Maps, Greece and History

By Jason C. Mavrovitis

Continued from previous page

I purchased the map, a photograph of which is on the next page, and found on its back text from the Theatrum. The first paragraph, translated from the French, reads:

Greece, which at one time was as it were the mother and nurse of all good learning and disciplines, a rich and wealthy country and one which by its valor and magnanimity was Empress and Prince of the better half of the world, has at this day fallen to a state (such is the fickleness and inconstancy of fortune, which turns all things upside down) that there is no part of it or it is either subject to the Turks and enthralled to slavish servitude, or else it is under the command of the Venetians, or tributary to them.

The text goes on to describe the sorry condition of the Greeks, and the absence of schools and lack of education for the young. Reference is made to the writings of ancient scholars: Strabo, Pausanius, etc. However the material focuses on anecdotal stories that reflect badly on the lifestyle and manners of the common Greek of the time.

Maps of this period can be fanciful. This one includes a ship at sea with its sails billowing in the upper left quadrant. On some maps, ships are shown at battle, with puffs of smoke coming from broadsides. On others, there may be huge fish, even two headed whale- like creatures.

In a section of this map (shown on the following page), one gets a sense of how incomplete knowledge was in the 16th century of the inland geography of Greece. Lake Castoria (Kastoria) is shown north of Lakes Prespa and Ocrida (Ochrid), which is not the case. It took another 300 years for maps to become more accurate.

Kastoria and its lake

Lake Prespa

Lake Ocrida (Ochrid)

Lakes Prespa and Ochrid are actually north of Kastoria and its lake, not south as shown in this map.

While the written text of the Theatrum is in this edition French, the map mixes Latin and Italian in naming geographic sites. The Gulf of Corinth is, for example, named Golfo De Lepanto

Classical scholarship was at the center of the Renaissance and western-European intellectual life during the 16 th and 17 th centuries. Not to be left behind, classically trained mathematicians and geographers produced maps that illustrated the world as described by Herodotus, Strabo, Pliny and Ovid. One of these, a map entitled Pontus Euxinus was published in several editions by Abraham Ortelius and his successors in Antwerp between 1590 and 1624.

Pontus Euxinus was published as part of the Parergon (additional ornament ), the first historical atlas, which was initially issued as a supplement to Ortelius' world atlas, the Theatrum orbis terrarum. The maps of the Parergon illustrate the classical Greek, Roman, and Egyptian worlds, as well as the mythical past, and were the result of Ortelius' personal research.

Next Page: Mapping the Argonauts
Previous Page: An Incomplete Geography

(Posted August 2003)

For more information about the author, see his biographical sketch under the Contributing Authors' section of HCS, or visit the author's website at Mr. Mavrovitis has written a number of fine articles for HCS which readers can browse or read at the URL

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