The Orientations


This page provides additional information about the cells of consistent orientation, along with discussion of whether some kind of map-like source preceded the Tabula Peutingeriana.


[Chart] The section portraying the first imperial capital and its suburbs within a radius of 50 kilometres is perhaps the most graphically striking section of the entire Tabula, since it not only possesses a personification at its centre, but it arrays twelve highways out of the city in a star formation. However it does not seem to have been this star shape which determined the orientation here, but rather a desire to show the city and its artificial port, the Portus, in a single vertical axis. [*]Contra: Kubitschek 1919: die Hafenanlagen von Portus mit dem Leuchtturm und die St. Peterskirche haben wahrscheinlich mit dem Medaillonbild nichts zu tun, wie sie auch in keine äußerliche Verbindung mit ihm gebracht sind (2139). The harbour had been excavated and provided with two long curving moles and a lighthouse between in the reign (41-54) of Claudius and later formally named the Portus Augusti. Since the Portus, which is more or less on the site of Rome's international airport today, is actually to the west of the city, so achieving a vertical axis of the Portus and city center required this section of the map to be aggressively rotated to an azimuth of 65 degrees, a much harder turn than for the most of the rest of the Italian peninsula. [*]Simon, 2012, is one of the few to note this: In Rome, for instance, the northbound Via Flaminia leaves Rome to the left and the Via Appia leaves to the right (67). Perhaps a subliminal awareness of that turn is behind the vague and undifferentiated assertion by certain scholars that Italy as a whole has somehow been turned to put east at top. [*]Gisinger, 1938: die gewiß nicht nur mit technischen Gründen zu erklärende Orientierung Italiens nach Osten hin ... (1406, 53-5) The section is bounded by the Appenines to the north, and melts away into connective tissue at the left. At right it blends into the rest of Latium, which is only moderately rotated to about 20 degrees off true north. If we follow the hypothesis that the Tabula is a collage of many regional maps with their own varying purposes, the Roma section might well be derived from some kind of commemorative document celebrating the sea access of the city of Rome, along with the availability of road connections in most directions. That document would hardly have had a practical purpose, since the twelve roads are not equal to one another in value. One, the Via Triumphalis (omitted from the reconstruction because it is geographically so tiny), was built for show, and an acute Christian reader of the Tabula has cheekily inserted a convenient endpoint for it, St Peter's Church, although that basilica was neither the city's principal church (St John Lateran) nor, before the 14th century, a papal residence. Rather than serving a practical purpose, this predecessor document is likely to have been purely illustrative and chorographic in its intention, emphasizing the human reshaping of the landscape in general and the political achievements of one or more emperors in particular.


[Chart] There has to my knowledge been remarkably little discussion of why the Tabula should have turned the Peloponnese, Aetolia and the Attic peninsula nearly 40 degrees from north, although the effect itself has been noted numerous times. [*]Gisinger, 1938: die ebenfalls gewiß nicht bloß mit technischen Gründen zu erklärende starke östliche Orientierung Griechenlands ... (1408, 21-4). Simon, 2012: Greece and the Peloponnese, likewise, appear rotated (67).

Magna Graecia

[Chart] Past scholarship has tended to overlook the sharp rotation applied collectively to the two peninsulas at the tip of Italy and has, with Gross, often attributed the distortion to a supposed need to accommodate Sicilia in the limited space. [*]Gross, 1913: ... aus Platzmangel ... ist auch Süditalien von Segm. VI,5 ab so eingeschnürt, weil sonst Sicilien nicht hätte wiedergegeben können (104). In point of fact, the Tabula drawing seems to be an almost faultless vertical compression of some earlier map which was drawn with north-east at top.


[Chart] Talbert comes tantalizingly close to the correct explanation for the strange formation of this section, rightly pointing out that it is attributable to the mapmaker himself. [*]Talbert, 2010: Observe, for example, the resort to vertical routes, as from unnamed symbol no. 42 (5B4) and Venvsie (5B5) (111).

Asia Provincialis

[Chart] The mechanism by which the Tabula Peutingeriana arrives at its peculiar version of Asia has rarely been grasped in the commentaries. As the graphic demonstrates, Asia has simply been turned so that its western coast and hinterland form the bottom of this section of the chart; at the same time the southern coast (the Mediterranean shore east of Rhodes) is drastically abbreviated and plays only a minor role in the resulting drawing. However the scholars have often misinterpreted this as a shaping operation to stretch out the western and southern coasts into one straight line. [*]Kubitschek, 1919: ... So konnte zwar die Südküste der Propontis oder die Kleinasiens gegliedert werden, die Westküste dieser Halbinsel aber mußte aus der Meridianlage horizontal umgelegt werden, so daß z. B. Smyrna ganz nahe gegenüber Pelusium, und Milet gegenüber Askalon zu liegen kommt (2129). Talbert, 2010: But Asia Minor's western and southern coasts are then rendered as one, to form the Mediterranean's upper coastline (92-3).


[Chart] Multiple clues indicate that this section, oriented with its top 16 degrees left of north, was once a map in its own right. At the upper left, the road along the Ionian Sea peters out after crossing through Aulona, while at the right, the Via Egnatia appears to cantilever into unknown space, abruptly ending after passing through Lychnidos on the north shore of Lake Ohrid. In addition, the regional label Iepirum Novum neatly covers the limited area of the sheet.

Yet another signal is the curious calculation at bottom of the direct distance across the mountains from Nicopolis to Larissa in Thessaly: Abactia Nicopori Larissa usq. Milia LXX). This is perhaps a triangulation result, since no such road is known. Any foot-track over the ridges of the high Pindus to Thessaly would surely have been much longer than 70 Roman miles in length, so the line of connection must either have been marked as a geometric straight line or be a copyist's addition.

The uncertainty about the mountainous center of the Balkan peninsula suggests no map of it was available and the chart-maker had to rely on some itinerary list instead. Other notable features of this map are the two minor rivers rising in the Balkans—, the headwaters are probably merely conceptual— and the inland valley roads (via Hadrianopolis). One might question if these really ever formed a single through route, and if the chart-maker was right to assume a through connection.


[No chart yet] The presentation of Britannia appears to be influenced by the sailor's experience, with the source map probably bringing into the bottom or foreground that side of the island which the Roman mariner encountered first. Kubitschek endeavours on of the least convincing explanations of why a grand design might have rotated the island so that its south coast is at the right. [*]Kubitschek, 1919: Britannien muß, da anderwärts kein Platz dafür zur Verfügung stand, aus der nordsüdlichen (oder vielmehr, da nach antiker Anschauung die Achse des Landes stark nach Osten umgelegt ist) aus der westöstlichen in eine östlich-westliche Lage gebracht gewesen sein (2128-9).


[Chart] The rotation of this coastal region is often remarked, though but Dilke is among of the few scholars to actually measure any angle.[*]Dilke, 1998: The effect of the deformation is to stretch countries out on an east-west axis, so that the Levant coast, for example, is better seen if one allows for an orientation turned clockwise by about 80° (117).

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