Itineraria and Periploi

The following text appears on banner no. 2 in the exhibition space.

Based on its format and contents, the Peutinger Map is sometimes interpreted as an example of a Late Roman itinerarium (‘journey’). Itineraria were derived from the Greek periploi, geographic descriptions compiled as early as the sixth century bce. They listed ports and landmarks along the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, recording nautical distances to facilitate commercial and military sailing. Written with wayfinding in mind, these texts developed through- out antiquity to include newly explored regions.

Ancient geographers compiling these written lists approached the problem of depicting space by identifying themselves with a traveler and following him along his journey. Hypothetical movement constituted the primary factor around which all spatial relations were built, in contrast to the modern era, when space is abstractly translated into a cartographic image.

Itineraria were thus narrative, rather than objective, maps promoting a linear perception of space, and provided practical information on existing routes and intermediate stops. Distances had priority over orientation, and the succession of locations over their spatial reconstruction. However, both itineraria and periploi also allowed for a certain degree of geographic description. Often the list of localities was interrupted by written descriptions of topographic features encoun- tered along the route, with natural and architectural elements depicted in a wealth of details. In some cases they were accompanied by visual aids, tabulae and sketches that helped to orient readers. The images must have ultimately affected the learning and memorization processes concerned with previously unknown regions. A specific site listed in the text and located on the sketch was likely remembered not for its absolute location in space but instead for its spatial relations with the items in the list immediately preceding and following it.

Written and graphic aspects of Greek and Roman geography were therefore not dissociated from one another, and it was through their combination that a coherent image of the world was created, reproduced, and passed on. The shared knowledge transmitted through these highly maneuvered viewpoints, expressing the personal experience of a writer or the political agenda of a ruler, facilitated the emergence of a communal geographic standpoint that subsumed spatial differences and promoted geographic standardization.