The Middle Ages are the thousand years between the collapse of the Roman Empire, in the 5th century AD, and the era of discoveries in the 16th century. During that long period, people were confined to cities, castles and monasteries, with a sense of loss for the destroyed world. The roads were destroyed and degenerated, the traffic was very limited, and with it the voyages of geographical discovery were canceled.
In the Middle Ages, due to the general decline in the development of civilizations in the West, the cognitive, imaginary, abstract, and anthropomprphic maps became the main cartographic works. They were based on books and maps from the Classical period that survived after the collapse of the Roman Empire. But because of the dangers on the roads, the scholars, gathered in their homes, tried to imagine what the world outside the walls was, in order to create a cognitive tool that would enable them to recalculate their course.
Science became concentrated in the hands of the Church, which sought to shape a worldview in the spirit of faith. For about a thousand years, the maps became a reflection of the Christian worldview, and had distinct characteristics of sacred geometry. This does not mean that the maps were purely cognitive. Over the years, as the general security situation improved, many passengers returned with travel stories, and with the level of education increased, the ability to draw the land in a much more detailed and precise manner also developed.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, a conceptual, religious, abstract and symmetrical world map, known as the T-O map, was estabblished as a concept, among scholars and in popular culture.
T-O maps are based on the map of the world in the form of a skull by Herodotus, but are an abstraction. Their high level of abstraction conveys a message according to which the world is built as a Christian religious idea.
In these maps, the world is a circle - O, divided into two thick lines in the form of T. The Land of Israel at the intersection of the lines. The continent of Asia is all the upper half. The continents of Africa and Europe are in the lower half, right and left. The continents are separated by the T shape, which represent the Mediterranean Sea in the center, and the Black Sea and the Red Sea, and the Nile and Don rivers, on either side.
The classic T-O map was established as the map of the Christian world by Isidore of Seville, the last of the fathers of the Catholic Church, in the 7th century AD. He described it in a 20-volume encyclopaedia that he wrote, which was a collection of all the known knowledge until his time, which was almost entirely from the classical period.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the basic and small schematic T-O maps, which were primitive, were developed into detailed giant maps, drawn with sophisticated techniques. The basic idea in all of them is one: cartographers were sure about the idea that Jesus Christ is also the formal visual image that controls the life of this world. The map of the world, following this idea, was round and neatly divided by the cross. Saints and monsters were painted in different places in the spirit of faith. Moreover, Jerusalem, the city of the Christian Messiah, has become the center of the map, and its central theme. Jerusalem, too was in a T-O shape.
The development of the T-O map in European culture through the ages through various maps:
The Mediterranean, illustrated on the T-O map at the heart of the world, had an anthropomorphic interpretation in the 7th century Merovingian map, in which it is portrayed as a fetus, whose parents, the mother Europe and the father Africa, embrace it on the left and right.
Atlas Beatus includes about a dozen T-O maps, drawn up to the 13th century. The Atlas is named after a Spanish monk from the 8th century who created a prototype of the map, which tried to be true to reality, with the landscape having some natural lines.
In 1234 Ebstorf map was created. This is a huge map, divided into 30 sheets, in a total size of about 3.5 meters by 3.5 meters. The map is very detailed and shows every important geographical element that was known at the time. The map is illustrated in the spirit of the period: illustrations of real places and creatures, alongside illustrations of imaginary places and creatures, combined with written descriptions. Small illustrations of Jesus Christ head, hands and feet, in the sides of the map, are meant to declare that this map has an attempt to combine the details of reality with the abstract and imaginary world.
The T-O map was a source of inspiration for the Crusades. The Crusades, in the 11-13, were also the major geographical journeys of the Middle Ages. They began throughout the European continent, and crossed the eastern Mediterranean towards the Land of Israel. They were probably done without maps, along familiar routes. The journeys were based, in their last section, on Mediterranean-friendly cities, mainly of the Venetian Empire.
The central mapping subject in the Middle Ages in Europe was the city, surrounded by a wall. Civilization was concentrated mainly in citiy-states, which competed against others, therefore meticulously mapped. Many city maps show two similar characteristics:
A. Fortified wall which surrounds the city in a circle, near a sea or a river.
B. The city is crossed by two avenues, along and across.
These maps continued to be a central cartographic subject in the 16th to 18th centuries. The maps shaped the worldview of their citizens according to Christianity, thanks to their similarity to the T-O map.
The invention of the compass, and the beginning of its use in the 11th century, created a significant turning point in European cartography. The compass strongly encouraged the use of ships at sea, so cartographic attention shifted westward toward Britain, Scandinavia, and the Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, much larger sailing ships were developed in Europe, which allowed the crossing of oceans. Maritime transportation has become the focus of attention, and with it the lives of seafarers.
O-T is the schema of a sailboat, where the O is the hull and the T is the sail.
In Christian Europe of the Middle Ages, the T-O form became dominant intellectual image of: God, the world, the city, the ship, and man.
In the Middle Ages, the Eastern civilizations, the Muslims and the Chinese, flourished. There were scholars in all fields. The science of cartography also flourished, but it did not approach the level reached in classical Greece.
The Arabs, who were traders based in the Arabian Peninsula, drew maps of the world based primarily on the T-O concept, plus countries on the Indian Ocean shores. Mecca is at the center of the Muslim maps.
The shape of the crescent, the symbol of the Arab world, is prominent in the curved map lines.
On the connection between China and Europe we know mainly through the journeys made by Marco Polo, in the second half of the 13th century. He came to China and spent a lot of time with the emperor. His book, "The Book of the Venetian Marco Polo: On the Kingdoms and Miracles of the East," was published in Europe and created brainstormings. The geographers became eager to find the maritime route to China. The Chinese, based on the shape of the mandala, sketched the world with China and the Yangtze River in its center, and Europe on its western border, back in the 2nd century BC. At the same time, the Chinese also had accurate geographical maps, which showed rivers, mountains, roads and cities.
At the end of the Middle Ages, characterized by the struggle between the monarchy and the Church, education and science gradually became stronger, and the maps became more objective, to a great extent similar to reality. However, T-O remained in use even in the 16th century.
The most striking example is a map of the world in this style that Christopher Columbus drew for the journey in which he discovered America, at the end of the 15th century. He embarked on a journey from the assumption that the world is a circle of the three continents known in his days, surrounded by water. Columbus thought that if he will continue sailing west, he would eventually reach India, which was in the east of his map.
|.Merovingian map of the 7th century|
T-O primitive map, with the Mediterranean shaped as a fetus
|Schematic T-O map from the Encyclopedia|
of Isidore of Seville
|An elegant T-O map, from Isidore of Seville of the 7th century|
|A typical Arab T-O map of the Middle Ages, by Ibn al-Wardi, |
with curved lines. Indian Subcontinent is at the bottom right.
|T-O maps of the 13th century from Atlas of Beatus,|
which tries to combine abstract world view with reality
|Ebstorf map, a huge and detailed T-O map |
from the 13th century
|Top part of Ebstorf map - Illustrations of Paradise|
|Canistris map, from the 14th century, |
shows Europe and Africa as spouses