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The Peutinger table is an illustrated itinerary, a contemporary map of the Roman world surviving in the form of a medieval copy. We know from the fourth century writer Flavius Vegetius Renatus in his Epitoma Rei Militaris that itineraries were a well used tool of the Roman military, providing them with distances between places and the quality of roads (Rivet and Smith 1979 p. 148). It is unfortunate that none of the detailed military itineraries mentioned by Vegetius survive, although he also refers to pictorial itineraries, and it is likely that the so-called Peutinger Table is one of these.
The original version may have been based on an early Roman map, perhaps even that known to have been prepared by Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (Bowersock, 1994, p.185), of which no copies survive, and may represent the Cursus Publicus (in essence the Imperial postal network). Others argue that whilst parts of it may be based on earlier work, it was created in the late third century to celebrate the restoration of peace and order under Diocletian’s tetrarchy (Talbert, 2010) with later revisions in the early fifth century (Rivet and Smith 1979, p. 149).
The surviving copy was possibly made in 1265 by a monk in Alsace on at least twelve sheets of parchment (possibly fourteen), forming a roll measuring some 7.3m (24 feet) in length. It was found by Konrad Celtis c. 1500 and bequeathed to his friend Konrad Peutinger of Augsburg in 1508, hence the name by which it is known. The manuscript is now preserved in the Austrian National Library in Vienna.
The map represents the known world from Britain and Germany in the north to Africa in the south, and from Spain in the west to India and Ceylon in the east, and compresses it into a narrow strip. Unfortunately for us, the westernmost sheet, which contains Spain, part of Gaul and most of Britain, was lost in the early medieval period, before it was copied. Given that at least 900 years must have elapsed between the creation of the original map and the medieval copy, it is fair to assume that several copies must have been made in the interim, making it almost impossible to determine how much this copy departs from the original.
Only a very small portion of Britannia, part of south eastern England, survives. There are a few curiosities on the map, originating from the loss of the original western sheet (or sheets) before the surviving copy was made. Several places have their first few letters missing, and have been written by the copyist who was clearly unaware of the true names. For example Cesaromaci (Caesaromagus, Chelmsford) lost its initial ‘Ce’ and part of the ‘s’; the scribe then read the surviving bottom part of the ‘s’ as a ‘b’ and it became Baromaci. Most confusing of all is Ad Taum, which is almost certainly Venta Icenorum. On the Interpreted redrawn map opposite, Fig.2, the entry has been shown how it was probably originally written across the join of two sheets, before the western sheet (and the left hand part of the entry) was lost.
South of the Thames, the coastal road linking Richborough to Dover (RR100) and then Lympne (RR131) is shown with a road, presumably RR1a, from just north of Dubris (Dover) to Canterbury. RR1 continues westward, via Durolevo (nr Sittingbourne?), (Du)roribis (ie Durobrivae, Rochester) and (Novio) Madus (Crayford), with London on the missing western portion. It is a bit of a surprise to find Iscadumnonioru, ie Isca Dumnoniorum, Exeter drawn next to Lympne, in Kent, with (Mo)ridumo (probably Gittisham, see Antonine Itinerary Iter XV), shown west of Exeter when in fact it is to the east. This can only be explained by a major error in copying, presumably before the original western sheet (or sheets) was lost, suggesting that the map was perhaps very badly damaged and the copyist tried to reconstruct parts of it.
An excellent photographic reproduction of the entire surviving map is now accessible online, thanks to Richard Talbert.
Bowersock, Glen (1994); Roman Arabia; Harvard University Press
Rivet, A.L.F. & Smith, Colin (1979); The Place-names of Roman Britain; B.T. Batsford Ltd., London
Talbert, Richard J. A. (2010); Rome’s World: The Peutinger Map Reconsidered, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Talbert, Richard J. A. (2010); Peutinger Map: seamless whole, in color, with overlaid layers available online at http://peutinger.atlantides.org/map-a/; accessed 11/9/17
Fig. 1. Part of one of eleven surviving sheets of the Peutinger Map, showing the small portion of south eastern England surviving - the sheet or sheets to the west containing most of Britain and all of Spain have been lost.
Fig 2. An interpreted redrawing of the surviving British portion of the Peutinger map, retaining all locations and the order of entries as per the surviving manuscript. Suggested corrections for the most obvious errors are in brackets.