TITLE: The Cottoniana or Anglo-Saxon Map
DATE: ca. 995 A.D.
AUTHOR: from Priscian 's Periegsis

DESCRIPTION: The Cottoniana does not appear to belong to any one of the identifiable Families of medieval maps. It is far removed from all of the members of the Beatus group (Slide #207); it is equally far removed from the school to which the Ebstorf, Psalter and Hereford plans appear to belong (Slides #223, #224, #226). Nor has it any relation with the various types of Zone/Climate maps which are known under the names of Macrobius, Sallust, or T-O diagrams (Slides #201, 205 ). The map itself occurs in a copy of Priscian's Periegesis, a 5th century manual of geography based upon an earlier treatise. The manuscript which contains the map (Cotton MSS, Tib. B. V.) is made up of various pieces, collected by Sir Robert Cotton in 1598. The map is on folio 56, and is immediately followed by a copy of Priscian's Latin version of the Periegesis of Dionysius, De situ terrae Prisciani Grammatici, quem di priscorum dictis exerpsit Ormistarum, written in the same hand as appears on the map. However, the map stands in no special relationship to the work that it professedly illustrates. It is, indeed, more closely linked with Paulus Orosius' Universal History (out of the 146 legends, 75 occur in Orosius; 75 contain the textual basis of the whole map, and all of its names of countries, with few exceptions ); it also has certain obligations to Pomponius Mela's De Chorographia [Cosmography] of 40 A.D., St. Isidore of Seville, and the topographical writings of St. Jerome; and finally it bares some indications of a much later time, the age of the discoveries and the migration of the Northmen in the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries. The correspondences of various names and descriptions in Adam of Bremen afford at least a possibility that the former sometimes drew from the same originals as the great northern annalist, while some of the names in the British Isles, in Gaul, and in the Far East and northeast, support the 10th century date, which most scholars are inclined to accept.

In its presentation of the world as a whole, this map adopts a roughly square form measuring 21 X 17 cm, and in this one respect it recalls some of the less desirable aspects of examples of the Beatus derivatives (Slide #207, Ashburnham). However, though of small size, it is one of the most unique of all medieval world-pictures. In the execution of this right-angled design there is all the difference between the narrow perspective of an uncompromising symmetry found in most of the maps of its period (such as the T-O designs), and a certain respectable, if not highly developed, knowledge and scientific insight reflected in this map. It portrays, with comparative fullness and accuracy, various places, regions, and natural features elsewhere omitted, or misunderstood in cartography until a much later date. In fact there is hardly any map from the Middle Ages, before the appearance of the portolani, which can be compared with the Cottoniana in its detailed delineation of various coastlines.

In geographical content, it is one of the few medieval maps not to center on Jerusalem, as did the majority of highly theocratic maps of the age. The bulbous projection of land on the coast, north of Jerusalem, is perhaps meant for Carmel. Some idea, though exaggerated, of the Syrtes on the North African coast is evidently possessed by the cartographer. Its eastern limit is the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Asia is shown at right angles to the coast of North Africa, an inferior representation when compared with such earlier, though uncirculated, renderings of Ptolemy. In Africa, the lakes east and west of the Lacus Salinarum near the north coast are noteworthy; like Brigantia (of Lighthouse fame) in the northwest of the Spanish peninsula. Mons Clinax [-max] in the middle of the South African coast, is perhaps a misty reference to the "Chariot of the Gods", as described by Hanno and the Greek and Latin geographers who copied him; while the two small unnamed isles, west of Mount Atlas, are probably intended for the Insulae Fortunatae.

Of purely inland geography, unconnected with the coast, there is not much in the European region of this map: the Huns, Dalmatia, Dardania, Histria, and Tracia, all circling around Pannonia. What is now European Russia is here contracted to a mere neck of land. The Caspian Sea, inaccurately opening into the Northern Ocean, is of unusual size. However, this is apparently the first map to add to the knowledge of Ptolemy with regards to northwestern Europe. England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark (Neronorweci or Neronorroen), and France are better drawn on the Cottoniana than any other medieval map. The British Isles are prominently depicted with Ireland oriented east-west, vice north-south. Scotland is curiously twisted to the left instead of to the right, as in Ptolemy. There is also no small comparative merit in the land of the Scrito-Finns and Island, representing present-day Scandinavia, and in Sicily, whose three angles appear; the north coast of Asia Minor is likewise good. On the other hand, the western Mediterranean is rather crude and very contracted. France is so squeezed between Spain and Italy that its south coast almost disappears, except for the Gulf of Lyons, which is fairly well delineated. In Greece the name Macedonia seems to be written over Morea; Athens and Attica are widely separated.

In Asia there is much more inland geography, chiefly connected with the Twelve Tribes and Biblical history. To the west of the Caspian Sea can be found Gog and Magog, adjoined by the Turchi; the Bulgari is placed between the Danube and the Arctic Ocean; and Taprobane occupies the place usually given to the Terrestrial Paradise.

A lost Roman province map may have been the source of the divisions so clearly marked in Asia Minor, in Central and Southeastern Europe, and in North Africa. The Biblical loans may be traced in many names and also in certain aspects of the general plan. Indeed, it is obvious that here the design was not merely indebted to the Scriptures for details such as almost all medieval maps exhibit, but it was also, to a large extent, devised for a special Biblical lesson - a picture of the settlement of the Twelve Tribes of Isreal. Other Biblical connections, traceable especially in the center of the map, include (directly or indirectly) not only the Twelve Tribes and Jerusalem, but also Bethlehem, Babylon, Tarsus, Caesarea Philippi, and the Ark of Noah (among the vignettes). Most of the Biblical names found on the Hereford, Lambert, Henry of Mainz, the Psalter, and Ebstorf maps are perhaps, in many cases, borrowed directly from this earlier Anglo-Saxon work. There are several names and features which show striking independence of any other known map authority of the earlier Middle Ages. Among these are five names in Britain: Camri or Cambria, and Marinus-portus in the northwest; Kent, London, and Winchester on the southern shore; and Arma or Armagh in Ireland; the Sud-Bryttas [South Bretons] in northern Gaul; the Golden Mountain of the Far East and the Boreani and abundant lions of the northeast of Asia.

The comparative excellence of the Cottoniana is perhaps due to its being the production of an Irish scholar-monk living in the household of the learned and travelled Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury (992-994), with whose Itinerary, from Rome to the English Channel, the present design has several curious resemblances. In the British isle of the pre-Norman period, there is no school of learning art, or science comparable to that which sprang from the Irish Church of Patrick, Colomba, and Ardan; and the insertion of the name of Armagh, so rarely found in medieval maps, strengthens the view that there we have the handiwork of a student who was trained in Irish schools, or derived his knowledge from men so trained.

The coloring of the Cottoniana is grey for most seas; red is used not only for the Red Sea (top right), but also for the Persian and Arabian Gulfs, the Nile with its delta and other African rivers and lakes; and bright green is used for all mountains. The handwriting is small and difficult, with peculiar formation of various letters, i.e., C is written like an R, O like A, R like P and A.

LOCATION: British Library, Cotton MS. Tiberius B.V., fol. 56v.


*Beazley, C., The Dawn of Modern Geography, volume III, pp. 559-563, 608-611.
*Harvey, P.D.A., Medieval Maps, Plate 19 (color).
*Nebenzahl, K., Maps of the Holy Land, p. 30, Plate 8 (color).
*Tooley, R.V., Maps and Mapmakers, pp. 13, 48.
* Glorious Age of Exploration, p. 168.


Index of Early Medieval Maps