Maps from BL Arundel 93, ff. 158v-159
Miniatures of maps. Image taken from ff. 158v-159 of Liber insularum archipelagi. Written in Latin.
The Mediterranean Sea was the hub of transport, trade and cultural links between three continents: Western Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe. The history of the cultures and people of the Mediterranean region is important for understanding the origin and development of the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Canaanite, Phoenician, Hebrew, Carthaginian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Ottoman, Christian and Islamic cultures. The Italian "Repubbliche Marinare" (Maritime Republics) of Venice, Genoa, Amalfi and Pisa developed their own "empires" in the Mediterranean shores. The Islamic states had never been major naval powers, and trade from the east to Europe was soon in the hands of Italian traders, especially the Genoese and the Venetians, who profited immensely from it. The Republic of Pisa and later the Republic of Ragusa used diplomacy to further trade and maintained a libertarian approach in civil matters to further sentiment in its inhabitants. The republic of Venice got to dominate the eastern Mediterranean shores after the Fourth Crusade. In 1347 the Black Death spread from Constantinople across the mediterranean basin. In 1453, the Byzantine Empire was extinguished with the fall of Constantinople.
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.