This charming 16th-century woodblock map of Greece and the Aegean littoral (including Crete) was created by the renowned German cartographer and scholar Sebastian Münster. The map was carved for Münster’s Ptolemaic atlas: Cosmographia Universalis, the first edition of which was published in Basel in 1544. The Greece map created for the new Cosmographia was an updated version of Münster’s Typus Greciae from the 1538 edition of Solinus’ Polyhistor.
Neatline’s example of the map comes from the first Italian language edition of the Cosmographia, which was published in 1558. In the later editions of Münster’s Ptolemaic atlas, the original Greece (Tabula Europae X) and Anatolia maps (Tabula Asiae I) were amalgamated to produce a new view of the entire Aegean littoral. This was initially named Nova Grecia XXII – Nova Tabula, but was later given a variety of titles based on the language of the publication.
The cartographic details of Sebastian Münster’s map are notable for their accuracy, given the limited knowledge and resources available during the 16th century. The map includes a range of geographical features and political divisions, displaying kingdoms, principalities, and city-states not of the 16th century but of the Classical World that Ptolemy occupied. Consequently, we find ancient Greek cities such as Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes as well as Hellenistic centers in Asia Minor like Ephesus and Troy. It also showcases the large islands of Crete, Rhodes, as well as the Aegean Archipelago.
The map conforms to the Ptolemaic worldview in that it maintains a highly schematic rendition. Unlike many Late Renaissance maps, we find no ornate title cartouches, scale bars, and compass roses precisely because distances and locations were pre-established by the Ptolemaic narrative. The map is nevertheless characterized by extensive stylized topographic features such as mountains and rivers, and many of the largest cities are depicted in the classic Germanic pictorial style of the 16th century. In the rendition of the cities, the map departs somewhat from its ancient outlook by making the old Ottoman capitals of Bursa and Adrianople (Edirne) the largest cities on the map. Constantinople, on the other hand, while having fallen to the Ottomans a century earlier, enjoys no more prestige than its Chalcedonian counterpart across the Hellespont.