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  • Da Ming Hunyi Tu Map, 1389 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#6) Da Ming Hunyi Tu Map, 1389

    In China, medieval mapmakers produced the Da Ming Hunyi Tu, also known as the Composite Map of the Ming Empire, in 1389. The map, a full 15 feet wide, was painted on silk and showed the entire world as known to the Ming. It was also produced at a time of upheaval for China, when the Mongol Yuan rulers had only recently been expelled. In the late 1300s, China balanced between an international outlook, which had been promoted by Mongol rulers, and a more internal focus, promoted by more conservative factions. 

    Much of the knowledge in the Da Ming Hunyi Tu came from China’s many contacts with Muslim cartographers and intellectuals, and the place names on the western borders of the map are derived from Arabic names.

    China would send out the voyager Zheng He to explore the world for nearly three decades in the early 1400s. But after his passing, Ming emperors decided to stop voyages of exploration and focus on China. As they argued, “barbarian” nations offered little of value to China’s prosperity.

  • Ebstorf Map, Circa 1234 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#9) Ebstorf Map, Circa 1234

    The king of medieval religious maps is the Ebstorf Map, made in the 1230s. It was rediscovered 600 years later, in the 19th century, in a convent in Ebstorf, a small town in Germany. The map takes the typical T-O format, with Asia at the top and Europe and Africa below. It is also the largest known medieval map, measuring nearly 12 feet across. It is so enormous that the map was drawn on 30 goatskins.

    The most startling feature of the map, besides its size, is the curious image at the top, sides, and bottom of the map. Look closely, and you’ll spot hands and feet sticking out of the Earth, and a head perched at the top of the map. The figure is Jesus; the world, according to the unknown mapmaker, is literally the body of Christ. 

    The time, money, and effort that went into creating this medieval map were all erased in 1943 during a WWII air raid on Hanover, when the original map met its end. 

  • Catalan Atlas, 1375 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#11) Catalan Atlas, 1375

    In the late 1300s, the most famous mapmakers in Europe were a family of Catalonian Jews. King Charles V of France commissioned the Catalan Atlas to show the most current geographical knowledge in the world, as of 1375. The map is an artistic creation that combines portolan chart geographic knowledge with hundreds of illustrations.

    On the world map, you can spot Europeans traveling the Silk Road to China; a warrior elephant with sharpened tusks; the flags of various territories; and strange birds, animals, and people. The map also paints many of the islands, such as Corsica and Sardinia, in gold. Islands were a popular topic of fascination in the late medieval and Renaissance period, and multiple mapmakers created “Isolarios,” or books of islands, that would simply contain maps of different islands. On sea charts, islands were an obstacle to navigation, but they were also linked to the notion of a territorial state.

  • Anglo-Saxon World Map, Circa 1025-1050 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#5) Anglo-Saxon World Map, Circa 1025-1050

    The Anglo-Saxon map, made in Canterbury between 1025 and 1050, contains the earliest known realistic depiction of the British Isles. However, it is almost unrecognizable as a world map, in part because it doesn’t follow many of the conventions of other medieval T-O style maps. Like the Tabula Peutingeriana, it recalls a Roman past by using Roman names for the provinces.

    The British Isles are at the bottom left corner of the map, with Jerusalem roughly at the center, again showing the influence of religion on medieval mapmaking. As with many medieval maps, the top is east. Before the 1500s, there was no convention about putting north at the top of maps, and many placed east at the top because Europeans were convinced the biblical Earthly Paradise was in the Far East. 

  • Tabula Peutingeriana, 1265 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#3) Tabula Peutingeriana, 1265

    The Tabula Peutingeriana, an itinerary map, is a reproduction of a Roman map, showing the highways of the Roman world all the way from England to Sri Lanka. It isn’t to scale and manipulates space to show the road system. Pictured are stopping places, prominent towns, and mountain ranges.

    The Tabula Peutingeriana is also massive at 22 feet in length. At that size, it wouldn’t be useful for a road trip, but with 555 cities and 3,500 place names, it is a chronicle of Rome’s reach.

    The map’s geographic information dates back to before at least 79 AD, since you can spot Pompeii. The original map has been lost, but we still have a copy thanks to a monk who reproduced it on 11 scrolls in 1265. 

  • Medici-Laurentian Atlas, 1351 on Random Weird Maps from the Middle Ages

    (#12) Medici-Laurentian Atlas, 1351

    Some medieval maps are still recognizable today. Africa might appear a bit strange on the Medici-Laurentian Atlas map from 1351, but Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East are all remarkably accurate. That’s because the anonymous maker of this map, probably from Genoa, was trained in making portolan charts. 

    Portolan charts were used by sailors to navigate the Mediterranean and Black Seas. They required precise geographic knowledge so ships would not get lost. While this expensive and beautifully painted map would not have been taken out to sea, it incorporates knowledge from portolan charts. It also serves as a reminder that religious medieval maps were not produced because mapmakers lacked geographical knowledge, but because the maps served a specific purpose.

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About This Tool

In the Middle Ages, people did not have map consciousness. As a new civilized world is being formed, the concept of maps that once existed in the Greco-Roman era is gradually dying out. Although some ancient Roman world maps were preserved until the early Middle Ages, they apparently disappeared as slowly as the dying classical traditions and knowledge, which also led to the production of strange maps at that time.

The knowledge and techniques of scientific mapping were not rediscovered until the 15th and 16th centuries. The random tool shows 12 weird maps of the Middle Ages that you must be interested in.

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