Article ID: CBB771662230

The Liber de existencia riveriarum (c.1200) and the Birth of Nautical Cartography (2019)


The earliest known historical clue to what might be a primitive nautical chart is in a medieval manuscript of c.1200, the Liber de existencia riveriarum et forma maris nostri mediterranei, which describes the Mediterranean Sea. The body of the manuscript consists of an account of the Mediterranean and Black seas and the Atlantic coasts of Europe and northern Africa organized in 45 regional sections, each introduced by a short text setting out the orientation and size of the region, followed by a portolan-like listing of contiguous coastal localities with the distances between them. These are complemented by additional tracks across the open sea (pelagic tracks) for which both distances and directions are provided. Two distinct types of directions can be distinguished: those not affected by magnetic declination, which indicates that they were probably determined by astronomical methods, and those affected by systematic errors that could only have originated in observations made with a marine compass. It is suggested that some of the pelagic courses in the Liber were compiled from an existing chart or sketch based on astronomical directions, which may have been used as a general reference for the work. The implication is that the genesis and technical evolution of the medieval portolan chart were more complex than has hitherto been thought by map historians, who have based their analyses on the few extant exemplars from the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries, all based on compass directions.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Chapter Emilie Savage-Smith; (2014)
Cartography (/isis/citation/CBB538584160/) unapi

Article Ingrid Houssaye Michienzi; Emmanuelle Vagnon; (2019)
Commissioning and Use of Charts Made in Majorca c.1400: New Evidence from a Tuscan Merchant’s Archive (/isis/citation/CBB089270825/) unapi

Book Günter Schilder; Hans Kok; (2019)
Sailing Across the World's Oceans: History & Catalogue of Dutch Charts Printed on Vellum 1580-1725 (/isis/citation/CBB507660547/) unapi

Book Friedrich Hild; Christian Gastgeber; Claudia Rapp; (2018)
Karien in Portulanen Und Portulankarten: Vo Nder Antike Bis in Die Fruhosmanische Zeit (/isis/citation/CBB791010372/) unapi

Article Nicolai, Roel; (2015)
The Premedieval Origin of Portolan Charts: New Geodetic Evidence (/isis/citation/CBB001553015/) unapi

Book Tarek Kahlaoui; (2018)
Creating the Mediterranean: Maps and the Islamic Imagination (/isis/citation/CBB188888427/) unapi

Book Jim Bennett; (2017)
Navigation: A Very Short Introduction (/isis/citation/CBB761811804/) unapi

Article Joaquim Alves Gaspar; Henrique Leitão; (2018)
What is a Nautical Chart, Really? Uncovering the Geometry of Early Modern Nautical Charts (/isis/citation/CBB969859710/) unapi

Chapter Goodrich, Thomas D.; (2006)
Better Directions at Sea: The Piri Reis Innovation (/isis/citation/CBB001022414/) unapi

Book Günter Schilder; (2017)
Early Dutch Maritime Cartography: The North Holland School of Cartography (c. 1580 – C. 1620) (/isis/citation/CBB786877473/) unapi

Book Stern, Robert Cecil; (2012)
The US Navy and the War in Europe (/isis/citation/CBB001421491/) unapi

Article Soens, Tim; (2013)
Flood Security in the Medieval and Early Modern North Sea Area: A Question of Entitlement? (/isis/citation/CBB001421393/) unapi

Article Tarek Kahlaoui; (2017)
The Maghrib's Medieval Mariners and Sea Maps: The Muqaddimah as a Primary Source (/isis/citation/CBB323521192/) unapi

Article Pierre Schneider; (2018)
L’Indus, le Gange et l’océan: les grands deltas indiens vus de la Méditerranée (/isis/citation/CBB734308775/) unapi

Book Alida C. Metcalf; (2020)
Mapping an Atlantic World, circa 1500 (/isis/citation/CBB985200191/) unapi

Book King, David A.; (2012)
Islamic Astronomy and Geography (/isis/citation/CBB001253126/) unapi

Authors & Contributors
Nicolai, Roel
Kahlaoui, Tarek
Schilder, Günter
Goodrich, Thomas D.
King, David A.
Soens, Tim
Environment and History
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Imago Mundi: A Review of Early Cartography
Journal of Historical Sociology
Geographia antiqua
Ashgate, Variorum
Naval Institute Press
Edizioni Cadmo
Brill Hes
Nautical charts
Maps; atlases
Portolan chart
Muhiddin Piri Ibn Haji Mehmet (Piri Reis)
al-Bīrūnī, Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad
Mercator, Gerardus
Aḥmad b. Mājid al-Saʻdī
Ibn Khaldun
Shihāb al-Dīn Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad ibn Faḍlallāh al-ʿUmarī
Time Periods
16th century
Early modern
17th century
20th century
15th century
Mediterranean region
Atlantic Ocean
North Africa
United States Navy
Dutch East India Company

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment