Diving into… Dromography

Max, his wife and kids at home. Striegel, B (before 1525)

In 1508, a certain Konrad Bickel, the Librarian of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (Maximillian I of Austria at the time, click the image) died. In his will, he bequeathed to his friend Konrad Peutinger an old manuscript map, one foot wide and twenty-two feet long (33cm x 608cm), made of eleven (later twelve) panels of joined sheep-skin parchment. Bickel said that he had found it among the library collections in 1494.

But this was not just any map. It was a copy, made sometime between 1100 and 1400 AD of a now-lost Roman map of the world from the 4th century (300-400 AD) showing Roman roads and route-miles from India to Ireland. A wonderful document of the first great era of globalization and a sort of celebration of the Roman engineering technology (and ferocity and doggedness) that made that first ‘global’ integration possible.

Portrait of Konrad Peutinger

Peutinger—a wealthy and learned one-time Town Clerk of the city of Ausberg—owned possibly the finest private library in northern Europe at the time. One of his wife’s relations (the Mayor of Ausgberg) organized to send the map to Antwerp to the famous publishing house of Johannes Moretus in 1591, preserving the design of the map, as it turns out, forever.

It’s a design well worth preserving. More like a ‘metro-map’ than a geographic projection, the map amply illustrates the east-west orientation that Jared Diamond identifies as one of the accidental, fundamental vectors of technology, innovation and growth for Europe (for a potted summary of the Diamond thesis, read this review by a certain Bill Gates, ‘software developer’). It is designed to show routes and distances rather than accurately represent the shape of the landscape.

One panel of the original parchementClose up of manuscriptSection of redrawn map (Miller, 1870s) showing Nile Delta, Arabian desert (notes wandering of Jews), Smyrna, Rhodes, Cyprus etc

But what routes! 200,000km of Roman roads, laid out in a strip-map, not unlike the most useful road-maps (before the age of the GPS) and somewhat like driving directions in Google Maps.

Here’s some more on Peutinger and his map.

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