This rolled itinerary, which shows the road network of the Roman Empire, is one of the most important documents in the history of cartography. Although it is a twelve-century copy of a possible Roman original, it is a fundamental tool for understanding and studying the known world during the Roman Empire. It portrays, among other features, main roads, rivers, forests, and villages, covering originally around 70.000 Roman miles (104.000 km) from India in the far East to Spain in the far West. Nevertheless, a part of the roll, i.e. much of Britain, Spain, and the northwestern part of Africa were missing at the time of copying, and is known today after a reconstruction made by Konrad Miller in 1898.
Given the features depicted in the chart, such as the personifications drawn on Rome, Constantinople, and Antioch, it has been suggested that the archetype was created in the mid-third century CE. It has also been proposed that this archetype was based on a much earlier map, perhaps in the late first century CE. Be that as it may, this chart offers an outstanding image of the Roman world.
A Pictorial Image of the Roman Empire
One of the most remarkable features of the Peutinger Map is its large size: 34 x 675 cm. Made on parchment, it is held in the National Library of Austria, divided into sections under the shelfmark Codex Vindobonensis 324. The chart contains abundant information on the known world, such as roads, rivers, mountains, cities, harbors, peoples, and important buildings.
The distances in the map are recorded in Roman miles, though in Gaul they are in leagues, for Persia in parasangs, and for India in Indian miles. We can see an abundant use of symbolic iconography for alluding historical and mythical places, such as the oracles that Alexander the Great consulted in the easternmost limit of his empire.
It is worth to mention that the medieval copyist adapted some features of the map to introduce Christian references, such as the Church of St. Peter (sanctum Petrum) in Rome.
The most noteworthy features in the map are perhaps the large cities of Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome. Antioch is represented with an enthroned female personification and a bridge, as well as with a course of water, perhaps the Orontes River.
Another enthroned woman represents Constantinople, wearing a helmet and holding a shield. Near that figure, a high tower surmounted by a statue is depicted, which is believed to represent Constantine the Great.
But the most important city represented on the map is Rome. It is symbolized with a female figure holding a globe, a lance, and a shield, stressing the idea of Rome as caput mundi (capital of the world). The figure is framed with a circle, from which a series of important Roman streets and roads emerge. The Tiber River, as well as the port of Ostia, are clearly depicted.
The whole map is crossed by a complex road network, which is thought to have been based on information from the cursus publicus, i.e. the official transport system created by Emperor Augustus. Thus, the Peutinger Map, although not topographically accurate, offers one of the most complete images of the road and transportation system of the Roman period.
A Chart with Many Owners
The Peutinger Map has a long history. Although created perhaps in the mid-third century A.D. from an even older source, the archetype was lost but copied in the twelfth or early thirteenth century. It was discovered in 1494 by the German scholar and humanist Konrad Celtes, who bequeathed it in 1508 to the antiquarian Konrad Peutinger, after whom the map was named. It was published for the first time by Markus Welser in 1598.
The Peutinger family kept the map until its sale in 1714; afterward, it was part of the collections of several princes and noblemen. After the death of Prince Eugene of Savoy, the last owner of the ma p, it was acquired by the Habsburg Imperial Court Library in Vienna, where it is still conserved.
The importance and uniqueness of this document made that it was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2007.
We have 3 facsimiles of the manuscript "Tabula Peutingeriana":
- La Tabula Peutingeriana facsimile edition published by Edizioni Edison, 1978
- Tabula Peutingeriana. Le antiche vie del mondo facsimile edition published by Leo S. Olschki, 2009
- Tabula Peutingeriana facsimile edition published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 1976