Nona Europa Tabula


An incredible 15th century map of the Balkan Peninsula.

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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 27. The next in line of production is the 1482 edition printed in Ulm, Germany by Leinhart Holle using a manuscript edited by Nicolaus Germanus – the first example issued outside of Italy.

It is from that 1482 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia that this sheet originates – the ninth of ten original Ptolemaic maps covering the continent of Europe. The image shows a large portion of the Balkan Peninsula between the Adriatic and Black Seas and includes portions of modern-day Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. Regional distinctions like Dacia, Thrace, and Dardania reflect earlier Roman provincial borders.

Due to the long history of Hellenic settlement across the region, there are a wealth of geographic features and place names included throughout. Toponyms identify the Carpathian Mountains at the top of the page, cities like Odessus (modern-day Varna) and Byzantium on the Black Sea, the island of Lemnos, and the Danube River running across the middle of the page. Several settlements along its course originated as Roman fortifications along the Empire’s former northern frontier. 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: 1482

Author: Claudius Ptolemy

Sheet Width (in): 22.9

Sheet Height (in): 16.1

Condition: B+

Condition Description: Two inches on either side of the sheet have been professionally restored and repaired with paper and ink fill. Moderate damp staining visible in the upper corners required some additional restoration and some slight discoloration is present along the seam of the repairs. Minor wear, offsetting from blue ink, and spotting along the vertical centerfold. Near contemporary old color with modern added where necessary for restoration


1 in stock