TITLE:  Ebstorf Mappamundi

DATE: ca. 1234

AUTHOR:  Gervase of Tilbury

DESCRIPTION: This map of the world, like the early medieval maps known as Henry of Mainz/Sawley, Vercelli, and Hereford maps (#215, #220.1, #226) - presumably all derived from a common original - sums up a medieval European-Christian cartographic tradition that began with the illustrations by Cosmas Indiopleutes in the sixth century A.D. (#202).  Its name stems from the fact that it was preserved in a Benedictine monastery in Ebstorf, Germany near Illzen on the Lüneburg Heath, until its discovery in 1830.  Fifteen years later it became a possession of the Historisches Verein für Niedersachsen [Museum of the Historical Society of Lower Saxony] in Hanover, Germany where it remained until 1888.  It was then removed to Berlin for restoration, at which point it was separated into thirty vellum sheets and photographed in black and white (the only remaining full-sized photographic reproduction).  Originally, the map consisted of thirty sheets of vellum that had an overall measurement of 3.58 x 3.56 meters. The Ebstorf world map is the second largest medieval mappamundi that we know about. Whereas the Ebstorf map measured 3.57 meters [12 feet] in diameter, the mural map in the church of Saint-Silvain at Chalivoy-Milon, Cher, France, dating from the second quarter of the 12th century, was six meters in diameter. The monastery with which it is associated lies 25 kilometers south of Lüneburg, Germany. It was originally “found” about 1160 and, after a fire, was “refound” between 1175 and 1209 at a Benedictine nunnery that was transformed into a Lutheran convent during the Reformation. It was destroyed in 1885 and is known only from two written descriptions of 1868 and 1878/1898.

About 1830 the canoness, Charlotte von Lasperg, discovered a rolled manuscript map on a shelf in a wet and windowless storeroom where liturgical utensils dating from before the Reformation, and no longer used, were kept. In 1888 the map was restored at the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, and the 30 goatskins on which the map was painted were taken apart. In this dismembered form the map was stored out of public sight in the State Archives in Hanover until in 1943 when it was destroyed during a World War II air raid.

The map today exists only in a post-war reconstruction based on various 19th and early 20th century reproductions of it. Photographs taken at the time of the 1888 restoration have not survived, but Ernst Sommerbrodt reproduced them in 1891 as an atlas of collotypes (Lichtdruck), half the size of the original (the volume measures 48 by 64 centimeters and contains 25 collotype plates). Five years later, Konrad Miller published both a colored and a black-and-white lithograph based on a hand-drawn copy. The colored version accompanies Konrad Miller, Mappaemundi, Die altesten Weltkarten, Heft 5: Die Ebstorfkarte. Mit dem Facsimile der Karte in den Farben des Originals (Stuttgart, Roth, 1896). Miller transcribed and discussed the texts within the circle of the map proper, but not those outside it. Then, in 1930, Augustus Kropp created a hand-colored set of Sommerbrodt’s plates that is still preserved in the School of Agriculture Ebstorf. This work of Augustus Kropp hangs on a wall in the agricultural school at Ebstorf. Its colors look somehow modern, not as medieval as the later reconstruction by Wienecke. The first post-war reconstructions were made between 1951 and 1953 by the artist Rudolf Wieneke, who produced four identical copies, each a close replica of the original, all executed on the same kind of material (vellum) with the same dimensions and shape, and in the same colors (insofar as these could be identified) as the original mappamundi. Two of the reconstructions are on public display, one in the convent of Ebstorf, the other in the Museum des Fürstentums Lüneburg. Finally, in 2007, Hartmut Kugler and his colleagues published a half-sized version of the map in the form of 61 segments in an atlas, together with a transcription of all the Latin texts on the map, a German translation, and a comprehensive commentary. As can be seen, a few sheets were already missing, therefore, in order to facilitate the map’s preservation, it was re-divided into its separate sheets. 

From external contemporary sources it was originally deduced that the author of this map was probably Gervase of Tilbury (c.1150-c.1220), an English teacher of canon law in Bologna, who was later (1223-1234) in the service of the Guelphs as a provost in Ebstorf.  He is also known as the author of a historical-geographical-mythological work, the Otia Imperiala, written in 1211 and still extant; however, the geographical map which this manuscript should have contained is now absent.  It is probable, though unconfirmed, that the map now known as the Ebstorf map is the missing one from this earlier text.  However, current scholars have discredited Gervase as the cartographer of the Ebstorf map. The arguments for Gervase of Tilbury’s being the mapmaker are based on the name “Gervase”, which was an uncommon name in Northern Germany at the time, and on some similarities between the world views of the mapmaker and Gervase of Tilbury. The editors of the Oxford Medieval Texts edition of Gervase of Tilbury’s Otia Imperialia conclude that although their being the same man is an “attractive possibility”, to accept it requires “too many improbable assumptions”. The date that the Ebstorf map bears is not quite clear: 12—4, thus rendering its time of production subject to much speculation, although most authorities agree at placing the date before mid-13th century.Although its main intended use was to demonstrate the historical events in the Christian life - for example, the burial places of Mark, Bartholomew, Philip, and Thomas are shown - the author also had some more directly practical use in mind, as he himself made clear.  In the upper right-hand corner of the map, he writes: “it can be seen that [this work] is of no small utility to its readers, giving directions for travelers, and the things on the way that most pleasantly delight the eye”. We also find an allusion to the traditional cartographic proclamation of Julius Caesar: “How Julius Caesar first constructed [a mappamundi], for the breadth of the whole earth, legates having been sent, collecting the regions, provinces, islands, cities, quicksands, marshes, plains, mountains, and rivers as if to be seen on one page”. The map also reflects an evident interest in the distribution of bishoprics.

There was text around the map, which included descriptions of animals, the creation of the world, definitions of terms, and a sketch of the more common sort of T and O map with an explanation of how the world is divided into three parts. The map incorporated both pagan and biblical history.

The sources drawn upon by the cartographer are varied and cover a considerable span of time. Among the ancients the author/cartographer relied more upon popular, highly-colored source material such as the Alexander Romance and the writings of Mela and the elder Pliny than on more dependable authorities such as Herodotus.  Also inherited from the classical writers were the division of the earth into three parts, and the twelve circles traced in the cosmic ocean - the homes of the twelve winds.  Ancient Roman technique has influenced the structure of the map.  Like the Roman road-plans, it puts things and places in the approximate order in which a traveler would come across them, regardless of the exact measurements. The map also draws most lavishly of all upon Christian sources.  The Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the holy legends, and all the other elements of this magnificent synopsis of early medieval cosmography are made to fit into the Christian horizon.

In addition to the classical and religious sources, the author also shows familiarity with some writings current in his time, such as Johannes of Wurzburg (ca. 1165) for Palestine and Adam of Bremen (ca. 1072) in Northwest Europe.  Other near contemporary sources include the maps and legends from the Imago Mundi of Honorius Augustodunensis (ca. 1129) and various tales of the 11th and 12th centuries such as that of the island discovered by St. Brendan of Ireland.  These latter sources resulted in a certain degree of accurate detail in the areas of Palestine and Europe; and the continent of Africa could no longer be accommodated in the quadrant traditionally allocated to it and extends eastward, displacing part of Asia.  But these contemporary influences are minimal compared to the dominant religious emphasis.  Therefore, as will be seen in the following description of the map, we find places and names reflecting the cartographer’s attempt to interpret, pictorially, reports of far away places and strangely misshapen peoples.

The major design feature upon which the Ebstorf map is based is the classic T-O scheme (see #205), but with elaborate additions of both a fabulist and religious nature. It may possibly have been used as an altar piece at one time, “no doubt intended both for instruction and for pious meditation upon the endless miracles wrought by God”.  The world-picture is superimposed on a background of the figure of Christ crucified; with His head at the top (East), His feet at the bottom (West) and His hands pointing North and South, an orientation that dominated medieval European cartography.

Ebstorf mappamundi (facsimile), detail: the Garden of Eden (the East)

ASIA: Prominently displayed at the very heart of the map is Jerusalem, the place of man’s redemption, showing Christ rising from the tomb; and from that point there stretches in an upward direction - that is to say eastward, towards the rising sun and the Savior’s head - the continent of Asia with all its marvels.  Here, inaccessible behind a towering range of mountains, lies the Garden of Eden with the Tree of Life, the four rivers of Paradise, and the Tree of Knowledge.  Below this the Ganges River, fed by eleven tributaries, flows through a tropical landscape.  To the left of Eden, and at a lower level, is the land of the Seres [the Chinese], also hemmed in with mountains, though outside their circling ring two Chinese are seen gathering silkworms for their most sought-after article of trade.  In the upper Ganges valley India displays one of its innumerable curiosities: a member of the peaceable tribe of Apple Smellers who subsist entirely by inhaling the fragrance of that fruit.  To the right, close beside the head of Christ, stand two Trees of Prophecy beneath which Alexander the Great, explorer of India, is consulting the Oracle of the Sun and Moon.  Below him is to be seen a member of the Gymnosophists [a sun-gazer], whose eyes are fixed, unblinking, on the radiant.   Higher up, to the right, is the land of the Prasii, whose number is as the poppies of the field which serve as their emblem.

An extensive area of northern Asia is cut off by the sweeping curve of the Caucasus.  Its principal feature is a territory that projects as a rectangle into the cosmic ocean.  This is the home of the dreaded man-eaters Gog and Magog, symbols of all the hordes of oppressors that might at any time overwhelm peaceful humanity.  The castellated lines indicate the walls that Alexander the Great was reputed to have built here for extra protection. Gog and Magog are shown on the Ebstorf map as cannibals; they are pictured in the midst of a northeastern area walled-off by mountains through which a passage, named Porte Caspie, leads. The creatures are eating human body parts (recognizable as feet and hands) and drinking the blood flowing out of them; a footless, handless victim is also depicted. According to the caption, Alexander enclosed two wild nations, Gog and Magog, who will be the companions of Antichrist. They eat human flesh and drink human blood. The Turks (Islam) are also written into this hostile ethnography: on the edge of the map, but in Europe, is the caption: The city and island of Taraconta which is inhabited by Turks of the race of Gog and Magog, a barbarous and wild people who eat the flesh of young people and aborted fetuses. This is a traditional story taken from Ethicus Ister. On the other hand, charges of cannibalism leveled against the Jews of Fulda in 1235 provide a vivid backdrop to the cannibalism on the Ebstorf map suggesting that the identification of Gog and Magog with Jews was not merely literary, but spilled over into real life.

Slightly lower down and to the west the map-maker has placed the country of the Amazons, guarded by two doughtily armed queens. Can this depiction be attributed to Adam of Bremen’s reference to Finland as a terram feminarum - the land of the women? As learned man undoubtedly acquainted with classical literature, Adam may have implied himself that these were indeed the same Amazons, as mentioned in the Alexander Romance. But the question remains why specifically Finland was named thus by Adam of Bremen? A possible explanation is to be found in toponyms and ethnographic evidence. Particularly in the northern fringes of the Baltic Sea several places along the shore received female names, which were commonly understood as taboo by superstitious seafarers.  The “land of the women” could have also originated quite literally, as Finland and other northern regions were predominantly inhabited by hunter-gather populations: When the men were on the hunt, by-passing sailors would have only encountered a population  of women. The travel reports of Christian seafarers mentioning a “land of the women” may have been associated by clergymen with Amazons. The fact that these mythological “monstrous races” were depicted on a monastic mappamundi may also reflect the ethnocentric conflict, in which the otherness of pagan populations are emphasized in order to legitimize their conversion and colonization. 

Still further westwards, under Christ’s right hand, stand the flaming altars of Alexander which mark the northern extremity of the world as it was known to the ancients.  Looking due south - that is, to the right - from the land of the Amazons, we come first to the city of Colchis on the Black Sea; the golden fleece, which Jason sailed to seek, still hangs from its tower. Noah's Ark is shown perched on top of the twin peaks of Ararat and Noah is depicted with open arms welcoming the white dove, which has returned with an olive branch in its beak. This brings us back to the revered regions of the Bible, with which the designer of the map appears to be well acquainted.  On the right is the mighty Tower of Babel, in Mesopotamia, and below it, near Jerusalem, are a number of places mentioned in the Scriptures and described by homecoming pilgrims and Crusaders.  In fact the Ebstorf cartographer had to enlarge Palestine a good deal, so as to fit in all of the ‘indispensable features’: Bethlehem with the star, the ox and the ass; above that the accursed cities Sodom and Gomorrah, with the waves of the Dead Sea curving over them; higher still, on the Arabian Gulf, Mount Sinai with the phoenix rising from the flames.

Wilma George describes, in what she labels the Oriental Region, the array of zoological information to be found on this pictorial encyclopedia.  There are snakes, a parrot, an antelopes with long serrated horns, very difficult to approach, probably the blackbuck Antilope ceruicapra, with long corkscrew horns, noted for its speed and still occurring abundantly in Asia, obvious to travelers and hunters because of its diurnal habits.  The ant-dog, saiga and chameleon also come into this region, marginally.  The saiga, Saiga tatarica, once swarmed over central Asia and its horns were much prized by the Chinese for medicinal purposes.  It has the required proboscis-like upper lip: alce mulo similis superius habens labrum tam prominens ut pasci nequeat si non post terga recedat as the Ebstorf map states.  An inscription also announces the presence of snakes, tortoises, unicorns, Indian Bulls, ibexes and the manticora but there are no pictures of them.  Finally, there is an animal with one horn pointing forward and one backward. This is the eale or yale.  The yale which, according to the Ebstorf map itself, comes from India, has a body like that of a horse, the jaws of a goat, the tail of an elephant, horns of a cubit in length, one of which can be reflected backwards as the other is presented forwards in attack, and which can move equally on water or on land.  This description on the map follows closely the original description of a yale by Pliny which was then copied by Solinus, about 250 A.D., through to the near contemporaries of the Ebstorf and Hereford mapmakers: for example, the author of Semeianca del Mundo about 1223 and the authors of 12th and 13th century bestiaries.

The map shows a few fish in the eastern part of the circumfluent ocean, and an image of a huge sea serpent eating a stag just northeast of Paradise (see the first figure above). According to Van Duzer, this sea serpent derives from Honorius Augustodunensis, Imago mundi 1.12, who mentions huge serpents in India that can eat stags and swim across the ocean. There is also a legend divided among three islands in the Persian Gulf which reads: Tres insule, in quibus ydri marini vicinorum cubitorum existunt, that is, “Three islands, in which there are sea serpents twenty cubits long,” but there is no representation of the serpents.

AFRICA:  This continent is depicted as little more than a segment of a circle, its north and west coasts extending in an almost straight line from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, while its south and east coasts describe a shallow curve.  Its principal features are the Nile River, bordered by famous ancient cities, strange beasts and even stranger men.  The Nile flows out of a lake, in the vicinity of Morocco and near the spot where lies the Garden of the Hesperides - included as a heathen anti-thesis to the Christian Paradise - within the protecting coils of the feathered serpent, its guardian.  The river’s course runs at first from west to east, through regions inhabited by panthers, ostriches, giant reptiles and so forth; in all, the artist has generously scattered about sixty different animals over his map.  Other animals identified by Wilma George include an elephant, leopard, hyena, mirmicaleon, monkeys, camelopardalis, scarp, deer and tarandrius the reindeer with many types of snake, crocodiles, lizard and flying lizard, ibis and other birds which inhabit what she calls the Ethiopian Region for zoological analysis. 

Approaching the eastern tip of the continent, the Nile disappears into the sand; but it emerges to flow in the opposite direction through Egypt, first skirting the region of Meroë (inhabited by dwarfs who ride on crocodiles).  At its mouth stands the cities such as Berenice, Leptis Magna and Ocea lie here and there along the northern and Atlantic coasts of the continent.  Off the west coast the cartographer has placed an empty rectangle to mark the position of the insula perdita [lost island] where the seafaring St. Brandan discovered what he called Paradise.  But rubbing shoulders, as it were, in the southern portion of Africa we find the most weird and wonderful assortment of creatures: the race that does not know the use of fire; the race that has neither nose nor mouth and can converse only by gestures; giants; people with four eyes; people whose upper lips are so huge that they can pull them up over their heads to serve as sunshades; troglodytes riding like the wind on stags (these are level with Christ’s hand); Artobatites who constantly fall on their faces as they walk along; four-footed men; snake-charmers on whom poison has no effect; dog-headed men; the centaur Chiron; cave-dwelling giants; and so forth.  The illustrations thus described as occurring on the Ebstorf map also appear in very similar form and content on the Vercelli, Hereford and Psalter maps (#220.3, #226 and #223).

EUROPE: On this more familiar continent, there are none of the mythical and monstrous figures that are seen in the more remote regions of Africa and Asia.  However, this area receives the same stylized and generalized treatment with regards to any attempt to display real coastlines or detail. The countries that border the Mediterranean with its sprinkling of islands, while still over stylized, are nonetheless identifiable.  The western-most country displayed is Spain; then come the Pyrenees, turning off at right angles to the Rhone and stretching straight towards the Atlantic.  North of these is Gaul [France] land of many rivers and towns, including Parisius, off whose northern coast lie the islands of Albion [Britain] and Hibernia-Scotia [Ireland-Scotland].  In Italy, to north and west of which the Alps curve in a semicircle, we are shown the lion-shaped city of Rome, where seven churches stand within a surrounding wall that has sixteen towers, and Venice, jutting out into the Adriatic.  The heart-shaped island lying not far off Italy is Sicily, so the land round which the Mediterranean sweeps northwards must be the Greek peninsula. What is now Switzerland was also known to our author by hearsay; in the northern foothills of the Alps, due north of Rome, he has painted a tower and written Curia against it, this is the town of Chur.  Below, on a great bend of the Rhine, are Oberzell, Mittelzell and Niederzell, places on the island of Reichenau. To the north of these the Danube River is formed by the confluence of five streams and flows on its way past Urbs Salis [Salzburg], Pattavia [Passau] and Wena [Vienna].  One piece of the map is missing, to the left of the Danube, where Lubeck and Hamburg should be.  To the northeast, in what Wilma George calls the Palearctic Region, elk and ures or aurocks, the wild ox of Europe, denote the confines of Russia.  Other fauna identified with this region include the bonacus, probably the European bison, the horse, possibly the saiga antelope, two humped camel, lion, tiger, and other large cats, bear, ant-dog, some snakes, a chameleon and the gryphe, probably the golden eagle and other birds (again, the ant-dog, saiga and chameleon are marginally in the Oriental Region also).

A noticeable concentration of places-names is found in northern Germany. Not only are the rivers Elbe and Weser shown, but also included are their smaller tributaries, the Ilmenau, the Leine with its tributary the Innerste, the Aller with the Oker and even the tiny Gose—all correctly ordered. Such detailed local knowledge links the production of the map with the area of Ebstorf in general. Even more significantly, the map contains a vignette of the church and the graves of the martyrs of Ebstorf (Ebbekestorp), which ties it specifically to that small nunnery in particular. In fact, most modern scholars agree on the map’s origin in Ebstorf, or at least for its having been made for Ebstorf, although the monastery of St Michael at Lüneburg (Rosien, Jaitner), not far away, and Hildesheim (Drögereit), have also been suggested.

Ebstorf mappamundi detail: Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa

Some scholars, such as Beazley, dismiss this map as merely a gross exaggeration of the already unscientific medieval cartography.  True, the Ebstorf map does not present any breakthroughs of either a cartographic or geographic nature.  Like most of the other surviving medieval European maps, its content is entirely lacking a genuine scientific attitude, its coastlines are over generalized; contemporary discoveries or geographical knowledge represent only a small part of the whole; and the profusion of illustrations are used, to some extent, merely to substitute for factual knowledge of relatively unknown, unfamiliar, far distant regions. Medieval maps can reveal tremendous details of the map-maker’s cognitive landscape. For modern man it may seem somewhat alienating that geography is the least important aspect on medieval maps, on which biblical and mythical narratives are embedded into an ahistorical world order. As fanciful as many depictions and the abstracted land mass may appear at first, some very tangible information can be deduced by pursuing an interdisciplinary ethnographic, archaeological and historical approach, demonstrating that not every fanciful adornment is in fact a chimaera of a bored silver-haired monk. However, its real historical value lies in other areas and, viewed in terms of the cartographer’s intent, this map does demonstrate genuine historical value.  To begin with, the Ebstorf map is like a geographical romance in pictures; it is comprehensive in design, admirable in execution, all of which supports its fundamental concern, to establish a relationship between this world and the hereafter.  As mentioned earlier, the Ebstorf map built upon a tradition that begins with works like Cosmas Indicopleustes’ sketches (#202) and is carried on in the maps of St. Isidore (#205), Beatus (#207), Henry of Mainz/Sawley (#215), in the Psalter map (#223), the Vercelli map (#220.1) and is continued later by the Hereford map (#226), a tradition that sought the propagation of the Christian Faith.  The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is well documented and supported by this map.  The Ebstorf cartographer accomplishes here what early medieval writers like St. Isidore of Seville attempted to do with mere words, to describe the sum total of accumulated knowledge about man’s habitat, the world, resulting in a comprehensive pictorial encyclopedia, albeit through the rather narrow focus of a religious context.

In many ways it does portray the world as it was seen by a great many medieval Europeans.  “In no other work of this period, perhaps, either in the graphic arts or in literature, was so comprehensive a picture of the entire medieval world presented, in such a narrow space, as in this map of ours.  So it is well worth while studying it closely and repeatedly and trying to discover new items, hitherto unnoticed, among the immense variety of its features”, writes Walter Rosien, one of the leading authorities on the Ebstorf map.

Curiously enough, one must consider that, like many of the other significant maps and texts of the so-called Dark Ages, the Ebstorf map serves also as an aid to our understanding of the period of great discoveries which began some two centuries after its completion.  For the outlook of the early Portuguese navigators, and that of Columbus too, was conditioned by what they had imbibed of both the ancient and medieval concepts of the world, as represented in the available maps.  Sailing to find the sea route round the Cape of Good Hope, the Portuguese were amazed to discover that the coast of Africa, which looked so short on the existing maps, went on and on without curving eastwards; as late as 1505 the bold seafarer Duarte Pacheco, though a perfectly reliable observer of facts on his own behalf, took for granted the existence of mile-long serpents; and Columbus, coming to the mouth of the Orinoco, thought that he had discovered one of the four rivers that watered the Garden of Eden in Asia. The impressions of the world, therefore, recorded by the scientific attitude of Ptolemy and those in the Ebstorf map, both lie, though at different depths, in the twilight zone between experience and dream. Each of them bears noble witness, in its own great cultural epoch, to a great historical process with many ups and downs, to man’s growing awareness of the world around him.

What has divided scholarly opinion has not been so much the place of origin of the Ebstorf mappamundi as its date and the authorship. This controversy is the focus of an article by Armin Wolf, ”The Ebstorf Mappamundi and Gervase of Tilbury: The Controversy Revisited”(Imago Mundi, 64:1, 1-27). For some scholars, the map should be attributed to various dates between 1208 and 1250. For others, it was made around 1300. In both cases, the issue of date is connected with the question of who made it. For those who argue for an early date (Uhden, Rosien, Drögereit, Wolf, Schaller, Hucker), the connection between the map and the English-born Gervase of Tilbury is crucial. Those who prefer to see the map as a later construction (most recently Wilke and Kugler) dispute Gervase’s authorship.

Gervase dedicated his work Liber de mirabilibus Mundi [Book of the Wonders of the World], to the Emperor Otto IV of Brunswick in 1214/15, renaming it Solatium imperatoris [Consolation of the Emperor] or, as it is commonly known today, Otia imperialia [Imperial Leisure]. Gervase’s book not only contains a description of the whole earth (tocius orbis descriptio), but also, and most importantly in the present context, it appears to have been the latest work of all those used in the compilation of the Ebstorf map. Particularly significant is Gervase’s reference to a ‘more accurate painting’ (emendatiore pictura) of a ‘world map’ (mappamundi) that he had ‘appended’ (subiunximus) to his book:

It was, then, to satisfy hungry minds and thirsty ears with reliable information [oculata fide] that we appended this summary of the natural order and situation of the provinces, as they are distributed through the three parts of the world, so adding to the accuracy of our picture; for we are aware that the very variety of painters has resulted in the production of pictures which depart from the truth of the localities themselves - those pictures which are commonly called mappaemundi - since very often the painter, like any kind of witness mars by the falsity of a part the whole formulation of his evidence, when he adds material of his own . . .

On the whole, book illustrations tend to be well preserved and to survive, yet not one of the thirty known manuscripts of Gervase’s Otia imperialia contains a map. This seems to imply that the map was no miniature within the book, but a separate map accompanying it. Such large maps often were preserved separately.

According to Armin Wolf, underlying both Gervase’s Otia imperialia and the Ebstorf map is the ancient Greek theory of microcosm and macrocosm, according to which each human being embodied the world, while the world took the form of a gigantic man. In the Ebstorf version this man is Christ. His representation on the map is twofold. One manifestation, large and immediately evident, is the depiction of Christ’s head, feet and hands at top and bottom, and left and right of the earth’s circumference. The second is a small vignette at the center of the map that shows Christ’s body rising from the dead and emerging from the tomb in Jerusalem. Compared with the few similar representations of Christ on world maps, the Ebstorf map is unique in positioning Christ’s body not outside the world (as on the Hereford map #226) or behind (as on the two sides of the Psalter map (#223) in London, and in a fresco in the cloister of the Campo Santo, Pisa), but within the world, at its four edges. As Gervase himself put it: ‘Finally, man is called a world [In summa homo mundus appellatur]. And the Greek calls man a microcosm, that is, a miniature world [Et graecus hominem microcosmum hoc est minorem mundum appellabat]’. From wherever Gervase obtained his knowledge of the ancient Greek theory of microcosm-macrocosm—a possible source would have been Isidore’s De rerum natura—the points are that Gervase reiterated it in his book, clearly identifying himself with it, and that the Ebstorf map is the only mappamundi known that followed it. Other medieval mapmakers would also have read Isidore’s text, but none portrayed the earth as the body of Christ. Another parallel between Gervase’s Otia imperialia and the Ebstorf map is worth pointing out. In the Otia imperialia, the passages referring to the concept of microcosm and macrocosm are found in the first chapter of the first book, which deals with the creation of the world [De origine mundi et eius creatione et quot modis dicitur mundus]. It thus occupies a prominent place in the work.

LOCATION: (original destroyed during World War II)



Bagrow, Leo, History of Cartography, Plate E.

Delumeau, Jean, History of Paradise: The Garden of Eden in Myth and Tradition.

George, Wilma, Animals and Maps, Figures, 2.2 and 9.1.

Harley J. B. and Woodward, David, The History of Cartography, Volume One, Figures 18.2, 18.3, 18.19.and 18.65.

Harvey, P.D.A., Medieval Maps, pp. 19, 28, 30, Plates 13, 20, 23.

Kamal, Youssouf, Monumenta cartographica Africae et Aegypti, 5 vols. in 16 parts, 4.1:1116.

Leithäuser, Joachim G., Mappae mundi, die geistige Eroberung derWelt , 85-88, I pl.

Miller, Konrad, Mappaemundi: Die ältesten Weltkarten, 6 vols., IV, 3; V, 1.

Rosien, Walter, Die Ebstorfer Weltkarte, Hannover, 1952.

Sommerbrodt, Ernst, Die Ebstorfer Weltkarte, (Hannover, 1891); original size.

Tooley, R. V. et al., A History of Cartography (London, 1969), 23.

Woodward, Davis (ed.), Art and Cartography. Six Historical Essays (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1987), Figure 1.13 [after Bagrow’s History].

Reproductions of details:

Rosien, Walter, Die Ebstorfer Weltkarte (Hannover, 1952), Plate 13 (Gog and Magog).

Leithäuser, Joachim G., Mappae mundi, die geistige Eroberung derWelt (Berlin: Safari-Verlag, 1958), 75 (Gog and Magog, Paradis terrestre), 91 (Ebstorf), 92 (Africans, Amazones).

Bagrow, Leo, History of Cartography, Plate XXII (Gog and Magog confined by Alexander the Great, feasting human flesh and drinking blood; The Garden of Paradise with Adam and Eve), Plate XXIII (Lower Saxony, showing the region where the map was made).

Schnelbögl, Fritz, Dokumente zur Nürnberger Kartographie (Nürnberg: Selbstverlag der Stadtbibliothek, 1966), 45 (German lands, Francia orientalis).

George, Wilma, Animals and Maps, Figure 2.2 (the Ethiopian region: camelopardis center and mirmicaleon extreme right).

Harley J. B. and Woodward, David, The History of Cartography, Volume One, Figures 18.2, 18.3.

Simek, Rudolf, Erde und Kosmos im Mittelatler. Das Weltbild vor Kolumbus (München: G. H. Beck, 1992), il. 22 (Wundervölker).


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Reproduction of the Ebstorf Mappamundi, original was 12 feet in diameter

Facsimile (one-fifth the size of the original) produced by Konrad Miller in 1896. The original was 12 feet in diameter. Miller’s copy does not include the text columns in the corners of the original.

Detail: Caspian Sea, Eastern Europe (left-hand side of map)

Detail: Jerusalem (bottom center)

Detail: Southern Africa (right-hand side of map)

Konrad Miller’s copy of the Ebstorf map: Sicily, the Mediterranean and Africa

Detail: Western Europe (lower left-hand side of map)

Konrad Miller’s copy of the Ebstorf map, Northeast (Europe) section (lower left-hand corner)

Detail: Legends (lower right-hand corner)

Another reproduction of the Ebstorf mappamundi

The Ebstorf mappamundi was engraved on 30 pieces of goatskin.
This reconstruction is currently on display in the Ebstorf nunnery

India (top center)                                                        Asia (top left-hand)