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1556 Münster Map of the World According to Ptolemy

[La Secunde Table Generale Selon Ptol.] - Main View

1556 Münster Map of the World According to Ptolemy


A foundational map.



[La Secunde Table Generale Selon Ptol.]
  1540 (undated)     10 x 13.25 in (25.4 x 33.655 cm)     1 : 70000000


An attractive 1556 example of Sebastian Münster's map of the world, according to Claudius Ptolemy. The map thus details the Oikumene, the inhabited world as it was known to the Roman Empire of the second century, well before the Age of Discovery. It covers only the 'Old World' from the Atlantic (Pillars of Hercules) to Indochina, and from the Arctic to the Equator. The map is surrounded by aeoli and clouds.
On the Map
The map shows a roughly conic projection of part of the globe reaching as far south as the Tropic of Capricorn. (Ptolemy knew the world was round, as did virtually every geographer and astronomer of the classical era.) Europe can be seen in the upper left. Below it, a familiar North Africa continues into a massive continent, expanding to fill the lower part of the map. The African interior is dominated by two great river systems, the Niger, extending form the Atlantic, and the Nile. The southern extreme of Africa continues into a massive landform entirely surrounding the Indian Ocean and ultimately connecting with Asia beyond the Malay Peninsula (a territory called India Extra Gangem (India beyond the Ganges). Within the enclosed Indian Ocean, Arabia and the Persian Gulf are clearly recognizable. Tapobrana, in the midst of this great sea, is mostly probably the island of Ceylon or modern-day Sri Lanka. It appeared on Ptolemaic maps greatly exaggerated in size due to its significance to the classical spice trade. Scholars of Münster's day, however, were beginning to suspect that the great insular trade center described in Ptolemy's work was actually Sumatra. India, appearing amorphously just to the north, is undersized by comparison.
Beyond Ptolemy
The depiction on this map of Scandinavia - Septētrional Regiones - does not originate with Ptolemy. The northern limits of the Ptolemaic world map end at about 63 degrees north, and there are no Ptolemaic maps specifically of Scandinavia: for the 2nd century Alexandrian Roman, those areas were utterly unknown, beyond the remotest hinterlands of the north. Some fifteenth century manuscript editions of Ptolemy began to include a new mapping of the northern regions, and this part of the world began to be appended to the Ptolemaic world map, as Münster has done here: the Ptolemaic maps he would have had access to during his student years in Germany would have included this element.
The Classical Foundations of Modern Geography
Münster's Cosmographia contained a complement of between fourteen and twenty-eight maps, depending on the edition; virtually all of these were notable for being among the first printed maps of the areas they depicted. They included maps of the whole continents of America, Asia and Africa, as well as a more modern map of the world than this one. Why, then, did Cosmographia include this element of ancient geography?

The maps appearing in Münster's Cosmographia had an earlier outing in his authoritative, expanded version of Ptolemy's Geographia. This work presented Ptolemy's exhaustive tables plotting the coordinates of the cities, mountains, rivers and seas of the known inhabited world - the Oikumene. To these classical maps, Münster added maps showing both the new discoveries made since Ptolemy, and also showing the changes to place names that had occurred in the intervening period. But while Münster corrected Ptolemy's antiquated data, he retained the ancient scholar's methodology - laying out a grid on a projection, assigning coordinates to real world locations, and then plotting those locations out on the projection to produce a mathematical map. Ptolemy's Geographia would remain an essential, foundational work studied by geographers up into the eighteenth century, so updated and improved editions of the work (such as Münster's) would continue to be published. Münster's inclusion of Ptolemy's Oikumene in his otherwise explicitly modern Cosmographia provided both an homage to Ptolemy's towering authority, and also a reference point to understand the rapidity with which the discoveries of the 16th century were expanding the 'known inhabited world.'
Publication History and Census
This map was first published in Münster's 1540 Basel Heinrich Petri edition of Geographia. It appeared in all subsequent editions of that work and Münster's own Cosmographia until 1578. Petri's son, Sebastian, would continue printing editions of Cosmographia beginning in 1588, but with a new complement of woodcut maps based on the more up-to-date geography of Abraham Ortelius. All editions of Geographia were printed in Latin, but there were editions of Cosmographia printed in Latin, German, French, and Italian. The present example corresponds to those appearing in the 1556 French edition. The German and Latin editions of Cosmographia are well represented in institutional collections; French and Italian editions were printed in smaller number and are scarcer.


Sebastian Münster (January 20, 1488 - May 26, 1552), was a German cartographer, cosmographer, Hebrew scholar and humanist. He was born at Ingelheim near Mainz, the son of Andreas Munster. He completed his studies at the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen in 1518, after which he was appointed to the University of Basel in 1527. As Professor of Hebrew, he edited the Hebrew Bible, accompanied by a Latin translation. In 1540 he published a Latin edition of Ptolemy's Geographia, which presented the ancient cartographer's 2nd century geographical data supplemented systematically with maps of the modern world. This was followed by what can be considered his principal work, the Cosmographia. First issued in 1544, this was the earliest German description of the modern world. It would become the go-to book for any literate layperson who wished to know about anywhere that was further than a day's journey from home. In preparation for his work on Cosmographia, Münster reached out to humanists around Europe and especially within the Holy Roman Empire, enlisting colleagues to provide him with up-to-date maps and views of their countries and cities, with the result that the book contains a disproportionate number of maps providing the first modern depictions of the areas they depict. Münster, as a religious man, was not producing a travel guide. Just as his work in ancient languages was intended to provide his students with as direct a connection as possible to scriptural revelation, his object in producing Cosmographia was to provide the reader with a description of all of creation: a further means of gaining revelation. The book, unsurprisingly, proved popular and was reissued in numerous editions and languages including Latin, French, Italian, English, and Czech. The last German edition was published in 1628, long after Münster's death of the plague in 1552. Cosmographia was one of the most successful and popular books of the 16th century, passing through 24 editions between 1544 and 1628. This success was due in part to its fascinating woodcuts (some by Hans Holbein the Younger, Urs Graf, Hans Rudolph Manuel Deutsch, and David Kandel). Münster's work was highly influential in reviving classical geography in 16th century Europe, and providing the intellectual foundations for the production of later compilations of cartographic work, such as Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Münster's output includes a large format 1536 map of Europe; the 1532 Grynaeus map of the world is also attributed to him. His non-geographical output includes Dictionarium trilingue in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and his 1537 Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. Most of Munster's work was published by his son-in-Law, Heinrich Petri (Henricus Petrus), and his son Sebastian Henric Petri. 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 atlas 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 ground breaking achievement far in advance of any known pre-existent cartography, however, it was not without flaws. His other great error involved his use of the Cape Verde Islands as a Prime Meridian, thus wildly over estimating distances east of this point, and conversely underestimating the distances west. The ultimate result of this error was Columbus's fateful expedition to India in 1492. In any case, though the text of Ptolemy's Geographiae did survive, the maps that supposedly accompanied it did not. The earliest known Ptolemaic maps are in manuscript format and date to approximately 1300. Most of Ptolemaic maps 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 both the 1477 Bologna and the 1482-6 Ulm Ptolemies. Even after printed versions became broadly available, later authorities - Waldseemuller in 1513, Mercator in 1578 - would consult early manuscript Ptolemies in revising new editions of the work. Learn More...

Heinrich Petri (1508 - 1579) and his son Sebastian Henric Petri (1545 – 1627) were printers based in Basel, Switzerland. Heinrich was the son of the printer Adam Petri and Anna Selber. After Adam died in 1527, Anna married the humanist and geographer Sebastian Munster - one of Adam's collaborators. Sebastian contracted his son-in-law, Henricus Petri (Petrus), to print editions of his wildly popular Cosmographia. Later Petri, brought his son, Sebastian Henric Petri, into the family business. Their firm was known as the Officina Henricpetrina. In addition to the Cosmographia, they also published a number of other seminal works including the 1566 second edition of Nicolaus Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium and Georg Joachim Rheticus's Narratio. Learn More...


Münster, Sebastian La Cosmographie Universelle, (Basel: Petri) 1556.     The Cosmographia Universalis, one of the greatest geographical and historical works of the 16th century, 'taught nearly three generations of laymen most of what they knew about the world beyond their native places' (Strauss). Filled with maps, views, and rich descriptions of places throughout Europe and beyond, it was the best general source of geographical information until the advent of Ortelius' Theatrum. It was first issued by Sebastian Munster (1488 - 1552) in its 1544 German edition, and stayed in print long after its author's death in thirty five editions, and in five languages. (Of these, the 1550 and 1552 editions are widely regarded as the most complete and truest to the author's intentions: thereafter, later editors continued to add to the work's text; editions from 1588 onwards employed an entirely different set of maps produced on Ortelius' model.) Munster's goal, initially, was to rally his homeland's humanists and scholars to produce a new map of Germany in order to 'see what kind of a land our ancestors conquered for their home... bring honor to our country and place its beauties in the clear light of day.' Munster's project quickly expanded to cover the known world in its scope to produce a 'sufficiently large volume, in which I touch upon the foundation of all nations and kingdoms, their peculiarities, rivers, mountains, customs of men, royal successions, origins of the more important cities, succinct histories, religions, characteristics and fertility of lands... in Germany, however, I tarry a little longer.'.

Munster's methodology in Cosmographia is notable in particular for his dedication to providing his readers with direct access to firsthand reports of his subjects wherever possible. Many of the maps were the result of his own surveys; others, the fruit of an indefatigable letter writing campaign to scholars, churchmen and princes throughout Europe, amicably badgering them for maps, views, and detailed descriptions of their lands. For lands further afield than his letters could reach, Munster relied on the best that the authorities of northern European scholarship could offer: he was well familiar with the work of Waldseemuller and other geographers of the early 16th century, and was well connected with the best geographers of his own generation. A disproportionate number of the maps of Cosmographia show contemporary geographical knowledge of the their respective areas for the very first time: The first map to show the continents of the Western Hemisphere; the first map to focus on the continent of Asia; the first modern map to name the Pacific Ocean; the first map to use a key; the first modern map of the British Isles and so on. Even in cases where earlier maps exist, Munster's works very often remain the earliest such acquirable by the collector.


Good. Margins extended, not impacting map image, title lacking. Reinforced on verso, else a very attractive example.


OCLC 701823340. Rumsey 11623.011. Shirley, Rodney W., The Mapping of the World: Early Printed World Maps 1472-1700, 76.