This decorative example of John Speed’s map of the Ottoman or Turkish Empire is the first map of this region published in England. The map covers the empire in its entirety, from the Caspian Sea and Safavid Persia in the east to Tunisia and Sicily in the west, and including the entire Arabian Peninsula (except for the northeastern corner of Oman). In the center of the composition is the Holy Land, not the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, revealing that the map has been embedded with a distinctly European perspective.
The map draws heavily on the template of J. Hondius’ map of the Ottoman Empire from 1606. Yet Speed distinguishes his chart from that of his predecessor by converting it into the carte-des-figures type map that is so characteristic of Speed’s oeuvre. In a bar running across the top of the map, we find eight vignette views of great Ottoman cities. From left to right, these are Famagusta, Damascus, Cairo, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Rhodes, Alexandria, and Hormuz.
Flanking the map on both sides are depictions of five subsets of peoples, in traditional garb, that reside within the Ottoman Empire. Interestingly, the left side has been allocated to male figures (a Greek, an Egyptian, an Assyrian, an Arabian, and a Persian), whereas the right flank has matching female figures, each labeled ‘his wife.’
The interior is bustling with engraved details, including mountains, rivers, lakes, and deserts. Throughout towns and toponyms abound. In the blank areas of the map, there are annotations describing phenomena or geographic relationships and contextualizing the visual of the map itself. In the lower-left corner is an elaborate cartouche naming Speed as the cartographer, showing the original 1626 date of the plate’s first engraving.
John Speed’s fine map of the Turkish empire was originally engraved in 1626 and published in the Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World the following year. After Speed’s death, his plates passed through several hands before finally being acquired by Thomas Bassett and Richard Chiswell, who used them to publish their edition of Speede’s atlas in 1676. The example on offer here dates to this second edition, as confirmed by the imprint associating it with Roger Rea (rather than Humble).