In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Maps

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Large-Scope Reference Works
  • More Focused Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Roman Maps
  • Map-Related Ancient Texts
  • Worldviews
  • Impact of Classical Mapmaking
  • Maps and Atlases, 16th to Early 20th Centuries
  • Discussion of Classical Mapmaking, 16th to 20th Centuries
  • 20th-Century Projects
  • Mapping of Athens and Rome and Their Environs
  • Instructional Maps and Atlases

Classics Maps
Richard J.A. Talbert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0075


Maps and mapmaking may be considered from at least three related perspectives: the nature and purpose of maps produced in classical Antiquity, the role of texts and objects to be associated with maps in shaping ancient worldviews, and the character of attempts pursued from the Renaissance onward to map the classical world in whole or in part. In the case of all three perspectives, there are formidable obstacles to surmount, some of them largely fixed, though others have been notably reduced by advances made in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The near-complete loss of ancient materials and testimony remains a serious handicap; the few scraps of newly recovered evidence have served as much to frustrate as to tantalize. On the other hand, there has been stimulus from reevaluation (beginning in the 1980s) of what is to be considered a “map” and how worldviews are formed in premodern cultures. Meanwhile, in the 1990s digital technology made possible a transformation in present-day mapping of the classical world that still continues.

General Overviews

Wood 1997 offers a broad scope and is fundamental. A traditional approach, for the most part now superseded, is reflected in Dilke 1985 and (despite its editors’ intent) in Harley and Woodward 1987. Brodersen 2012, Prontera 2001, and Talbert 2008 encompass more recent ideas and findings; Knowles 2008 explores a highly productive new methodology.

  • Brodersen, Kai. 2012. Cartography. In Geography in classical Antiquity. By Daniela Dueck, 99–110. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Surveys the various means (both descriptive and scientific) by which Greeks and Romans are known to have recorded their surroundings, and assesses their use of maps in the service of the state.

  • Dilke, Oswald A. W. 1985. Greek and Roman maps. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

    A concise overview and a bold initiative that contributed to the revival of interest in its subject. The approach is flawed, however, by a failure to question the traditional assumption that maps were produced and used in Antiquity for much the same reasons as they are today.

  • Harley, J. Brian, and David Woodward, eds. 1987. The history of cartography. Vol. 1, Cartography in prehistoric, ancient, and medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This initiation of a quest to redefine and reinterpret the nature and impact of mapmaking worldwide remains the fullest synthesis for Greece and Rome. Even so, that part of the volume is weakened by the inability or reluctance of some contributors (including Oswald A. W. Dilke) to embrace the editors’ fresh thinking.

  • Knowles, Anne K., ed. 2008. Placing history: How maps, spatial data, and GIS are changing historical scholarship. Redlands, CA: ESRI.

    Ten quite varied chapters range widely across time and space (including the Roman Empire) to demonstrate the value of applying historical geographic information systems (GIS).

  • Prontera, Francesco. 2001. Karte (Kartographie). In Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum. Edited by Georg Schöllgen, cols. 187–229. Stuttgart: Hiersemann.

    Thoroughly documented overview in German spanning the earliest Greek initiatives to Late Antique maps inspired by Christianity.

  • Talbert, Richard J. A. 2008. Greek and Roman mapping: Twenty-first century perspectives. In Cartography in Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Fresh perspectives, new methods. Edited by Richard J. A. Talbert and Richard W. Unger, 9–27. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004166639.i-300.8

    Reviews the gains from application of the approach urged in Harley and Woodward 1987 and offers an overview of late 20th- and early 21st-century discoveries, editions, and translations relating to the Roman world in particular.

  • Wood, Denis. 1997. Maps and mapmaking. In Encyclopaedia of the history of science, technology, and medicine in non-Western cultures. Edited by Helaine Selin, 549–554. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.

    Outlines the remarkable diversity of mapmaking worldwide and rejects the traditional scholarly view of cartography as a single, highly selective “hero saga” that progresses inexorably from ancient Mesopotamia to modern Western science.

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