Medieval Islamic World Maps

As Ahmet T. Karamustafa writes, the cartographic heritage of pre-modern Islamic civilization is extremely varied. Different traditions of theoretical and empirical cartography coexisted for over a millennium, from about A.D. 700 to 1850, with varying degrees of interaction in a cultural sphere that extended from the Atlantic shores of Africa to the Pacific, from the steppes of Siberia to the islands of South Asia. The heterogeneity of pre-modern Islamic mapping was not due solely to the unusual geographical extent and temporal span of this cultural sphere. Rather, it was primarily a natural outcome of the fact that Islamic civilization developed on the multifaceted and discontinuous cultural foundations of the Middle East. The very core of this foundation, the Semitic-Iranian tradition, was itself marked by radical ruptures that separated the age of cuneiform from that of Aramaic and Middle Persian. Muslims further complicated the picture, not only by deliberately rejecting their own classical Semitic-Iranian heritage but, more dramatically, by appropriating and naturalizing in an enormously creative act the "foreign" classical tradition of Greek science and philosophy. The enclosed monographs attempt to trace the major outlines of the conceptual as well as the practical mapping traditions of the multi-rooted cultural complex that resulted from this merger of cultures.

Independent map artifacts, excluding astronomical instruments, are the exceptions in the cartographic record of pre-modern Islamic civilization. Almost all the extant Islamic maps are integral parts of larger manuscript contexts. This prominence of the textual environment generates problems of interpretation for the student of Islamic cartographic representation. 

On a technical level, the submergence of maps in texts means that their study is subject to all the difficulties associated with studying the latter. A substantial portion of the textual legacy of pre-modern Islamic civilization is still preserved only in manuscript form in a great many public and private collections scattered throughout the world. Many of these collections are only partially and inadequately cataloged. The number of individual works that are transcribed or, much less often, critically edited and published, is disappointingly low. The researcher who compares these manuscript codices faces serious problems such as difficulty of access as well as intractable questions of authorship and copying. The student of maps faces additional problems. Often it is difficult to surmise where to search for maps, since they are found in many kinds of texts. Once located, maps present their own problems of dating, provenance, and draftsmanship, though never divorced from similar difficulties associated with the texts in which they are found.

Throughout the length and breadth of the Islamic world, we are concerned with a manuscript culture. Printing was not highly regarded, in spite of the arrival of block-printing techniques derived from China and even a short-lived attempt to print paper money at Tabriz in 693/1294. Such techniques were not adopted for traditional Islamic cartography until the 18th century. The printing press, which so revolutionized the production and dissemination of knowledge in Europe, had a delayed and muted impact within Islamic culture. 

There are accounts of large maps made especially for the delight and gratification of various Muslim rulers. They were constructed of various materials and displayed at court to enhance the glory of the reign. The survival rate of such maps would have been low, but it is curious that not a single fragment has survived. Instead, much of the corpus of Islamic maps, especially for the pre-Ottoman period, comes down to us as illustrations to geographical works and historical annals. The maps we examine today, despite some evidence for independent artisans working outside court circles, were incorporated into imperially commissioned texts or intended for other individuals holding high office. As a result, map production in traditional Islamic cultures, as we are able to reconstruct it from the available evidence, is closely linked to the highly formalized art of illustrated manuscript texts.

The classical geography of Ptolemy was lost to the west and would remain so for many centuries. Yet the survival of his texts in eastern centers such as Alexandria, Antioch and Damascus meant that the first beneficiary of the Greek geographical system was Islam. By 750 A.D./CE Islamic power had spread from its Arabian heartland west as far as Spain and east as far as India, and covered the larger part of the Ptolemaic world. Arab traders sailed to East Africa and to India and China, learning to master the monsoon winds that prevailed in the Indian Ocean. As remarkable as this maritime trade was the Islamic penetration of Africa, developing caravan routes across the Sahara, up the White and Blue Nile into Sudan and Ethiopia, and via the East coast trading ports. The twin demands of Islamic religious practice, the pilgrimage to Mecca and the observance of the sacred direction of prayer - the Qibla - fostered a strong sense of precise geography in Islamic culture. When Arab scholars sought to construct a systematic geography of the known world, the Greek model was their principal guide. Even more than the Romans, the Islamic dominion over large regions of Asia, Africa and Europe provided both a context for travel and the data for a world map. The former is exemplified in the exotic figure of Ibn Battutah, who in the 14th century travelled from his birthplace in Tangier throughout North Africa and the Middle East, to Central Asia beyond the Caspian Sea, to Mombasa and Zanzibar on the East African coast, and eastwards to India, Sumatra and China. He cannot be called an explorer, for he traveled existing caravan and sea routes, mainly with fellow-Muslims, but for that very reason his travels hold up a mirror to the Islamic world of his day, and to the half-known, exotic lands that lay on its fringes, lands which become central in the fabulous tales of Sinbad.

Contrary to the impression that one receives from traditional histories of cartography, the richest heritage of pre-Renaissance maps has come down through history from the medieval Islamic world rather than ancient Greece or medieval Europe. Muslim carto-geographical scholars from the 10th century CE onward drew on Greek, Babylonian, Coptic, Syriac, Sassanian, Indian, Chinese, and Turkic knowledge to produce a new genre of detailed maps of the known world. According to historian Karen Pinto there exist an estimated 2,000+ cartographic images of the world and various regions, scattered throughout collections of medieval and early modern Arabic, Persian, and Turkish manuscripts. The sheer number of these extant maps tells us that, at least from the 13th century onward, whence copies of these map-manuscripts begin to proliferate, that the world was an often a graphically depicted place. It loomed large in the medieval Muslim imagination. It was pondered, discussed, and copied with minor and major variations again and again, with what seems to be a peculiar idiosyncrasy to modern eyes. The cartographers did not strive for mimesis (i.e., the representation or imitation of the real world). They did not usually show irregular coastlines, for example, even though some of the geographers within whose work these maps are encased openly acknowledge that the landmasses and their coastlines are uneven. They presented instead a deliberately schematic layout of the world and the regions that comprised the Islamic empire. 

Until recently these maps lay virtually untouched, often deliberately ignored on the grounds that they are not mimetically accurate representations of the world. This perspective overlooks the great value of these images as representations of the way medieval Muslims perceived their world. These schematic, geometric, and often symmetrical images of the world are iconographic representations, “carto-ideographs”, of how medieval Muslim cartographic artists and their patrons perceived their world and chose to represent and disseminate this perception. The abundance of extant copies produced in locales across the Islamic world for eight centuries testifies to the enduring importance of these maps. Because all images are socially constructed, these iconic carto-ideographs contain valuable information about the milieus in which they were produced. They are a rich source of historical data that can be used as alternate gateways into the past.

On the surface it seems that these often elaborately illuminated a-mimetic cartographic works, employing pigments made from precious metals and stones, must have been produced for the elite literati of medieval Islamic society, such as the commissioners/patrons, collectors, copyists, and high-status readers of the geographic texts within which these maps are found. This conclusion ignores the easy-to-replicate nature of these schematic images, which would have enabled students visiting the libraries of sultans, amirs, and other members of the ruling elite to transport basic versions of these carto-ideographs back to the people of their villages and far-flung areas of the Islamic world. 

The majority of the medieval Islamic maps occur in the context of geographical treatises devoted to an explication of the world in general and the lands of the Muslim world in particular and should be analyzed and studied within the context of the associated text. Not all of these geographical manuscripts contain maps, however. Only those referred to generally as part of the al-Balkhi/al-Istakhri (#211 and #214.1) tradition, also referred to as the Classical School of geographers, include maps. For this reason the cartographically illustrated manuscripts of this genre are also referred to as the Atlas of Islam. These first of a kind of geographical atlases generally carry the title Kitab al-masalik wa almamalik [Book of routes and provinces] a.k.a. KMMS, although they are sometimes named Surat al-ard [Picture of the earth] or Suwar al-aqalim [Pictures of the climes [or climates]. They emerge out of an early tradition of creating lists of pilgrim and post stages that were compiled for administrative purposes. Beginning with a brief description of the world and theories about it - such as the inhabited versus the uninhabited parts, the reasons why people are darker in the south than in the north, and so on - these geographies methodically discuss details about the Muslim world and its cities, people, roads, topography, and the like. Sometimes the descriptions are interspersed with tales of personal adventures, discussions with local inhabitants, and debates with sailors as to the exact shape of the earth and the number of seas. They have a rigid format that seldom varies, with a territorial sequence as follows: first the whole world; then the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf, the Maghrib [North Africa and Andalusia], Egypt, Syria, the Mediterranean, and upper and lower Iraq; and concluding with twelve maps devoted to the Iranian provinces, beginning with Khuzistan and ending in Khurasan, including maps of Sindh and Transoxiana. The maps, which usually number twenty-one, one world map and twenty regional maps, follow the same format as the text. 

The earliest extant KMMS manuscript is by Ibn Hawqal (#213) and is housed at the Topkapı Saray Museum Library (Ahmet 3346). (For the sake of brevity, Ms Pinto refers to this carto-geographic tradition as the KMMS series, an acronym based upon the universal title of the most popular Arabic and Persian carto-geographic manuscript in the series, namely al-Istakhri’s work known by the universal title of Kitab al-Masalik wa al-Mamalik [Book of Roads and Kingdoms]. This mapping tradition dates back to the 10th century, although the earliest extant manuscript containing maps is from the 11th century. For more detail on this manuscript tradition see Karen Pinto, ‘Cartography’, in Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim World, Richard C. Martin, Said Amir Arjomand, Marcia Hermansen, Abdulkader Tayob, Rochelle Davis and John Obert Voll (eds.) (New York: Macmillan Reference, 2003), 128–31 and Passion and Conflict, Medieval Islamic views of the West by Karen C. Pinto). It is firmly dated to 479/1086 by its colophon. The striking mimesis of the maps in this manuscript stands in stark contrast to the later KMMS map copies, which over the centuries abandon any pretense of mimesis entirely. Moving through the KMMS set, we travel through a series of more and more stylized maps that shift further into the realm of objects d’art and away from direct empirical inquiry. By the nineteenth century the KMMS maps become so stylized that, were it not for the earlier examples, it would be hard to recognize them as maps of the world. 

Other variations of this KMMS tradition include world maps found in copies of Zakariya’ ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini d. 1283 CE (#222), whose work ʿAjaʾib al-makhluqat wa gharaʾib al-mawjudat [The Wonders of Creatures and the Marvels of Creation] focuses on the wonders of the world—real and imaginary. Although al-Qazwini’s original manuscript is not illustrated, copies from the late 13th century onward—during the lifetime of the author—incorporate illustrations of flora and fauna, as well as world maps based on what can be referred to as the al-Biruni model. The large number of extant ʿAjaʾib manuscripts indicate that, at least from the 13th and 14th centuries onward, the world maps had a significant audience. The al-Biruni variation looks at the world from above and shows the old world spread-eagled on a circle surrounded by the Encircling Ocean (a combination of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans). It is found in copies of Kitab al-tafhim li-awaʾil sinaʿat al-tanjim [Book of Instruction on the Principles of the Art of Astrology] from the mid-13th century onward. Eventually, world maps based on the al-Biruni model appear in general geographical encyclopedias, such as Yaqut’s 13th century Kitab muʿjam al-buldan [Compendium of Lands]. 

A great deal of mystery surrounds the origins and the architects of this Islamic Atlas tradition. This is primarily because not a single manuscript survives in the hand of the original authors. The earliest extant manuscript of this tradition dates from the late 11th century CE, almost a century after the death of the last reported author. As a result, it is not clear who initiated the tradition of accompanying geographical texts with maps. Scholars of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries held that al-Balkhi (d. 322/934, #214.2) initiated the series and that his work and maps were expanded on by al-Istakhri (fl. mid-10th century, #211), Ibn Hawqal (fl. second half of 10th century, #213), and al-Muqaddasi (d. c. 390/1000). The earliest extant example is from a manuscript by Ibn Hawqal housed at the Topkapi Palace Museum’s library in Istanbul. It is firmly dated to 479/1086 by its colophon. Over time the maps of this medieval Islamic atlas become more and more stylized. 

Persian cartography, at first wholly under Arab influence, seems to have ceased altogether, at least in the production of land maps, with the decline of Arab power. Only one Persian map is known, and even that is not the original work, but merely an English translation. The original is now lost, and it is not easy to trace its genesis. It seems most likely that the map was made somewhere in northern India or in a Persian border province, by a Mohammedan who used the Persian language, and possibly Arabic as well, and portrayed chiefly India and its northern parts. All the other countries receive schematic treatment:  Abyssinia [Africa] in the west, China in the east, Bokhara and Kashgar in the north, and beyond them Gog and Magog. Europe is mentioned incidentally as Farang.  Nautical cartography in southwest Asia, however, developed independently as a practical science, as it did in Europe, but no examples are known to survive. 

As the heir of both Arab and Byzantine cultures, the Turkish Empire had a rich cartographic tradition behind it. The first known product of Turkish cartography, dating from the time when the Turks were still in Central Asia, is an unusual and original circular world map included by Mahmud al-Kashgari in his Turkish dictionary of 1074 (#218). During their subsequent migrations in face of Mongolian expansion the Turks acquired the nomadic cast of mind and lost all interest in science. Only when they had settled down in Asia Minor did they return to literature and science, now following Greek models. Mohammed II, who conquered Constantinople, surrounded himself with a retinue of scholars and artists charged to protect the works of art and antiquities of Byzantium; among these Byzantine doctors, philosophers, astrologers and mathematicians was Georgios Amirutzes. Mohammed’s interest centered on Ptolemy’s Geographia, and as the manuscript of it found in his library contained no world maps, Georgios had to make one in Greek and Arabic, which Mohammed ordered to be woven into a large carpet. He subsequently commissioned Georgios and his son to translate the text of the Geographia into Arabic. When he heard that there were good Latin translations available in Italy (Jacopo d’Angiolo, 1406), he acquired one for himself, apparently a copy made by Francesco di Lapacino of Florence about 1450. Francesco Berlinghieri, aware of Mohammed’s esteem for the works of Ptolemy, later presented him with his newly-printed version of the Geographia (1482) with an autograph dedication. The manuscripts of Ptolemy’s Geographia mentioned above are preserved to this day in the Seraglio Library at Istanbul, but Georgios’ world map has never been traced.

During the Middle Ages the Greek tradition of disinterested research was stifled in Western Europe by a theological dictatorship which bade fair, for a time, to destroy all hope of a genuine intellectual revival.  Further, socio-economically and politically the Latin West had gradually drifted apart from the Greek and Muslim East, thereby widening the already present cultural cleavage.  Meanwhile the Muslims were slowly unearthing the treasures of Greek and Persian wisdom, and in so doing they became fired with enthusiasm to study them.  Aided by their own native genius, by the keenest inter-regional competition - for Muslim culture radiated from a number of centers distributed all the way from Samarkand to Seville - and the stimulus of the classical models, they succeeded in advancing the cause of every known science before being overtaken by a tyrannical obscuranticism.  For example, the Muslims of the Eastern Caliphate had become familiar with Claudius Ptolemy’s Almagest and Geographia (#119) through Syriac translations and through versions of the original Greek text.  A manuscript of the Kitab al-Majisti, or Almagest (meaning ‘the greatest’), was translated into Arabic in the days of Harun ar-Rashid by that caliph’s vizier, Yahya, and other translations appeared during the middle part of the ninth century. Study of the Almagest stimulated Arab scholars and incited them to write such original treatises of their own as Al-Farghani’s On the Elements of Astronomy, Al-Battani’s On the Movements of the Stars, or Astronomy, and Ibn Yunus’ Hakimi Tables.  Furthermore, Ptolemy’s Geographia was certainly known to the Muslims in Syriac translations and probably also in copies of the original Greek text.  With the Geographia as a model, a number of Arabic treatises, usually entitled Kitab surat al-ard, [Book of the Description of the Earth], were composed at an early period of Islam and served as bases on which later geographical writers built more complex systems.  One of the most significant was the Kitab surat al-ard of Al-Khwarizmi, composed about the time of Al-Ma’mun (813-833 A.D.).  From another book of the same sort and title Al-Battani derived the geographical details included in his Astronomy.  The latter was translated into Latin during the 12th century; the former was known in Europe only through second-hand sources.

  Most Arab cartographers also used Ptolemy’s instructions in the construction of their own maps. With this basis the Muslims combined the accumulated knowledge gained through exploration and travel.  Muslim trade between the seventh and ninth centuries reached China by sea and by land; southward it tapped the more distant coasts of Africa, including Zanzibar; northward it penetrated Russia; and westward Mohammedan navigators saw the unknown and dreaded waters of the Atlantic.  Their own enlarged knowledge of the explored-world helped to broaden their cartographic outlook, and contemporaries soon acknowledged the pre-eminence of their civilization.  Arab astronomers continued the observations that had been discontinued in Greece; they measured an arc of the meridian by observations made in Baghdad and Damascus; they constructed improved astronomical instruments and set up observatories.  As a general rule, however, the Arabs were very stylized cartographers; they were apt to use the compass and ruler far too often so that land contours became stereotyped and rather arbitrary, as can be seen in maps by al-Istakhri, al-Kashgari, and Ibn Said (#211, #214 and #221).

Over the years, these enlightened Arabs injected new life and a storehouse of knowledge into the relatively backward science of Western Europe, and, for centuries, Arab culture actually dominated the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily. However, in the 11th century the Norman conquerors were beginning their advance westward and southward, overrunning the littoral of Western Europe, reaching the Mediterranean and establishing themselves in Southern Italy between 1066 and 1071.  These new rulers preserved much of what was best of this Arabic tradition and culture, and Muslim scholars played a brilliant part in the intellectual life of the court.   

Many of the surviving copies contain either incomplete colophons or no colophons at all. Additionally, the texts are sometimes so mixed up in the surviving manuscripts that it is often difficult to disentangle them. The numerous incomplete and anonymous manuscripts, often abridged, along with the versions translated into Persian, further cloud the matter. Since the extant examples stretch in time from the 11th century to the 19th century and range from the heart of the Middle East to its peripheries, they can provide us with a broad range of historical insights across time and space. 

From the late 12th century onward, other types of maps other than the KMMS tradition abound, such as hajj [pilgrimage] certificates and travelogues containing map-like pictures of the holy sites. These can be read as an indication of the growing demand for visual images of sacred spaces. Eventually, the scope of these pilgrimage scrolls expands to become an illustrated hajj manuscript series called Futuh al-haramayn [The Conquests of the Holy Sites], which first appears in the early 16th century and proliferates thereafter. Like the copies of Ibn al-Wardi’s Kharidat al-ʿAjaʾib, the number of pocket-book sized copies of this manuscript are too numerous to count. In tandem with these hajj manuals, a tradition begins of including in mosques a glazed tile containing a schematic map-like representation of the Kaʿbah with directional markings similar to qiblah maps adjacent to the mihrab [prayer niche]. 

From the 13th century onward, world maps appear in historical treatises. Some manuscripts of the famous Islamic historian al-Tabari’s Tarikh [History] include a “clime-type” map of the world as part of the frontispiece. Copies of another well-known historian’s work, Ibn Khaldun’s (1332–1406) Muqaddimah [Prologue], also opens with an al-Idrisi–type world map. An unusual variant of a KMMS-type world map even surfaces in a 16th century Ottoman history scroll containing Seyyid Luqman’s Zubdat al-tawarih [Cream of Histories] produced during the reign of Suleyman I (r. 1520–1566). 

By far the most popular tradition from the late 15th century onward was a unique pocket-book encyclopedia tradition by Ibn al-Wardi, d. 1457 (#214.1) called Kharidat al-ʿAjaʾib wa faridat al-gharaʾib [The Unbored Pearl of Wonders and the Precious Gem of Marvels], which typically includes one world map per copy (of either the KMMS or al-Biruni variety), along with other cartographic images, such as a qiblah map (way-finding diagrams and instruments for locating Mecca) and an inset map of Qazwini and other cities. 

Unfortunately, this rich indigenous mapping tradition has been overlooked thanks to the modern predilection to evaluate maps according to their representational accuracy. Thus the best-known examples of Islamic maps are those that are the most mimetic. Famous for precisely this reason is the work of the 12th century North African cartographer, Sharif al-Din al-Idrisi, d. 1165 (#219), whom the Norman king Roger II (1097–1154) commissioned to produce an illustrated geography of the world: Nuzhat al-mushtaq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq [The Book of Pleasant Journeys into Faraway Lands]. The maps that accompany the copies of al-Idrisi’s manuscript have been heralded time and again for their mimetic accuracy and are rightly acclaimed as well ahead of their time. Not only are the al-Idrisi maps ranked among the most mimetic world maps of the later Middle Ages, they also include detailed regional maps that show an astounding depth of understanding of the topography of the greater Mediterranean region. 

One of the lingering issues with al-Idrisi’s work is that there are no extant examples of his work from his time period of the 12th century. Nor are there any original autograph manuscripts. The earliest extant al-Idrisi manuscripts are from the 14th century. The other issue with al-Idrisi’s work is that it is unique and therefore not representative of the bulk of the medieval Islamic mapping tradition. The great cartographer of the Islamic world was al-Idrisi who worked under the patronage of the Norman king of Sicily, Roger II, during the years 1140-1155, where he constructed the most detailed and accurate world map of the era. Comprising seventy sectional maps, this work was accompanied by full textual descriptions of the countries, cities and peoples of each region. Al-Idrisi’s world map bears a strong resemblance to that of Claudius Ptolemy (#119); the most significant differences were that the Islamic scholar did not believe that the Indian Ocean was land-locked, and he clearly had definite knowledge of China’s eastern coast. However he perpetuates a typical error of Islamic maps - the enormous eastward extension of Africa’s east coast, and this was derived directly from Ptolemy. This is a puzzling feature, for Arab seafarers trading to Mombasa, Zanzibar and south as far as Sofala (near the mouth of the Zambesi) could surely have contradicted it. The effect is that the Indian Ocean is shown as an elongated sea with many large islands, resembling the Mediterranean. The huge peninsula of India escaped the mapmaker, as it had escaped Ptolemy. These errors are useful reminders of two things: first, whatever the scientific achievements of Islamic scientists in the fields of mathematics and astronomy, mapmaking and compass charting were technical and empirical skills that lay still in the future; and second, that the scholars who made the maps were not the same men who sailed to Malindi, Mombasa, Calicut or Ceylon. According to Ms Pinto, Al-Idrisi’s work cannot be held up as representative of the Islamic mapping tradition, nor can the maps that are attributed to him be used as a source of insight into the worldviews of medieval Muslim cartographers and their milieus. At best, al-Idrisi’s work can be used to illumine the worldview of the milieu surrounding Roger II in Norman Sicily, possibly with some insight into the North African—specifically Tunisian—ambit. But even here we have issues, since the four extant manuscripts are productions of a century or so later. We cannot, therefore, ascribe with surety the worldview expressed in these copies as being representative of the Norman-Muslim world of the 12th century. As outstanding as al-Idrisi’s work is for inserting mimesis into late medieval Islamic mapping repertoire, it needs to be addressed with these cautions in mind. 

Similarly, the 16th century Ottoman naval admiral Piri Reis, c. 1470–1554 (#322) is famous for the earliest extant map of the New World. Piri Reis and his surprisingly accurate early 16th century map of South America (1523) has been the subject of many a controversial study. In keeping with the emphasis placed on Western products in the field of the history of cartography—especially maps from the Renaissance onward—scholarship on Piri Reis’s map has focused on its connections with early modern European cartography. 

The same could be said of the acquisition of the Book of Curiosities manuscript by Oxford, which has received considerable attention in the opening decade of the 21st century. This manuscript contains a medley of hybrid maps, some unique and others that reflect the influence of the KMMS tradition. The square world map is unusual and merits further in-depth analysis. The Bodleian’s Book of Curiosities is, like the maps of the al-Idrisi manuscripts, plagued by dating issues. Although the text of the manuscript has been dated to the 10th century by Evelyn Edson and Emilie Savage-Smith, the maps reflect a late 12th - or early 13th century Islamic miniature style. While unique manuscripts such as the Book of Curiosities are intriguing additions to our repertoire of the Islamic cartographic tradition, we must bear in mind that they are not representative of the popular mapping tradition that was widespread in the medieval Islamic world. 

Since all images are socially constructed, these iconic carto-ideographs contain valuable information about the milieus in which they were produced. They are a rich source of historical data that can be used as alternate gateways into the past. Karen Pinto writing in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam edited by Ibrahim Kalin, in Maps and Mapmaking - addressed the Islamic contribution to medieval cartography. Her 2016 book entitled Medieval Islamic Maps: An Exploration is the latest and most comprehensive analysis of the subject.  

What follows here is a selection of monographs mostly from a set of Islamic ‘carto-ideographs’. The set comprises the cartographically illustrated Kitāb al-Masālik wa-al Mamālik (KMM), what is also called the Ottoman Cluster [al-Istakhri’s Book of Roads and Kingdoms]

The classical KMMS map of the world is made up of a double-edged circle in a square or rectangular frame. Placed within this circle is the image of a pre-Columbian world, punctuated by seas and rivers. At the top of the map a large crescent shape sweeps in to shelter a double-headed, bulging form in the lower left-hand corner with a tiny triangle marooned in the lower right-hand sector of the image. These are white or paper-coloured. Two outspread blue arms emerge from a blue encircling band and additional blue shapes punctuate the white mass, including two small twin keyhole shapes towards the bottom of the map.

Within this aesthetically packaged ideograph are all the features standard to the classical medieval Islamic vision of the world. The Encircling Ocean [Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ] that rings the world along with four other seas, seven rivers and the three major land masses of Africa, Asia and Europe (listed here in order of their size on the map). The key to comprehending the medieval Muslim conception of the world is to assimilate the basic shapes of the land masses and the seas, and, crucially, the map’s southerly inversion.

The crescent-shaped land mass is the continent of Africa. Once we make this association we recognize that the double-headed, bulging form in the lower left-hand corner corresponds to the continent of Asia. The bulge connecting Africa to Asia is the Arabian Peninsula, and the tiny triangle marooned in the lower right-hand sector of the image is none other than Europe. Behind lie the seas outlining the land masses and, in doing so, make them possible.

Did medieval European maps influence the Islamicate ones or vice versa? Or, were they mutually exclusive? Scholars fall on both sides of the divide and the question of Islamo-Christian cartographic connections remains elusive due to the lack of extant examples. The author of the Arabic notations on a rare ninth-century copy of Isidore’s geographical treatise of Etymologiae, and, in particular, on its T-O map with the aim of revealing that the notations were made by a distinguished Arab geographer of princely stock from caliphal Andalus and not just an unknown anonymous Mozarab - Iberian Christians including Christianized Iberian Jews who lived under Muslim rule in the southern sections of the Iberian peninsula from the early eighth century until the mid-15th century including those who escaped to the Christian kingdoms of Aragon, Asturias, and Castile. The majority of the Arabic annotations on a late eighth/early ninth-century Visigothic Latin Isidorean manuscript of Isidore’s Etymologiae, Ms. Vitr. 014/003, housed at Madrid’s Biblioteca Nacionale de Espana (BNE) were made by Abū ʿUbayd ʿAbdallāh al-Bakrī (d. 487/1094), an Andalusi geographer of princely background, whose mid-11th century Islamicate geography Kitāb almasālik waalmamālik [Book of Routes and Realms] influenced many a later medieval Islamicate geographical scholars. The most famous was Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī (d. 626/1229), an inveterate medieval Islamicate-world traveling scholar of Byzantine stock who relied heavily on al-Bakrī’s geography for his seven volume magnum opus, a geographical dictionary on countries and places called Muʿjam alBuldān [Dictionary/Collection of Countries, completed 1224-1228] that is considered one of the most comprehensive medieval Arabic geographical dictionaries ever written because it provides mini-encyclopedic entries on thousands of sites in the Islamicate realm of the Middle Ages. If al-Bakrī used Isidore’s Etymologiae for his conclusion, then it could be asserted that Yāqūt and other medieval Islamicate geographers who relied on al-Bakrī’s may have been influenced a little by Isidore. Significant scholarly connections between medieval European and Islamicate carto-geographical traditions centuries apparently occured earlier than previously presumed. In doing so it adds to the story of trans-cultural connectivity across the greater Mediterranean.

211   al-lstakhri’s world map, Arabic, 934 A.D.

212   Massaudy world map, pre-956 A.D.

213   Ibn Hawqal’s world map, Arabic, 980 A.D.

214    al-Kashgari’s world map, Arabic, 1076 A.D.

214.1   Ibn al-Wardi world map, 1001 A.D.

214.2   Balkhi world map with climate boundaries, 816 A.D.

214.3   al-Biruni world map of the distribution of land and sea, 1029 A.D.

214.4   al-Harrani, world map from the Jami ’al-funun, 14th century

214.5 El Escorial world map.pdf, 12th century

219  al-Idrisi World Maps, 1154-1192

221  Ibn Said’s world map, Arabic, 13th century

222   al-Qazwini world maps, 13th century

229 Nasir al-Tusi World Map

322  Piri Re’is world map, 1513

790 Islamic World Map, 1790

Email:© Jim Siebold 2015