Category: Benjamin of Tudela (page 1 of 3)

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Map Analysis

After mapping Benjamin of Tudela’s route on both a modern map and St. Beatus of Liebana’s Mappa Mundi, there are some clear differences between the two maps and cartography of each time period. The most obvious difference between the modern map and Beatus map is that the Middle East and Asia are at the top of the Beatus map. There is a depiction of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden accompanying these locations at the top of the map because Earthly Paradise was supposed to be somewhere in the “unexplored” areas of the East.

The style of the Mappa Mundi is a T and O map meaning, representing only one half of the Earth. One would notice that only Europe, the Middle East and parts of the Asian and African continents are pictured. The ‘T’ represents the land, and the surrounding ‘O’ represents the water surrounding it. Jerusalem is strategically placed in the middle of St. Beatus’ Mappa Mundi due to its religious significance for Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike.

The Beatus Map is, however, written in English, which is interesting because it was written by a Spanish monk, St. Beatus of Liebana based upon accounts from St. Isadore of Seville, Ptolemy, and the Bible. This map’s purpose was not to be exactly accurate (which it was not going to be due to the West’s knowledge of the rest of the world) but to depict the Diaspora of the Apostles.

When examining Benjamin’s travels on both the modern map and the Beatus Map, they do look similar in comparison, just flipped. With the exception of the far east, all of Benjamin’s travel locations do appear on the Beatus Map. It makes sense that, although oriented differently from the modern map, and despite the T and O style layout, most of Benjamin’s locations are accounted for. This is because The Beatus Map was arguably the most important map that came out of the Early Middle Ages. Benjamin also traveled mostly in the West and Middle East, so most of the locations are present in the Beatus Map.

Looking at these maps and all of the locations to where Benjamin traveled, it is difficult to believe that he did, in fact, travel to China, Tibet, and  India with few stops along the way. Benjamin gives fairly detailed accounts for numerous locations throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. There is a stark contrast between those accounts and the accounts of his “travels” in the far east. Especially because the Beatus map was a prominent map during the time of Benjamins travels, the fact that it does not depict India and East Asia would cause one to believe that he did not actually travel there.

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Medieval Map

The image might look small in the post, but if you zoom in on your webpage, you’ll be able to see the names of locations!

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Medieval Map Analyzed

Upon mapping 10 points of Benjamin of Tudela’s journey on a modern map, and then re-mapping the same points on the medieval Tabula Rogeriana map, one can’t help but notice the similarities between both routes. From first glance, the Tabula Rogeriana map appears to be incorrect geographically-speaking: what we consider to be North today is depicted as the opposite on this map and the ratio between land and sea is disproportionate. Yet, if one were to rotate the Tabula Rogeriana map to be upside-down, or rather right-side up for modern day viewers, Benjamin’s route appears to be almost identical to that which was mapped on a modern map. These points were extremely difficult to find given that the Tabula Rogeriana map was written in Arabic. That said, it was more manageable to find all of my points by first finding larger cities such as Mecca and then Jerusalem and then reorienting myself based on the location of those cities. 

What is different however, is the detailed layout of the land on the Tabula Rogeriana map. It would make sense that the outskirts of the Tabula Rogeriana map are not correct as little to no medieval travelers treaded so far North, East and South, but it is similarly clear that the lands more populated at the time were not thoroughly traveled nor documented either. This would account for the bizarre and misshapen outlines of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. 

For instance, when looking at the Tabula Rogeriana, Rome and Istanbul appear to be located in their rightful places, but the land that separates them is not. It is known from Benjamin’s travel narrative that he traveled first from Rome to Greece, and then Greece to Turkey, crossing the different bodies of the Mediterranean Sea along the way. Yet, if one were to consult the Tabula Rogeriana instead, it would appear that Benjamin travelled from Rome to Turkey simply by remaining close to the shorelines on his left and not by crossing through the ocean that separates Italy from Greece. 

Furthermore, when comparing Benjamin’s route on the Tabula Rogeriana map and on the modern map, the two routes are very similar. It should also be noted that the cities Benjamin traveled to were relatively close in distance and his route on the Tabula Rogeriana map seems to form a logical loop from Rome to Alexandria —which was back towards where he had started. Like on the modern map, the Tabula Rogeriana map reveals (through the green labeling of water and the blue/white squiggles of ocean) that Benjamin was indeed traveling by boat through water-ways to reach each of the locations he documented having travelled to. This leads me to question the verity of this account of having traveled eastward towards Tibet and China, however the water-ways marked on the Tabula Rogeriana map would still support this route. 

In conclusion, if Benjamin really had travelled all the way out to Tibet and India before heading back towards Alexandria, Egypt, the Tabula Rogeriana map would still have been able to guide him toward the places he sought to visit. Regardless of the medieval map’s errors, the demarcations of land and sea relative to the locations Benjamin traveled to were relatively accurate.

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Medieval Map


The original file for this map was too large to upload, however a smaller version is available by clicking on this link!

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Germany (Alamannia)

Benjamin arrives in Germany from Lucca after 20 days of travel. He actually arrives in Verdun, which he says is “the commencement of Alamannia.” As is usual for Benjamin, he begins with describing the landscape of the place, which would  be very convenient for people following this guide, as the geographical aspects would be their first impression. Germany, he says, is full of mountains and hills.

It seems that he already knows there will be many Jews in Germany because after his geographical description, he speaks of the many congregations that exist there, specifically on the river Rhine from Cologne to Ashkenaz, both situated on either end of the river spanning about a 15 day journey. He also mentions a full list of cities which have Jewish congregations including Metz, Treves, Coblenz,  Andernach, Bonn, Cologne, Bingen, Munster, and Worms.

After this, there is a quotation that says that “Israel is dispersed in every land and he who does not further the gathering of Israel will not meet with Jews and I will gather them.” This appears to be one of the major purposes of Benjamin’s travels. He wants to be able to reunite the Jews. Benjamin writes highly of these congregations saying that they contain scholars and caring communities of people. At the end of his account  of Germany, he mentions other German cities where Jews live, and writes of them in high regard as well.

This portion of writing on Germany brings about some new ideas and styles of writing for Benjamin. We get more of an idea of his purpose in his travels through the quote about bringing the Jews together, which also explains why his travel narrative is more of a guide. He clearly wants Jewish people to follow it in order to find larger Jewish communities.

The quotations that Benjamin includes are different from his usual style of writing and it is interesting that he hasn’t used quotations until this point in his writing. Not only does it reveal more of the purpose in his travels, but it also shows his passion for his religion. Up until this point, we know he is Jewish and we know he must be dedicated to his faith because of his travels, but these quotations show his knowledge and passion for Judaism and Jewish people.

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