A World Long Past

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A 12th century copy of a much older map from the Roman Empire went on display for a single day in Austria. The Tabula Peutingeriana was designated a "Memory of the World" document by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The parchment scroll, nearly 7 metres (yards) long, could only be displayed briefly because too much light would damage it, before it was returned to storage at Austria's National Library, where it has been since 1738.

Named Tabula Peutingeriana after the German antiquarian who owned it in the 16th century, the map shows roads linking some 4,000 settlements as well as mountains, rivers and forests from Spain in the west to China in the east.

From north to south, the map covers the British Isles to north Africa. But because the scroll is just over 30 cms (12 inches) high, the north-south axis is greatly compressed, depicting the Mediterranean Sea as a small stretch of blue squeezed between today's Croatia and Italy.

"It's a bit like when you look at a map of the Vienna underground system — it's not accurate but it gives you a good idea of how to get around," Andreas Fingernagel of the National Library told journalists at the showing.

The document, preserved in 11 segments, was written on parchment at the end of the 12th century as a medieval facsimile imitating the book scroll used in Roman antiquity.

Wikipedia has an image of the entire map – it is high resolution and will take some time to download over a slow internet connection. But the map is amazingly clear and highly detailed once you get used to the compressed nature of the image. (The Mediterranean Ocean looks like a highway, not an ocean.) Things like this are one of the (few) positive things the UN is capable of – and should direct more of its energy toward. Preserving world history – so we learn from it – is a good thing. Click the links and get a glimpse of a world that is long gone now.

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2 Responses to A World Long Past

  1. Sylvia says:

    Wow. Thank you for the link, Gaius!

  2. feeblemind says:

    Ditto Sylvia. This is pretty cool.

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