5 Medieval Maps of the World | History Hit

5 Medieval Maps of the World

Alex Collin

31 Jul 2018

The way we imagine the world is partially conditioned by the way it is depicted in our maps. In the early Middle Ages there was no such established tradition to turn to and so many of the maps they produced look odd or even not like maps at all to the modern eye. This list presents 5 examples of early medieval explorations in cartography.

Dan visited the Bodleian Library in Oxford, home to one and a quarter million historic maps. Aided by professor Jerry Brotton, together they discuss the significance of ancient cartography and look at some of the jewels of the collection.
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1. The T and O map – c. 600


First created by Isidore of Seville, the T and O map was an early attempt to envision the world on paper. The T in the circle represents the Mediterranean which partitioned the 3 continents Asia, Africa and Europe.

2. Saint Beatus of Liébana’s map – late 8th century


Beatus was a monk who lived on the Iberian peninsula. Drawing on the writings of Isodore of Seville, he produced a map like this one. Although the original has been lost this is believed to be a faithful copy.

 3. Madaba mosaic map – 6th century


This artistic map was produced in the mid 6th century in a church in the Byzantine Empire in  a region which is part of modern day Jordan. After the town where it was situated was abandoned the mosaic map remained undiscovered for centuries.

4. Hereford Mappa Mundi – c. 1290


Situated in Hereford Cathedral this world map draws on the tradition of the T and O map although it expands on details in the way later maps would. The legacy of the T and O maps is especially clear in the central position of the Mediterranean sea which still occupies a central position dividing up the land.

5. Tabula Rogeriana – c. 1159


Muhammad al-Idrisi was a North African scholar who worked under the King of Sicily Roger II for many years. al-Idrisi produced this world map for his patron in the middle of the 12th century as part of a book which featured 70 maps of various regions.

Alex Collin