TITLE: The Genoese Map

DATE:  1457

AUTHOR:  unknown

DESCRIPTION: With the develop-ment of Portuguese seafaring in the 15th century and the subsequent widening if the southern horizon, the problem of ‘harmonizing’ or reconciling the traditional world views laid down by Pliny, Ptolemy, Aristotle and Ambrose with that of the new discoveries became increasingly acute.  Each mapmaker tackled it de novo, so that scarcely any two world maps of this period provided the same world-view. Compare, for instance, this Catalan-Estense map (#246), the Walsperger world map (#245) and this Genoese world map, all of approximately the same date, ca. 1450.  According to G.H.T. Kimble, there are at least three distinct influences, in addition to the portolan [nautical] chart tradition, that can be detected in these examples: Classical, Christian and Arab.  Of these only the Arab influence is strong, while it is improbable that the Classical influence was direct.  In the Genoese Planisphere, the portolan chart serves as the pattern for the Mediterranean region, but elsewhere it is the Ptolemaic tradition which is most drawn from in terms of the delineation of basic elements.  Practically all the features of the Sahara are similar to their territorial relationships and outlines to those on a Ptolemy manuscript of 1400 in the Laurentian Library at Florence.  The same influence, though not the same slavish adherence, is apparent to the area south of the Sahara, where the author places a great gulf, containing an island and a legend, now barely visible, which reads: Preter tolemei tradicionem hic est guffus sed pomponius eum tradit cun eius insula [Contrary to the opinion of Ptolemy, this is a gulf, but Pomponius [Mela] speaks of it with its islands].  Or again, in another rubric:

Beyond the equinoctial line Ptolemy records an unknown land, but Pomponius [Mela] and many others as well raise a doubt whether a voyage is possible from this place to India; [nevertheless] they say that many have passed through these parts from India to Spain . . . especially Pomponius in his last chapter.

This rather refreshing disposition towards agnosticism is exemplified again in the configuration of South Africa.  Here the author does not follow the Alexandrine scholar in attributing to it an eastern prolongation, but contents himself with rounding it off in the conventional medieval way, namely, in the form of a half moon.  The division of geographical loyalties at this period is further illustrated in the placing, side-by-side, of the Nile sources, located in the Montes Lunæ [Mountains of the Moon], after Ptolemy, and this typically medieval legend: Some have represented the Paradise of Delights in this region, while others have said that it is beyond the Indies to the East . . .

Also typical of maps of the period, the anonymously compiled Genoese map is covered with legends in Latin, castellated towns representing major population centers, princes on their thrones, and loxodromes from the portolan tradition. It is very carefully drawn, particularly the outline of the Mediterranean.  However this map is unusual on several counts from its contemporary medieval world maps.  First is the unusual almond-shape compared to the more common round, disc-shaped and oval world maps of the period.  Second is the fact that it is oriented with North at the top, a convention taken for granted today, but exceptional for the medieval period when East was the most popular, followed by the South (especially among the Arabs).  Third, it has a scale, each division of which represents 100 miles.  The title is rather difficult to decipher and recalls the Walsperger map (#245); an approximate translation is: This is the true description of the world of the cosmographers, accommodated to the marine [chart], from which frivolous tales have been removed.

This map is now the property of the Italian Government, and is to be found in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale of Florence, being catalogued Sezione Palatina No. 1 Plarrisfero Mediceo. However, the map is not well preserved, a fact due in part to careless handling, in part to its peculiar mounting which evidently is very old. To prevent the crinkling of the parchment, as would appear, it has been mounted on four boards of suitable width and of about half an inch in thickness, which boards have been adjusted to fold. In certain parts the colors are yet brilliant, though softened with age; in other parts they have almost disappeared, and nothing has contributed more to this destruction than the nibbing of part-on-part. Most of the names can be read with ease; some, however, with the greatest difficulty; while a few are no longer legible.

The Genoese map became the center of controversy in the 1940s when the Italian scholar Sebastiano Crino, suggested that this was a copy of the map that Paolo Toscanelli sent to the Portuguese court in 1474 and later but less certainly to Columbus, was a copy of it, touting the possibility of a sea route to India via the Atlantic. The evidence is purely circumstantial, though the map would have been more encouraging to anyone hoping to circumnavigate Africa, and Crino’s thesis has had no other advocates. Crino claimed that it is of Florentine, not Genoese, origin; that the style of writing and certain other features definitely indicate that it was drawn by Toscanelli; and that it agrees closely with the letter sent to Portugal with the copy, so closely in fact that the letter is merely a commentary upon it. All these arguments, and many more, have been warmly, even acrimoniously, contested. Without an expert and minute palaeographical investigation, it is impossible either to accept or reject the attribution to Toscanelli, but Crino presented a case which requires further examination. On the question, of main interest here, as to the correspondence between the letter of 1474 and the map of 1457, it is possible, however, to form some opinion. The main objection to Crino’s thesis, according to G. R. Crone, is that the letter definitely refers to a chart for navigation, while the 1457 map is primarily a world map drawn by a cosmographer. Further, the Toscanelli chart presumably depicted the ocean intervening between the west coast of Europe and the ‘beginning of the East’. On the map of 1457, this ocean is split into two, and falls on the eastern and western margins. Though Crino raised many points of interest, he did not establish his case beyond reasonable doubt. Biasutti argued that the horizontal and vertical lines on the map are parallels and meridians taken from the world map of Ptolemy, and that the longitudinal extent of the old world approximately corresponds to his figure of 180 degrees. It is difficult to see, therefore, if this map of 1457 was similar to that sent to Portugal, where its importance lay, for this information was accessible to all inquirers. The interest of the cartographer seems more probably to have lain in Conti’s description of the oriental spice islands and the possibility of reaching them by circumnavigating Africa. His work is clearly related, though not closely, to the great map of Far Mauro, his contemporary.

A Genoese flag in the upper northwest corner of the map establishes this map’s origin, along with the coat of arms of the Spinolas, a prominent Genoese mercantile family. Oddly, there is no city view of Genoa [Janua], while Venice is represented by an impressive set of buildings. The map was made not for practical use but for display, probably in the library of the Spinola family.

A text on the map states its purpose: “Hec est vera cosmographorum cum marino accordata de[scri]cio quorundam frivolis narracionibus reiectis 1457” [This is a true description in agreement with Marinos, having rejected the frivolous tales of certain cosmographers: 1457]. Much scholarly ink has been spilled over the meaning of this caption, particularly cum Marino. It has been read to refer to Marino Sanudo’s map, to the knowledge of sailors (though ungrammatically), and to Marinos of Tyre. In support of the last idea, it is noteworthy that the map appears to extend 225° by 87°, the extent of the habitable world, according to him. What we now know about Marinos is mostly from Ptolemy’s criticism of him, but the Arab geographer al-Ma’sudi reported in the 10th century that he had seen Marinus’ geographical treatise. Gaetano Ferro suggests that the map copyist left out the word charta before marino (still ungrammatical), which would make the inscription read: “This is the true description according to the marine chart, having rejected the frivolous tales of certain cosmographers.” Certainly, the map tries to pull together not only the medieval tradition (however frivolous) but also Ptolemaic geography and the world of the nautical charts.

The map is elliptical in shape, having a major axis measuring 81 cm and a minor axis measuring 42 cm. It therefore indicates the longitude of the habitable world as about twice that of the latitude. It is, however, but mere conjecture to assert that our draughtsman had a Marinus map before him while working out his sketch, though it conforms to the geographical notion of that ancient cartographer. This abandonment of the more common circular form enabled the cartographer to show features that were increasingly squeezed on 15th century mappaemundi. Jerusalem does not appear in the center of the map but is considerably to the west of a center located south of the Caspian Sea. The highly pictorial character of this well-preserved map leads us to think of it as more traditional than it actually is. Oversized crowned or turbaned kings, monstrous and simply exotic animals, an elephant bearing an elaborate howdah, and scary sea monsters associate with more scientific signs, such as flags and city symbols. Inscriptions on the map, as well as recently discovered geographical features, however, proclaim the map to be a document of cartographic thinking similar, if not as large and ambitious, to that of Fra Mauro (#249).

The oval form is not unknown among medieval maps. Hugh of Saint Victor had described the world as being the shape of Noah’s Ark, and Ranulf Higden world maps were oval (#232). A standard way of describing the earth, from Bede to the Catalan Atlas (#235), was to compare it to an egg. The main purpose of the analogy seems to have been to describe the various spheres surrounding the earth (egg white, shell), but the idea of an egg shape could have been derived from these works. Another possibility is that the oval form represents the mandorla, or nimbus, which surrounded Christ in many medieval works of art. In the 14th century didactic poem, “Il Dittamondo” Fazio degli Uberti, described the inhabited world as long and narrow (“lungo e stretto”) like an almond (mandorla), with no apparent religious significance. Ptolemy’s maps, while not exactly oval, were wider from east to west than they were high (north to south). For a 15th century mapmaker, this form made convenient room for discoveries in the Atlantic and in Asia. By the end of the century, the circular form was becoming impractical, and once the Americas were added to world maps, it was gone almost completely.

Ptolemy is cited by name in several inscriptions, and there is evidence of his influence in the representation of Africa (Ethiopia, the source of the Nile), an enclosed Caspian Sea (Mar de Sara), the southern coast of Asia, and the Golden Chersonese, not named but identified by a legend noting that it is particularly rich in gold and precious stones.

Paradise does not appear on the map, and an inscription in southeastern Africa tells us why: “In this region some depict the earthly paradise. Others say it is beyond the Indias to the east. But since this is a description of the cosmographers, who make no mention of it, it is omitted from this narration.” Who are the cosmographers, who also appeared in the caption cited above but in a more negative context? The reference seems to be to the geographers of the classical world. The title of Ptolemy’s work, as it circulated through Italy in the 15th century, was usually given as Cosmographia rather than Geography, a less familiar Greek term. Certainly, neither Ptolemy, Pomponius Mela, nor Pliny had given a location for Paradise, save for fantasies about the Fortunate Islands, and the Genoese mapmaker appears to associate classical with scientific geography.

Of course, the cosmographers had no objection to monsters - even Ptolemy mentions a few, although he did not put them on his maps. It is interesting that the maker of the Genoese map mentions peculiar customs (cannibalism, people who have no names) but no “monstrous races,” that is, people with aberrant physical characteristics, other than the pygmies. On the other hand, he is happy to include pictures of bizarre animals. In the Indian Ocean are shown a mermaid and a fish with a devil’s head, while on land nearby is a snake with a human head. In northern Asia is a very large griffin, while a couple of dragons appear in Ethiopia. These fantastic creatures join other wonderful but real animals, such as a giraffe, a leopard, a crocodile, two monkeys, and a swordfish.

Some standard features of medieval mappaemundi are also present. Gog and Magog are enclosed in northeast Asia, Noah’s Ark rests on a mountain range in Armenia, and the Red Sea is red, though there is no text about the passage of the Israelites through its waters. We can also find Mount Sinai, and the tomb of Saint Thomas in India. Prester John is represented behind a wall, protecting him from the future rampages of Gog and Magog. As we might expect from a Genoese map, good use has been made of the nautical chart as well. The Mediterranean, Black, and Atlantic coasts reflect the forms. A partially finished network of rhumb lines appears on the map, and on the right are two scale bars, though they are more a sign of intention than reality.

Although its cartographer explicitly disapproved of fantastic narratives in a legend in the Atlantic (frivolis narracionibus rejectis), Chet Van Duzer points out that the richly decorated map contains a number of fantastic illustrations, and the legends, many of which come from the travel narrative of Niccole de’ Conti (c.1395-1469), do not shy away from fantastic subjects. There are four prominent sea monsters in the Indian Ocean, which ocean thus remains a venue for exotic wonders. There are three monsters in the western and central part of the ocean: a composite porcus marinus or sea hog (a pig with a fish’s tail) off the eastern coast of Africa, which the legend compares to a terrestrial hog (this animal, called the sea hog, gathers its food with its snout like the land hog); a siren which is unaccompanied by a legend; and a fish with a human face and a large spiky red crest on its head, which the legend explains is a serra. This monster is said to attack the ships of the Indians, usually breaking them immediately, but its crest can get stuck in the ship's wood and as a result the creature, unable to escape, kills itself.

In the eastern Indian Ocean there is an imposing creature with a humanoid head and upper body, but with large horns and ears and wing-like red membranes joining its outstretched arms to its torso, and a fish-like tail. The legend says that the creature sprang out of the water and attacked some cows pasturing on the shore, and then was captured and mounted and exhibited in Venice and elsewhere. Angelo Cattaneo has identified the source of this legend as Chapter 18 of Pero Tafur’s Andancas e viajes de Pero Tafur por diversas partes del mundo avidos, written c. 1453-54. Van Duzer adds that Tafur’s account derives from Poggio Bracciolini’s Facetiae, written between 1438 and 1452, which describes a very similar monster that attacked some women by the seashore, and was killed and exhibited in Ferrara. Illustrations of the monster which are very similar to that on the 1457 Genoese map accompany excerpts from the Facetiae which are appended to various 15th and 16th century editions of Aesop’s fables. One such edition is Sebastian Brant’s Esopi appologi sive mythologi cum quibusdam carminum et fabularum additionibus (Basel: Jacobus de Phortzheim, 1501), in which Bracciolini’s text about the monster is cited and accompanied by an illustration of the monster quite similar to that on the 1457 Genoese map. The Genoese map’s sea monsters reflect the cartographer’s interest in exotic wonders, which is everywhere in evidence on the map, and typical of the scientific outlook of the early modern period, which was driven by curiosity and took a great interest in marvels. The demon-like monster in particular is evidence of the cartographer’s research in recent travel literature to find sea monsters for his map.

The Indian Ocean displaying various monsters, mermaid and a sea hog, a siren, etc.


Turning first to Europe for a consideration of the details of the map, it will be noted that the contour of this continent is drawn with a nearer approach to accuracy than is true of the other continents, our cartographer’s greatest errors appearing in the regions which were beyond those recorded by Ptolemy and the portolan chartmakers. By reason of the limited space, the geographical details inserted in this section of the map are not numerous; indeed, of no part of the map can it be said that the author has crowded it with details.

The only mountains indicated in Europe are the Alps, which are made to sweep in a somewhat irregular curve around the north of Italy and the head of the Adriatic. The Rhone, the Rhine, the Po and the Danube—the latter with an extensive delta—have been inscribed in a manner which leaves no doubt as to their identity, while into the Black Sea, which with the Sea of Azov is well drawn, flow the rivers Don and Dnieper, and into the Caspian Sea flows the Volga, though no names are affixed.

In the northern part of Europe we find sketched a polar bear Forma ursorum alborum, and an ermine or sable, animals whose valuable pelts were obtained by the Hansa of Novgorod and sold by them in Bruges to the Italians. Here we also find the representation of a ruler, Lordo Rex with genuine Mongol features, the chief of the Golden Horde. Between the Dniester, at that time the western boundary of the Mongol empire, and the Dnieper is the city Lordo, a name that often appears in references to treaty relations established between the Mongols and the people of the Occident. It was the military camp of the nomads of Asia. Between the Dnieper and the Don the author has made a suggestive reference to the custom of that migratory folk of transporting their houses about with them on wagons drawn by oxen, a custom also attributed to the early Teutons and the Huns. Such a wagon with driver and oxen, rather crudely sketched, is represented moving eastward, near which appears the legend, Ubi lordo errat. A good picture of a Mongol appears on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, and also one west of the Black Sea, being drawn about the time of the destruction of their rule. The Italians were then in close relations with the Golden Horde from Moncastro, Kaffa, Sudak, and Tana as centers, and were, therefore, in a position to know intimately their customs and manner of life.

Many regional names appear and many cities are made prominent in each of the continents through the sketch of a building, which building sometimes is a castle, sometimes is a church or cathedral, sometimes is a monastery. Regional names conspicuous in Western Europe are Portugal, Hispania, Arago, Catalonia. Here we also find Lisbona, Sibilla, Taragona, Barcelona, Saragosa, and a few other names which are illegible.

England, Scotland, and Ireland are represented as on the portolan charts of the period, over each of which flies a pennant. To the south of Ireland, in the ocean, we find the following legend: Concerning Ireland two [stories] are told. One of these [asserts] that there is an abyss called the well of St. Patrick through which one descends into the lower regions. In this [well] the inhabitants often see many wonderful things and tell about them. The other [story relates] that certain of their trees bear fruit which, decaying within, produces a worm which, as it subsequently develops, becomes hairy and feathered, and, provided with wings, flies like a bird.

In France appear the names Gascona, Lengadoc, Normania, Baiona, Bordeaux, Tolosa, Nar-bona, Montpellier, Arguesmortes, Avenio, Massillia, Lion, Dijon, Bourges, Renes, and a few undecipherable names.

In Italy we find Italia, Masca, Calabria, Si-cilia, Sardinia, Corsica, Niza, and Venezia, which last our author has made especially prominent, while Genoa itself has been omitted altogether. The names of nine cities in addition are given in northern Italy: Florentia, Ravenna, Ancerra, Borletta, Bor[i], Rana, Galta, and Napoli, with one illegible.

In central and eastern Europe we find Bavaria, Boemia, Prutenia, Bruges, Dancic, Famosura [Frankenburg?], Poana, Praja, Ratisbon, Inbrunch, Vienna, Pruna, Potavia, Ungaria with Juanin (Raab), Burgaria, Polonia, Carcovia, Rossia, and near this last the classic names Sormatia prima and S. secunda, the first for the land between the Dnieper and the Don, the second for the region east of the Volga. On the lower Volga lies the city Sara and also Saratellis. Sara was the capital of the Kipchak, and in the 14th century was a city of great importance, but in 1395 was destroyed by Timur. Saratellis, if this is a correct reading of the name, is probably the Saracanco of Balducci Pigolotti. According to Pigolotti, Sara could be reached in a day by water from Astrakhan, Saracanco in eight days by water or by land.

We also find the region Zichia designated on the north and northwest slope of the Caucasus, and, on the Black Sea, Savastopoli, Kaffa, Pidea, Flordelis, Turlo and Moncastro.

On the Hellenic-Slavic peninsula we find the names Sclavonia and Albania, which had but recently withstood an attack of the Turks; here also are Macedonia, Grecia and Morea. Of the cities in this region we find represented Varna, especially distinguished by reason of the battle of 1444; Vicina (Widdin), often mentioned in the records of the battles of that period; Belgrade, which likewise after 1440 suffered from repeated attacks of the Turks; Enes (Enos) and Galipoli, which was on the highway of the Turks in their marches westward into Europe; also Salonichi, with two additional but undecipherable names in Greece. From the names given which so frequently appear in the history of the period that of Constantinople is omitted.


The outline, particularly in Asia, is largely Ptolemaic. After the Alexandrian, the second main authority for the eastern portion is Nicolo Conti, the Venetian traveler, who reached the East Indian islands and perhaps southern China, returned to Italy in 1439 and whose narrative was written down by Poggio Bracciolini shortly after 1447.

The details from Conti’s narrative make a considerable showing: e.g., the large lake in India between Indus and Ganges of a marvellous sauerie and pleasaunt water to drink, and all those that dwell there about drink of it, and also farre off . . . the island Xilana [Ceylon/Sri Lanka] to the east of the peninsula; the great city Biznigaria, representing the Vijayanagar kingdom of southern India, which occurs in most late 15th century accounts, but here sadly misplaced near the Ganges; the details of the nature of the Ganges delta; the addition of Scyamutha [Sumatra] as an alternative name for Taprobana. The name Sine, for China, was also probably taken from Conti. Longer legends take material from Conti on the funeral practice of wife burning (“if they refuse out of fear, they are forced to do it”), the cultivation of pepper, the collection of human heads in Sumatra, the sea-tight compartments of Chinese junks, the practice of tattooing, and the availability of spices and multicolored parrots.

But it is perhaps in respect to the islands of the southeast that the map is of greatest interest. In the extreme east are two large islands, Java major and Java minor, and to the southeast two smaller islands Sanday et Bandam. All these are taken from the Conti narrative: Java major is thought to be Borneo, and Java minor the island now known by that name. Though the names Sanday and Bandam have not been satisfactorily explained, the reference in the legend to spices and cloves makes it fairly certain that they are islands of the Moluccas group. Here a legend reads: These islands are called Sanday and Bandan. Sanday sends saffron, nuts, muscatas, and maces to the Javas, Bandan an abundance of cloves. The inhabitants of both are black. Bandan, moreover, has parrots of three kinds: red ones, those of variegated color with yellow beaks, and white ones the size of hens. If this is so, this is the first time that the much sought after spice islands appear clearly on a map. Conti describes them as lying on the extreme edge of the known world: beyond them navigation was difficult or impossible owing to contrary winds. In the southern sea there is a note: In this sea, they navigate by the southern pole (star), the northern having disappeared. This also is taken straight from Conti. However, Conti did not himself visit these islands, though he gives their position as fifteen days’ journey east of Java major and minor, to which their products were brought for transportation to the west. Cloves at that time came only from the small islands of the Moluccas lying west of Halmahera, which perhaps the Genoese author has attempted here to represent. The name Sanday is unknown, and Bandan is only a corruption, and should not be confounded with Banda, as cloves do not come from that island.   The negro populations of these islands are those driven out by the Malays, that is, they are the original black inhabitants of the Malay Archipelago, who in Conti’s account are referred to in European literature for the first time, and who are now generally spoken of as the Asiatic Papuans, or Negritos. The first European who actually visited the Moluccas was the Italian Varthena, about seventy years after Conti’s expedition to the East. The islands were considered as lying on the boundary of the habitable and known world, and as marking the limit of navigation.

It is not easy to determine the significance of a gulf that extends far into the east coast of Asia north of Borneo and Java. The gulf forms the boundary between China (Sine) and the forest region of northern Asia. On the southern shore near the mouth of the gulf lies the city Pauconia. If we have here an attempt at a representation of the Gulf of Siam, the city Pauconia is probably Bangkok. We may have in this gulf one of the earliest cartographical representations of the Yellow Sea and the Gulf of Petchili.

The name Sine, or Sina, which was never used in the middle ages, and which in all probability the Genoese map-maker took from Ptolemy, suggests that the gulf is likewise from Ptolemy, and in order to find space for the new discovery it has been placed farther north.

The northeast coast of Asia is in part determined by the form of the map, and in part is arbitrarily drawn, as are also the numerous islands, not one of which we are able to identify. In the Indian Ocean there are legends and mythical animals. West of the Golden Chersonese is an animal with the tail of a fish, a humanlike head and large horns and ears, with outstretched arms so attached to the body as to make them serviceable in flying or swimming. A legend gives the following information: This species of fish, recently [caught?] in Candia, feeds upon the meadows of the shore like cows. It was captured and exhibited to the Venetians. It was mounted and carried about to many parts of the country. The reference appears to be to a marine animal, perhaps the dugong, which, resembling a cow and accustomed to graze in the fields along the seashore, was captured in the East and brought to Venice. That rare animals at the time of the construction of our map were brought to Italy, where they were viewed with astonishment by the natives, certain observations of Benedetto Dei bear witness. Mention may be made of the peacock which he brought from Alexandria for Cosimo de Medici; also of a chameleon, and, more important than all, of a big serpent with 100 teeth which he seems to have brought to Florence from Beirut (possibly a reference to the crocodile).

The Genoese map abandons the northeastern quarter of Asia to the apocalyptic peoples: surrounded by impassible mountains and in the north and east by the ocean is a large territory in which are placed trees and fortresses. In this enormous prison, labeled Scythia ultra Ymaum montem [Scythia beyond Mount Ymaus], is the word MAGOG in large letters (perhaps in Ezekiel’s sense as a country?). Heinrich Wuttke (Karten der seefahrenden Volker) provides a transcription of the captions in the margins and in the figure. The relevant ones here read (in the west): “From this people, that is from the tribe of Dan, Antichrist or [...] will be born, who, opening up these mountains by means of nefarious arts [...] will come to the mountain chain that encloses them”; in the north-west: “Up to here live the ten enclosed tribes of the Hebrew race.” In the southwest corner is a tower and a wall, underneath which is the caption “The iron gates where Alexander enclosed the Tartars”. The Jews and the Tatars are in the foreground here. Magog (Gog is missing), the Tatars, the Ten Lost Tribes, the Antichrist and the Alexander story are mixed as though they naturally belonged in the same place - as they by then did, at least in the literature and exegesis directed to the literate but not learned.

In addition to the usual medieval depiction of the mythical Gog and Magog the Genoese map also contains a large number of drawings of zoological interest.  Elephant, camel, lion, monkeys, giraffe, dragon, and crocodile appear in the Ethiopian region; griffon or black vulture, leopard, ox and polar bear appear in the Palearctic regions; and snake and storks appear in the Oriental region.  This was the first time an accurate giraffe had be drawn on a map in Africa, although camelopardalis had appeared much earlier in the same area in the Ebstorf map (Book II, #224).  Camelopardalis, however, was only a giraffe by name, being a four-clawed spotted animal with normally a short neck.  Giraffes had been known and drawn accurately at least as far back as the third century B.C.

The main African interest lies in the fact that, as a departure from Ptolemy’s conception, the Indian Ocean, as is also shown on the Vesconte, Bianco, the Catalan-Estense, Leardo and Fra Mauro’s maps (#228, #241, #246, #242, and #249), is not landlocked, and, significantly, the southern extremity of Africa does not run away eastwards, as on the Catalan-Estense map.  At first sight, it is not clear that Africa is completely surrounded by the ocean, but closer examination shows that the blue of the ocean and the red on the land have faded, and that a definite coastline had been originally drawn in. This detail would be encouraging to anyone who wanted to promote the exploration of a new sea route to the Indies. 

The southern coast of the continent, from Arabia and the Persian Gulf to Further India, exhibits the Ptolemaic influence in particular, though our Genoese gives evidence of possessing a good knowledge of some of the most recent reports of travelers. The remarkably strong ebb and flow of the waters in the Persian Gulf at the mouth of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, observed by Conti, is thought by the Genoese cartographer worthy of mention: Sinus persicus in quo mare fluit et refluit velut oceanus [The Persian Gulf, in which the sea ebbs and flows as in the ocean]. Such a map record seems to appear here for the first time.

The peninsula Guzerat is better drawn than by Ptolemy, and the Bay of Cambay appears as a deep inlet of the ocean into which a broad river—perhaps the Mahi—empties. This section of the coast could not well remain unknown to travelers coming from the mouth of the Indus River. In the place of Ptolemy’s Taprobana two islands are represented, the larger of which, though appearing in outline to be Taprobana, is rather to be taken as a representation of Sumatra, while the smaller bears the name Ceylon. A legend near this reads: The island of Ceylon, having a circumference of three thousand miles, is rich in rubies, sapphires, and cat’s-eyes, and produces cinnamon from trees similar to our willow tree. In this island there is a lake, in the middle of which is a noble city whose inhabitants, given over to astrology, predict all future events. The position of Ceylon was now well known, being here placed to the east of a peninsula that we can recognize as the southern point of India. In this as well as in other parts of extreme southern Asia the Geonoese cosmographer seems especially to exhibit an acquaintance with the record of the distinguished Italian traveler Nicolo di Conti who referred to Ceylon as Zeilan.

In the interior of Ceylon a lake appears which may owe its origin to a statement made by Pliny or maybe an attempt to represent some one or more of the numerous artificial reservoirs or tanks for which the island is famous.

In their outlines there is a certain similarity between the islands Ceylon and Sumatra as represented by our Genoese mapmaker and the same islands as they appear on the maps of Ptolemy. The somewhat lengthy legend here reads as follows: Of the islands which are known, Taprobana is said to have a circumference of more than sixteen hundred miles, next to which is Anglia, then Java the Greater and Java the Less: after these islands Ceylon, then Sicily, and after this Sardinia, and following in order, Corsica, Cyprus and Candia. The inhabitants of this Taprobana, which in their language is called Ciamutera, are barbarians, having large ears in which they wear ornaments, and they dress in linen clothes. They are all idolaters. They have an abundance of pepper, camphor and much gold. The pepper tree when it bears has seeds like the juniper. Cannibals inhabit a part of this island, who, continually waging war with their neighbors, make a collection of human heads as treasures, and he who has the most heads is the richest. This description of Taprobana appears clearly to have been taken from Conti, and it is very interesting to observe that our cartographer, not in a very successful manner, has attempted to bring the report of Conti into accord with Ptolemy. Ptolemy’s Taprobana, by which we are to understand Ceylon/Sri Lanka, is to our author Sumatra, as the legend above indicates, and near by he places his Ceylon, although Conti expressly states that with favorable wind he traveled in twenty days from Ceylon to Sumatra, leaving Andaman, inhabited by cannibals, on the left of his course.

The name Sumatra, which our cosmographer, together with Conti, considers to be the native name, seems first to have become a more or less familiar one in Europe in the 14th century. In the story of Ibn Batuta it appears as the name of a city; Odorich of Pordenome refers to it as the name of a locality; while in the story of Conti for the first time it clearly appears as the name of an island. According to a conjecture of Yule, the name Sumara, which appears in a manuscript of Marco Polo as the name of one of the kingdoms of the island, is only a corruption of Sumatra. Marco Polo, the first traveler from the west who seems to have brought definite word from Sumatra, called it Java the Less, under which name, however, according to the Genoese cartographer, we are to understand Java or Borneo. Conti gives to the island a circumference of about two thousand miles, as does Marco Polo, which is very nearly correct. In its outlines Further India, UltraIndia (Southeast Asia) is Ptolemaic, a fact which is especially noticeable in the very prominent peninsular character. It stretches toward the south, terminating in a prominent Golden Chersonese, a name which the legend suggests: Here gold is found in abundance with jewels and precious stones.

The long southern coast which, according to Ptolemy, makes of the Indian Ocean an enclosed sea, and which in part appears in the Idrisi and the Sanudo maps (#219, Book II, #228), has been omitted here, and the great gulf of Ptolemy on the east of the peninsula becomes in the Genoese map an open sea, corresponding to the account of Conti and other travelers, which sea had been found difficult of navigation because of continually unfavorable wind.

Concerning the two large islands lying off the east coast of Asia, a legend gives the following information: These islands are called Java, of which the greater in circumference is three, and the other two thousand miles. They are one month’s journey from the continent, and are one hundred miles apart. Ignorant and wicked men inhabit these islands, who think it sport to kill a man. They have as many wives as they wish.

Marvelous beings are represented in parts of the Indian Ocean, such as an animal with the body of a fish and the head of a woman, that is, a siren; also a fish with a humanlike head and large fins with sharp spikes thereon. Near this monster is the legend: Pliny enumerates 144 species of fishes, and among them he describes this swordfish, asserting that, with its swordlike beak, it often transfixes the ships of the natives of India by single attack; but when this fish becomes fast within [the ship's side] and is unable to escape, it kills itself.

Of particular importance are the other legends in the Indian Ocean apparently derived from Conti. One of these reads: In the South Polar Sea they navigate with the North Pole not in sight. The other legend, near the picture of a three-masted ship, reads: The Indian Sea is filled with many islands, rocks and sand-banks. Their ships, therefore, are constructed with many compartments, to the end that if they are broken in any part, the remaining parts may be sufficiently strong to complete the course. These, moreover, are supplied with several masts, from three to ten, and having sails made of reeds and palm-leaves joined together, they pursue their courses with great rapidity. And these [ships], loaded in particular with spices and other aromatics, sailing rather often to Mecca in Arabia, trade with the Western merchants through an exchange of their goods.

We find on other world maps similar information concerning the construction of ships which sailed the Indian Ocean, as well as information concerning trade routes, such as the Catalan Atlas of 1375 (#235). The legend on the Genoese map relates in part to the Chinese junks, in part to the trade with India, which in the 15th century was in the hands of the Arabians, from whom the Portuguese seized it. Chinese junks, after an interval of five hundred years, again sailed the Indian Ocean at the end of the 13th century. Marco Polo, who, on his homeward journey, sailed in one of them as far as Malabar, gives us a detailed picture of these boats.

Ibn Batuta also describes them minutely, making mention of ships that could carry a thousand men—six hundred seamen and four hundred soldiers. Such ships were much larger than those which then sailed the Mediterranean. In addition to the sails, which were made of bamboo matting and attached to four or more masts, these Indian ships had rudders, which were handled by from ten to thirty men. The larger vessels also carried small boats, which were used, as Marco Polo states, “to lay out the anchors, catch fish, bring supplies aboard, and the like. When the ship is under sail, she carries these boats slung to her side.” Many of the vessels had as many as four decks, and even the smaller ones, fifty or sixty cabins. Vegetables, we are told, were sometimes grown on board.

The river and the mountain systems of Asia have many peculiarities. Near the Persian Gulf in Arabia a mountain is represented, out of which flows a river, emptying north of Mecca, which doubtless is the Betius of Ptolemy. Diagonally across the northern part of the peninsula stretches a mountain range. Mons Synai, near the northern border of the Red Sea, is represented, on the summit of which is the Convent of St. Catherine; and we also find here the highlands of Armenia, out of which flow the Euphrates and Tigris, these highlands being especially distinguished by a representation of Noah’s Ark. In Syria, to the south of Damascus, Mare Tiberiadis appears as a large lake. In the Gulf of Iskanderun a river empties, flowing out of the northeast, recognizable as the Dschihan, on which lies the city Antioch. The Caucasus stretches across the isthmus between the Black and the Caspian seas, and as numerous rivers rising in the Caucasus empty into the former, the mountain range had to be drawn nearer the Caspian Sea in order that there might be sufficient space for the range and the representation of the Iron Gate near Derbent. This city is distinguished by a strong tower and the legend: This is Derbent, which in their language [means] a gate of iron. The Iron Gate, usually associated with Alexander the Great and the apocalyptic people, Gog and Magog, has an important place on the world maps of the middle ages. Doubtless it was the medieval wall stretching from the mountains to the sea near Derbent, closing the road along the Caspian Sea to the peoples of the steppes on the north, that called forth the legend of the Iron Door.   The city itself, Derbent, was founded in the middle ages by the Persian Sassanids, for the purpose of guarding this pass. The word is Persian, signifying gate or narrow pass, and is a name often met with in Persia. In Arabic the city is called Bab-el-Khadid, in Turkish Demir Khapussu, that is, Iron Door. The wall stretching landward along the mountain ridge is yet, in part, well preserved, and one can follow its ruins for a distance of many miles. According to popular tradition, it extends along the entire ridge of the Caucasus, and so it appears on this map extending from the second iron door, or pass, across Asia. A legend on the map of the Pizigani makes it clear that the wall from Derbent was originally constructed to protect the Persian territory from the people of the steppe region. One of the castles on this map is distinguished by the legend, "Hic est custodia husbeci [Khan Usbech]"; the other by the legend, "Caiob est custodia bunsa [Khan Bunsay of Persia]." This narrow pass between the steppes on the north and the cultivable regions on the south has been especially significant in all periods and is probably recognizable as the Sarmatian gate of Ptolemy.

As has been said, the Caspian Sea is drawn according to Ptolemy. It is rich in islands and is called Mar de Sara, after the principal city of the Kipchak. Marco Polo called it the Sea of Ghel, or Ghelan, since Gilan, the city whence silks came, was to the Italians the best-known city on its shores. Aside from the Volga and the Ural, two other rivers are here represented, rising in a range of mountains that extends in an east-west direction. One of these is perhaps the Emba, the other the Jaxartes of Ptolemy. South of the Caspian Sea we find a quadrangle framed by mountains that appears to be Parthia, according to the representation of Ptolemy.

A river taking its rise on the east side of this mountain quadrangle, and emptying through two mouths into the Indian Ocean, cannot be identified, as the chart here contains numerous errors. It may be a representation of the Hilmend. A mountain range farther eastward, and stretching in a northeast-southwest direction, is the east Iranian mountain range, along which flows the Indus. This river forms through its four outlets a conspicuous delta, and receives from the neighboring mountain range two tributaries. From the mountain range on the northern border of Parthia, a great range stretches diagonally across the entire Asiatic continent, to the gulf indicated on the east, to which gulf reference has been made. It divides the great forest region of northern Asia from southern Asia. These mountains clearly are the Taurus, Paropamisus and the Emodas of Ptolemy, the continental axis of Asia, that is, the Hindu Kush, the Quen Lun, the Nan Schan, and the other border mountains of eastern central Asia today, which in their spurs reach almost to the Gulf of Petchili. The Ptolemaic Imaus, which divides Scythia into Hither and Further ScythiaScithia citra ymaum montem and Scithia ultra ymaum montes—is very prominently represented on our map. It branches in diagonal directions westward of the sources of the Indus, that is, nearly twenty degrees farther westward from the continental axis than it is represented by Ptolemy.

It is of special interest that in a region so significant by reason of its physical features, where the Pamir Highlands, the Hindu Kush, the Himalaya and the Quen Lun unite, our cosmographer represents a second Iron gate where Alexander imprisoned the Tartars, or a wall with a strong gateway. This is doubtless one of the passes lying somewhat to the west, where Scythia on the north joins with the highlands of Iran, and is probably the Khyber. Here was a national highway over which, immediately preceding this period, the wild people of central Asia so frequently came into southern Asia. Indeed, from the most ancient times this important highway was the connecting link between northern and southern Asia, and its architectural ruins —the fortifications erected by the different peoples at different times—point to its significance. Very properly, the name of Alexander is associated with it, since through his founding of Alexandria ad Caucasum the southern region was secured against the attack of the northern barbarians, the Scythians, who, in the language of the middle ages, were called Tartars. The Genoese cosmographer must have had information concerning the numerous towers scattered here and there over this pass. As in questions relating to the Nile, Ptolemy showed himself to be better informed than were geographers of later date, even to very recent times, so it also appears that his representation of the mountain systems of Asia, though somewhat altered by our author, was remarkably well done in the larger general features. Herein in particular does the value of the Genoese map appear in a comparison with the larger map by Fra Mauro (#249), although the latter is richer in details. In the representation of the Indus, for example, with its five branches, our author follows Ptolemy. In the region at the foot of the mountain between the Indus and the Ganges we find the Indian desert represented. In contrast, the Ganges is represented according to recent information, that is apparently from the record of Conti. It receives its water through three tributaries from the great watershed. Two of these tributaries on the left seem to be the Brahmaputra and the Barak, though the larger one on the north may be intended as the Irawadi, since on this lies Ava, and above it is a legend taken from Conti: Rather the Ganges which otherwise is called the Dava. Though our cosmographer makes certain mistakes in relation to the chief stream of India, yet his representation of the hydrography of Asia is near the truth, and, as stated, is much better than that given by Fra Mauro. As the Indus and its delta received special consideration, so also did the Ganges, the mouth of which is marked by the following legend: The mouth of the Ganges River, the width of which is fifteen miles, on whose banks grow canes so large that they exceed [the size of] the arm, and the islands grow nuts which we call Indian. This legend is also taken from Conti with some modification.

In the interior of Southeast Asia there is a large lake with the legend: The waters of this lake are very pleasant and sweet for drinking. This lake, mentioned in the fabulous stories concerning India in the middle ages, is, again, derived from Conti. In these rather remarkable sketches we probably have a reference to the lakes of Udaipur and Dbar on the southern highlands of Mewar, which lakes in fact lie between the Indus and the Ganges. As lakes are rare in central and northern India, these enjoy a considerable reputation. They owe their origin in part to artificial dams, and serve the purpose of reservoirs for artificial irrigation. They are remarkable for their natural surroundings, and for the palaces of the rulers of Mewar erected on their banks. This statement concerning the lakes as represented on our map is supported by the fact that a mountain appears to the southwest, from which a river flows to the south, at the mouth of which lies Cambay. The river is probably the Mahi, and the mountain the Salamber range. The river Ava, as well as the southern parallel tributary of the Ganges, and the two Chinese rivers, the one flowing to the southeast and the other to the northeast, come from a mountain which is further explained by the legend: In this mountain carbuncles are found. Judging from the rivers that spring there from, and from this legend, we are led to conclude that the mountain-land is eastern Tibet. The representations of our cosmographer are here very erroneous, and the errors may perhaps be attributed to Conti and Poggio, since one is led to conclude by a careful study of the Conti narrative that it is not simply the story of a practical merchant traveler, but a story often adorned by the additions of a learned copyist. The Carbuncle Mountains and the art of obtaining these valuable stones play an important role in the records of all cosmographers of the middle ages. On the Catalan world map of 1375 appears a legend with an interesting pictorial representation. A mountain is indicated with a deep valley out of which a bird flies, having a piece of meat in its beak, and out of the same valley a river flows which in its course forms the boundary between India and China.   These mountains are often represented on early maps with legends referring to carbuncles or to diamonds. From Maharatia, Conti states that he made a thirteen days’ journey eastward to the Carbuncle Mountains, that is, to the border mountains of Burma, which the Genoese mapmaker attempts to represent.

Marco Polo relates a similar story, but adds, as does Conti, the simple facts that he himself observed, that is, that diamonds are obtained in India through mining and through the washing and the sifting of the sands. The legend referred to is very old and is known in many different countries. Yule refers to it as one known in the fourth century of the Christian era, in which allusion is made to the hyacinth or jacinth. It was one known to the Byzantines, to the Arabs, and to the Chinese, but it seems to owe its origin to India.

No rivers are represented by the Genoese cosmographer in Northeast Asia, but we find twice inscribed the legend Inaccessible mountains. In the extreme northwest, in genuine medieval fashion, a leopard and a griffin have been sketched. In Turkestan is the legend King Cambellannas, son of the great Khan, by which legend is probably meant Timur, who reunited the numerous small kingdoms into which, about 1350, Dschagati had fallen. King Cambalech, that is, the Great Khan, is represented in a picture as ruling Cathay, and the King of India is represented on horseback with sword in hand. Northern Asia is properly made to appear as a region covered with pine forests, a representation which is to be found on no other early world map, and which seems to suggest that the Genoese mapmaker was in possession of somewhat detailed information concerning the character of the region. In the extreme north appears the figure of a man casting himself into the sea, whose act is explained in the following legend: It is the custom of these people, as old age comes on, to cast themselves from the steep precipices into the sea. This information seems to be derived from Pliny. Even today in northeast Asia, there may be found a people among whom suicide is common, the result of a belief that should one depart this life before the feebleness of old age comes on, a life of happiness in the hereafter is secured. Two legends are here inscribed, the one relating to the medieval geographical myth concerning the ten lost tribes of Israel, and the other to Antichrist. The one to the east of Inaccessible mountains, designated here as Ymaus mons, reads: From this race, that is, from the tribe of Dan, Antichrist is to be born, who, opening these mountains by magic art, will come to overthrow the worshipers of Christ. The other reads: Here dwell the ten lost tribes of the Hebrew race with the half tribe of Benjamin, who, unrestrained by their law and being degenerates, pass an epicurean existence.

On their appearance, the Mongols were thought to be the descendants of the Ten Tribes who had departed from the Mosaic law; and even in the Mohammedan world their coming was regarded as a sign of the approaching end of the world. In this part of Asia the cosmographer places the land of Magog, whence Jews, Mohammedans, and also Christians of the middle ages, expected the coming of the destructive races at the last day. On most of the early maps of the middle ages this land of Gog and Magog is represented, but with the advance of knowledge of Asia the names were given to lands further northward. Here the cosmographer seems to rely in the main on Arabic sources, and especially on Idrisi. He places Magog north of the mountain range stretching entirely across Asia, Gog south of the same, and on the border range several towers are indicated. The people Gog appear as a group of dwarfs covered with a shield, who are attacked by two cranes. A legend gives the following explanation: These are of the generation of Gog, who do not exceed the height of a cubit, who do not attain the age of nine years, and who are continually molested by cranes. Idrisi also represents the people Gog as dwarfs, and our cosmographer identifies them as the pygmies of Pliny, who placed them in the mountains of the north of India, exactly as does the Genoese cosmographer, in a beautiful valley protected from the cold winds, where they are molested only by the attacks of the cranes. This identification of Gog with the pygmies of classical antiquity is peculiar to this map. The towers referred to above are explained in the following legend: King Prester John built these towers in order that those shut therein might not have access to him. These towers stretch along the crest of the mountains, as if intended to protect the more highly civilized parts of China from the wild people of north and central Asia. It seems probable that we have here an early reference to the Great Wall of China, which appears on no other medieval map. Abulfeda and Raschiduddin, his contemporary, refer to the great wall as the Wall of Gog and Magog. As the builder of this wall, our cosmographer in his legend names Prester John who appeared on the Catalan map of 1375 in the Nubian and the Abyssinian regions, and from that time on the name seems to have been connected with the last-named region, though, as the Genoese map shows, it did not completely disappear from central Asia. There is support for the belief that in the letter of Alexander III, the ruler of Abyssinia is to be understood, although the great majority of the allusions to him seem to support the idea that the original Prester John was a central Asiatic ruler.

As a characteristic representation of the animal world, we find sketched in Southeast Asia a snake with a human head. The idea that such monsters were to be found here appears to have been taken from Conti.

The geographical nomenclature in the interior of Asia is very numerous, including the names of cities, countries and topographical features. In Asia Minor we find the names Asia Minor, Pontus, but more conspicuous the name Turchia. Of the cities which are here most distinguished there may be named Sinope, which is adorned with a Genoese banner. East of this, Simisso, Patinissa, Chrizonda, Trapezonda, Sormene. West of Sinope lies Castelle, also Ponteraquia and Carpi. On the Sea of Marmora is Palolimen and Diascinolo which on English charts is represented as Eskel Bay, a semicircular harbor with a very good anchorage twelve kilometers east of the mouth of Susurulu Tschai. Farther to the west is Spiga, that is, Karabuga Bay, into which the Granicus empties. On the west coast only the name Altoluogo appears, which name one finds on almost all sea charts. This was located near the site of Ephesus and was a prosperous city in the 15th century. On the south coast we find Atalea and Candelor, the ancient Alaja and Korakesion. Farther southward, Antioceta, a fortification on the coast often referred to in the 15th century; also corocho, the ancient Corycus, northeast of the mouth of the Selefke. This is Strabo’s Cape Korykos with the Koryken Cave, where in Greek, in Roman, in Byzantine, and also in Armenian times stood a fortification. Here we find Tarsso and Layazo, which in the middle ages was a harbor of Lesser Armenia, and an important terminal on the commercial route to India.

The cities represented on the frontier of Asia Minor are probably Angora, Burssa and Philadelphia. In Armenia appears Azerum, and to the southeast of this, in an incorrect position, Sauasto.

In Syria the following are found along the coast from north to south: Alexandretta, Tortosa, Sur, Acre, Cesarea, Arzufo, now in ruins, but in the time of the crusades and for a long period thereafter in the possession of the Genoese, who had conquered it; also Jaffa and Ascalon. In the interior, Jerusalem, Damascus, placed far to the north; Antioch and, less accurately placed, Tiberias. Palestine is especially distinguished from Seria as Judea sine.

In Arabia Arabia Deserta is distinguished from Arabia Felix, and the extreme southeast part of the peninsula, that is, Oman, is called Fenicea et Sabba, suggesting that the Phoenicians once occupied the basin of the Persian Gulf. Among the cities Media Arabie appears most conspicuous, and the tower decorated with a flag, and lying on the coast, is undoubtedly Dschidda, Conti’s Zidem. The large city on the south coast is Aden, at which point Conti landed. In Mesopotamia appear the names babilone, a regional name; Babilo and Baldac, or Bagdad; and in the Caucasus region are the territorial names Zichia, by which name in the middle ages the region northwest of the Caucasus was designated, and Albania, Georgia and Iberia. In the highlands of Iran appear the names Media, Zilan, Parthia, Aria, Aracosa, Gedrosia, Cormania and Persis. The land to the east of Aria, that is, southern Afghanistan, is represented as a desert.

Among the cities referred to on the Caspian Sea appears a name no longer legible, but which is probably Axum, being at the time of Montecorvino a winter residence of the Persian ruler; Ungro, the best harbor of Gilan; Zilan and Cavo Zilan, by which perhaps is meant Sari, which in the middle of the 15th century was the most important commercial city on the south coast of the Caspian Sea. In the interior are Tauria, a center of trade with remote Asia and India; and Ragis, the ancient Rhagas, a residence of Mohammedan princes, and, since the destruction by the Mongolians, a vast ruin, out of which in part the neighboring Teheran is built. Of the cities of Parthia only the name Yier appears, by which perhaps Dschordschan is meant. On the Persian Gulf lies Ragan, by which Arragan is probably to be understood, whose ruins are found in the vicinity of the present Babahan, with Fars on the Ab Ergum. This place, incorrectly located on the coast, is not referred to by Conti, nor is it to be found on any other map. The Genoese cartographer must have had for this some special source. The city lying to the east must be Ormuz. The city Calacia, lying in the interior, seems more difficult to distinguish, which city is referred to by Conti, but is not definitely located. There may have been a Persian maritime city by this name on the coast of Oman, since by reason of favorable winds and gulf currents the two coasts of the Persian Gulf stood in such close relations that again and again in their history Persian rule controlled the Arabic coast, and Arabic rule the Persian coast. In the time of Ibn Batuta the coast of Oman was Persian, and was ruled from Ormuz. It was the Portuguese who first overthrew the Persian authority. Calacia, or Calacatia, according to Batuta, is Kalahat, Kalhat, Kilat or Kilhat, in Oman southeast of Muskat, where its ruins may yet be seen near a small fishing village of the same name. The Genoese cartographer very naturally was inclined to place a trading center in Persia. Kalhat, from the time of Idrisi to the arrival of the Portuguese, was the most important harbor and port of departure from Oman and the entire Persian Gulf to India, as was earlier Sohar and later Muskat. It appears that at the time the Genoese map was drawn the shipping from the Persian Gulf and from Ormuz followed the coast from Oman almost to Ras-el-Hadd, and from that point with the monsoons direct to India.

On the east side of the Caspian Sea, in Turkestan, there are only two cities represented, Testango and Organzin. Testango, which Pizigani calls Trestago, is Tysch-kandy on the Mertwyi-Kultuk Bay, whence the commercial highway led from the Caspian Sea over the Ust-Urt plateau to Organzin, the ancient capital city Chowaresmiens on the Darjalyk. Organzin is erroneously placed on the Caspian Sea. Destroyed first by Genghis Khan in 1221, and again by Timur, this great Asiatic frontier commercial city in the time of Conti was in ruins. The new city, Urgendsch, lies far to the east of the ancient city.

Conti, as before stated, divided India into three parts, but the Genoese cartographer, following the ancients, refers to two only, representing therein numerous cities and legends, most of which apparently he has taken from Conti. One of these legends, referring to India as a land whence ginger is obtained, reads: Here much ginger is gathered; the other, telling us of the practice of burning widows, reads: Here the wives  living mount the funeral pyre of their husbands, but if any refuse through fear, they are forced to this.

Of the several regions only Maabar is especially designated in a legend reading: This province is called Mahabaria. By this we are to understand Coromandel, lying on the east coast, since it appears evident the legend refers to Meliapur. Maabar, it should be noted, is not to be confounded with Malabar, or Melibar of Marco Polo.

Among the cities, Cambay is especially distinguished, which at that time was the most important commercial city of India, and which the Genoese cartographer calls combayta, making use of the Spanish term instead of the Italian Camcaia or the Latin Combahita. Meliapur is distinguished by a Christian church with a cross and the legend, Here lies the body of the apostle Saint Thomas. There was scarcely a Christian traveler from the time of Montecorvino and Marco Polo, returning with information concerning the so-called Thomas Christians, who had failed to visit Meliapur near Madras, since the place of Saint Thomas’ burial was a sacred spot not only to Christians but also to Mohammedan pilgrims. The tradition that the holy Thomas preached Christianity in India, suffered martyrdom, and was buried in a mountain had its origin in very early times.   Meliapur on the Genoese map lies on a strait that separates Ceylon/Sri Lanka from the mainland. On the same strait, but farther to the southeast, lies a second city, Caila, near which is the legend, Caila, where they use the leaves of trees instead of papyrus. Caila is Conti’s Cahila on the Gulf of Manaar, Marco Polo’s Cail, and Ptolemy’s Colchi. For centuries, even into the 16th, Caila was the central point of commerce between China, Further India, and the archipelago of the east and the trade centers of the Mediterranean. In the account of his voyage Vasco da Gama gives information concerning the city and kingdom of Cael. The tree whose leaves, it is stated, are used for paper is not the paper-mulberry tree, but the fan-palm. The fanlike leaves, about two hundred square feet in size, the Singhalese are said to use in the place of paper. The ancient Pusk olay manuscripts in the Buddhist monasteries were all written with an iron stylus on such paper, that is, on the leaves of the talipot palm, prepared by cooking and drying.

West of the Ganges delta, on a mountain, lies the large city Bizungalia, which Conti called Bizenegalia, and which seems to have remained a city of importance well into the 16th century. To its importance perhaps the legend Major de mundo refers. The Arnona Civitas of the Genoese cartographer seems to lie in about the position of Conti’s Cernove, reached by him in a fifteen days’ journey from the mouth of the river. Conti gives a vivid description of this part of the Ganges River, up which river, as he states, he sailed for the space of three months; and from his description one might conclude that he had passed entirely through Hindustan, and that after he had made the desired commercial observations he turned about to make a long sojourn in Maharatia, perhaps one of the four important cities to which he refers.

The land north of the Ava River (Irawadi) as far as a great parallel mountain range, including apparently the entire Irawadi region, the Genoese cosmographer calls Macina, inscribing the legend: This province of Macina produces elephants. Its inhabitants subsist on serpents, regarding them as great delicacies. They tattoo their faces with various punctures and colors and with an iron stylus. They are contented with one wife. The name Machin seems clearly to be a modification of the Sanskrit Maha Chin, that is, Great China, a name which the Persian and the Arabic writers frequently used for Manzi, the southern part of China. Including in part Indo-China, the name Machin may also include Southeast Asia, for which there is support in certain 15th century references, as there are people of Southeast Asia among whom the custom of tattooing prevails; this being particularly true of the Laos and the Burmese. The Genoese cartographer clearly considers Burma a part of Machin, which since the 13th century had belonged to China. Conti’s name Macinus can hardly be thought of as Mangi, which is suggested by Fischer, who follows Ramusio, but more probably refers to Siam/Thailand. Though the geography of India as here laid down presents difficulties, there are difficulties which are equally great along the east coast.  The eastern border of Asia, toward the south, is represented as Cathay, and that toward the north as Sine. This last name, as before stated, was not employed at all in the middle ages, and may be considered a survival from Ptolemy. Cathay is made to include the entire peninsula of Southeast Asia. Near the picture of the Grand Khan enthroned, and his capital city with its four square towers, is the legend, apparently taken from Conti: The Great Khan rules this region, which is called Cathay, or, in their language, Cambalec. Cathay was the European name for northern China, while to the southern region, which was reached by water, the name China was given. It does not appear from his travels that Conti reached China, and what he has to say may rest in part on rumors which came to him and in part on the accounts of Marco Polo. The title Khan had long since been given up by the Mongolian dynasty.


Turning to the continent of Africa, we find its Mediterranean coast, as on the portolan charts, well represented; likewise the Atlantic coast as far as Cape Bojador, which had recently been reached by the Portuguese. The Genoese cartographer appears to have known the trend of the coast even to Cape Verde, although his representation of the coast southward of Cape Bojador is far from correct in its details. The southern coast of Africa is made to extend in a flattened curve toward the east, which representation is similar to that on the world maps of Sanudo, of Leardo, and of Fra Mauro (#228, #242, #249). The southern continental boundary of the Indian Ocean appearing on Ptolemy’s world maps, reduced to a long and narrow peninsula by Sanudo and Fra Mauro, is still further reduced by the Genoese cartographer.

On the west coast, in about the position where one should look for the Gulf of Guinea, a gulf having one large and two small islands extends into the mainland, as is represented by Sanudo, Leardo and Fra Mauro. These last-named cartographers call this gulf Sinus Aethiopicus, while the Genoese cartographer, the name being repeated many times, designates the mainland as Ethiopia, and his legend here reads: Contrary to the tradition of Ptolemy, this is a gulf, but Pomponius speaks of it with its islands.

In about the latitude of this gulf on the west coast we also find one indicated on the east coast which appears to be the Bay of Zanzibar. Before this bay, that is, in the open waters of the Indian Ocean, is represented a fish with a swine’s head. A legend here reads: This animal, called the sea hog, gathers its food with its snout like the land hog. The Canary, the Madeira and the Azores Islands are well represented. Legends are here inscribed on either side of a broad scroll, wherein the author refers to his work and gives the date of its composition, which legends are almost illegible. One of them seems to read: This sea is called the ocean which, according to cosmographers, stretches out infinitely in every direction, covering the earth except about a fourth part here laid down. This sea, disturbed by the force of the moon, ebbs and flows around the earth every lunar day, as Albertus says in his Natural History. It appears from this that Albertus Magnus was one of the Genoese cartographer’s authorities. The other legend for which Professor Fischer failed to get an intelligible reading asserts that: Beyond this equinoctial line Ptolemy records an unknown land, but Pomponius, and in addition many others, raising a doubt whether a voyage is possible from this place to India [the Indians], say that many have passed through these parts from India to the Spains, and . . . especially Pomponius in his last chapter.

In the representation of mountains of Africa we find the Atlas range, which stretches along the north coast eastward to the Great Syrtus, a second range west of Egypt, stretching in a southerly direction. In the extreme south of the continent the Mountains of the Moon are represented as snow-covered, with the following explanatory legend: These are the Mountains of the Moon, which, in the Egyptian language, are called Gebelcan, in which mountains the river Nile rises, and from which, in the summer-time, when the snows melt, a very large stream flows. This legend gives us the Arabic name for the Mountains of the Moon as Gebelcan, which is doubtless the same as Gebel Camr. The name Djihal-alqamar, Mountains of the Moon, according to a conjecture of Kiepert, was derived in Ptolemy’s time erroneously from Djibal-qomr, Blue Mountains. This seems to refer to the snow-peaks of the Kilimanjaro and Kenya, as seen from a great distance, which mountains send their waters toward the interior of the continent. It was doubtless through Arabic merchantmen that the Alexandrian geographer derived his information, on a visit to the east coast of Africa. Late even in the 19th century the Mountains of the Moon appear on maps.

The hydrography of Africa is likewise Ptolemaic, especially that which pertains to the Nile. The Mountains of the Moon are the source out of which its two branches flow. The Blue Nile, however, is represented according to most recent information from Abyssinia; this river, uniting with the Atbara, forms one river which flows out of a large lake, in which an island is represented. Meroe, however, does not, as with Ptolemy, lie on a river island, but on a river peninsula. Even the irrigation canals, which lead out from the Nile in Nubia and Egypt, are represented by the Genoese cartographer. On an island in a lake of Abyssinia there appears to be a floating house, and near it the legend: In this lake there is an island, Tana by name, which contains forests and groves and a great temple of Apollo. This island floats and is driven in whatever direction the winds blow. This legend appears to be taken almost verbatim from Pomponius Mela.

A monastery, or a city, with numerous towers over which a cross is drawn, is located in the lake and bears the name Maria of Nazareth. The lake is undoubtedly Tana, Strabo’s Psebo and Ptolemy’s Coloe. It may be noted that even today the banks of this lake, as well as its islands, are the site of numerous churches and monasteries. The large island Dek, or the Holy Daga Island, dedicated to Saint Stephen, is now inhabited by hermit monks, and to it the outside world is not admitted. About the time that the Genoese cartographer produced his map he could well have received excellent information concerning Abyssinia. In 1439 Pope Eugenius IV named an apostolic delegate to that region, and sent a letter to Prester John, the ruler of Abyssinia; and we also learn that an Abyssinian ambassador appeared at the Council of Florence in the year 1441. In support of the statement that the Genoese cosmographer was well informed concerning Abyssinia may be found the representation of a war elephant carrying a tower filled with armed men. A legend here reads: These people fight in a battle-line of castled beasts.

That the Christian Abyssinians made use of the elephant in war during the middle ages, Marco Polo relates, who, in his travels, had gathered considerable information concerning that region of Africa. It was the Abyssinian Christians whom the cosmographers, at the close of the 14th century, had to thank for information concerning their country.

On the Catalan world map of 1375 (#235) a war elephant is also represented in Nubia, and the same picture appears again in India with the addition of a driver. Marco Polo ascribes the use of war elephants to the inhabitants of Zanzibar, while Mas’udi expressly states that their land was rich in elephants, which, however, were neither tamed, nor were they used in any manner. There can be no doubt that in the lands on the west side of the Red Sea elephants were captured by the Ptolemies in great numbers, tamed and made use of in war, as Ptolemy Euergetes testifies in the inscription from Adulis that he employed Troglodytic and Ethiopian elephants against those from India.

Not only does there appear to be some confusion relative to the representation of the Nile River, but the hydrography of other parts of Africa is very confusing. A river empties in the Syrtus west of Masrata, which comes from a lake in the neighborhood of Wadam, and which is called by Idrisi Palmenoase, a river five days’ journey south of the Great Syrtus. It is difficult to determine whether by this Wadi Schegea or Wadi um el Cheil is to be understood. In Tunis a river is made to empty into the Mediterranean, which is probably the Medscherda, with one branch emptying on the north side of the Gulf of Tunis, and with another into the Gulf of Hammamet. A similar river, dividing into two branches near its source, empties into the sea in Algeria east and west of Algiers, and a smaller one east of Ceuta. If the Genoese cosmographer, in the well known regions, represents somewhat arbitrarily his watercourses, we can certainly expect to find this in the less known regions.   It appears impossible to identify the rivers emptying on the west side of Africa. With some degree of certainty we may identify the Wadi Draa, represented as flowing through many lakes and emptying south of Cape Bojador. Whether the rivers emptying still further southward represent the numerous rivers which empty south of Senegal and Cape Verde, it is not possible to determine. Perhaps the author intended the more northern and the larger one as the Senegal.

The reference to the character of the land in Africa and its different products is very full, attention being drawn particularly to the animals. In addition to the elephant and the crocodile, a camel is represented in the southwest, and near it a mythical animal, which may be a dragon or a basilisk, and which, according to tradition, inhabited Africa in antiquity and in the middle ages. One here recalls the description which Idrisi gives of a dragon living on an oasis to the east of Sahara, so enormous in size that it was often mistaken for a mountain. It had the form of a snake in that it crawled on the ground, but had large ears extending forward. In the Atlas region there are also represented a giraffe, a lion and two monkeys. Three human figures are introduced to represent the political and ethnographical situation, one a turbaned Mohammedan ruler of Egypt, with the inscription Dominus; the other a crowned head with black hair, carrying a banner, on which is a cross with the inscription, Presbyter Johannes Rex, denoting the Christian ruler of Abyssinia. A third figure, unmistakably a negro, in the southwest, holds a ball (?) in his hand, and is described in the following legend: These are the people who live degenerate lives, among whom there is no distinguishing name, who behold the rising and the setting sun with direful imprecations.

The extreme southeastern part of Africa has the following legend: In this region certain ones have depicted the paradise of delights. Others, indeed, have said that it is beyond the Indies to the east. But since that is a representation of cosmographers who have given no description of it, therefore an account of it is here omitted. Professor Fischer thinks this is to be understood as signifying that the Genoese cosmographer based his information on pre-Christian authors, that is, Pliny and Ptolemy, while omitting his own view concerning the position of the earthly paradise. Medieval cosmographers place this now in East Africa, now in East Asia, but more frequently in the latter.

The regional names of the map, for the most part, are taken from antiquity. For instance, the name Ethiopia appears six times, and in addition, in Western Europe, Ethiopia interior, and in the east, Ethiopia Egypti. Ethiopia also embraces the entire southern section. Adjoining this is the Nile land, Egyptus; further west, Nubia; and to the west of Nubia is the entire Sahara region, designated as Libia. The Regio arenosa, that is, the desert region of Igidi, is especially distinguished. The north coast of Africa embraces Mauretania, to which Regnum fesse and, in part, Regnum Trenecen belong. Adjoining this are Regnum Tunisi, Barbaria and Cirenaica. The more important place-names are distinguished through towers and castles. On the Mediterranean, from east to west, we find Larissa, Alexandria, Senara (in the Medicean atlas, Zunara, and Vesconte also gives Zunara). On the portolan charts there is always represented a large bay in the southeast corner of the Great Syrtus, which must have been an important harbor. It owes its origin as a harbor to a high, rocky headland, perhaps formerly an island, which extends from the southwest to the northeast and continues in a long chain of rocks.

There follow, farther to the west, Tripoli barbaria; Rasamebes, designated as a headland visible from a distance, the present Ras Makhahes, with a good bay in its protection east of Descherba; Capis, Tunes, and an unreadable name, perhaps Biserta; Taberca, which, on account of its Italian coral-fishery, is famous as the island of Tabarca; Bona, Bugea; an unreadable name, perhaps Titelis; Alcer, Tenes, Oran, Melila, Septa (Ceuta). On the ocean side we find only the names Sale, Saphi, Gozola and Buder (Bojador). In the interior of the Atlas territory the Atlas range reaches far to the south.    Here we find the following names: Albara (south of Algiers), perhaps Albuhe of the ancients, known for its warm baths; Tremecen, Fessa, Marroco; farther south, a city with an undecipherable name, perhaps Tarudant; in Libya, that is, in the Sahara region, south of Fez, Pataxio, Tueto, Mecara, Calata, Bescara, Uadan, the last two perhaps Biskra and Fez, far from their proper place. Calata is probably Idrisi’s Al Cal, near Msila in the highlands of the Schotts, a significant city before the rise of Bougie, the capital city of the kingdom of the Hammaditen. Mecara may be Idrisi’s Maggara in Zab. In Egypt is Cairo; in Nubia are Meroe, Ati (?), Talam (?), and an unreadable name. These places, for the most part, are inserted from world maps of other cartographers.

A sea monster illustrating a passage from Bracciolini's Facetiae—the ultimate source of the demon-like sea monster on the Genoese world map of 1457—in Sebastian Brant’s 1501 edition of Aesop’s Fables. (British Library, 86.k.1, p. 243).

Detail of so-called Genoese World Map: West Africa with gulf and passable ocean

Detail of so-called Genoese World Map: Mongols north of the Caspian Sea, note wagon and oxen

Detail of so-called Genoese World Map: Region enclosed by Alexander (Magog)

Detail of so-called Genoese World Map: “Presbyter Johannes rex” in Africa


Does the Genoese World Map represent an intermediate step between a heterogeneous medieval conception of space and a more modern homogeneous one? To tackle this question, it is necessary to hypothesize on the mapmaker’s intentions and study the way he handles the space on his map. What is clear is the mapmaker’s declaration of intent, his striving for accuracy and a near-natural depiction of the world, all of which make his map look rather modern.

He shows a critical approach in dealing with his sources, backing up his decisions or listing information, which is a very innovative feature. He also saw story- telling and history essential parts of his enterprise. Using these histories, he concentrated his attention on certain regions, emphasizing especially Asia, distinguishing certain locations through different forms of depiction, thereby creating a hierarchical space. The mapmaker saw apparently no inconsistency in depicting different times simultaneously or one element in multiple locations, melding time and space seems to be effected unconsciously. Taking his stated aim for truth seriously would imply that all of these features were part of his truth.

As shown above, social customs and spatial perceptions are connected, and the mapmaker’s intent to provide a near-natural depiction of the world might be related to the Christian faith.62 It is problematic to presume a homogenous conception of space is operative in the later Middle Ages or the Early Modern period, just because a mapmaker painted a mappa mundi using coastlines drawn from portolan charts, since geography is but one dimension of a map’s content. Just as important are the various dimensions of meaning on the Genoese World Map relating to faith and social life. Perhaps in answering certain questions one should not look too hard for historical transitions or changes in cartography, as this tempts one to privilege current representational conventions. In studying cosmological models of the Middle Ages, it would be more constructive to look for continuities that might even expose our modern understanding of homogeneous space as an illusion.

Detail of so-called Genoese World Map: “Indorum rex” in India

These continuities could perhaps explain why, as Evelyn Edson and Emilie Savage-Smith write, [the medieval cosmological model’s] “overthrow in the 17th century caused a profound spiritual and psychological disorientation from which we have yet to recover.”63 Studying conceptions of space in mappae mundi reveals how these conceptions change over time. Today, in character with the preferences of our own culture, we are persuaded to live our everyday life in a homogeneous, absolute space, neatly separated from time, notwithstanding that Albert Einstein disproved this notion. Therefore, although this study focuses on maps that are centuries old, it just might enhance our understanding of the current conflict between our daily experience and our theoretical knowledge of space and time.

LOCATION: Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence, Italy, Port. 1


Bagrow, Leo, History of Cartography, Plate D.

Destombes, Marcel, ed., Mappemondes A.D. 1200-1500. Catalogue prépare par la Commission des Cartes Anciennes de l’Union Géographique Internationale, Plate XXXIV.

George, Wilma, Animals and Maps (University of California Press, 1968), Figure 2.8.

Hahn-Woernle, Brigit (ed.), Die Ebstorfer Weltkarte (Ebstorf: Kloster Ebstorf, 1987), Figure 23.

Randles, W.G.L., De la terre plate au globe terrestre. Une mutation épistémologique rapide (1480-1520) (Paris: Librairie Armand Colin, 1980), Plate 7.


Bagrow, Leo, History of Cartography, p. 72.

Bricker, C., Landmarks in Mapmaking, p. 115.

Brunnlechner, G., “The so-called Genoese World Map of 1457: A Stepping Stone Towards Modern Cartography?” Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture, Volume IV, Number 1, 2013, pp. 56-80.

Crone, G.R., Maps and Their Makers, pp. 51-54.

Destombes, Marcel, ed., Mappemondes A.D. 1200-1500. Catalogue prépare par la Commission des Cartes Anciennes de l’Union Géographique Internationale, 52.13.

Edson, E., The World Map 1300-1492, pp. 191-197; 228-229, Fig. 7.7

George, Wilma, Animals and Maps, pp. 46, 48, 49, 161, 186, 207.

Hahn-Woernle, Brigit (ed.), Die Ebstorfer Weltkarte.

Harley J. B. and Woodward, David, The History of Cartography, Volume I, Figure 18.23.

Kamal, Youssouf, Monumenta cartographica Africae et Aegypti, 5:1495.

Kimble, G.H.T., Geography in the Middle Ages, pp. 196-197.

Lister, Raymond, Antique Maps and their Cartographers, pp. 21, 38.

Scafi, A., Mapping Paradise, p. 229

Skelton, R.A., The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, pp. 113, 127, 131-34.

Stevenson, E.L., Genoese World Map 1457 Facsimile with Critical Text

Van Duzer, C., Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps, pp.55-57, Figure 32.

Wuttke, H., Die Karten der seefahrenden Völker Südeuropas bis zum ersten Druck der Erdbeschreibung des Ptolemäus : Zur Geschichte d. Erdkunde im letzten Drittel d. Mittelalters, 1961.