We do not know very much about Byzantine maps and Byzantine cartographic science in general. The material record is scant, many objects having been lost, destroyed, removed from their proper context (most often, to the West), or discarded when no longer useful, as is probably the case with Byzantine portolans between the second half of the 13th century and the Fall of Constantinople.

Nevertheless, there is a distinct possibility that more Byzantine manuscripts and specifically maps will be uncovered in libraries with significant historical collections, such as the Vatican Library, the Bodleian at Oxford, the National Library of Greece, and the Ataturk Library.

Yet in spite of the paucity of the material record, there is much that we can discern to build a picture of Byzantine cartography. Its connection to the mathematical, astronomical, and geographic vanguard of the Hellenistic period – the opus of Claudius Ptolemy – is unquestionable. Its basis on geographical models of the pre-Socratic philosophers, and the Classical period historians is quite evident at least in zonal and in T-O type maps. Furthermore, its interest in engaging in a biblical exegesis of the world through the medium of cartography can also be strongly supported. The use and study of landscape as spatial visualization speaks to a certain amplitude in how maps were thought of, constructed and used.

Taken as a whole, we can compose a useful, albeit incomplete picture of Byzantine geographic and cartographic science and practice. As some of the related objects traveled to Venice, Genoa, Spain, the Arab world, and beyond, to inform and influence geographic and cartographic sciences and production there, other objects became part of the scientific and artifactual world of the Ottomans and their subject people. It is reasonable to assume that Byzantine cartography, and the cartographies of Venice and Genoa through commerce and the Latin conquest of Byzantium, influenced the manner elites and everyday people visualized cartographically and modeled spatially their power position within the region we sometimes call the Balkans, within the Ottoman Empire, and in the successor states that replaced it.

By Alex Papadopoulos; excerpts, edited by Ellopos Blog. Read complete.

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