Slide #223

TITLE: The Psalter Map
1225-1250 A.D.
According to such scholars as Beazley, Santarem, and Miller, this 13th century map belongs to a group or family of maps called Orosian-Isidorian, consisting of the maps known as Henry of Mainz, Guido of Pisa, Vercelli, Ebstorf, and Hereford maps (Slides #215, #216 , #220.1, #224, #226) - presumably all derived from a common original. The design of the Psalter map reveals an extremely small circular map, only 8.5 cm in diameter, crowded with written matter, supplying no less than 145 inscriptions. The title of the map is reflective of its tone and intent, 'a book or collection of Psalms'. It is, along with the Hereford and Ebstorf maps, a highly developed and climaxing example of the religious cosmography that evolved during the European Middle Ages, or as the critical Beazley puts it, "a highly developed but scientifically debased example of semi-mythical Geography, an elaborate exposition of strictly medieval habits of thought, applied to Geography." The Psalter map displays world knowledge removed as far as possible from the comparative science of the classical (Greek) world, and as yet quite untouched by the new light of the later Middle Ages. Or, simply the world as viewed by the didactic theocracy of medieval Europe.

At the top of the world-circle is the Savior Jesus Christ with uplifted hands; in His left He holds the globe of earth; the latter has the familiar T-O design of the continents sketched on its surface. On both sides of the Savior stand angels swinging censers; below are two dragons facing one another. On the reverse of the page the dragons are again sketched below the earth-circle, and crushed beneath the feet of the Savior, whose form thus serves as a background and support to the circuit of the earth, as in the Ebstorf example and in so many other medieval European pictures. The border that surrounds the map is almost identical in design with that of the Hereford; but the Psalter border is executed in pure Romanesque, the Hereford in Gothic. This fact helps us date the former at least fifty years earlier than the latter, i.e., ca.1250 A.D. (some authorities date the Psalter as early as 1225 A.D.).

The ocean appears as a watery zone, of equal breadth in every part, encircling the world. The various winds, each represented by a head, as in the Hereford map and on the Paris III-Beatus of 1250, (Slide #207E) are designed in suitable places along the outer rim of ocean. This sort of plan is also prominent in later works, like the mappamundi of Ranulf Higden (Slide #232). In the titles of these winds, the draftsman of the Psalter map is unusually and severely classical, giving us the famous old names of Aquilo and Septentrio for the North, Zephyrus for the West, Auster or Nothus for the south and Eurus or Euro-Nothus for the East and Southeast. The term Vulturnus, usually applied by classical writers to the southeast wind, is assigned rather to the North-North-East by the Psalter draftsman. The Mediterranean, Black Sea, Propontis, Caspian and Red Sea are all represented; the waters of the Levant show unusual exaggeration; the Euxine [Black Sea] is brought (as often elsewhere) very close to the Northern Ocean. The coast from the delta of the Nile round to Caesarea is grossly distorted, almost resembling the shore of a lake. The Caspian appears as a narrow indent of the Northern Ocean, divided in two by a long peninsula (in the extreme northeast of Asia), and encircled by the greatest mountain-wall in the world (the region of Gog - Magog), pierced apparently at one point by the Gates of Alexander.

While centered precisely on Jerusalem, Paradise, in the Far East, is conceived in a somewhat exceptional manner. The sun pours out of its mouth the flood waters which flows through the Garden of Eden, and supplies the five sacred rivers; for the author has entered both the Ganges and the Phison in this list. Usually tradition identifies four sacred rivers, using either the Ganges or Phison (see Cosmas Slide #202). The heads of Adam and Eve appear within the enclosure, which seems to be marked off with lofty and symmetrical mountains. The Tree of Temptation is roughly drawn between the two faces. (Bevan and Phillot, Medieval Geography, xlii, suggest the Arbre Sec, which they make identical with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; and Yule, Marco Polo, II.397, refers us to legendary language about the Dry Tree which would perhaps support such an identification; - 'in the midst of Paradise was a fountain, whence flowed four rivers, and over the fountain a great Tree bare of bark and leaves'). The trees of the Sun and Moon are here separately indicated, close to Paradise on the south; while the Tigris flows direct from Paradise to the Indian Ocean, and the Euphrates (or rather one of two rivers so named) enters a mountain chain west of Paradise, named Orcatoten, and thence flows to the Persian Gulf. Of the Nile only the Egyptian portion is given. The Arae Liberi et Colimae Herculi[s] occurs near the Indus, but the Arae Alexandri are near the border of Europe; Albania, in northeast Asia, recalls the Anglo-Saxon or Cottoniana map (Slide #210); Cyropolis, near the Caspian, is perhaps for Cyreschata on the Jaxartes, famous for Alexander's siege; Sclaveni occidentales, near the Black Sea, are suggestive of much more modern times, like the island of Norvegia. The Arabian and Persian Gulfs appear to be melted into one by the draftsman of the Psalter map, and in the same great indent he has put the ocean, off the coast of India, filled with large islands. The Ganges has an utterly false direction, flowing from the northern mountains, not into the sea, but to Paradise, like one of the two Euphrates rivers, here delineated. Northwest Africa is marked off, like the northeast of Asia, by a belt, which was perhaps intended for mountains, as in the other case, but remains as a mere linear mark with the legend, Sandy and Desert Land.

A zone of monstrous races runs along the southern coast of Africa. Among the monsters of this region are Dog-headed Folk and people with heads in various stages of aggressiveness, having either descended between their shoulders or else absorbed the entire trunk of the body. Besides these there are cannibals, a race with six fingers, Troglodytes, Serpent-eaters, Skiapodes, and a nation that obtained shadow from the hugeness not of their foot but of their lip; tribes also without tongues, without ears, or without noses; others who, having only a little hole for mouths, were forced to suck their food through a reed; Maritime Aethiops with four eyes; and beings who never walked, but crawled on hands and feet. These races, fourteen in all, come mostly from Solinus; many of them occur also on Ebstorf, on Hereford, or on both.

The draftsman's excessive regard for a literal interpretation of the Old and New Testaments explains the orbo-centric position of Jerusalem. In fact much the same reason may be used to account for the Psalter's eastern orientation. So many biblical references and place-names within Palestine and adjacent Bible lands are given that this area occupies more than a third of Asia. The Ark of Noah appears very clearly on a mountain of Armenia, and a large fish swims in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, perhaps as a reminiscence of the New Testament history. The Barns of Joseph, close to Babylon and Egypt, show us that our artist has heard of the Pyramids. The most famous cities of the ancient world, and the most famous sites of the Bible, are nearly all represented; while the immense and symmetrical Jerusalem, in the very middle of the world, forms a perfect center to an exact circle.

The closest relation of the Psalter map is the Ebstorf, which is probably junior by at least half a century; but the former is remarkable for a number of old names which do not occur on the maps of either Ebstorf or Hereford. Its delineation of the monstrous races of the south show a more antique character, and so probably a closer relationship to the common 11th (?) century original. This original probably contained many names and legends, attached to various indications of cities and natural features, which have only partially survived in the derivatives. In the text of the Psalter map there seems to exist a very imperfect copy of this original, both in amount and style, though it gives us an astonishingly large mass of matter for its size. In its delineation the world-picture the Psalter perhaps reproduces its model better than in its text; the scribe was presumably better as a draftsman than as a scholar.

The Psalter and Ebstorf also have a curiously similar treatment of the Caspian Rampart (otherwise Alexander's Wall, the Hyrcanian Mountains, or Barrier of the Jews - some scholars believe that this feature is actually the reflection of a vague or confused reference to the Great Wall of China), shutting in the Gog-Magogs and other monsters of the North; but the Gates of Alexander are more clearly marked on the Psalter than anywhere else in this family of maps. The two bays that run off northward from the Erythraean indent of the ocean are somewhat unusual in their position and conception; one corresponds to the upper part of the Persian Gulf, the other to the sea at the mouth of the Indus, the Gulf and Runn of Cutch, or perhaps the Gulf of Cambay. On the Psalter, Jerome, Hereford and Ebstorf maps alike, Africa stretches round very close to the neighborhood of India; and further similarities may be observed in the unnatural abridgement of the three major peninsulas of southern Europe: Greek, Spanish and Italian.

With the Hereford map the textual correspondence is almost as noticeable as with the Ebstorf map; the difference in cartographic form are often probably mere arbitrary eccentricities of the designer. One may consider this little circular plan, so minute in scale, so immense in the quantity of its details, as a sort of bridge or transition between the types represented by Ebstorf, Hereford and Henry of Mainz. At the same time, like Ebstorf and Hereford, it stands much further away from the Jerome maps (Slide #215 ) than does the work of Henry; but, with the Jerome map of the orient, it helps us to fill in the gap which has been left in the Far East of the Ebstorf example. Perhaps the Trees of the Sun and Moon, as shown on the Psalter, correspond to the Pillars of Alexander and of Hercules in the original design.

Outside its own 'family', the Psalter map has some points of agreement both with Lambert of St. Omer (Slide#217) and with Beatus (Slide #207). Of modern names it gives us several in Europe, one in Africa, but none in Asia. The most interesting of these are Damietta, in an entirely wrong position; the Ruscitae or Russians, perhaps derived from the Ruzzia of Adam of Bremen, the Olcus or Volga, the 'Land of the Western Slavs', Ala or Halle in Germany and three names in Britain, viz. Scotland, Walni [Wales] and Cornwall.

In coloration, the Psalter map shows seas in green (except the Red Sea which is colored red), the rivers are blue, and the relief is represented by natural-colored lobed chains. The settlements are displayed as ocher triangles.

LOCATION: British Library (Add. MS. 28681, fol. 9r)

*Beazley, C., The Dawn of Modern Geography, volume II, pp. 568-570; 617-620.
*Destombes, M., Mappemondes, A.D. 1200-1500, #49.8.
*Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Volume One, pp. 327-28, 331, 340, 348,
Figures 18.35, 18.63.
*Harvey, P.D.A., Medieval Maps, p. 27, Plate 20 (color).
*Humble, R., The Explorers, The Seafarers, (color).
*Kimble, G., Geography of the Middle Ages, pp. 186-87.


Index of Early Medieval Maps