The History of Peutinger's Map                             


Codex Vindobonensis.....; you will find this name in the National Bibliotheque of Vienna (Vindobona). It is the only surviving Roman road map (Itineraria) titlehough it is a twelfth century copy. In it is shown the known world conquered by Rome. The surviving document has the extreme western part of the map missing (the western part of the Roman Empire as it was - the greater part of Britannia and the Iberian peninsula).  This part was certainly reproduced in the original but was not reproduced in the mediaeval copy.

The Peutinger's Map was refound in 1507 by  Konrad Celtes, librarian of Emperor Maximillian I. Where it was found is not known but the present name given to the map was by the second proprietor of the map,  Konrad Peutinger, chancellor of Augsburg.

The surviving part of Peutinger's Map was previously a roll of parchment paper 6.74 metres long by 34 cms high made up of 11 segments sewn to each other. In 1863 the map was torn into 11 parts to preserve this extraordinary document. Peutinger's Map embraced the known world of the ancient Romans (Europe, Asia, Africa) and that presumably extended from the columns of Hercules (Gibrtitlear) to the extreme oriental regions much further than the confines of the Empire (India, Burma, Ceylon, the Maldives and China (Sera Maior).

As mentioned before, the missing part of Britannia, north west Africa and the Iberian peninsula is thought to be another segment; the first one presumably thought to have been lost due to the extra use that this segment was always put to. The necessity was for the cartographer to produce an entire multi-continental design of the geographic reproduction of the Empire in one complete roll that was easily transported by anyone, miltary or otherwise. This necessity dictated the reading of the map on a linear horizontal basis on which the Empire was squashed and lengthened geographically. It is important to underline the fact that it was not a precise geographical map, but a road map; for this reason everything that was not important to the traveller was reduced to a minimum of description; e.g. the seas, the mountain ranges, the forests, the desert regions, etc. It must be noted that it was not treated as a real geographical map (based on exact proportional relationships between the configurations and the real physical elements) but a simple map that demonstrated the road system of the Roman Empire, sprinkled with resting places and more important centres, not taking into consideration the geographical elements.

The cartographer intended to supply the traveller with a true road map that indicated the exact distances between inhabited centres, distances expressed in Roman miles, in leagues (for Wales)  or in parasanghe (for the Orient), illustrating on the map in a precise and determined manner, the journey enriched with information useful to the traveller. Such "tourist" information was indicated in writing or designed along the route such as resting places, small and large centres, thermal baths or actual hostelries for example, the Fig Hostelry (Ad ficum) or Hercules' Sandal (Ad Sandalum Herculis) or The Two Brothers (Ad duo fratres) and many other indications useful for the traveller. The thermal baths that commence with the word "Aqui...." were of particular importance to the weary traveller and were noted on the map by a square building. The Peutinger Map can be considered the father of the modern Michelin maps.

The overall definition of the map (itinerarium) is that of visualising more than 200,000 kilometres (estimated) and its representative development in a longitudinal sense showing a notable deformation of the Earth illustrated. This deformation is such that the Earth assumes a different position from the actual one in respect of the cardinal points; for this region the centre of the Roman Empire (Italy) covers 5 segments of the map (from the II to the VI)

Studying the details of the map more closely, the use of precise colouring to highlight the physical elements are noted; yellow for the earth, black as the border of the earth and most written descriptions, red for the principal roads (cursus publicus), green for seas, lakes and rivers, yellowy grey and pink for the mountain ranges and the ideograms and vignettes that show the presence of inhabited centres or where the roads divide showing a secondary road that is shown at its start but does not continue on the map. 

Certain elements emerge from the palaeographic studies of the map that suggest additions have been made to it at different times. A clear example of this can be seen in the representation of the three principal cities; Rome, Antioch and Constantinople. The symbology and representation of the bird's eye view of the city walls of these three cities take us to mediaeval times (XI-XII or XII-XIII centuries). Apart from this, the general conception of the map, its composition and precise geographic indications show that its origins are during Roman times.

Those studying the map do not agree though on the exact date of origin of the mediaeval copy from the original Roman copy; the dates oscillate between the III and IV centuries A.D. The historian, Luciano Bosio (1.), believes that the map represents an  itinerarium pictum that over the centuries data has been added to or changed thereby becoming important with regards to the road and political systems of the Roman Empire. Three changes can be seen; during the Augustus period (in relation to the reconstruction of the cursus publicus), the Severian period (connected to a great reorgnaisation of the preceding Augustus cursus publicus) and that of the IV century as indicated by certain elements of the map that connect with certainty to the increasing diffusion of christianism and also added to during the VIII-IX centuries A.D., until the actual mediaeval copy.

Massimo Valentini

1 L. Bosio, La Tabula Peutingeriana. A Description of the Ancient World, Rimini 1983, p. 156.


W. Kubischek, "Itinerarien", in Pauly-Wissowa, Real Encyclopaedie der klassischen titleertumswissenschaft; K. Miller, Itineraria Romana, Stuttgart 1916; A. e M. Levi, Itineraria Picta. Contributo allo studio della tabula Poitingeriana, Roma 1967; E.Weber, Tabula Peutingeriana. Codex Vindobonensis 324, Graz 1976. - L. Bosio, La Tabula peutingeriana. A  Description of the Ancient World, Rimini 1983. Domenica Tataranni e Sabrina Violante La Tabula Peutingeriana.