Slide #207

TITLE: The Beatus Maps, Ashburnham or New York I
DATE: ca. 776 A.D.
AUTHOR: Beatus of Liebana (died 798)
DESCRIPTION: It is in Spain, in the early days of Moslem rule and in the heat of the Adoptionist controversy, that the original of the first important group or school of Christian European maps is to be found. The 8th century Spanish priest Beatus of Liebana has been identified as the draughtsman of that plan which is the common source of the maps of St. Sever, Turin, Ashburnham, and eleven others of the earlier Middle Ages, executed at various times between at least the 10th and 13th centuries, but all depending on a Spanish-Arabic prototype of the 8th century. This prototype, now lost, originally appeared anonymously as a feature of a richly illustrated work, The Commentary of the Apocalypse of St. John, which has been fixed by both internal and external criticism to a date in or near the year 776 A.D. About 24 copies of the Commentary have survived, with 14 different derivatives of the original Beatus world-picture. The extant copies were originally classified by Professor Konrad Miller into two main families: those of Osma and those belonging to the Valcavado tradition. To the former family belong the examples of 1050 A.D. (Paris I/St. Sever), of 1050 (Paris II), of 1086 (Osma), and 1189 (Lisbon); and to the latter belong the maps of 894/960 A.D. (Ashburnham/New York I/Valcavado), 970 (Valladolid), the 10th century (Urgel), the Gerona map of 975, 1047 (Madrid), 1109 (London), the Turin map of 1150, 1220 (New York II), the 12th-13th century (Manchester), and, finally, the Paris III map of the 13th century. The parting of these two families probably took place in the 9th century, and each appears to have been immediately derived from certain lost intermediates of the 10th century, such as the two executed in whole or part by Emeterius of Valcavado between 968 and 978 A.D. In all, the best known are the large, usually oval/round, maps that can be traced back to the prototype.

The original prototype map seems to have had a special purpose beyond simply geographical. As a theologian, Beatus, no doubt, considered his map as primarily illustrative of the Old and New Testaments, and of the spread of the Catholic Faith. In addition to the scriptures, however, he also seems to have relied upon two more temporal authorities: St. Isidore of Seville (Slide #205) and a Roman province-map that bore some resemblance to the Peutinger Table (Slide #120). From his fellow Spanish theologian, Isidore, Beatus extracts almost verbatim most of the longer inscriptions or legenda; it must not be forgotten, however, that Isidore himself derived the material for much of his geographical dissertation from the cosmographies of the later Roman period. On the other hand, no earlier source is known for the Apostolic pictures used by Beatus, as far as embodiment on a mappamundi is concerned; thus this detail may well be a refinement supplied by Beatus himself. As to the Roman province-map, it is from this map that Beatus and his copyists are thought to have derived most of their 'secular geography'. The Caspian Sea, the Alexandrian Pharos, the Nile inscription, and the desert where the Children of Isreal wandered for forty years, as we have them in Beatus cartography (especially the St. Sever map), are closely parallel to the representations of the Peutinger Table.

According to Beazley and Miller, the relationship between these two works is a key to all satisfactory study of the Spanish designs. This relationship is further demonstrated in many other details such as in the names of the peoples, cities, hills, and rivers of various countries, and in the Indian, Syrian and African legends. In Gaul, not only are the same provinces named and the same divisions made, but the more striking omissions of the Table also occur in Beatus copies such as the St. Sever. Of the more than 130 names of towns that appear in the Beatus maps, more than ninety of them agree with the Peutinger Table, and among these ninety parallels, all except two of the important places are marked by pictures (usually houses); on the other hand, the great vignettes at Rome, Constantinople and Antioch, as seen in the Table, if existing in the works of Beatus, have undergone transformation and reduction to a much lesser level. However, the Beatus designs have nothing similar to the Roman Itineraries, or to the station-, distance- and road-markings of the Table. Nor, of course, can the latter's 600 references to pagan temples and worships be found in these designs of the 10th and subsequent centuries. But, in spite of whatever differences exist, it appears that in the various works derived from the Spanish priest of Liebana and Valcavado, there can be found a medieval reflection of one or more cartographical works of the Old [Roman] Empire, free from all additions of the Crusading period, and of inestimable value as a link between the ancient and medieval worlds.

Additional significance of these 14 copies of Beatus lies in their relatively high antiquity. Four of them certainly belong to the pre-Crusading period, namely, St. Sever (a.k.a. Paris I ), Ashburnham, (a.k.a. New York I ),Valladolid and Madrid; and, both from their age and size, these plans are worthy of notice. There is scarcely anything from Latin Christian cartography of so early a date; and the few specimens which carry back to a still older time are considered mere sketches by comparison, such as the Albi map of the 8th century A.D. (Slide #206), and still earlier the sketches by Cosmas in the 6th century (Slide #202).

From the close similarity among all members of the Beatus Family, we can therefore deduce with some certainty the character, not merely of the primitive copies or intermediates, but also of the original itself, as drawn by the "obscure hill-man and cave-dweller" in about 776 A.D. Of these 14 Beatus copies, seven are in the shape of an oval, somewhat inclining to the oblong; the oldest one, Ashburnham,is a right-angled rectangle; two of the latest, Turin and Paris III, are circular. What was the original form? This question can only be answered by reviewing the conditions under which it was drawn. All of the copies mentioned are drawn on two pages; each page gives half of the map, or displays half of the known world; and perhaps the oblong shape so often to be used is due merely to the copyist lengthening the two halves of the circle in order to fill-up his space and give the work more room. The height of the map is, of course, the height of the accompanying manuscript in all instances, thus supporting the theory that the elliptical form was circumstantial. The comparatively short, upright axis, from top to bottom of the single page, represents the longitude, or east-to-west prolongation of the earth; while the breadth, the comparatively long horizontal axis reaching across the two pages, represents the latitude, or north-to-south extension of the world. But neither in classical antiquity, nor in the Middle Ages, do we meet with any geographer who believes the latitudinal extension of the oikoumene to be greater than the longitudinal. If this were so, then the very terms of longitude and latitude themselves would have been disputed; but, on the contrary, they were always accepted. Hence, it will not do to use the Beatus maps as proof that the ancient Orbis picti, and especially the world map of Agrippa (Slide #118), were oblong or elliptical.

It is probable that on the original Beatus map both the Four Sacred Rivers and the Ancestors of Mankind were depicted, as on the 'family' of maps that are associated with the Henry of Mainz map (Slides #215, 225, 226 ). The four rivers of Paradise are a reference to Genesis ii, 11-14. The first three rivers are usually identified with the Indus or Ganges, the Nile, and the Tigris. Also, in the Beatus maps, there is no clear evidence of a dependence on the T-O design so dominant during this period of cartography. The horizontal line dividing Europe from Asia is pushed up towards the top, and thus deflected from the actual middle (only on the Osma map is there an exception).

Beatus seems to have followed Isidore in his limiting of Africa to this side of the Equator, this was also the practice of many of the classical geographers such as Cicero, Pliny and Mela. Although he never displayed it on his maps, Isidore conceded the probable existence of the southern Antipodes, and, based upon a single sentence or two from his pen, all of the Beatus copies, except the Paris III map of 1250, portrayed an unknown continent south of Africa and the Indian Ocean. Even the Paris III map, however, gives a relic of the 'Australian Continent' by indicating, in a corner, the Skiapod, a shadow-footed monster whom the Osma map of 1203 shows in the 'Southern Land'; this last was doubtless the original position.

As to the appearance of the circumambient fish and boats, these fish occur in every Beatus derivative except the Turin map; the boats are found on the following copies: St. Sever, Ashburnham, Valladolid, Gerona, and the Paris III map of the 13th century.

In the original Beatus design, as in most medieval maps, the Mare Rubrum [Red Sea] appears to have been colored according to its name; but on the Paris III map of 1250, the Valladolid, and the Ashburnham, this tint is confined in a more modern sense to just the Arabian and Persian Gulfs; both of these gulfs on the Ashburnham and Valladolid examples are depicted rather like the symbols used for denoting mountains than seas, in red color; in the Madrid map only the Arabian Gulf is red in color; on the London copy the mountain-like appearance is even more pronounced; on the Gerona, Turin and Paris III maps, both gulfs are tinted with the traditional hue of the sea. On every Beatus map Professor Miller recognizes a trace of the original legends in this area. The Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Caspian Sea occur on the St. Sever and on the Osma maps, but are wanting on all maps of the Valcavado group. The distortion of the Mediterranean Sea fares no better on these maps than on the other cartographical works of the early Middle Ages.

The rivers of the world are more realistically portrayed on the best copies of Beatus, the St. Sever and the Osma; on the other examples, and especially on the Paris III map of 1250, the representation of the streams may sometimes be used for restoring the probable contents of the original Beatus map. Thus, apparently the original map contained no Spanish rivers, but marked the Rhine, the Rhone, the Danube, the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Jordan, the Nile with its delta, and certain affluents of the Caspian.

Where all of the copies agree, we may suppose that we are dealing with material from the original Beatus prototype; and, fortunately, the coincidences between and among all of the derivatives are so numerous that we can, from these alone, form a pretty detailed picture of the fundamental draft. Therefore, to summarize, the original Beatus design may have presented a schematically drawn, basically oval map designed to promote the spread of the Christian Faith and may have contained such features as a 'Southern Land' or Antipodes, a circumfluent ocean filled with fish and possibly boats, colored seas with some being depicted as mountains, at least the seven aforementioned rivers, and an ample distribution of pictorial displays and textual legends. The text of some of the longer legends gives a fairly good idea of the anthropological outlook of Beatus, his copyists and the medieval European. The following is such an example:

Albania, so called from the whiteness of its people, and color of their hair, extended from the east, close to the Caspian Sea and the shore of the Northern Ocean [into which the Caspian was believed to flow] to the Maeotid Lakes [Sea of Azov], through desert regions where the dogs were so strong and fierce that they could kill lions. Hyrcania, so called from the Hyrcanian Wood [a confusion with the Hercinia Sylva of Germany] which lay 'under Scythia', was full of tigers, panthers, and pards. Many races lived here and in Scythia, among them cannibals and blood-drinkers. Scythia, stretching from the extreme east and the Seric Ocean, to the Caspian Sea (at the setting sun) and southward to the ridge of Caucasus, abounded in gold and gems, in the best emeralds and in the most pure crystal; but all of these treasures were guarded by Gryphons, and no man could approach thereunto. Armenia, between the Taurus and the Caucasus, and between Cappadocia and the Caspian, was divided into two parts, the 'Greater' and the 'less', and contained the source of the Tigris. Arabia, the land of incense and perfumes, of myrrh and cinnamon, of the phoenix and sardonyx, was also called Saba, from the son of Chus. The Dead Sea, so named because it produced nothing living, and received nothing from the race of living things, was in length 780 stadia and in breadth 150 [this attempt at measurement is a very unusual feature on a medieval map, and shows a curious, if inaccurate, precision, or spirit of inquiry (the figures that are given are twice too great). Beatus also gives measurements, in Roman miles, for the islands of Britain, Corsica, Sardinia and Taprobane.] India, containing many peoples and tongues, men of dark color, great elephants and precious products, such as gems, ivory, aromatics, ebony, cinnamon and pepper, was also famous for its parrots, dragons and its one-horned beasts [rhinoceros]. It was amazingly fertile, with crops twice a year; and among its gems were diamonds, pearls, burning carbuncles, and beryls; it also possessed mountains stored with gold, and guarded by dragons and monstrous men. Among its islands were Chryse [the Malay Peninsula] and Argyre, the isles of gold and silver and Taprobane, which lay far to the south, was divided by a river, was only in part inhabited by men, had ten cities and was full of jewels and elephants. Ethiopia, stretching to the borders of Egypt, abounded in races of diverse color and monstrous form. It possessed multitudes of wild beasts and serpents, precious stones, cinnamon and balsam. The Nile was said by some authors to rise far from Mount Atlas, and thereafter to be speedily lost in the sands. But soon it emerged from the desert, poured itself out into a vast lake, and thence flowed to the Eastern Ocean, through Ethiopia. Here, again, bending to the left, it descended upon upon Egypt .

Of these legends on the Beatus maps, most of them are to be found in the writings of Isidore, but some have, ultimately, far more ancient origin. Thus the notice of Parthia plainly refers to a time before the Persian revival of 226 A.D.; while the dimensions of the Dead Sea and Lake Gennesaret, in stadia, also prove a considerable antiquity, perhaps back to a source at the time of Pliny. The legends referring to the Hellespont and the Bosphorus correspond, in substance, with the descriptions of these areas found in the writings of not only Pliny, but also Mela and Solinus; the measurements of the greater islands (i.e., Britain), in Roman miles, seem to be reminiscent of an imperial Itinerary.

A general stemma [genealogy] for the large Beatus maps which shows the lineage of the extant Beatus manuscripts containing full-page maps is provided in Harley's History of Cartography, Volume One (adapted from Klein).

Ashburnham/New York I, Pierpoint Morgan Library, MS M644, fols. 33v-34, New York.
St. Sever/Paris I, Bibliotheque Nationale, MS. Lat. 8878 (S. Lat. 1075), fol. 45, Paris.
London/Silos, British Library, Add. MS. 11695, fols. 39v-40, London.
Turin, Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria, MS. I.II.1, fols. 38v-39, Turin, Italy.
Osma, Burgo de Osma, Archivo de la Catedral, MS. 1, fols. 35v-36, Osma, Spain.
Urgel, Archivo Diocesano, Codex 4, Urgel, Spain.
Valladolid, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS. 1789, fols. 36v-37, Valladolid, Spain.
Gerona, Museo de la Catedral, MS. 10, Gerona, Spain.
Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Vitr. 14.2, fols. 63v-64, Madrid, Spain.
Lisbon, Arquivo Nacional de Torre do Tombo, Codex 160, Lisbon, Portugal.
Paris II, Bibliotheque Nationale, NAL 1366, fols. 24v-25, Paris.
Manchester, John Rylands Library, MS. Lat. 8, fols. 43v-44, Manchester.
New York II, Pierpoint Morgan Library, MS. 429, fols. 31v-32, New York.
Paris III, Bibliotheque Nationale, NAL 2290, fols. 13v-14, Paris.

207 Ashburnham/Ashmolean/New York I/Valcavado, ca. 894 - 960 A.D., from World Encompassed.
207A/B London/Spanish-Arabic, ca. 1109 A.D., from Brown, via Santarem's Atlas and Harvey.
207C/D/E St. Sever/Paris I, ca. 1050 A.D., from Landström, via Miller and Nebenzahl.
207F/G Turin, ca. 1150, from Beazley and Nordenskiöld, via Jomard.
207H Osma, ca. 1086, from Wright, via Miller.
207I Paris III, ca. 1250, from Bagrow.
207J Altamira (?), ca. 12th century, from Bagrow.

*Bagrow, L., History of Cartography, Plates XV, XVI.
*Beazley, C., The Dawn of Modern Geography, volume II, pp. 550-559; 591-604.
*Brown, L. A., The Story of Maps, p. 127.
*Brown. L.A., The World Encompassed, no. 12, plate III.
*Destombes, M., Mappemonde, A.D. 1200-1500, #17.
*Hapgood, C., The Maps of Ancient Seakings, p. 5; Figure 1.
*Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Volume One, pp. 287, 302-303, 331, 343, 357, Plate 13 (color).
*Harvey, P.D.A., Medieval Maps, Plate 17 (color).
Klein, P., Der ältere Beatus-Kodex Vitr. 14-1 der Biblioteca Nacional zu Madrid: Studien zur Beatus-Illustration
und der spanischen Buchmalerei des 10. Jahrhunderts (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1976).
*Landström, B., Bold Voyages and Great Explorers, p. 89 (color).
*Nebenzahl, K., Maps of the Holy Land, p. 26, Plate 6 (color).
*Nordenskiöld, A. E., Facsimile Atlas, p. 33, Figure 17.
*Raisz, E., General Cartography, p. 14.
*Wright, J.K., The Geographical Lore at the Time of the Crusades, p. 123, 157, 251.
*Wroth, L., The Early Cartography of the Pacific, pp. 163-168.


Index of Early Medieval Maps