The chart named after its former owner Konrad Peutinger is a great document to cultural history, as it constitutes the only surviving testimony to an antique Roman map of the world. Rather than being a geographical illustration it contains a graphical representation of the most important roads and lines of traffic running through the Roman Empire.
The manuscript consists of eleven parchment leaves which were originally glued together along their edges to form a roll. This roll was 6.75 m long and a little less than 34 cm wide. The Tabula Peutingeriana contains the road network of the then known world, more precisely – considering that the first section is now lost – from Spain, England, France, through to the European area south of the Danube, all the way to northern Africa, the Near and Middle East and finally across to Peninsular India and Ceylon. The Tabula Peutingeriana was drawn after the model of an antique world chart dating back to the 4th century. This Roman original was copied in the 12th or 13th century by a monk in southern Germany, perhaps at Reichenau abbey. It is of priceless value today, particularly since it is the only example of its kind which has come down to us from antiquity. After having changed owners several times, it passed into the ownership of Prince Eugene, whose precious library was later integrated into the stocks of the Austrian National Library where the Tabula Peutingeriana is still kept today as one of the greatest treasures.
An Antique Road Map
The Tabula Peutingeriana represents the most important travel routes of the Imperium Romanum, providing an overview of the empire’s roads and routes used by travellers and merchants, but also by state officials, from the simple soldier to the provincial governor, or generals on official trips. It thus constituted a map for practical use, which not only indicated locations and distances but also hostels and inns. Of particular interest is the detailed identification of numerous towns (in all 555) with so-called vignettes, ranging from twin towers and spas to temples, ports, lighthouses and even a road tunnel, through to the personification of the goddesses of the three most important cities: Rome, Constantinople and Antioch. Rather than reflecting the character of a town, these vignettes are intended to indicate the location’s size and available accommodations. This is in line with the purpose of this map which intends to be a kind of traveller’s manual, going beyond the representation of roads and distances, giving a general report of the comfort to be expected at the various stopovers, just like in modern travel guides where the character of hostels and hotels is identified with stars or other symbols.
All Roads Lead to Rome
In the middle of a circle, from which the largest roads of Italy emanate like the rays of the sun – thus embodying the symbol of eternal Rome throning above the other cities – the goddess Dea Roma is seated on an elevated throne, sceptre and orb in her hands and a crown on her head. She represents the pagan Dea Roma restyled into the figure of a medieval Roman German emperor. The medieval copyist obviously did away with her female attributes (one can, however, see traces of a right breast) and replaced Dea Roma’s helmet with an imperial crown.