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Madaba Map  

Richard J. A. Talbert

This damaged, but still striking, floor-mosaic map offers a unique and invaluable example of late antique cartography, as well as the earliest surviving vision of the Holy Land. The map was discovered by accident around 1890, when the inhabitants of the recently repopulated village of Madaba in modern Jordan were erecting a new church (dedicated to Saint George) in the ruins of a former Byzantine one in the province of Arabia. By far the largest part of what survives of the map extends up to 10.5 × 5 metres (34 × 16 feet), although within this span several areas are missing. The survival of three other small segments reinforces the probability that the original map covered the full width of the nave(14 metres/46 feet). The orientation is east, so that the top of the map is closest to the apse and altar. The coverage visible comprises two large sections: (1) the Nile delta, part of Sinai, and the south coast of Palestine as far as Gaza; and (2) Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and several towns around it. There is no means to determine how much farther the original map extended in each direction, but in all likelihood it ranged considerably farther north at least. The Jordan and Nile rivers, the Dead Sea, and the city of Jerusalem in bird’s-eye view (Fig.


Dionysius Periegetes  

J. L. Lightfoot

Dionysius Periegetes is the Alexandrian author of a poem in 1,186 hexameters entitled “Periegesis of the Known World” (Οἰκουμένης Περιήγησις). Answering to Aratus’s Phaenomena as a specimen of cosmographically themed didactic epic, and conceived on a similar scale (Aratus’s poem has 1,154 lines), it describes the approximate layout of the seas and landmasses as they were understood at the time of the poem’s composition during the reign of Hadrian. It is the only work on its subject to survive in hexameters. In light of the loss of geographical poems by “Alexander” (presumably of Ephesus) and Varro of Atax, its closest relatives are the partially preserved iambic poems by ps.-Scymnus and Dionysius son of Calliphon. But the poet’s scrupulous metre and sophisticated use of allusion constructs a lineage across archaic, classical, and Hellenistic poets to place him among the most refined writers of the Second Sophistic movement. The packaging of dense informational content with user-friendly readability and adept poetics proved a winning combination, and Dionysius’s poem remained on school syllabuses for a good millennium and a half after its composition.


Ravenna Cosmographer (Anonymus Ravennas)  

Natalia Lozovsky

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.