There are two texts in the Cartographical Section of this website which explore the ideas of the shape of Britannia from the earliest c44BCE to the BCE/AD divide.
Tp1; When rectangle superseded triangle. Britannia in ancient texts; The venerable Bede and the Tabula Peutingeriana.
Br1: When was Britannia a rectangle? Early texts analyzed and maps investigated.
They fully discuss the varying ideas and descriptions and show that enquiring minds were keen to understand the complexity of its form and landscape.
There are several texts and books which discuss the well known “English” maps of the 14th and 15th centuries and they are generally compared to each other. None of these texts considers that “European” maps may have influenced the “English” maps which is seemingly unlikely, but 1066AD happened and an exchange of information was de rigueur.
Thus strictly in date order this text endeavors to quantify the differing views of Britannia that persisted for several centuries. The maps commence with the “Anglo Saxon” map of c1000AD after the earliest texts are discussed.
The Greek writer Diodorus Siculus [1st century BCE] gives a description of Britannia, which eminent professors have argued is based on the work of Pytheas the Greek [4th century BCE]
Britain is triangular in shape, much as Sicily, but its sides are not equal. The island stretches obliquely along the coast of Europe, and the point where it is least distant from the continent, we are told is the promontory which men call Kantion and thus is about one hundred stades from the mainland, at the place where the sea has its outlet, whereas the second promontory, known as Belerion, is said to be a voyage of four days from the mainland, and the last, writers tell us, extends out into the open sea and is named Orkas. Of the sides of Britain the shortest, which extends along Europe , is 7,500 stades, the second, from the Strait to the tip is 15,000 stades , and, the last is 20,000 stades so that the entire circuit of the island amounts to 42,500 stades.
Professor Cunliffe states; Strabo says that Pytheas claimed that the length of Britain was 20,000 stades and that the island was more than 40,000 stades in perimeter [ here quoting Polybius] while Pliny quotes Pytheas as giving the perimeter of Britain as 4,875 Roman Miles , which works out at about 58,000 [sic]stades. The broad comparability of the figures given by Diodorus, Strabo and Pliny argues strongly that they must have been using the same source and that that source was Pytheas.
If Britain was 40,000 stades in circumference this would work out at 7,400 or 7,100 Km, depending on the stade length adopted. In fact, both figures compare remarkably closely with the estimate of length of the coastline of Britain, given in the Encyclopedia Britannica, as 7,580 KM.
Thus the perception of Albion with a triangular shape [with a remarkably accurate length for the coast line] akin to Sicily, probably owes more to poetic license than the actual transference through the centuries of Pytheas’ description. The rivalry [ or animosity] that existed between these ancient cartographers with their commenting on previous texts, and the fact that they did not fully travel the ‘oikumene’ collecting geographical data, must account for the diverse shapes upon their reconstructed world maps.
The second description is taken from ”The Conquest of Gaul” by Gaius Julius Caesar8 , where-in at Book V, 13 he states; ”The island is triangular, with one side facing Gaul. One corner of this side, on the coast of Kent, is the landing-place for nearly all the ships from Gaul, and points east; the lower corner points south. The length of this side is about 475 miles.Another side faces west, towards Spain. In this direction is Ireland, which is supposed to be half the size of Britain, and lies at the same distance from it as Gaul. Midway across is the Isle of man, and it is believed that there are also a number of smaller islands, in which according to some writers there is a month of perpetual darkness at the winter solstice. Our enquiries on this subject were always fruitless, but we found by accurate measurements with a water-clock that the nights are shorter than on the continent. This side of Britain, according to the natives’ estimate, is 665 miles long. The third side faces north; no land lies opposite it, but its eastern corner points roughly in the direction of Germany. Its length is estimated at 760 miles. Thus the whole island is 1900 miles in circumference.” The translators of the Penguin Classics edition appended an end note, No 34, which is quite pertinent, as it fully states the situation apropos the geographical consensus; 34. [V.13]. It will be obvious to English readers that the coasts of Britain are incorrectly orientated in Caesar’s description, and their length over- estimated. The idea that northern Spain lay to the west of Britain, with Ireland between them, resulted from misconceptions shared by most ancient geographers. According to their belief,  the coast of Gaul stretched south-west in an approximately straight line from the Rhine to the Pyrenees;  the south coast of Britain was roughly parallel to it;  the Pyrenees ran north and south;  the north coast of Spain ran not west but north-west from the Pyrenees and was much nearer Britain than it really is.”
When we look at the writings of Pliny the Elder (1st C AD) we find that there is another amalgam of previous authors. Pliny states: Across from this location Britannia Island, famed in Greek and in our own records, lies off to the north-west, separated from Germany, Gaul, Spain and the greatest portion of Europe by a large interval. Albion was its own name when all were called Britannias——–According to Pytheas and Isidorus the circuit is 4875 (Roman) miles in extant.
NOTE; later in this text the “Carta Pisana” map, BnF Res Ge B 4118. Amb, is discussed apropos the form of the Island of Britannia, but it must be noted that the coast of Europe from the Rhine to Spain is as these ancient Geographers perceived it, a straight coastline.
BEDE and GEOGRAPHICAL KNOWLEDGE
The Venerable Bede was a 7th Century AD cleric in a monastery at Jarrow. He was born c673 and completed, what some consider his greatest work, in AD 731, before his departure from this world in AD735. That great work is “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People”, and it contains the most extraordinarily detailed information. ‘Bede’ states in the preface; “I have drawn extensively on the works of earlier writers gathered from various sources”.
The following quotations are given firstly without comment;
1) Book One; Chapter 1; The situation of Britain and Ireland: their earliest inhabitants.
Britain, formerly known as Albion, is an island in the ocean, lying towards the north west at a considerable distance from the coasts of Germany, Gaul, and Spain, which together form the greater part of Europe. It extends 800 miles northwards, and is 200 in breadth, except where a number of promontories stretch further, so that the total coastline extends to 3600 miles. To the south lies Belgic Gaul, to whose coast the shortest crossing is from the city known as Rutubi Portus, which the English have corrupted to Reptacaestir. [Richborough] The distance from there across the sea to Gessoriacum [Boulogne], the nearest coast of the Morini, is fifty miles, or, as some have written, 450 furlongs. On the opposite side of Britain, which lies open to the boundless ocean, lie the isles of the Orcades [Orkneys].
2) In old times, the country had twenty-eight noble cities, besides innumerable strongholds, which also were guarded by walls, towers, and barred gates.
3) Ireland is the largest island after Britain, and lies to the west of it. It is shorter than Britain to the north, but extends far beyond it to the south towards the northern coasts of Spain, although a wide sea separates them.
4) Ireland is far more favoured than Britain by latitude, and by its mild and healthy climate.
5) There is a very extensive arm of the sea [Firth of Clyde], which originally formed the boundary between the Britons and the Picts. This runs inland from the west for a great distance, where there stands to this day the strongly fortified British city of Alcluith [Dumbarton]
6) Chapter 3; —-, and brought the Isle of Wight under Roman rule. This island lies off the south coast of Britain and is about thirty miles in length from east to west, and twelve from north to south. Six miles of sea separate it from the mainland at its eastern end, but only three at the west.
7) Book4 Chapter 16; The Isle of Wight lies opposite the boundary between the South Saxons and the Gewissae, and is separated from it by three miles of sea, known as the Solent.
In these early chapters Bede quotes extensively from, Orosius, Pliny, Solinus and Gildas. Other correspondence with his good friend Bishop Daniel of the West Saxons gives us the data in 6) & 7).
Thus we have a link to actual Roman Geographical texts, PLINY, and the indication of collated information, rather than pure copywriting. The data concerning the sea crossing from Gessoriacum to Rutupiae in Bedes’ original text is as follows;
Habet a Meridie Galliam Belgicam, cuius proximum litus transmeantibus aperit ciuitas quae dicitur Rutubi portus, a gente Anglotum nunc corrupte Reptacaestir uocata, interposito mari a Gessoriaco Morinorum gentis litore proximo. Traiectu milium quinquaginta, siue, ut quidam scripsere, stadiorum quadrigentorum quinquaginta.
Thus Bede uses the ‘Stade’ [translated as furlong] dimension, 450 stades, for the channel crossing exactly as given in the It.Ant; “A Gessoriaco de Galliis Ritupis in portu Britanniarum stadia numero CCCCL”. There is also the fact that Bede uses the name Gessoriaco Morinorum and the T.P. has Gesogiaco quod nunc Bononia xxiiii, which is a later Roman name change.
We may therefore consider Bede’s data owes more to the It.Ant., or the tradition of itineraries, than it does to the T.P.. But, it is a synthesis of all of the data available to him in the early 8th century AD some four centuries after both documents we are considering were written and possibly available for reading and copying. But, from what data, which map, which itinerary or diagram did the Venerable Bede, and others who preceded him, conclude that Britannia was a basic rectangle 800 miles long and 200 miles wide, with promontories stretching further [ and by deduction, inlets of great distance]? This does not accord with the Graeco-Roman tradition of a triangle. But, the occupying Roman forces had surveyed Britannia!
FROM NENNIUS TO THE COTTON MAP
The monk Nennius9 [early 9th century], is a Welsh ecclesiastic who wrote “Historia Brittonum”, the History of the Britons, and within chapters 7, 8 and 9, concocted a geographical description based upon both Gildas and Bede’s text, but widely variant in its detail.
However it is the literal translation of chapter 7 which provides a link to the descriptive texts concerning Britannia;
“Brittania insula a quodam Bruto, consule Romano, dicta. Haec consurgit ab Africo boreali ad occidetem versus. D CCC in longitudine milium, CC in latitudine spatium habet. In ea sunt viginti octo Civitates et innumerablia promuntoria cum innumeris castellis ex lapidus et latere fabricate, et in ea habitant quattour gentes; Scotti, Picti, Saxones atque Brittones.”
“The island of Britain is called after one Brutus, a Roman Consul. This [the island] rises up [appears] beyond North Africa towards the west [i.e., it emerges from the ocean to the north and west of the Mediterranean]. It extends [is] 800 miles in length and 200 in breadth.
On it are 28 states and innumerable promontories with innumerable forts constructed from stone and wood [?], and on it dwell four races; Scots, Picts, Saxons and Britons.”
Britannia by the early 9th century was a Christian country allied to Gaul by the Monastic fraternity. There is no reason for Nennius to describe Britannia in relation to North Africa/Mediterranean unless there was a compelling reason, perhaps a visually imperative manuscript map? Perhaps it was a map which diminished Gaul/Iberia and enlarged the Mediterranean and thus the North African landmass. Bede utilizes Germany, Gaul and Iberia to locate Britannia.
Consideration can be given to an alternate Tabula Peutingeriana, where the strip of land representing Gaul/Iberia is for-shortened and the Mediterranean/African littoral remains as the hypothetical construct in paper one indicates. This would provide the simplest of explanations for the above description. We are after all talking about a road map and not a geographical layout.
But as even Julius Caesar uses Spain and Germany to locate Britannia, a note of caution must be sounded before we proceed further. Nennius is Welsh and the Welsh Annals provide for the story line also told later by Geoffrey of Monmouth10 concerning the founding of Britain and Ireland. The founders of Ireland wandered from Troy through Africa, and the story line is included by in chapter 15. Therefore Nennius may just have been paying attention to his storyline, ensuring his readers were prepared for future events.
That he knew the geographical position of Britannia is undoubted; chapter 8 states, “Three considerable islands belong to it [Britannia]; one, on the south, opposite the Armorican shore called Wight; one, between Ireland and Britain, called Eubonia or Man; and another directly north, beyond the Picts, named Orkney;”
Therefore, as Nennius knew of Europe and his description of the geographical position of Britannia is at variance with that knowledge, can we assume that there was an imperative, another document which assisted or confirmed this description?
THE EXTANT MAPS FROM C1000AD TO C1550AD
1) the Anglo Saxon world map, c1000AD
2) al-Idrisi’s 7th climate, England, c 1133/34
3) Matthew Paris’s four maps and a road diagram
4) Carta Pisana c1290AD
5) Atlases by P Vesconte and an Anon Genoese Portolan, MS 3827, c1325
6) Fra Mauro de Carignano, c1325 world map
7) Angelino de Dulceto, 1330, 1339 & 1339/50 Portolan charts
8) The Catalan Atlas of the world, c1375
9) The Gough Map of Britannia, c1400
10) BL MS Harley 1808, map of Britannia, c1420/40
11) Andreas Bianco, 1436 world map and Ptolemaic map
12) Andreas Bianco 1448 chart drawn in London
13) Angliae Figura map of Britannia, c1540
14) George Lily Engraved map of Britannia, c1546
Notes on other texts and other European Maps are inserted as dates apply.
1) THE ANGLO-SAXON MAP, c1000AD
This map is included in a manuscript volume, B L Cotton MS Tiberius BV folio 56v and is only 21 x 17cms and thought to be a map emulating the earlier Roman Maps. This is considered feasible because of the named Roman Provinces there-on with the format of very straight frontier lines. We however are interested in the drawn form of the British Isles which is in effect a reverse letter “L”. Britannia is subdivided into 6 sections and has the boundaries of the Roman provinces there-on. There are minute representations of London, Winchester and Armagh in Ireland and in Cornwall a depiction of two warriors fighting.
Curiously the British Library text has the following; “Cornwall, the Scilly Isles, the Orkneys, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man and Wight are all recognisable and the irregular and indented coastline of Scotland is particularly accurate”.
I think the writers hyperbole is somewhat mis-placed.
The shape of Britannia appears to owe more to the space available on the parchment bearing in mind the oversized Ireland which is turned through 90 degrees.
Is it a Roman original perhaps several times removed? This is considered feasible because of the named Roman Provinces there-on with the format of very straight frontier lines. But a Roman original attribution is perhaps negated by the drawn form of the Italian Peninsula, thus it is more likely a copy of a copy etc.
Finally, the map is part of a miscellany, made in Southern England during the 2nd quarter of the 11th century, which also contains a collection of geographical, historical and astronomical texts, a copy of the Marvels of the East, an illustrated calendar, and a series of lists of significant figures, including popes, Christ’s disciples, Roman emperors, Anglo-Saxon Kings, and the bishops and abbots of Glastonbury. It immediately precedes a copy of the PERIEGESIS, a Greek geographical survey translated into Latin verse by the grammarian Priscian (C5th century).
Hence we can see why so many clergy commenced their texts with a geographical treatise from as early as Paulus Orosius as my text cgPaO1 clearly indicates.
HENRY OF HUNTINGDON, DESCRIPTION OF BRITANNIA
Henry of Huntingdon (1088-1157) was an Anglo-Norman historian and the author of a large text entitled “Historia Anglorum”. The text covers a multitude of subjects in Book One regarding all aspects of the Island, with both products and geographical notes.
I quote from the English Translation applicable sections, which are many;
“This celebrated island, formerly known as Albion, afterwards Britain, and now England, extends between the north and west 800 miles in length and 200 in breadth, except where the jutting out of some of its bolder promontories expands its breadth. Including these, its complete circuit is 4875 miles (Bede 3675). Britain has Germany and Denmark on the east, Ireland on the west, and Belgic-Gaul on the south. The first place which presents itself to those who cross from the coast of Gaul is called “Rutubi-portus”, a city whose name the English have corrupted into Reptacester (Richborough, Kent).
“Britain was formerly famous for 28 cities, which , as well as innumerable castles were well fortified with walls an towers and with gates secured by strong locks.”( they are all named in the text)
“When the Saxons had subjugated the country they divided it into seven kingdoms, to which they gave names of their mown selection ( vis, Kent, Sussex, Wessex, Essex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria). Afterwards when the Kings of Wessex acquired the ascendancy over the rest, and established a monarchy throughout the island, they divided it into 37 counties—.”
“So important was the safety of Britain to its loyal people that, under Royal authority, they constructed four great highways from one end of the island to the other, as military roads by which they might meet any hostile invasion. The first runs from west to east, and is called “Ichenild”. The second runs from south to north, and is called “Erninge Strate”. The third crosses the island from Dover to Chester, in a direction from south-east to north-west and is called “Watling Street”. The fourth, which is longer than the others, commences in Caithness, and terminates in Totness, extending from the borders of Cornwall to the extremity of Scotland; this road runs diagonally from south-west to north-east, passing by Lincoln, and is called the “Foss-way”.
If all the texts illustrated are placed side by side, the borrowing from each other is so evident and does illustrate that texts were circulating widely in England.
2) Al-IDRISI; 7th CLIMATE, 2ND SECTION; ENGLAND;
The text by al-Idrisi for King Roger of Sicily originally described in my text cgId1, states quite plainly that England could be described as “the Head of an Ostrich” and the western peninsula as “the Beak of a Bird”.
I quote from pages 11 and 12 of that text and illustrate it with the original diagrams.
From the foregoing we can evaluate the data which al-Idrisi used as coming from a sailing manual for the coastline of L’Angleterre with the added information of towns with Castles which could be accessed easily and directly from the sea via their rivers. These are mainly major defensive fortifications built at the behest of Duke William from 1066 to 1086AD. Thus there would be adequate timescale for that knowledge to be compiled and transmitted to the other Norman Monarchs, such as King Roger 2nd of Sicily. This is the data which enabled al-Idrisi in 1133 or 1134 to draw his map of the Oikumene and write The Book of Roger.
The Normans had not entered and conquered Wales and thus it was not part of the description available, nor was it included in the Domesday Book of 1086AD. Scotland was unknown territory for the Normans and a distance measure given of 150 miles from York for the end of the Scottish Peninsula is probably a guess. That Scotland was thought of as separated and therefore two islands contiguous with L’Angleterre comes from the belief that the deep Firths and Great Glen were continuous waterways and similar to the Wansum Channel in the south dividing the Isle of Thanet from Kent.
THE HEAD OF AN OSTRICH
It has already been stated that to compare the form of a country on a map to the shape of an animal requires that the map has been drawn and thus the comparison can be made. “England” has been compared to an inverted “ostrich head”, which is quite the most accurate description for the shape of the Isle of Britain on the Cottoniana or Anglo-Saxon map as the diagrams show. It is obviously a description of the South coast and East coast.
The shape of England as described by al-Idrisi and as discussed above probably existed before he commenced his “Geography”. But, perhaps the shape lingered on for longer than it should have, bearing in mind the maps which followed quite quickly after al-Idrisi. Therefore I offer as an example of that probability the c1325 map by Giovanni Mauro di Carignano where the shape of England/Britain is decidedly still influenced by the Ostrich Head. He was a cleric in Genoa and could have known of the al-Idrisi text.
THE LARGEST ENGLISH TOWNS c1290AD
From a text by Bruce M S Campbell and Ken Bartley, “England on the eve of the Black Death” comes the following table which can be used with the schedules of Benedictine Houses in Britannia to establish a raison d’etre for their inclusion on the following English maps. There are over 200 Benedictine establishments and even places like Coquet Island had a priory and thus its inclusion on them.
|Possible rank size c1290||TOWN||population c1290 estimated||population 1377 implied by poll tax|
|Bury St Edmunds||7,100|
|Kingston upon Hull||4,500|
Under 5,000, we have Spalding, Southampton, Penrith, Peterborough, Sudbury, Luton, Reading, Derby, Newark, Bedford, Ludlow, Pontefract and Lichfield.
3) MATTHEW PARIS bc1200 d 1259, St Albans Abbey Hertfordshire.
An overview of the 4 maps and a road map of Britannia by Matthew Paris who was a monk at the Benedictine Abbey of St Albans, Hertfordshire and is renowned for his work as a chronicler, scribe and artist.
His notable works are “Chronica Maiora”, a universal history of the world and “Historia Anglorum”, a history of England, both of which he copied and illuminated himself. Of his four maps, three are held in the British Library and one at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge as MS 016.
The first map is “ BL Royal MS 14 CVII, f5v” and appears in copies of both texts and has the “route” from Dover to Dunelm, Durham clearly lined out.
The second map is BL Cotton MS Julius D VII/1 and is damaged being folded and cut into four pieces before being inserted in the “Collectanea of John of Wallingford”.
The third amp BL Cotton MS Claudius D VI/1 is by far the most detailed and once belonged to the Matthew Paris text, “Abbreviato Compendius a Chronicorun Anglie” manuscript. It has over 250 placenames including Cathedrals, Monasteries, Castles and Ports.
The fourth map held in Corpus Christi as MS 016, has suffered the indignity of being horizontally cut in two roughly from Lincoln, Newark west towards Mid-Wales.
There is a fifth map, a road map which is taken from “Liber Additamentorum” and includes no geographical features, but within the outline contains the four major military roads named during the Roman occupation Foss-Way, Exeter to Lincoln: Ermine Street London to York: Icknield Way Bury St Edmunds to Salisbury: and Watling Street Dover to Chester.
It appears from the geography of the maps (q.v.) the legends and names appear to be derived from one or several itineraries and stereotypical geographical descriptions which as shown by Henry of Huntingdon, tended to preface their chronicles.
THE MATTHEW PARIS MAPS IN DETAIL
(1) BL ROYAL MS C VII, f5v
The texts already written about this map state that the itinerary route is from Dover to Berwick. In fact it nearly disappears at Durham in a large mass of rivers and Hadrian’s Wall. However it can be seen passing through “Roker” or “Coker” and then perhaps the straight line route to the east and “Coker Isula” (Coquet Island) is its final position.
The route has been plotted on a geographical map for Britannia and the direct alignment of St Albans to Berwick is drawn not including Dover to St Albans which of course is not a direct straight line. The plot has the Lats/Longs appended indicating a good degree of geographical knowledge, even though at this period the route can only have been Bridle Ways as the original roads (Roman) and the putative “Pilgrim Routes” at least from Derby to Durham/Newcastle upon Tyne are a clearer north alignment.
There would appear to be a second road across the country from Crowland Abbey via Belvoir to Chester and a short spur road from Dunstable to Leicester shown going NE when it is in fact NW.
The place “Marisc’” represents the Lincolnshire Marsh lands reclaimed from the sea. The squiggly border is an unknown a s a border, however it appears to be the “nature” boundary of the Fens and Marshes of Lincolnshire and counties to Norfolk.
The boundary between the uplands and the Fens/Marshes is defined by a number of waterways including Car Dyke which also formed the boundary of some areas under Forest Law, though this would not have extended so far south. The distinction between the uplands and the lowlands further south is emphasised when travelling along the A1- which follows the Roman Ermine Street and part of the Great North Road where there is still a visible change which would be more apparent in the earlier 13th century before the fens and marshes began to be enclosed and reclaimed for agriculture, This process was already underway when M Paris was active and was no doubt driven by the Monasteries who were great innovators.
(2) BL COTTON JULIUS D VII/1;
A totally different rendition of a map of Britannia to the first map, with a conscious effort to portray the Island nearer to a geographical form.
The routes shown on “ROYAL” have been completely revised within the presentation with the putative Dover to Berwick line being a NE track on the map which is at odds to the geography of Britannia.
The boundary on “Royal” surrounding “Anglia” is on this map a double red line and inside the contained area are the letters “MA/R/IS/C/U/S”, which can be translated as Marsh, Fen, Swamp. As already stated as there appears to be no political boundary the idea it is the “Nature” boundary is really here-on denoted.
The map was unfortunately cut into 4 parts and although restored as best possible does not allow for a full investigation being somewhat devoid of central places.
(3) BL COTTON MS CLAUDIUS D VI/1;
This map is by far the most “polished” presentation so far of the three maps, but it loses the shape of Wales, which is clearer on the 2nd map and the “Wash” is also missing.
The route M Paris has chosen to delineate is shown in the centre of the map from South to North and has numerous explanatory texts both within the map and around the edge frame. M Paris has used linking lines for the place names which run N?S and a note, “Marissv” & Harun/dinetum which translates as “The Fens and Marshes”.
The route is obviously a replication of maps 1 and 2 and it is perhaps the simplest of descriptions to use the BL Note from Medieval Manuscripts Blog rather than write copious notes. I quote
“By far the most detailed of Mtthew Paris’ surviving maps of Britain once belonged to a manuscript of Paris’ Abbreviatio compendiosa chronicorum Anglie, ( Brief abridgement of the Chronicles of England), a summary of his Historia Anglorum that covers the period of English History from the end of the first millenium to around 1255.
The map effectively provides a visual complement to Paris’ Historia. Over 250 named places appear- all of which are mentioned in the text itself- including over 80 Cathedrals and monasteries, 41 Castles, and at least 30 ports, as well as most of Britain’s major mountain ranges and rivers. Paris included depictions of both Hadrian’s Wall, captioned “murus dividens anglos & pictos olim” ( the wall once separating the English and the Picts) and the Antonine Wall, or, “Murus dividens scotos & pictos olim ( the wall once dividing the Scots and the Picts).
(4) CORPUS CHRISTI COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE, MS 016
Similar in many respects to the 3rd map but now missing the southern half it makes proper comparison impossible. Diagram cgBRI/1/D12
It has however two large sections of text appended, one not seen on the previous three maps. The first in Scotland is similar to map 3, “Claudius”; Regio montuosa & nemorosa. Gentem/iscultam generans et pastoralem quia pars eius/mariscus et harun di.netum. That translates as ; “A mountainous and woody region producing a barbaric and pastoral people on account of the fens and marshes”. This is a seemingly verbatum copy of Gerald of Wales describing the Irish.
However a second text, set vertically along the centre of the map is: “Anglia habet in longitudine DCCC[miliaria Pen] esfeld qui locus est ultra montem Sci Michael in Cornubia [usque ad ca] tenes. Latitudine vero CCC miliaria de Sci David [usque ad] Doverum” Here we have come full circle back to the original descriptions of the first millennia.
(5) BL COTTON MS NERO D I, f, 187v ;
This very diagrammatic presentation is no more than a method to indicate the four roads of Britannia which feature in numerous ancient texts. As already noted they are major military roads built by the Romans during their occupation and were no doubt still partially or fully in use in Paris’ time as in fact they are today.
FOSS WAY, EXETER TO LINCOLN AND CAITHNESS
ERMINE STREET, LONDON TO YORK
ICKNIELD WAY, SALISBURY TO BURY ST EDMUNDS
WATLING STREET, DOVER TO CHESTER.
These have already been seen in texts but what is not in them is the adjustment the M Paris has made in the layout with the roads crossing at Dunstable. This was a Cell of the St Albans Abbey and thus may have had special meaning to M Paris.
PORTOLAN CHARTS AND ATLASES ILLUSTRATING BRITANNIA
The earliest extant chart is the “Carta Pisana” held in the BnF Paris as RES GE B1118 AMB. It is a very strange chart in that it has large areas completely covered by diagonal squares as can be seen in text “ChCPS/1: The Carta Pisana”. Chosen to illustrate the form of Britannia is ChCPS/1/D22, an overlay which has the coastlines, the first image of Britannia in the NW corner as an amorphous blob. But the chart does accord with the ancient geographical idea of a straight coastline from the Rhine to Spain.
Three Atlases by Petrus Vesconte and an anonymous chart dated c1325.
These atlases and charts dated 1311 to 1325 illustrate Britannia and are by Petrus Vesconte of Genoa and are taken from my text ChPV/1, Petrus Vesconte and diagrams D08 from the 1311 chart, D13 from the 1318 atlas and D26 from the 1321 atlas and diagram D27 from the 1325 atlas. Britannia on the first and 2nd diagrams although a recognisable geographical form, the actual profile is obviously developing and although the 1318 and 1321 are the same the 1325 has enough geographical form to be a clear representation of Britannia.
The next section concerns the anonymous chart held in the Riccardiana Library as MS 3827 and is my text ChCS1. It is undated and only shows part of Britannia, but again in a recognisable form with the south coat towns clearly named as well as the Thames and London. Study ChPV/1/D08 and a similar form is seen.
cgBIR/1/D17a & D17b
Giovanni Mauro di Carignano, Rector of the Church on the harbour mole, Genoa, produced a chart once held in the National Archive Florence, but destroyed in WW2 and now only exists as a black and white photograph. Britannia however has the peculiar shape shown in al-Idrisi’s text with Scotland slewed westerly. Dated c1325 it I a remarkable map and obviously a work of considerable ability.
Angelo de Dulceto commenced his works of cartography in Genoa and then decamped to Majorca. His 1330 and 1339.50 charts both show a near geographical Britannia. Text ChDUL/1 details his work
The Catalan Atlas, c1375, was drawn on Majorca and is an exquisite production of sheets depicting the world. It is held in the BnF Paris and unfortunately has a page missing now, that of India, but the first page which is the Atlantic coast has an excellent rendition of Britannia apart from the lack of the Clyde /Forth division. Originally ChCATA/D02, now cgBRI/1/D19
The Gough Map already has three papers online, Gm1, Gm2 and Gm3. The diagrams are cgBRI/1/D20, D21 & D22. They describe the charts history and construction and then copying. Gm1 is a full appraisal, Gm2, the technical back up to the first text and Gm3 discusses how it was copied for an engraving to be made for publication detailing reasons for spurious marks there-on. This map described always in glowing terms is the first nearly geographical map of Britannia, drawn c1400 in a monastic establishment. The places on the map have been allocated their geographical co-ordinates to facilitate the allocation of Latitudes and Longitudes and the construction measurements utilized. The overlay maps illustrate just how close the drawn format is to geographical reality when properly compared.
BRITISH LIBRARY MS HARLEY 1808 MAP, FOLIO 9V;
The map dated 1422/1450 is a retrograde format of Britannia akin to the Matthew Paris maps of c1250’. It is only 23 x 15cms and is drawn with south at the top.
“Totius Britanniae tabula chorographica” is one of three full page illustrations in an early copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain”. Some features of the map suggest an affinity with the Gough Map, but it has glaring errors there-in.
These errors were no doubt perpetrated by the scribe who has completely missed a latitudinal series of places across the map from east to west, south midlands to South Wales placing two Welsh towns which are in the South Wales Peninsula on the N Wales coast and the English towns of the south midlands in Lancashire. This is probably a typical scribal error seen in many texts where words , whole lines and sections are miscopied by jumping from the same word forward to another line.
PORTOLAN CHARTS, 1436-1438, ANDREAS BIANCO
Andreas Bianco was a seaman and cartographer and is best known for assisting FRA MAURO with his rather large circular world map, a complete tour de force.
However he was actually in London and worked on the vessel to produce some charts and an atlas. In 1436 his “Atlante Nautico” an atlas of considerable skill has two charts which illustrate Britannia and apart from Cardigan Bay being omitted clearly indicate knowledge of the actual profile. In 1448 the profile was amended and Scotland shown as an Island an idea which persisted until c1600.
Andreas Bianco also produced with his “Atlante Nautico” a circular world map on which Britannia is as already drawn, but on his map constructed to the parameters of Claudius Ptolemy he reverts to the Ptolemaic concept. Bearing in mind the text of “Geographike Hyphegesis” by Ptolemy was only translated in 1407, it is perhaps the earliest rendition of that work.
ANGLIAE FIGURA MAP, C1540 BL COTTON MS AUGUSTUS, I. i. 9
In the book “English Maps A History” it is written, “This anonymous manuscript map is the earliest surviving non-Ptolemaic map of the British Isles from the 16th century”.
However , it is obvious from its form that it owes a great deal to earlier maps, notably the Gough Map for the shape of Wales and the map of Claudius Ptolemy for the shape of East Anglia. Scotland is similar to its geographical form but grossly exaggerated in size and possibly a crib of Ptolemy’s Scotland. Hibernia is not the subject of this text.
The map has a single cartouche as cgBRI/1/D29 illustrates which explains some of the distance measures, but they apply to England only, with a single comment regarding Scotland’s length. The translation of the Medieval Latin is as follows; “England is a triangular shape, of which its longest side, stretching from Saint Buryan to Berwick castle, takes up about 400 milia passum. The side that turns to the south from Saint Buryan to Dover occupies 300 milia passum, to which, the remaining side lying to the east is equal. Scotland takes up an equal length, but it is greatly inferior in width.”
Note; Scotland’s length could be either 400mp or 300mp, the text is not explicit. But, that opens the possibility of the maps author knowing that Pliny the Elder, Gildas Sapiens, Venerable Bede and Nennius all quoted Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa in that Britannia was 800mp x 300mp.
The distances mentioned are shown on diagram cgBRI/1/D30; they are milia passum or Roman Miles. But this is at variance to the maps bordure scale where they are named as Miliaria. That implies perhaps differing measurements of 5000 pedes, 1.15 or 1.2 miles (Roman or English). That is general expansions of 115% and 120% from normal lengths.
The bordure scale extends from 8E to 22E, which corrects the alteration made by a scribe to the southern bordure figures that had faded, where, in refiguring the map the numbers are mis-written one degree to the east. The latitude scale is from 50N to 62N and from the appended scale bar those degrees are 62.5 Miliaria each. That of course signifies that the actual measurement of the map is probably the Roman Mile or milia passum, as the degree would then be 62.5 x 8 stadia or 500 stadia per degree, the Ptolemaic measurement. The Roman latitudinal degree is 75mp and thus there is the 120% expansion from 62.5m.
This confusion of measurements, the root cause of much bordure mis-labelling is in fact unnecessary, particularly as this author has stated the lengths in milia passum.
The map is drawn with a south coast basically aligned to the 51N latitude instead of commencing with the Cornish peninsula, Lands’ End, at 50N. However, the north Norfolk coastline is set at a correct 53N and the Solway Firth/Tynemouth alignment is correct at 55N. Thus there is a basic geographical form to this section of the map. As Scotland is obviously wrongly sized it is dealt with separately, and Wales is minus Cardigan Bay and the Lleyn Peninsula.
GEORGE LILY, 1546 MAP, BL K. Top. 5 (1);
This map of the British Isles, as diagram cgEM2/D01 illustrates is a fair geographical representation of the islands. Its format for Britannia ranges from 14.5E to 23.5E and from 51N to 60.5N. The bordure scale is 60 miliaria per degree of latitude. As with the preceding map, the Angliae Figura, it has Wales drawn in a similar manner to the Gough Map and East Anglia squeezed by one degree of longitude as per the Ptolemaic map.
The map is also twisted to the east against the rectangular bordure when a geographical north is aligned across the map. It is as though the latitudinal marks on the east and west should be numbered with the western side gaining one degree such that 50N becomes 51N; this would then provide for a reasonable geographic alignment.
This fact has been illustrated by diagram cgEM2/D02, where-on the Chester triangle has been used to locate NSEW and provide a measurement check for the latitudinal scale. A graticule based upon this new alignment has been appended to the map with geographical notation. It shows that the overall scale is nearly perfect; Lands’ End when placed at 50N, to the Kent Coast at 51N/1E, then the North Norfolk Coast at 53N and the Solway/Tynemouth line is 55N. There is then a minor aberration in the map with Scotland being set with its most northerly point at 59N; that is half a degree north of its geographical position.
The longitudinal measure is equally acceptable in that from the Kent Coast 51N/1E to Lands’ End, the expansion is only a half degree; that is, it is shown as 6W instead of 5.5W.
But, the imposed grid aligned to the Chester triangle is not a geographically aligned north as diagram cgEM2/D03 indicates. If the alignment from Poole Harbour to Berwick, the 2W longitude is drawn there-on it is at variance to the graticule, but it does provide for the natural alignment of Scotland, the northern portion of the map.
By pivoting the 55N latitude at Tynemouth, the “supposed pivot point” for the turning of Scotland on the Ptolemaic Map of Britannia, the graticule can be extended across Scotland and thus can be seen to produce a more apt conformity to a geographical co-ordinate grid.
It was necessary therefore to align a Geographical Ptolemaic map of Britannia to the George Lily map, as diagram cgEM2/D04 illustrates, with an overlay of the former on the latter. Aligned at Cantium Promontory, the difference in latitudes is minimal, but the positioning of Northern England and Scotland to the east no doubt arises from the Ptolemaic Map of 150AD and the necessity to re-align Scotland.
Finally the last diagram, cgEM2/D05 has an outline of the George Lily map set upon the Angliae Figura map with the 51N and 55N latitudes aligned and two longitudes appended to illustrate just how accurately the two tapering graticules align when the latitudes are of equal size.
There is however one last problem to resolve, that of the base longitude for the maps bordure scale. This map has the south coast extending from 15E to 23.5E, with London at 22E. The base longitudes used in antiquity are; Fortunate Isles 15-17W; Azores, 25W and the Cape Verde Isles 25/26W. It is therefore probable that the Fortunate Isles were chosen which is as per the Ptolemaic methodology. Thus the map has been moved 2 degrees east from the Ptolemaic base of Cantium Promontory at 22E and London 20E.
The map by George Lily has an erect Britannia which somewhat corrects the slope of the Angliae Figura map, but, it has been moved to far eastwards. The map is twisted eastwards and is perhaps drawn from the same base map as the Angliae Figura. The English latitudes from 50N to 55N are quite accurate, with the North Norfolk coast correctly positioned at 53N. Scotland is drawn to the same graticule scale, although tilted eastwards.
Somewhere in antiquity an accurate map of Britannia existed. If it was a Roman Map, then Rome may have been a satisfactory repository for a copy and thus it was available to George Lily in 1546. That also implies a copy was available in England at the same time. Thus we have the Gough Map thought to be from a Roman original; the Angliae Figura and the George Lily maps both copy the Gough Map for the shape of Wales and copy Ptolemy for the size of East Anglia, but why did they not copy Ptolemy for the Welsh landscape which although not perfect has a closer geographical form. The Romans knew the shape of Wales, thus it is not from Ptolemy or them.
There is therefore a basic map of Wales with Cardigan Bay, the Mabinogion lost land, shown there-on. It ignores the Lleyn Peninsula and the Island of Saints, Bardsey Island, which was well known in the 7th century; it ignores the St David’s Peninsula and increases the landmass significantly. This may have been done for political purposes, but even Matthew Paris ignored both.
The George Lily map is however a remarkable map for the age.
RODNEY W SHIRLEY, EARLY PRINTED MAPS OF THE BRITISH ISLES, A BIBLIOGRAPHY 1477-1650.
This book contains the early maps that will aid understanding of the form given to Britannia on the continent.
9) Bernard Sylvanus, plate 3, non-Ptolemaic Britannia
11) Martin Waldseemuller plate 5, non-Ptolemaic Britannia
27 & 28) Sebastian Munster, plates 9 and 10. Plate 9 is a strange form and plate 10 is probably based on a similar map to the Angliae Figura.
48) Jacobo Gastaldi plate 12, Portolan Chart type Britannia
49) George Lily/Joannem Mollijnsm plate 13, 740 x 540mm woodcut of the original 1546 engraving.
59) George Lily/Thomas Gemini, London 1555, 745 x 535mm new engraving of the original map.
CONCLUSION, NO, SOME UNANSWERED POINTS
The basic descriptive shape of Britannia as a triangle makes for a good diagrammatic format, but it seriously over simplifies it.
Although the Romans surveyed Britannia and laid out a comprehensive road system, which when studied clearly shows that they would have known its geographical form, barring the north of Scotland which was only sailed around no doubt they had copious documents, small partial maps etc., and when they left all were taken or perhaps deliberately destroyed.
Hence the first map of the world we have extant in Britannia, the Anglo-Saxon Map is thought to be copied from a Roman sources.
The coming of the Normans, with Great a great Abbey building programme and monastic life growing daily with huge strides being made technically, latitudes and Longitudes, Geography, Agriculture and the natural sciences that maps began to reflect that alter knowledge.
Once the actual geographical from was established the maps produced were capable of being used. Sailors from the Mediterranean were blessed with Portolan Charts, not capable of being used with a magnetic compass as the deviation along its length was unknown for centuries. The Portolan charts slew anti-clockwise from Gibraltar to the Levante was also a problem, but when they entered the Atlantic and the Hanseatic League trade was in operation it called for better charts/maps of the East coast of |Britannia. Hence the West Coast is always a problem Thus there are many strands to the development of the Map of Britannia, hence, The Gough Map, Angliae Figura and George Lily’s maps took some 500 years to arrive at a geographical form.
What does surprise me is that when the Normans arrived we do not know if they had a map or maps to enable their progress northwards. When they commissioned the “Domesday” Book c1080 and had a list of most places in England a map could have aided the understanding of what they were reading and why the information was capable of being used to understand the countryside. That they were aware of maps is undoubted as King John of Sicily obviously had good connections back to Caen asking for details for the al-Idrisi text.
The gap from 1066 to 1250 and the Matthew Paris maps I think was filled with maps no longer extant as the texts, such as Henry of Huntingdon’s, would have been a game changer if a map was attached.
Will we ever know, doubtful, but it would solve some unanswered questions.