The Tabula Peutingeriana, also know as the Peutinger Table or Peutinger Map, is the only known surviving example of a Roman illustrated road map showing the cursus publicus, the network of public roads in the Roman Empire. The present map is a copy made by a monk in Colmar in the 13th century and covers Europe (without Spain or the British Isles), North Africa, and parts of Asia (the Middle East, Persia, India).
In its original form, the map of which this is a unique copy, probably dates to the 4th or 5th century and may possibly even date back to Emperor Severus in 230 A.D. It was itself was based on a map prepared under the direction of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (64/63-12 B.C.) during the reign of the emperor Augustus (born Gaius Octavius, 63 B.C.-14 A.D.) who was his father-in-law, friend and ally, while Agrippa himself was father-in-law to the second Emperor Tiberius, maternal grandfather to Caligula, and maternal great-grandfather to Emperor Nero. After Agrippa's death, that map was engraved on marble and placed in the Porticus Vipsania, not far from the Ara Pacis. The early imperial dating for the archetype of the map is also supported by numerous details of Roman Arabia that look entirely anachronistic for a 4th century map, thus also pointing to the map of Agrippa. This chronology is also consistent with the presence on the Tabula of Pompeii, which was never rebuilt after the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.
The dating of the Tabula is also based on the fact that it shows the city of Constantinople which was founded in 328 and the prominence of Ravenna, the seat of the Western Empire from 402. The presence of certain cities of Germania Inferior that were destroyed in the mid-fifth century also provides a terminus ante quem (latest possible date for something).
The Table was not apparently designed for military use, but instead gives prominence to trading centers, mineral springs, places of pilgrimage, mountain chains (in profile) and in three great cities (Rome, Constantinople and Antioch) set as three rulers, believed to represent the sons of Constantine enthroned as symbols of a tripartite empire. The use of vignettes and/or medallions is also found depicting the city of Alexandria, while smaller towns are illustrated by little houses; three forest districts, two in Germany and one in Syria, are represented by sketches of trees.
Travelers would not have possessed anything so sophisticated as a modern map, but they needed to know what lay ahead of them on the road and how far. The map appears to be based on itineraries (itinerarium), lists of destinations along Roman roads, with semi-schematic, semi-pictorial symbols reproducing Roman cartographic conventions of the itineraria picta described by the late fourth century military writer, Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (commonly referred to as Vegetius),who in c. 400 A.D. recommends in his work De re militari the use of not only annotated, but also of "painted' itineraries: "itineraria provinciarum, in quibus necessitas gerebatur, non tantum adnotata sed etiam picta [itinaries of the provinces in which the emergency occurred not annotated by illustrated]'. The Tabula is the sole extant evidence of such itineraries.
The Peutinger table represents the roads as a series of stepped lines along which destinations have been marked in order of travel. The stages and cities are represented by hundreds of functional place symbols, used with discrimination from the simplest icon of a building with two towers to the elaborate individualized "portraits" of the three great cities.
The map shows many Roman settlements, the roads connecting them and distances between them expressed in Roman miles, in leagues (for Wales) or in parasanghe (for the Orient); It shows rivers, mountains, forests and seas for a journey enriched with information useful to the traveller. Such information as resting places, small and large centres, thermal baths or actual hostelries were indicated in writing or designed along the route - for example, the Fig Hostelry (Ad ficum) or Hercules' Sandal (Ad Sandalum Herculis) or The Two Brothers (Ad duo fratres) and many other indications useful for the traveller. The thermal baths that commence with the word "Aqui...." were of particular importance to the weary traveller and were noted on the map by a square building. It uses precise colouring to highlight the physical elements that are noted: yellow for the earth, black as the border of the earth and most written descriptions, red for the principal roads (cursus publicus), green for seas, lakes and rivers, yellowy grey and pink for the mountain ranges and the ideograms and vignettes that show the presence of inhabited centres or where the roads divide showing a secondary road that is shown at its start but does not continue on the map. In effect, the Peutinger Map can be considered the father of the modern Michelin maps.
In total no less than 555 cities and 3500 other place names are shown. The three most important cities of the Roman Empire, Rome, Constantinople and Antioch, are represented with special iconic decoration. Besides the totality of the Empire, the map shows the Near East, India and the Ganges, Sri Lanka (Insula Taprobane), and even an indication of China. It shows a "Temple to Augustus" at Muziris, one of the main ports for trade to the Roman Empire on the southwest coast of India. The absence of Morocco, the Iberian Peninsula, and the British Islands, the extreme western part of the Roman Empire, the greater part of Britannia and the Iberian peninsula, indicates that a twelfth original section has been lost in the surviving copy, reconstructed in 1888 by Konrad Miller (see below).
The surviving part of Peutinger's Map was previously a roll of parchment paper 6.74 metres long by 34 cms high made up of eleven rectangular segments sewn to each other. In 1863 the map was torn into eleven parts to preserve this extraordinary document. Peutinger's Map embraced the known world of the ancient Romans (Europe, Asia, Africa) and that presumably extended from the columns of Hercules (Gibrtitlear) to the extreme oriental regions much further than the confines of the Empire (India, Burma, Ceylon, the Maldives and China (Sera Maior).
The shape of the parchment pages accounts for the conventional rectangular layout. However, a rough similarity to the coordinates of Ptolemy's earth-mapping gives some writers a hope that some terrestrial representation was intended by the unknown compilers.
History of the Tabula Peutingeriana
The map was discovered in 1507 in a library in Germany - in Worms or possibly in Speyer, Colmar, Tegernsee or Basel - by Conrad Celtis (or Celtes, also known as Konrad Bickel, 1459-1508), a humanist and librarian of Emperor Maximillian I. Unable to publish his find before his death, he bequeathed the map in 1508 to Conrad Peutinger (1465-1547), who served as a counselor to Emperor Maximilian I and his successor Charles V. Also known as a passionate antiquarian and with the help of his wife Margareta Welser (1481-1552), a member of a German banking and merchant family, originally a patrician family from Augsburg, that rose to great prominence in international high finance, Peutinger collected one of the largest private libraries north of the Alps. As a result, the map was named after him.
Parts of the map were not published until 1591 by the Antwerp-based publishing house of Jan Moretus and in December 1598 by Peutinger's relative Markus Welser (1558-1614) and Abraham Ortelius. Also at Antwerp, Jan Jansson published another version in Amsterdam, c.1652.
The Peutinger family kept the map until 1714, then it bounced between royal and elite families until it was purchased by Prince Eugene of Savoy in 1715 for 100 ducats. Upon his death in 1736, the Tabela was acquired by Karl VI, purchased for the Habsburg Imperial Court Library (Hofbibliothek) in Vienna, now the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), Hofburg, Vienna.
In 1753 Franz Christoph von Scheyb published the first complete copy in Budapest, it was engraved by S. Lehnhardt in 1825, a copy of which exists today in the American Academy in Rome. As mentioned above, the Tabula was dismantled in 1863 in the library for conservation reasons into their individual segments and initially kept between glass plates.
After that, Ernest Desjardins then copied the Tabula - 18 volumes were projected, but 14 were completed - and published under the title La table de Peutinger d'après l'original conservé à Vienne, Hachette (Paris, 1869-1874). Later, Konrad Miller (1844-1933), a Roman Catholic theologian, scientist and cartography historian, was allowed to make a fascsimile in 1888. Several publishing houses in Europe also made copies. In 1892 William and Northgate published a copy, and in 1911 a sheet was added to show the missing sections of England and Spain.
Since 1977, the Tabula has been preserved in acrylic plates.
In 2007, the map was placed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, and in recognition of this, it was displayed to the public for a single day on November 26, 2007. Because of its fragile condition, it is not ordinarily on display.