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Maps in T and O format

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Graham Bates
1105608.  Sun Dec 14, 2014 3:10 pm Reply with quote

T and O Maps

T and O maps were common in the medieval period. They are a form of ‘mappa mundi’ or map of the world (Latin mappa means cloth or chart). There are many mappa mundi still in existence (not all in T and O form), one well known example is in the library of Hereford Cathedral, other examples are the Anglo Saxon ‘Cotton Map’ in the British Library and many examples in manuscripts.

An example of a T and O mappa mundi from a manuscript is shown at which is taken from the printing by Günther Zainer,( Augsburg, 1472), illustrating the first page of chapter XIV of the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville (in the 7th century). Further information in ref (1). The Etymologiae is in the Vatican Library.

The name T and O is taken from the division of the land into three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia) separated by the bars of a T and surrounded by the O. The T and O parts represent the sea. Europe is to the left of the T-vertical, Africa to the right, and Asia above the T. Even when maps started to show more detail, this arrangement of Asia above, Europe on the left and Africa to the right, was usually maintained.

Note that Jerusalem is usually in the centre of a medieval map with East at the top, sometimes marked as the Garden of Eden. The expression ‘to orient’ something, comes from the Latin for East and describes placing the Orient at the top.

Of course, modern maps usually do not have East at the top, but it would be an error to assume that all modern maps have North at the top. Some, particularly from the Southern hemisphere, have South at the top, other local maps have a significant feature at the top (or bottom). For example, local maps of coastal towns often have the sea at the top or bottom. Maps of polar regions usually have the pole of interest in the centre, so a map of the Antarctic will have South in the centre and North in every direction away from the centre.

(1) The Figure of the Earth in Isidore's "De natura rerum", by Wesley M. Stevens
Isis, Vol. 71, No. 2 (Jun., 1980) (pp. 268-277)
Published by, The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society


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