1761 Map of Pomponius' Mela's Africa

Viro Optimo Maximoque, Minorum Gentium Patricio, Philippo Sydenham Africa. - Main View

1761 Map of Pomponius' Mela's Africa


18th century depiction of 1st century Africa.


Viro Optimo Maximoque, Minorum Gentium Patricio, Philippo Sydenham Africa.
  1761 (undated)     7.25 x 9.5 in (18.415 x 24.13 cm)     1 : 42500000


This is a fine example of a scarce and unusual map of Africa, included in scholar John Reynolds' 1739 and 1761 editions of Pomponius Mela's first century geographical work, De Situ Orbis. The map was intended to aid the modern reader with ancient geography, by placing the first century Roman geographer's toponymy in the framework of a more modern delineation of the continent. In order to do so, despite presenting a recognizable 18th century outline of Africa, the mountains and rivers displayed on the map correspond more closely to the ideas of Mela than those of later cartographers. Most obvious among these traits is the lack of any river associated with the Atlantic, and the depiction of the River Nile with its headwaters in a massive lake reminiscent of the westernmost of the pair that would be associated with the later Roman geographer, Ptolemy.
An Elegant Cartouche
The map is dedicated to Philip Sydenham (1676 - 1739), the third and last Baronet of Brympton. Sydenham was a famous and keen scholar and bibliophile, and a Tory politician (famed for nothing, in that respect.) His scholarly pursuits commanded his full attention, and his estates fell into debt. Ultimately, he sold his library and appears to have led an itinerant life until his death.
Publication History and Census
This map was produced for inclusion in a 1739 London edition of Pomponius Mela's De Situ Orbis, and prepared by Eton scholar John Reynolds. The engraver is not known. A posthumous, 1761 edition was printed at Eton using the same plates without change. An example in a dealers' catalog from 2008 attributes the map to Richard Elsworth but we see no other examples corresponding to this. The separate map is not cataloged in OCLC, but the Pote/Reynolds edition of Mela is well represented in institutional collections.


Pomponius Mela (died 45 CE) was the first Roman geographer. He produced a short work, De situ orbis libri III, which would continue to be an authority well into the 16th century; geographers such as Ortelius would continue to mine Mela's work for data where modern authorities remained silent. Apart from Pliny's Historia naturalis Mela's work is the only formal geographical work in Classical Latin, and as such it remained in the curriculum well into the 19th century. More by this mapmaker...

John Reynolds (July 9, 1671 - July 27, 1758) was an English priest, teacher and scholar. He had a lifelong connection with the Eton, entering the school as a student in 1689. He earned his BA at exeter in 1694, and his Masters in 1698; he would earn a degree in Divinity at Oxford in 1718. He was ordained as a priest in 1729. He would become a Fellow of the school in 1733. He was a Canon of Exeter Cathedral, and a benefactor to King's College. His edition of Pomponius Mela's De Situ Orbis was published posthumously in 1761. Learn More...

Joseph Pote (1703?–1787) was an English publisher, editor and bookseller who carried out his business in Eton (and indeed appears to have kept a boarding house for students of the famous school there.) His connections with the school appear to have been many: he published the school's alumni catalogue in 1730, for example. Much of his output - for example, his 1761 edition of Mela, and his histories of Windsor Castle - are aimed at an educational audience.

A couplet ascribed to Eton boys of the 18th century complains of Pote:

Jos. Pote, a man of great renown

Buys a book for sixpence and sells it for a crown.
Plus ça change. Learn More...


Mela, P., De situ orbis, (Eton, Pote) 1761.    


Excellent. Generous margins with a sharp, bold strike. Faint toning in margins, else fine.


Not in OCLC or Afriterra.