Nona Asiae Tabula


The Indus Valley and surrounding area from the early 16th century.

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Claudius Ptolemy was a Greek scholar who was active in Alexandria, Egypt between the first and second centuries C.E. He wrote broadly on a number of topics including astrology, math, music, and astronomy, but today his impact is likely felt nowhere more strongly than in the field of geography. Ptolemy was the first (that we know of) to develop a process by which a three-dimensional object (in this case, a sphere) can be projected on two dimensions, like a flat sheet of paper. Using geographic data from predecessors like Erasthones and Marinus of Tyre, Ptolemy drafted the mathematical calculations necessary to create the first map projection – the foundation on which maps are still produced to this day.

This set of instructions came to be known as the Geographia, though the original text was lost after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Fortunately, manuscript copies survived through Muslim scribes, and the Geographia was ‘re-discovered’ in Italy during the Renaissance in the early 15th century. It was tremendously influential as European society began to look for scientific, rather than supernatural, explanations to the world in which they lived. Furthermore, Ptolemy’s maps under-represented the size and omitted significant portions of the globe, encouraging the Age of Discovery and the expeditions of De Gama, Columbus, and others.

Though earlier manuscript editions exist, the first version of Ptolemy’s Geographia was printed in Venice in 1475, though this edition did not contain any maps. A second edition, the first with maps, was printed in Bologna in 1477 and was the first to use plates engraved on copper. Second and third editions appeared in Rome and Florence, respectively, in 1478 and 1482, with the latter including the first ‘new’ maps added to Ptolemy’s original group of 26. Numerous subsequent examples followed, and this map is from the 1507 version published in Rome by Bernardus Venetus de Vitalibus.

The plate appeared in only four editions (1478, 1490, 1507 and 1508) and 1507 is one of the least common on the market. The ninth of twelve sheets covering the Asian continent, the image captures a broad territory around the modern-day nations of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Five distinct regions, Gedrosia, Drangia, Aria, Paropanisus, and Arachosia, originate from Classical sources and are roughly bordered by pictorial mountain ranges. The Indus River, the source of the name ‘India’ and the farthest extent of Alexander the Great’s conquests, can be seen in the lower right. The right margin presents information and measurements of the climes. These were the seven climatic zones thought by ancient scholars to dictate the habitable parts of the world.

Sources: Pagani, Cosmography Maps from Ptolemy’s Geography; Campbell, Earliest Printed Maps; Shirley, The Mapping of the World; Nordenskiold, Facsimile Atlas; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography

Map Details

Publication Date: 1507

Author: Claudius Ptolemy

Sheet Width (in): 22

Sheet Height (in): 16.3

Condition: A-

Condition Description: Two sheets joined and reinforced along the center seam with old archival materials on the verso. A line of ink rims the outer edge of the sheet and an old manuscript page number can be seen in the upper right. Light soiling visible in the margins, but overall in very good condition. A crisp, legible impression on clean paper.


1 in stock