1535 Ptolemaic Map of Central Asia North of the Himalayas

(Tabula VIII Asiae) - Main View

1535 Ptolemaic Map of Central Asia North of the Himalayas


Western China, Mongolia and Central Asia North of the Himalayas


(Tabula VIII Asiae)
  1535 (undated)     12 x 16 in (30.48 x 40.64 cm)     1 : 11000000


This map depicts the area now known as China and Mongolia. Specifically, it shows the lands known to Strabo and Ptolemy as Scythia Extra Imaum and Serica. Scythia Extra Imaum refers to the territory of the nomadic Scythians to the east of the Tian Shan mountain range, while Serica was a mysterious land thought to be the source of silk: indeed, the place name literally means “the land where silk comes from.” The map includes specific descriptors for some of the people to be found in the region: in the northwestern extreme of the map, Hippophagi (horse-eaters) and Anthropophagi (cannibals) can be found. Since this map covers one of the norther nmost regions addressed in Ptolemy's work, it includes notation in its margins indicating the increase in the length of the days as one travels north, a phenomenon not easily observed during Ptolemy's time but one with which northern European travelers of the 16th century would have been growing familiar.
Publication History and Census
Fries’s edition of Ptolemy was largely produced to meet continued demand for Waldseemuller’s work, after copies of the original editions of 1513 and 1520 sold out. There were no similar works available at the time, and there would not be until Munster's edition of Geographia in 1540. Fries produced two editions of his Ptolemy in 1522 and 1525: Two further editions were published in 1535 and 1541 (Lyons and Vienne-in-the-Dauphane, respectively). The editor of the latter two editions Michael Villanovus (better know as Servetus) was tried for heresy in 1553. One of the pieces of evidence used against him, quite incredibly, was the statement on the verso of the modern Holy Land map characterizing it as mainly infertile. Despite merely having copied the incriminating text from the 1522 edition, he was burned at the stake. Reportedly, Calvin ordered copies of the two Servetus editions of the atlas to be likewise burned. We see three copies of the 1535 edition of Geographia in institutional collections. Despite this, examples of the separate maps do appear on the market.


Lorenz Fries (c. 1490 – 1531) was a German cartographer, cosmographer, astrologer and physician based in Strasbourg. Little is known of Fries' early life. He may have studied in Padua, Piacenza, Montpellier and Vienna, but strong evidence of this is unfortunately lacking. The first recorded mention of Fries on a 1513 Nuremberg broadside. Fries settled in Strasbourg in March of 1519, where he developed a relationship with the St. Die scholars, including, among others, Walter Lud, Martin Ringmann and Martin Waldseemüller. There he also befriended the printer and publisher Johann Grüninger. Although his primary profession was as a doctor, from roughly 1520 to 1525 he worked closely with Grüninger as the geographic editor of various maps and atlases based upon the work of Martin Waldseemüller. Although his role is unclear, his first map seems to have been a 1520 reissue of Waldseemüller's world map of 1507. Around this time he also began working on Grüninger's reissue of Waldseemüller's 1513 edition of Ptolemy, Geographie Opus Novissima. That edition included three new maps by Fries based upon the Waldseemüller world map of 1507 – two of these, his maps of East Asia and Southeast Asia, are quite significant as the first specific maps of these regions issued by a European publisher. In 1525 Fries decided to leave Strasbourg and surrendered his citizenship, relocating to Trier. In 1528 he moved to Basel. Afterwards he relocated to Metz where he most likely died. In addition to his cartographic work, Fries published tracts on medicine, religion, and astrology. Learn More...

Claudius Ptolemy (83 - 161 AD) is considered to be the father of cartography. A native of Alexandria living at the height of the Roman Empire, Ptolemy was renowned as a student of Astronomy and Geography. His work as an astronomer, as published in his Almagest, held considerable influence over western thought until Isaac Newton. His cartographic influence remains to this day. Ptolemy was the first to introduce projection techniques and to publish an atlas, the Geographiae. Ptolemy based his geographical and historical information on the "Geographiae" of Strabo, the cartographic materials assembled by Marinus of Tyre, and contemporary accounts provided by the many traders and navigators passing through Alexandria. Ptolemy's Geographiae was a groundbreaking achievement far in advance of any known pre-existent cartography, not for any accuracy in its data, but in his method. His projection of a conic portion of the globe on a grid, and his meticulous tabulation of the known cities and geographical features of his world, allowed scholars for the first time to produce a mathematical model of the world's surface. In this, Ptolemy's work provided the foundation for all mapmaking to follow. His errors in the estimation of the size of the globe (more than twenty percent too small) resulted in Columbus's fateful expedition to India in 1492.

Ptolemy's text was lost to Western Europe in the middle ages, but survived in the Arab world and was passed along to the Greek world. Although the original text almost certainly did not include maps, the instructions contained in the text of Ptolemy's Geographiae allowed the execution of such maps. When vellum and paper books became available, manuscript examples of Ptolemy began to include maps. The earliest known manuscript Geographias survive from the fourteenth century; of Ptolemies that have come down to us today are based upon the manuscript editions produced in the mid 15th century by Donnus Nicolaus Germanus, who provided the basis for all but one of the printed fifteenth century editions of the work. Learn More...


Ptolemy, C. Claudii Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographicae enarrationis libri octo. (Lyons, Servetus) 1535    


Very good. Woodcut with fine hand color. Old marginal notations.


OCLC 801704525