TITLE: The Psalter Map
DATE: 1225-1250 A.D.
DESCRIPTION: According to such scholars as Beazley, Santarem, and Miller,
this 13th century map belongs to a group or family of maps called Orosian-Isidorian,
consisting of the maps known as Henry of Mainz, Guido of Pisa, Vercelli,
Ebstorf, and Hereford maps (Slides #215,
#216 , #220.1, #224, #226) - presumably all derived
from a common original. The design of the Psalter map reveals an
extremely small circular map, only 8.5 cm in diameter, crowded with written
matter, supplying no less than 145 inscriptions. The title of the map is
reflective of its tone and intent, 'a book or collection of Psalms'. It
is, along with the Hereford and Ebstorf maps, a highly developed
and climaxing example of the religious cosmography that evolved during the
European Middle Ages, or as the critical Beazley puts it, "a highly
developed but scientifically debased example of semi-mythical Geography,
an elaborate exposition of strictly medieval habits of thought, applied
to Geography." The Psalter map displays world knowledge removed
as far as possible from the comparative science of the classical (Greek)
world, and as yet quite untouched by the new light of the later Middle Ages.
Or, simply the world as viewed by the didactic theocracy of medieval Europe.
At the top of the world-circle is the Savior Jesus Christ with uplifted
hands; in His left He holds the globe of earth; the latter has the familiar
T-O design of the continents sketched on its surface. On both sides of the
Savior stand angels swinging censers; below are two dragons facing
one another. On the reverse of the page the dragons are again sketched below
the earth-circle, and crushed beneath the feet of the Savior, whose
form thus serves as a background and support to the circuit of the earth,
as in the Ebstorf example and in so many other medieval European
pictures. The border that surrounds the map is almost identical in design
with that of the Hereford; but the Psalter border is executed
in pure Romanesque, the Hereford in Gothic. This fact helps us date
the former at least fifty years earlier than the latter, i.e., ca.1250 A.D.
(some authorities date the Psalter as early as 1225 A.D.).
The ocean appears as a watery zone, of equal breadth in every part, encircling
the world. The various winds, each represented by a head, as in the Hereford
map and on the Paris III-Beatus of 1250, (Slide #207E) are
designed in suitable places along the outer rim of ocean. This sort of plan
is also prominent in later works, like the mappamundi of Ranulf Higden
(Slide #232). In the titles of these winds, the
draftsman of the Psalter map is unusually and severely classical,
giving us the famous old names of Aquilo and Septentrio for
the North, Zephyrus for the West, Auster or Nothus for
the south and Eurus or Euro-Nothus for the East and Southeast.
The term Vulturnus, usually applied by classical writers to the southeast
wind, is assigned rather to the North-North-East by the Psalter draftsman.
The Mediterranean, Black Sea, Propontis, Caspian and Red Sea are all represented;
the waters of the Levant show unusual exaggeration; the Euxine
[Black Sea] is brought (as often elsewhere) very close to the Northern
Ocean. The coast from the delta of the Nile round to Caesarea is grossly
distorted, almost resembling the shore of a lake. The Caspian appears as
a narrow indent of the Northern Ocean, divided in two by a long peninsula
(in the extreme northeast of Asia), and encircled by the greatest mountain-wall
in the world (the region of Gog - Magog), pierced apparently at one
point by the Gates of Alexander.
While centered precisely on Jerusalem, Paradise, in the Far East,
is conceived in a somewhat exceptional manner. The sun pours out of its
mouth the flood waters which flows through the Garden of Eden, and
supplies the five sacred rivers; for the author has entered both the Ganges
and the Phison in this list. Usually tradition identifies four sacred rivers,
using either the Ganges or Phison (see Cosmas Slide
#202). The heads of Adam and Eve appear within the enclosure, which
seems to be marked off with lofty and symmetrical mountains. The Tree
of Temptation is roughly drawn between the two faces. (Bevan and Phillot,
Medieval Geography, xlii, suggest the Arbre Sec, which they
make identical with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; and
Yule, Marco Polo, II.397, refers us to legendary language about the
Dry Tree which would perhaps support such an identification; - 'in
the midst of Paradise was a fountain, whence flowed four rivers, and over
the fountain a great Tree bare of bark and leaves'). The trees of the Sun
and Moon are here separately indicated, close to Paradise on
the south; while the Tigris flows direct from Paradise to the Indian
Ocean, and the Euphrates (or rather one of two rivers so named) enters a
mountain chain west of Paradise, named Orcatoten, and thence flows
to the Persian Gulf. Of the Nile only the Egyptian portion is given. The
Arae Liberi et Colimae Herculi[s] occurs near the Indus, but the
Arae Alexandri are near the border of Europe; Albania, in northeast
Asia, recalls the Anglo-Saxon or Cottoniana map (Slide #210); Cyropolis, near the Caspian, is perhaps
for Cyreschata on the Jaxartes, famous for Alexander's siege; Sclaveni
occidentales, near the Black Sea, are suggestive of much more modern
times, like the island of Norvegia. The Arabian and Persian Gulfs
appear to be melted into one by the draftsman of the Psalter map,
and in the same great indent he has put the ocean, off the coast of India,
filled with large islands. The Ganges has an utterly false direction, flowing
from the northern mountains, not into the sea, but to Paradise, like
one of the two Euphrates rivers, here delineated. Northwest Africa is marked
off, like the northeast of Asia, by a belt, which was perhaps intended for
mountains, as in the other case, but remains as a mere linear mark with
the legend, Sandy and Desert Land.
A zone of monstrous races runs along the southern coast of Africa. Among
the monsters of this region are Dog-headed Folk and people with heads
in various stages of aggressiveness, having either descended between their
shoulders or else absorbed the entire trunk of the body. Besides these there
are cannibals, a race with six fingers, Troglodytes, Serpent-eaters,
Skiapodes, and a nation that obtained shadow from the hugeness not of their
foot but of their lip; tribes also without tongues, without ears, or without
noses; others who, having only a little hole for mouths, were forced to
suck their food through a reed; Maritime Aethiops with four eyes; and beings
who never walked, but crawled on hands and feet. These races, fourteen
in all, come mostly from Solinus; many of them occur also on Ebstorf,
on Hereford, or on both.
The draftsman's excessive regard for a literal interpretation of the Old
and New Testaments explains the orbo-centric position of Jerusalem. In fact
much the same reason may be used to account for the Psalter's eastern
orientation. So many biblical references and place-names within Palestine
and adjacent Bible lands are given that this area occupies more than a third
of Asia. The Ark of Noah appears very clearly on a mountain of Armenia,
and a large fish swims in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, perhaps as a
reminiscence of the New Testament history. The Barns of Joseph, close
to Babylon and Egypt, show us that our artist has heard of the Pyramids.
The most famous cities of the ancient world, and the most famous sites of
the Bible, are nearly all represented; while the immense and symmetrical
Jerusalem, in the very middle of the world, forms a perfect center to an
The closest relation of the Psalter map is the Ebstorf, which
is probably junior by at least half a century; but the former is remarkable
for a number of old names which do not occur on the maps of either Ebstorf
or Hereford. Its delineation of the monstrous races of the south
show a more antique character, and so probably a closer relationship to
the common 11th (?) century original. This original probably contained many
names and legends, attached to various indications of cities and natural
features, which have only partially survived in the derivatives. In the
text of the Psalter map there seems to exist a very imperfect copy
of this original, both in amount and style, though it gives us an astonishingly
large mass of matter for its size. In its delineation the world-picture
the Psalter perhaps reproduces its model better than in its text;
the scribe was presumably better as a draftsman than as a scholar.
The Psalter and Ebstorf also have a curiously similar treatment
of the Caspian Rampart (otherwise Alexander's Wall, the Hyrcanian
Mountains, or Barrier of the Jews - some scholars believe that
this feature is actually the reflection of a vague or confused reference
to the Great Wall of China), shutting in the Gog-Magogs and other
monsters of the North; but the Gates of Alexander are more clearly
marked on the Psalter than anywhere else in this family of maps.
The two bays that run off northward from the Erythraean indent of
the ocean are somewhat unusual in their position and conception; one corresponds
to the upper part of the Persian Gulf, the other to the sea at the mouth
of the Indus, the Gulf and Runn of Cutch, or perhaps the Gulf of Cambay.
On the Psalter, Jerome, Hereford and Ebstorf maps alike, Africa
stretches round very close to the neighborhood of India; and further similarities
may be observed in the unnatural abridgement of the three major peninsulas
of southern Europe: Greek, Spanish and Italian.
With the Hereford map the textual correspondence is almost as noticeable
as with the Ebstorf map; the difference in cartographic form are
often probably mere arbitrary eccentricities of the designer. One may consider
this little circular plan, so minute in scale, so immense in the quantity
of its details, as a sort of bridge or transition between the types represented
by Ebstorf, Hereford and Henry of Mainz. At the same time,
like Ebstorf and Hereford, it stands much further away from
the Jerome maps (Slide #215 ) than does the
work of Henry; but, with the Jerome map of the orient, it helps us
to fill in the gap which has been left in the Far East of the Ebstorf
example. Perhaps the Trees of the Sun and Moon, as shown on the
Psalter, correspond to the Pillars of Alexander and of
Hercules in the original design.
Outside its own 'family', the Psalter map has some points of agreement
both with Lambert of St. Omer (Slide#217)
and with Beatus (Slide #207). Of modern names it gives us several
in Europe, one in Africa, but none in Asia. The most interesting of these
are Damietta, in an entirely wrong position; the Ruscitae or Russians,
perhaps derived from the Ruzzia of Adam of Bremen, the Olcus
or Volga, the 'Land of the Western Slavs', Ala or Halle in
Germany and three names in Britain, viz. Scotland, Walni [Wales]
In coloration, the Psalter map shows seas in green (except the Red
Sea which is colored red), the rivers are blue, and the relief is represented
by natural-colored lobed chains. The settlements are displayed as ocher
LOCATION: British Library (Add. MS. 28681, fol. 9r)
*Beazley, C., The Dawn of Modern Geography, volume II, pp. 568-570; 617-620.
*Destombes, M., Mappemondes, A.D. 1200-1500, #49.8.
*Harley, J.B., The History of Cartography, Volume One, pp. 327-28, 331,
Figures 18.35, 18.63.
*Harvey, P.D.A., Medieval Maps, p. 27, Plate 20 (color).
*Humble, R., The Explorers, The Seafarers, (color).
*Kimble, G., Geography of the Middle Ages, pp. 186-87.