Examples of Macrobian Maps

World map from a south German manuscript of Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, c.1000. The North separated from the South by an equatorial ocean-river, and each is divided into the three Greek climatic zones. Note how space in the text has been left for the drawing. The designation of the southern temperate zone as “temperata antiktorum” is unusual, 11.7 cm diameter, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS D’Orville 77, fol. 100r.

Commentaire sur le songe de Scipion. Manuscrit sur parchemin.

BNF, Manuscrits (Latin 6371 f° 20v)

Zonal hemispheric map, MS. on vellum: Macrobius, Somnium Scipionis. Illustrates roughly the climatic zones, with some place-names in the northern temperate zone, late 14th century, 8.9 cm diameter, Oxford University, MS. Canon. Class. Lat. 257, flo. 29v

TITLE: Macrobian world map

DATE: 1560

AUTHOR:  Ioan Gryphius Excudebat

DESCRIPTION: A 16th century edition of In Somnium Scripionis, Lib II, Saturnaliorum, Lib. VII. Venetis: Ioan Gryphius Exudebat, ca. 1560 from Ambrosius Macrobius, who promulgated the idea of a round earth with northern and southern hemispheres showing climate zones and divided by an equatorial ocean. The book is in remarkably good condition, given that it is more than 400 years old.

Ambrosius Macrobius’ In Somnium Scipionis, Lib. II, Saturnaliorum, Lib. VII was published in Venice, probably in 1560, by Ioan Gryphius Excudebat. It contains a map of the world similar to one that appeared in manuscripts and printed works for 1200 years, the book contains the text of Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, with Macrobius’ commentary.

Macrobius was a follower of the Neoplatonists, philosophers originating in Alexandria around the third century, who believed in blending Plato’s ideas with theosophy. His Commentary on Cicero and Plato includes several chapters dealing with his own conception of the world and the universe.

Macrobius’ map of the world is the first to be printed denoting ocean currents and also identifies ‘frigid’ and ‘temperate’ zones. His idea of a spherical earth derives from the second century theory of Crates of Mallos.

A fragment of a late fifth century manuscript of Macrobius’ works fetched $48, 875 at auction in San Francisco in 2007.

Macrobius (as he himself states) was not a Roman, but there is no certain evidence whether he was of African or Greek descent. It has been noted that his works display a greater familiarity with Latin than Greek authors and that he frequently mistranslates Greek authors. He may be identical with a Macrobius who is mentioned in the Codex Theodosianus as a praetorian prefect of Spain in 399-400, proconsul of Africa in 410, and lord chamberlain in 422, although he has also been identified with a Theodosius who served as praetorian prefect of Italy in 430. Since the tenure of high office at that date was limited to Christians, and there is no evidence in the writings of Macrobius that he was a Christian, early writers questioned both Macrobius’s Christianity and his holding of high civil office. Recent scholarship sees little conflict between his writings and his Christianity, which opens the way for him to have held the position of pretorian prefect.

Cicero’s Dream of Scipio described the Earth as a globe of insignificant size in comparison to the remainder of the cosmos. Many early medieval manuscripts of Macrobius include maps of the Earth, including the antipodes, zonal maps showing the Ptolemaic climates derived from the concept of a spherical Earth and a diagram showing the Earth (labeled as globus terrae - the sphere of the Earth) at the center of the hierarchically ordered planetary spheres.

Illustrations for Macrobius’ Commentaryon the Dream of Scipio.

The text was compiled in the fifth century; the manuscript illustrated here dates from the eleventh century. (a) Globus terrae: diagram for Book 1.21.3–5 showing the Earth and seven planetary spheres within the zodiac. (b) Diagram for Book 1.22.11–12, exemplifying the attraction of weights to the earth.

British Library, Harley MS 2772, fols. 61v and 63v. Appendix 1, no. 22.

(Reproduced with permission from The British Library.)

Further illustrations for Macrobius’s Commentary on the Dream of Scipio.

(a) Zonal diagram for Book 2.5.13–17, showing the Earth divided into frigid, temperate and torrid zones. The letters that surround the image refer to the text of the Commentary and are intended to allow the reader to understand Macrobius’ explanation of zonal theory. (b) Celestial-terrestrial zonal diagram for Book 2.7.3–6, showing the terrestrial zones within an inner circle surrounded by an outer circle in which the celestial zones are marked. Note how space has been left in the text for the drawings.

Cologne, Dombibliothek, MS 186, fols. 106v and 108v. Appendix 1, no. 18.

(Reproduced with permission from the Dombibliothek.)

World map illustrating Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, Book 2.9.7–8, in a 10th century manuscript from the abbey of Saint Nazarius at Lorsch, now preserved in Vatican City, the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Palat. lat. 1341, fol. 86v. Appendix 1, no. 4. Compare especially with Figures 5 and 6.
(Reproduced with permission from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.)

World map from a 10th or 11th century north Italian manuscript of Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio.

North is at the top. The earth is divided into five zones, with the central zone (perusta) unequally divided by the equatorial ocean. Italia and the Orcades are marked, along with the Caspian Sea, in the northern temperate zone (temperata nostra). The Red and Indian seas are shown as inlets of the equatorial ocean. The southern temperate zone is marked Temperata antoecorum (temperate zone of the antoikoi).

Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek MS Class. 38, fol. 20r. Appendix 1, no. 5.
(Reproduced with permission from the Bamberg Staatsbibliothek.)

This late 10th or 11th century manuscript of Macrobius’ Commentary on the Dream of Scipio shows a significantly simplified version of Macrobius’ world image. North is at the top. The four cardinal points are marked outside the image. The earth is divided into five zones, with the frigid zones in the far north and south marked uninhabitable (inhabitabilis), the temperate zones in the northern and southern hemispheres marked habitable (habitabilis), and the northern tropic identified by the word tropicus. A prominent equatorial ocean (Oceanus) divides the two hemispheres, and the word refusio is repeated four times to represent the flow of Ocean from the equator to the poles.
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 14436, fol. 58r. Appendix 1, no. 9.

(Reproduced with permission from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.)

11th century manuscript of Macrobius’ Commentary on the Dream of Scipio

This is unusual for the large amount of ecumenical detail in the northern hemisphere in contrast to the entirely blank southern hemisphere. Features eccentric to the tradition of Macrobius maps include the ideograms that mark certain cities (Rome, Jerusalem, Corine [?Corinth], Syene and Meroe), and the attempts to represent the British isles and the Scandinavian peninsula in the far northwest, Sicily (the triangle beneath Italy), and other Mediterranean islands. An unmarked river, presumably the Nile, extends from the Mediterranean, and surrounds Meroe; a second river extends from the Atlantic horizontally, dividing Ethiopia from Africa.

Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 6362, fol. 74r. Appendix 1, no. 23.
(Reproduced with permission from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.)

An adaptation of the map of Macrobius contained in a manuscript of the ‘abbreviated group’, produced in Freising in the second half of the 10th century.

The map is unusual for its single toponym (caspium mare), its particularly large northern hemisphere, and its elaborate pseudo-coastlines. To the top right of the main figure, the four cardinal points are marked around the edge of a much smaller diagram, on which the northern and southern zones and equatorial Ocean are also shown.

Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 6364, fol. 23r. Appendix 1, no. 3.

(Reproduced with permission from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.)

This adaptation of Macrobius’ world image, which was drawn in the first half of the 12th century, is notable for the infiltration of ecumenical detail.
North is at the top, and the cardinal points are marked with crosses. The toponyms hispania, alpes, gades, balearia, sardinia, Sicilia, egiptus and asia rarely appeared on earlier Macrobius maps.
British Library, Egerton MS 2976, fol. 62v . Appendix 1, no. 30.
(Reproduced with permission from The British Library.)

This map, which illustrates a 12th century copy, made in Germany, of Macrobius’ Commentary on the Dream of Scipio

This map shows the influence of maps from William of Conches’ Philosophia and Dragmaticon, particularly in the omission of the Indian and Red seas, the division between Europe, Asia, and Africa (Libia), and the appearance of the toponyms athlas, calpe, and fortuna (the Fortunate isles). The diagram has been turned to have West at the top, although the majority of inscriptions are oriented to the north. Note how it occupies space at the end of the text of the Commentary. Below it a later hand has added a note saying that ‘This book is from the monastery of Benediktbeuern’ (Bavaria). Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 4612, fol. 103v. Appendix 1, no. 43. (Reproduced with permission from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.)