A New Look at the Albi Mappamundi

The two most ancient map-style manuscripts in existence are the Albi Mappamundi and the Vatican Mappamundi. Both of these western charts of the Mediterranean-centred world were made in the second half of the eighth century, let's say about 770. One or other may turn out a decade or two older, but until someone scientifically dates the sheepskin on which they are drawn, we have to treat them as equally old.

I have just digitally plotted the Albi Mappamundi with a view to adding it to my Library of Latin Diagrams:

The inspiration for this burst of activity was the appearance online of a very comprehensive, very up-to-date article about the Albi Mappamundi by Anca Dan. La mappemonde d'Albi - un pinax chôrographikos was published in December and she has just been kind enough to post a scan of the article on her Academia.edu page.

She traces this early medieval mappamundi back to a model by Eucher of Lyon, a late-antique Christian leader, based in turn on similar diagrams from his own schooling.

The article's title subtly reminds us that the word mappamundi would have drawn blank looks in antiquity. The term did not exist then. If you had however said pinax chôrographikos (based on a couple of Greek-origin words) to Eucher, he would have got your drift. 

Schools in classical and late antiquity did not teach geography (too mathematical and of no practical use) but chorography (the size, accessiblity, appearance and hospitableness of places, who lived in them, what they produced). So this is a chorographic pinax (chart). Because of that human-practical focus, a mappamundi never shows the absolute positions of places like a true map, but rather their relative positions: what you have to pass by or cross to arrive at a further place.

Readers will recall that I wrote a blog post in 2016 about the arrival online of the Vatican Mappamundi, which is bound (fol. 63v-64r) in codex Vat.lat.6018. The Albi Mappamundi has been online since its Unesco recognition in 2014. Unfortunately I cannot link you directly to fol. 57v-58r of the codex which contains it. Go to the opening page of that codex, ms Albi 29, and page through to image 115.

Dan, Anca. ‘La mappemonde d’Albi - un pinax chôrographikos. Notes sur les origines antiques de la carte et du texte du ms Albi 29 fol. 57v-58r’. Cartes & Géomatique. Revue du Comité français de cartographie, no. 234 (December 2017). Online.

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