries had been exploited, and to this end the preparation and distribution of charts in both countries was kept under official control. But the trading monopoly to the Americas and the Far East held by Spain and Portugal for so long was broken abruptly by two events in the years 1579 and 1581. First, the Northern Provinces in the Netherlands finally achieved independence from Spain and, second, Philip II annexed Portugal to the Spanish crown and in the process granted the Portuguese exclusive rights to European coastal trade, hitherto the preserve of the Dutch. So far from achieving his aim of bringing the Dutch to heel, Philip's action had the opposite effect; in the twenty years to the end of the century Dutch navigators, after false starts to find a North-East Passage, sailed in strength round the Cape to what soon became a new preserve, the Dutch East Indies. In 1602, to bring their numerous trading companies under control, the Dutch East India Company was formed. Soon afterwards, in 1605, they discovered Australia and for much of the century Dutch shipping dominated the world's trade routes; as a consequence it was hardly surprising that Amsterdam supplanted Antwerp as the great cartographic centre. Their map makers kept pace with the growth of geographical knowledge and from the workshops of Hondius, Blaeu, Jansson, de Wit and others the European market was supplied with atlases, sea charts, town plans and every kind of map reflecting the expansionism of the age. The maps produced in this period have always been highly esteemed as superb examples of engraving and design, never equalled in any other age.

SEBASTIAN MUNSTER Typus Orbis Universalis.

Plate 6: SEBASTIAN MUNSTER Typus Orbis Universalis. Published in the Geographia in Basle in 1540, this famous map was the standard world map until the publication of the Ortelius Atlas in 1570.

In England the seventeenth century opened with Saxton's atlases still in publication, but expanding trade and the stimulation of the discovery of new lands created an eager interest in local and national geography which was met by Camden's Britannia (a history of England,) republished in 1607 containing Saxton's maps in reduced form, soon followed by John Speed's famous Atlas in 1610-11 which also was part of a History of Great Britain. Speed's maps, with their detailed town plans, boundaries of hundreds and descriptive texts, were immensely popular and continued in use through many editions until almost the end of the eighteenth century. About the same time Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion appeared, containing a series of allegorical maps based on country legends and myths.

THOMAS JEFFERYS County of the Westmorland

Plate 7 THOMAS JEFFERYS County of the Westmorland London 1770. Detail from the 1 in. to 1 mile map of Westmorland, one of a number of notable large-scale maps of English countries compiled by Jefferys.

For the next forty or fifty years no notable English names appear. Apart from a small number of pocket atlases produced to meet the needs of the opposing armies in the Civil Wars of the 1640s and the continuing editions of Speed's maps, the market in England, as elsewhere in Europe, was dominated by the Dutch publishing houses of Blaeu and Jansson, although some editions of Dutch publications were issued in London with English texts. Surprisingly, through all this period, roads, with few exceptions, were not shown on any county maps, but in 1675 John Ogilby's Britannia broke new ground, showing the post roads of the country in strip form, and from then onwards roads were incorporated in practically all maps of this country. Ogilby was followed by John Seller, Richard Blome, Robert Morden and Herman Moll, amongst others, all of whom produced attractive, if not very original, county maps. Seller was better known for his sea charts and about the same time Captain Greenvile Collins, commissioned by Trinity House, carried out the first complete survey of the coasts of Britain in the years 1681 to 1688, publishing the Great Britain's Coasting Pilot in 1693.

CESAR FRANCOIS Department de Calais

Plate 8 CESAR FRANCOIS Department de Calais. Detail from map in the Cassini style published in accordance with a decree of the National Assembly dated 20 January 1790. As the map bears scale bars in metres it was probably issued after the year 1800.

Despite the declining influence of Holland late in the century, London publishers were still dependent to some extent on Dutch map makers, but the levy of a duty on imported maps in the early 1700's led to a great expansion of publishing business in London, which continued throughout the century. Notable names in this period were John Senex, Robert Sayer, Emanuel Bowen, Thomas Kitchin, John Rocque, Thomas Jefferys and John Cary, to whose work we refer elsewhere. Notwithstanding this expansion in London's trade, it was to France that the initiative and leadership in map producing passed from the Dutch at the end of the seventeenth century. Secure in royal patronage and support, especially during the long reign of Louis XIV, French cartographers took the lead in scientific mapping by astronomical observations and by triangulation and the names of the Sanson and Cassini families, Delisle, d'Anville and others, dominated the map world. A major task was the completion of a survey of France, initiated by one of the Cassini family, Cesar Francois, which resulted in the publication of the Atlas National in 1789, the finest work of its kind up to that time.

The English were slow to follow the French lead but after the year 1759, when the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (now Royal Society of Arts) offered rewards for the best accurate surveys of the English counties, many splendid maps on the scale of 1 in. to 1 mile and even larger were produced. The influence of Cesar Francois Cassini in France and General William Roy in England led to a joint operation to link the Greenwich and Paris observatories by the new methods of survey by triangulation and, as a result of the experience gained then, the Ordnance Survey Office was set up in England in 1791, followed soon afterwards by the establishment of a Hydrographic Office.

In later chapters we shall see that in most European countries surveying and mapping had been carried on with varying degrees of accuracy from the sixteenth century onwards. The maps produced then satisfied the needs of the time, but towards the end of the eighteenth century the Governments of Austria, Switzerland, the Low Countries, the German and Italian states and the Scandinavian countries, realizing the need for up-to-date surveys, were quick to profit from the methods evolved by the Cassinis in France and General William Roy and the Ordnance Survey Office in the British Isles. Inevitably, progress on such widespread projects covering much of the Continent was slow and very uneven, frequently dogged by lack of funds, by political upheavals and war, and, not least, by obsessive secrecy which, in some countries, bedevilled the whole concept of mapping on a national scale. However, in course of time problems were solved; indeed, there was often unexpected cooperation between nations in the preparation of base lines and the use of common triangulation points, so that, by mid century, the re-mapping of most of Europe was well advanced. The new style of maps, as demanded by the modern world, was severely practical and utilitarian, and finally brought to an end the long history of decorative map making which provides the main theme of this book.

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Introduction | Contents | Download as PDF (132mb)