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The Book of the Wanderings of Felix Fabri: Medieval Travel Map

The hardest part about mapping the section of Fabri’s journey I chose on a medieval map is that his journey, in comparison to the Psalter world map as a whole, only occupies a very small geographic area. Within that limited space, the geographical details included on the Psalter world map only vaguely match up with the descriptions Fabri gives in his account, which are fairly accurate to the modern map and the actual geographies he traveled through.

It was easiest to plot Mestre, Italy and Venice, Italy on the medieval map because Italy is still drawn as a peninsula, albeit very circular and consisting mostly just of Rome. Venice is along the northeast coast of Italy, and Mestre a bit inland from Venice, so their relative locations on the medieval map were the most straightforward.

Plotting the locations in the Alps Mountains was complicated because it’s not made clear which mountain range is which on the Psalter world map, so I just had to make an educated guess based on the location of Greece and the assumption that the Dinaric Alps were included on the map. Within the range that I assumed to be the Alps, there wasn’t much space to plot the multiple stops Fabri made while journeying through them, which is both a function of the scale of the map and of the lower importance placed on that part of the world. Generally, plotting most of the stops I chose from Fabri’s journey was difficult because the Psalter world map’s representation of Europe is condensed. The further north the location, such as those in Germany, the harder it was to plot the town because Europe is not given as much space, as the focus is Jerusalem and the Holy Lands as the center of the world.

The orientation of the Psalter world map complicated my plotting of Fabri’s travels on it because most modern maps are oriented with North on the top, while East is up on the Psalter world map. Given theological views of paradise being in the East, this makes sense, as the Psalter world map is religiously based. The orientation of the Psalter map points to the great importance of religion at the time of its creation, whereas the modern map’s orientation reflects the perceived greater importance of northern hemisphere nations as leaders in politics and economics and the history of countries in the northern hemisphere as colonizers of those in the southern hemisphere.

Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Medieval Map v. Modern Map

Though the Tabula Rogerianais incredibly accurate for the time period, mapping ibn Fadlan’s journey onto it has significantly altered the visual representation of his journey.  On the modern map, ibn Fadlan’s path takes him much further North that it does East.  His journey takes an abrupt turn at Bukhara where the main direction of travel transition from East to North.  In the medieval map, however, ibn Fadlan’s journey takes him farther East than it does North, completely altering the perspective of the viewer as to which direction was more applicable.  On the medieval map, ibn Fadlan’s travels are more aptly described as his travels East, whereas on the modern map, he mostly traveled North.

As such, in the medieval map, the Caspian Sea, or bahr al hozaras it is labeled on the Tabula Rogeriana, appears to be a significantly more relevant landmark for ibn Fadlan as his journey appears to more closely circumvent the body of water. Ibn Fadlan appears far closer to the Caspian Sea at the Northern most point of his travels, having passed more or less around the circumference of the Caspian Sea.  In the modern map, however, the Caspian Sea has no impact on his actual path and is much further West and South of his journey than it appears in the medieval map.

Finally, the proper South-up orientation of the Tabula Rogerianadepicts ibn Fadlan’s travels as going down around the Caspian Sea instead of up into the treacherous mountains and rivers of what is now called Russia, relatively close to Moscow.   Not only does this shift the visualization of his journey, but the end of the Northern side of the medieval map cuts off the top of that northern Eurasian landmass, about halfway through what is today’s Russia.  Ibn Fadlan’s final destination, Bulghar, is incredibly close to this northern edge of the map, making it appear as though he traveled nearly to the most northern, or bottom, edge of the world.  This greatly contrasts with the modern map, which reveals that he made it just about half way through Russia at the western edge, far from the Barents Sea.  As such, ibn Fadlan’s journey appears to take him to the edge of the known world on the Tabula Rogeriana, while on the modern map, his travels take him significantly north, but well within the confines of the Eurasian landmass.

Medieval Travel Map (Hereford Mappamundi)


Light blue = Ulm

Light green = Memmingen

Pink = Innspruck

Orange = Balzano

Dark blue = Ad Scalam

Yellow = Bassano

Dark green = Treviso

Purple = Venice

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 Book of John Mandeville: Babylon

Sir John Mandeville describes the city of Babylon in a section entitled “The Way from Gaza to Babylon”. He first informs his readers that in order to travel to Babylon, they must first gain permission from the Sultan, who lives there. Mandeville seems to hold the Sultan in high regard. However, the first description Sir John Mandeville gives of Babylon is not a description of the Sultan, but a description of a church of Our Lady (Mary). He claims that Mary “lived [there] for seven years when she fled from the land of Judea in fear of King Herod.” Mandeville then goes on to list several events of religious importance that also took place in the church; he claims it to be where Jospeh stayed when he was sold by his brothers, where Nebuchadnezzar put three entirely holy children into the furnace, and the resting place of St. Barbara the virgin. However, the list is only that; a list. Mandeville does not go into great depth describing either the church or the details of its stories. Despite Sir John Mandeville’s apparent devotion to Christianity and attempting to educate others about the faith, he spends very little time on religion in what is usually primarily portrayed as a holy city, or a place of religious importance. This is in stark contrast to his other Christian location descriptions, in which he spends the majority of the time talking about Christianity. He spends only one paragraph on the religious importance of tBabylon, strongly centered around the city’s church. He spends the following twelve paragraphs describing the Sultan. It seems as though Sir John Mandeville’s reverence for the Sultan, who he claims to have lived with as a mercenary, overruled his zeal for talking about Christianity.

Sir John Mandeville’s intense admiration for the Sultan is obvious. He begins by describing the great power of the Sultan and the extent of his reach in regards to the lands he controls. He spends the next two pages describing the history of the Sultans of Egypt, much more space than he allots for Christian history. He speaks some more about the size of the Sultan’s army, and then he goes into detail about the Sultan’s life and the traditions and customs associated with it. He starts with the Sultan’s love life, pointing out that one of his wives is always Christian, but that he takes as many lovers as he wishes. Mandeville even validates the Sultan’s practice of taking all the beautiful virgins in the towns and cities that he visits, saying that he “has them detained there respectfully and with dignity”. It seems unlikely that any way the Sultan could detain all the virgins in a town would be a dignified method, but Sir John Mandeville seems convinced of the Sultan’s righteousness and nobility, despite the fact that they clearly do not share the same faith or morals. Mandeville finishes with a short description of the proper etiquette and protocol required of foreigners who wish to meet with or visit the Sultan.

It seems exceedingly strange that Sir John Mandeville, a European and an incredibly strong Christian, would prioritize information about the Sultan of Babylon rather than the Christian parts of the city, which seem to be plentiful. In addition, Mandeville does not seems as concerned or judgmental about non Christian behaviors exhibited by the Sultan; for example, he presents polygamy and the worship of the Sultan as not only acceptable but reasonable practices. This total change is strange, but the descriptions of the Sultan and his life must have seemed impressive to the author, and including them was likely an attempt to impress his audience as well.

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