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Map from BL Royal 12 F IV, f. 135v

Map from BL Royal 12 F IV, f. 135v



Detail of a circular diagram representing a map of the world (a so-called 'T-O' map). Image taken from f. 135v of Commentary on Phocas's Ars de nomine et verbo; Etymologiae and De nominibus legis et evangelii sive Alegoriae. Written in Latin.

Pre - 1600s maps, atlases and manuscripts

During the Medieval period, European maps were dominated by religious views. All maps were, of course, drawn and illuminated by hand, which made the distribution of maps extremely limited. Medieval geography divided the world into three schematic parts: Asia, Europe, and Africa. Asia was depicted on top as the birthplace of Christ and the original site of the Garden of Eden. A T-O map (orbis terrarum, orb or circle of the lands; with the letter T inside an O), also known as an Isidoran map, is a type of early world map that represents the physical world as first described by the 7th-century scholar Isidore of Seville in his De Natura Rerum and later his Etymologiae. In this map format, Jerusalem was depicted at the center and east was oriented toward the map top. The design had great religious significance, with the “T” representing the central Christian symbol of the cross and placing Jerusalem at the center of the world. The “T” also separated the continents of the known world—Asia, Europe, and Africa—and the “O” that enclosed the entire image, represented the medieval idea of the world surrounded by water.



British Library

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