Peutinger Map

The following text appears on banner no. 7 in the exhibition space.

The Peutinger Map (Codex Vindobonensis 324) was discovered in 1500 by Konrad Celtis, a professor and Poet Laureate, though the exact place and circumstances are undocumented. After his death it entered the library of Konrad Peutinger, a diplomat at the House of Habsburg and a humanist inter- ested in classical antiquity. In 1738 the document was donated to Austria’s National Library in Vienna, where it can still be found today.

The north-oriented map depicts the world as it was known in Roman antiquity, extending from Britain to India, with the city of Rome prominently displayed at its center. Water courses and mountain ranges form the topographic back- drop over which the mapmaker detailed the network of public roads that characterized the landscapes of the Roman Empire. Cities are rendered with pictorial symbols depicting buildings or fortifications with ramparts and turrets. Labels identify place names, peoples, regions, waters, mountains, and distances.

Speculations on the map’s history began soon after its discovery. Paleographic studies of the lettering suggest that the document was copied in southern Germany at the beginning of the thirteenth century from an earlier original that was most likely Roman in date. At least nine hundred years separate the first map from the Peutinger copy, and inevitably there must have been several intermediate copies. While it is difficult to assess the extent to which this copy departs from the original, several internal details suggest that the copyist limited deliberate additions to the minimum.

The numerous uncertainties on the Roman original prevent conclusive inter- pretations. Most commonly, the map is considered a practical tool for Roman military campaigns or for journeys along the Empire’s routes. However, it has also been read as a presentation piece made for Charlemagne in the Carolingian Period. Finally, another theory argues that the map’s unusual horizontal layout and its geographic incongruence demonstrate that it was never meant to be used as a proper map or to serve any cartographic purpose. Instead, it might have been created for imperial propaganda in the early fourth century ce. By commissioning a worldview at its most expansive, possibly for a prominent location in a reception hall in a Tetrarchic palace, the rulers would thus have hoped to persuade both the entourage and the official visitors of their dominance over a united and pacified empire that was, in fact, rapidly crumbling.