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date: 19 December 2018

Ravenna Cosmographer (Anonymus Ravennas)

Summary and Keywords

Ravenna Cosmographer is an anonymous author of a Latin compilation commonly dated to the late 600s to early 700s. The Cosmographer describes the inhabited world, beginning with some theoretical questions and a general overview of the twelve southern and twelve northern regions (Book 1). His extensive lists of locations (Books 2–5) include over 5,000 place names, many otherwise unattested. Following earlier Christian authors such as Orosius, the Cosmographer incorporates Greco-Roman knowledge about the Earth into the framework of Christian scholarship. He cites the Bible and Christian theologians, and he mentions many secular authorities whose names only occur in this text. Although the Cosmographer never acknowledges his use of maps or itineraries, the forms of place names and the arrangement of toponyms by routes in Books 2–5 indicate that he was familiar with these sources. The similarities and differences to the Peutinger Map displayed by the text suggest that these works belong to different branches of the tradition, which ultimately goes back to a common exemplar. The Cosmography preserves the rich legacy of Roman and early medieval geographical knowledge, and its challenging material calls for a fresh examination.

Keywords: Ravenna Cosmographer (Anonymus Ravennas), Guido of Pisa, Peutinger Map, itineraries, geography, early Middle Ages

Ravenna Cosmographer is an anonymous author of a compilation that incorporates extensive cosmographical and geographical material, including over 5,000 place names.1 The text is commonly dated to the late 600s to early 700s, although modern scholars have distinguished several chronological layers, dating from the 6th to the 9th century.2 The only information about the compiler comes from the text. This anonymous Cosmographer was born in Ravenna (4.31) and wrote his treatise at the request of a certain “brother Odo” (1.1 and 1.13), possibly a monk, fellow scholar, or student.

Transmission and State of Scholarship

The Cosmography has been preserved in three 14th-century manuscripts: (A) Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Urb. lat. 961, Italy, fol. 1r–47v; (B) Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat. 4794, Italy, fol. 1r–30v; (C) Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, F V 6, Germany, fol. 85–108v (a partial copy).3 In the course of transmission, the text has undergone corrections and additions, with errors and corruptions accumulating in the process. This has resulted in idiosyncratic spellings of place names, many otherwise unattested. In 1119, Guido of Pisa used parts of the Cosmography in a compilation of his own, and the more extensive transmission of his work has provided help in solving textual problems.4 The identification and localization of the toponyms, however, still present the principal challenge for students of the text.

The Cosmography was first published by Dom David Placidus Porcheron in 1688; its modern critical study began in the 19th century. The first critical edition by Moritz Pinder and Gustav Parthey, mainly based on MSS A and B, appeared in 1860. In 1940, Joseph Schnetz published a new edition that fully took into account MS C. Since the time of its first publication, scholars have been studying the language and sources of the Cosmography, focusing on place names especially. Studies of individual regions have used various approaches to decipher the toponyms, from paleography to analysis of archeological data to comparison with modern place names.5 Louis Dillemann proposed the first comprehensive interpretation of the Cosmography based on systematic comparative analysis of all the toponyms; his book was published posthumously in 1997, by Yves Janvier.6 Recently, GIS techniques have been used for systematic localization and georeferencing of all place names that occur in the Cosmography.7

Structure and Contents of the Text

The Cosmographer aimed to describe the whole world in detail (1.1), and his work covers most of the oikoumene [the inhabited world], although with varying degrees of thoroughness. Book 1 (according to the book division introduced by modern editors) discusses some theoretical questions and gives a general overview of the regions, while Books 2–5 contain detailed lists of locations. In his description of the world, the Cosmographer employs several different organizing principles.

In Book 1, he proposes a principle that, in its entirety, appears to be unique among the surviving sources, although its origins can be traced back to Pliny’s Natural History and Roman treatises on land surveying (see gromatici).8 He divides the earth, which he envisions as a landmass surrounded by the Ocean, into twenty-four segments corresponding to the number of daylight and nighttime hours. Beginning at sunrise, and following the movement of the sun, he lists the lands located in the “daylight” or southern regions, clockwise from India to Britannia (1.2–3). After discussing possible arguments against this principle (1.4–10), he resumes his geographical description. Again beginning at sunrise, he lists the “nighttime” or northern regions counterclockwise, from “the land of the Germans, now ruled by the Franks,” to Parthia (1.11–12).

The theoretical discussion that follows includes an overview of the dimensions and relative locations of the three parts of the world, Asia, Africa, and Europe (1.16). In describing the tripartite world, the Cosmographer employs an ordering principle that was traditional in Greco-Roman geography. He returns to it at the end of Book 1, after introducing one more way of organizing his material, namely an arrangement by the four main gulfs of the Mediterranean. Moving counterclockwise from the east to the north, he lists the cities and rivers located in each gulf (1.17).

The classical tripartite division of the earth again serves the Cosmographer as an organizing principle in Books 2–4, where he lists cities and rivers located in each of the three parts, from Asia to Africa to Europe. Following a tradition established in Christian scholarship, he connects the names of the continents to the names of the sons of Noah: Asia was the portion of Shem (1.18), Africa of Ham (3.1), and Europe of Japhet (4.1). Within each continent, the Cosmographer organizes place names by land routes, providing almost no details about the physical landscape or the inhabitants of the regions.

In Book 5, the Cosmographer turns to another classical way of describing geographical space, that of a Greco-Roman periplus. Largely following along the coast of the Mediterranean in a counterclockwise direction, he provides a list of places that begin and end with Ravenna (5.1–14). He next names the islands lying in the four gulfs of the Mediterranean (5.17–27), as well as the islands located in its eastern, northern, western, and southern parts (5.28–33), with Britain occupying a prominent place (5.31). He concludes by comparing the size of the three continents without providing their exact dimensions.

Most of the place names in the Cosmography date to the late Roman Empire, although it does not always reproduce Roman administrative divisions accurately.9 The Cosmographer occasionally introduces later information, taking into account changes caused by conquests and displacements of various groups of people (1.1). For instance, he reports that, in his time, Germania and Gallia Belgica were dominated by the Franks (1.11), and he once uses a non-Roman name for Gallia Belgica, “the country of the Rhenish Franks” (Francorum Rinensium . . . patria, 4.25), attested in other sources since the 5th century.10 However, these updates are not consistent, nor does the Cosmographer ever mention other contemporary realities, such as the emergence of Islam and Muslim conquests.

The Cosmographer incorporates Greco-Roman knowledge into the framework of Christian scholarship, addressing related theoretical questions in Book 1. He carefully arranges biblical quotations to explain how his work may benefit good Christians (1.1). When discussing such matters as the location of Paradise and its rivers, he follows the Bible and disputes classical reports about Alexander the Great (1.8). He also adopts the biblical account of the sons of Noah as one of his organizing principles.11 In his general interests, methods, and treatment of sources, the Cosmographer follows the traditions of describing the Earth established by late antique authors such as Augustine and Orosius and later continued by medieval geographers.

Sources

The Cosmographer names many authorities he claims to have consulted. For theoretical questions concentrated in Book 1, he drew on the Bible and supported his statements by the authority of “many holy fathers” (1.5). He mentions the Greek theologians Basil of Caesarea, Athanasius of Alexandria, and Epiphanius of Cyprus, and he cites such Latin Christian authors as Orosius and Isidore of Seville. In his detailed geographical account in Books 2–5 he relies on secular sources, both named and unnamed. While listing places in various regions, he cites many authors whom he generally describes as philosophers, cosmographers, or historians. However, he may have known some of them only through intermediaries such as Isidore of Seville.

A significant number of authors’ names only occur in this text, and their identification remains a challenge. Ever since it was discovered, many students of the Cosmography have expressed skepticism about its citations, rarely taking them at face value (see the next paragraph for Miller’s theory).12 Recent scholarship has generally adopted a more nuanced critical view. Thus Louis Dillemann has explored how most of the otherwise unattested names in the Cosmography resulted from errors or deliberate invention.13 However, Franz Staab has argued that the three “philosophers of the Goths,” Athanarid, Heldebald, and Marcomir (4.13), who are said to have supplied information on some lands and peoples of Europe, could have worked in Ravenna at the court of Theoderic (493–526).14 It has also been suggested that the liberal use of unidentifiable names in the Cosmography resembles the quirkiness of an 8th century author known as Aethicus Ister, who delighted in mystifications and playful inventions of words.15

Despite citing authorities, the Cosmographer never acknowledges the sources that provided most of his information and shaped his account. Thus his idea of the twenty-four regions in Book 1, possibly inspired by passages in Pliny’s Natural History and by the Roman practice of land surveying, may also have been derived from a map.16 The forms of place names and the arrangement of toponyms by routes in Books 2–5 make it clear that the Cosmographer used either maps based on Roman itineraries, or the itineraries themselves, or possibly both.17 Many place names and routes in the Ravenna Cosmography closely correspond to those found on the Peutinger Map (Peutinger Table). Konrad Miller even proposed that the Cosmographer used the archetype of the Peutinger Map that he conjectures was created in the 4th century by Castorius, the Roman author most frequently cited in the Cosmography.18 Miller’s hypothesis, however, has found no support among modern scholars. Not only is his identification of Castorius highly conjectural, but the Cosmography differs from the Peutinger Map in important details, recording some toponyms in Greek rather than Latin, for example. The Cosmography thus belongs to a separate branch of the geographical tradition, from which the Peutinger Map also stems.19 Although the Cosmographer may have drawn information from maps, he does not indicate that he intended for his text to be accompanied by a map, nor do the surviving manuscripts transmit maps. In the absence of evidence, attempts of earlier scholars to reconstruct the Cosmographer’s map remain pure speculation.20

The Ravenna Cosmography is one of the richest and most challenging sources that preserve Roman and early medieval geographical knowledge. It calls for a fresh examination that would take into account recent approaches to pre-modern maps and related texts.

Primary Texts

Anonymi Ravennatis qui circa saeculum VII vixit De geographia libri V, ed. D. Placidus Porcheron. Paris, 1688.Find this resource:

Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia et Guidonis geographica, ed. M. Pinder and G. Parthey. Berlin, 1860.Find this resource:

Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia et Guidonis Geographica, ed. Joseph Schnetz. In Itineraria Romana, Vol. 2. Leipzig: Teubner, 1940. Reprinted with index by Marianne Zumschlinge. Stuttgart: Teubner, 1990.Find this resource:

Translations

Cosmographia: Eine Erdbeschreibung um das Jahr 700, translated into German by Joseph Schnetz. Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1951.Find this resource:

“‘Kosmografiia’ Ravennskogo Anonima (Cosmographia Anonymi Ravennatis),” partially translated into Russian by Alexander V. Podossinov. In Vostochnaiia Evropa v rimskoi kartograficheskoi traditsii, 161–286. Moscow: Indrik, 2002. (Eastern Europe in the Roman Cartographical Tradition, in Russian).Find this resource:

Fourteenth-century manuscripts preserving a full copy of the Cosmography:

Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Urb. lat. 961, fol. 1r–47v.

Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat. 4794, fol. 1r–30v.

The Ravenna Cosmography: The Section on Hadrian’s Wall.

Reconstructions of the Ravenna Cosmography map.

Bibliography

Arnaud, Pascal. “L’origine, la date de rédaction et la diffusion de l’archétype de la Table de Peutinger,” Bulletin de la Société nationale des antiquaires de France 1 (1988): 302–321.Find this resource:

Assorati, Giovanni. “La Ravennatis anonymi Cosmographia e la cultura intellettuale a Ravenna nel VII secolo,” Studi romagnoli 62 (2011): 103–130.Find this resource:

Beazley, C. Raymond. The Dawn of Modern Geography, vol. 1. London: John Murray, 1897.Find this resource:

Borodin, Oleg Robertovich. “Kosmografiia Ravennskogo anonima (k voprosu o ee meste v istorii geograficheskoi nauki”, Vizantiiskii vremennik 43 (1984): 54–63. (“The Cosmography of the Anonymous of Ravenna: On its Place in the History of Geography,” in Russian).Find this resource:

Dillemann, Louis. La Cosmographie du Ravennate. Edited by Yves Janvier. Brussels: Latomus, Revue d’Etudes Latines, 1997.Find this resource:

Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith. “Britannia in the Ravenna Cosmography: A reassessment.” See Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews’s website.

Funaioli, Gino. “Ravennas Geographus.” In Pauly-Wissowa Real-Encyclopädie, August Friedrich von Pauly and Georg Wissowa, 1A: 305–310. Stuttgart, Germany: Metzler, 1914.Find this resource:

Gautier Dalché, Patrick. “La trasmissione medievale e rinascimentale della Tabula Peutingeriana.” In Tabula Peutingeriana: Le antiche vie del mondo, ed. Francesco Prontera, 43–52. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2003. Translated into English by W. L. NorthFind this resource:

Gautier Dalché, Patrick. “Du nouveau sur la transmission et la découverte de la Tabula Peutingeriana: la ‘cosmographia vetustissima’ de Pellegrino Prisciani (mort en 1518).” Geographia Antiqua 13 (2004), 71–86.Find this resource:

Guckelsberger, Kurt, and Florian Mittenhuber. Überlegungen zur Kosmographie des anonymen Geographen von Ravenna. In Vermessung der Oikumene. Edited by Klaus Geus and Michael Rathmann, 287–310. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013.Find this resource:

Lozovsky, Natalia. The Earth Is Our Book: Geographical Knowledge in the Latin West ca. 400–1000. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Miller, Konrad. Mappaemundi. Die ältesten Weltkarten, vol. 6: Rekonstruierte Karten, 5–56. Stuttgart: J. Roth, 1898.

Mommsen, Theodor. “Über die Unteritalien betreffenden Abschnitte der ravennatischen Cosmographie.” Berichte über die Verhandlungen der Königlich Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften Philologisch-Historische Klasse 3 (1851): 80–117.Find this resource:

Mosca, Annapaola. “Anonymus Ravennas.” In La trasmissione dei latini del medioevo. Medieval Latin Texts and their Transmission. Edited by Paolo Chiesa and Lucia Castaldi, 28–31. Florence: SISMEL: Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2004.Find this resource:

Richmond, I. A., and O. G. S. Crawford. “The British Section of the Ravenna Cosmography.” Archaeologia 93 (1949): 1–50.Find this resource:

Rigoni, Anna Nicoletta. “La Venetia nella cosmografia dell’Anonimo Ravennate.” Archeologia Veneta 5 (1982): 207–55.Find this resource:

Rivet, A. L. F., and C. Smith. The Place Names of Roman Britain. London: Batsford, 1979.Find this resource:

Rossi, Giovanni Battista de. “Osservazioni critiche sopra il Cosmografo Ravennate e gli antichi geografi citati da lui.” Giornale arcadico di scienze, lettere ed arti 124 (1851): 259–289.Find this resource:

Salway, Benet. “The Nature and Genesis of the Peutinger Map.” Imago Mundi 57 (2005): 119–135.Find this resource:

Schillinger-Häfele, Ute. “Beobachtung zum Quellenproblem der Kosmographie von Ravenna.” Bonner Jahrbücher 163 (1963): 238–251.Find this resource:

Schnetz, Joseph. Untersuchungen zum Geographen von Ravenna. Munich: Wolf & Sohn, 1919.Find this resource:

Schnetz, Joseph. Untersuchungen über die Quellen der Kosmographie des anonymen Geographen von Ravenna. Munich: Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1942.Find this resource:

Staab, Franz. “Ostrogothic Geographers at the Court of Theodoric the Great: A Study of Some Sources of the Anonymous Cosmographer of Ravenna,” Viator 7 (1976): 27–64.Find this resource:

Staab, Franz. “Geograph von Ravenna.” In Reallexikon der Germanischchen Altertumskunde, 2d ed., Vol. 11, 102–109. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998.Find this resource:

Stolte, Bernardus Hendrikus. De cosmographie van den Anonymus Ravennas; een studie over de bronnen van boek II–V. Zundert, Druk Vorsselmans, 1949.Find this resource:

Stolte, Bernardus Hendrikus. “De datering van de Anonymus Ravennas,” with response by H. Halbertsma. Tijdschrift van het koninjlijk Nederlands Aardrijkskundig Genootschap 73 (1956): 260–261.Find this resource:

Talbert, Richard. Rome’s World: The Peutinger Map Reconsidered. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) I thank Richard Talbert, Patrick Gautier Dalché, Emily Albu, and Benet Salway for their valuable comments.

(2.) Louis Dillemann, La Cosmographie du Ravennate, ed. Yves Janvier (Brussels: Latomus, Revue d’Etudes Latines, 1997), 26–27; Franz Staab, “Geograph von Ravenna,” Reallexikon der Germanischchen Altertumskunde, vol. 11 (2d ed.) (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998), 102–109, at 103–104.

(3.) Annapaola Mosca, “Anonymus Ravennas,” in Paolo Chiesa and Lucia Castaldi, eds. La trasmissione dei latini del medioevo. Medieval Latin Texts and their Transmission (Florence: SISMEL: Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2004), 28–31, at 28–29.

(4.) Liber Guidonis compositus de uariis historiis. Studio ed edizione critica dei testi inediti, ed. Michele Campopiano (Florence: SISMEL: Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2008).

(5.) Theodor Mommsen, “Über die Unteritalien betreffenden Abschnitte der ravennatischen Cosmographie,” Berichte über die Verhandlungen der Königlich Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften Philologisch-Historische Klasse 3 (1851): 80–117; Konrad Miller, Mappaemundi. Die ältesten Weltkarten, vol. 6: Rekonstruierte Karten (Stuttgart: J. Roth, 1898), 5–56; Joseph Schnetz, Untersuchungen zum Geographen von Ravenna (Munich: Wolf & Sohn, 1919); idem, Untersuchungen über die Quellen der Kosmographie des anonymen Geographen von Ravenna (Munich: Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1942); I. A. Richmond and O. G. S. Crawford, “The British Section of the Ravenna Cosmography.” Archaeologia 93 (1949): 1–50; A. L. F. Rivet and C. Smith. The Place Names of Roman Britain. London: Batsford, 1979; Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, “Britannia in the Ravenna Cosmography: A reassessment; ” Kosmografiia’ Ravennskogo Anonima (Cosmographia Anonymi Ravennatis), partially translated into Russian by Alexander V. Podossinov, in Vostochnaiia Evropa v rimskoi kartograficheskoi traditsii (Eastern Europe in the Roman Cartographical Tradition) (Moscow: Indrik, 2002, 161–286).

(6.) Dillemann, La Cosmographie du Ravennate.

(7.) Kurt Guckelsberger and Florian Mittenhuber, “Überlegungen zur Kosmographie des anonymen Geographen von Ravenna,” in Vermessung der Oikumene, eds. Klaus Geus and Michael Rathmann (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), 287—310.

(8.) Schnetz, Untersuchungen über die Quellen, pp. 12–14.

(9.) Anna Nicoletta Rigoni, “La Venetia nella cosmografia dell’Anonimo Ravennate,” Archeologia Veneta 5 (1982): 207–255 and Guckelsberger and Mittenhuber, “Überlegungen,” 305–306.

(10.) Franz Staab, “Ostrogothic Geographers at the Court of Theodoric the Great: A Study of Some Sources of the Anonymous Cosmographer of Ravenna,” Viator 7 (1976): 27–64,” at 40–41.

(11.) Natalia Lozovsky, The Earth Is Our Book: Geographical Knowledge in the Latin West ca. 400–1000 (Ann Arbor,: The University of Michigan Press, 2000), 30–31, 59–60, 145–146; on Paradise see also Alessandro Scafi, Mapping Paradise: A History of Heaven on Earth (London: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 89, 241–242.

(12.) For the 19th century critical approach, with references to earlier scholarship, see Mommsen, “Über die Unteritalien” and Giovanni Battista de Rossi, “Osservazioni critiche sopra il Cosmografo Ravennate e gli antichi geografi citati da lui,” Giornale arcadico di scienze, lettere ed arti 124 (1851): 259–289.

(13.) Dillemann, La Cosmographie du Ravennate, 47–58.

(14.) Staab, “Ostrogothic Geographers.”

(15.) Michael Herren, “Aethicus Ister and Virgil the Grammarian,” in: Mélanges François Kerlouégan (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1994), 283–288, at 284.

(16.) For textual sources, see Schnetz, Untersuchungen über die Quellen, pp. 12–14; for the map, Miller, Mappaemundi, and Guckelsberger and Mittenhuber, “Überlegungen,” 297–298.

(17.) Dillemann, La Cosmographie du Ravennate, 38–40.

(18.) Miller, Die ältesten Weltkarten, 36; and Richard Talbert, Rome’s World: The Peutinger Map Reconsidered (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 133–134.

(19.) Ute Schillinger-Häfele, “Beobachtung zum Quellenproblem der Kosmographie von Ravenna,” Bonner Jahrbücher 163 (1963): 238–251; Pascal Arnaud, “L’origine, la date de rédaction et la diffusion de l’archétype de la Table de Peutinger,” Bulletin de la Société nationale des antiquaires de France (1988): 302–321; Dillemann, La Cosmographie du Ravennate, 38–44; and Patrick Gautier Dalché, “La trasmissione medievale e rinascimentale della Tabula Peutingeriana,’ in Tabula Peutingeriana: Le antiche vie del mondo, ed. Francesco Prontera (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2003), 43–52, translated into English by W. L. North.

(20.) For some examples, see the Cartographic Images website.

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