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What the
site is
Map History

A Critical Re-examination of Portolan Charts
with a Reassessment of Their
Replication and Seaboard Function

comprising about 30 separate web publications and over 120 tables and graphs:
by Tony Campbell

Copyright © 2011-2020


The purpose of this site and its findings

These pages of essays, notes, tabulated data and analysis (equivalent to a medium-sized monograph) cover a wide range of issues relating to the portolan charts of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, with the adjacent Atlantic coasts. They do not, however, attempt to offer new insights into the charts' origin (though see the 'Carte Pisane' essay) or the methods employed in their mathematical construction.

Instead the concentration is on the charts' development and the reasons for their continuation, broadly unchanged over four centuries. This does not necessarily, or indeed usually, mean progress but rather the introduction, perpetuation or alteration of personal or regional stylistic 'signatures', against a broadly unchanging backdrop. The main dynamism, and one not immediately visible, relates to the charts' toponymy. Detailed studies of the 3,000 names around the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts reinforces some earlier conclusions while confounding others.

Some surprising findings have resulted from various detailed analyses of virtually all such works produced up to 1469, and selectively of those created thereafter - insights that were not possible on the basis of earlier partial studies.

Portolan charts, it is asserted, are a major, if not the primary, source for their own history

Access to the site

            The easiest entry-points might be via:

  • Overview of the portolan chart pages
  • General Conclusions

    and the main essays:

  • A detailed reassessment of the Carte Pisane: a late and inferior copy, or the lone survivor from the portolan charts' formative period?
  • Cartographic innovations by the early portolan chartmakers (and subsequent developments)
  • Introductory notes on workshops
  • The wider implications of the 'Colour & Shape Analysis'
  • Innovative Portolan Chart Names
  • Abandoned Portolan Chart Names
  • Red Names on the Portolan Charts (1311-1677) a detailed investigation
  • The style and content of Grazioso Benincasa's charts: imitation, innovation and repetition

    Mounted on the web 7 March 2011, with major additions February 2012, September 2013 & March 2015, November 2016
    (other additions and corrections are noted in the appropriate place)

    See the ongoing listing:

    Significant post-publication additions & corrections to the portolan chart pages

    You can search across the whole of this site
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    Advanced Search

    The tables have been left in their current Microsoft Office Word 3 format
    (allowing online sorting on up to three fields at a time)





    The 1987 'CHAPTER' on pre-1501 charts

    The 1986 'CENSUS' of pre-1501 charts


    Carte Pisane and the earliest portolan charts

    Colours and shapes



    Later charts




    (On toponymy see also 'Carte Pisane' above)

    'Significant Names'

    [The Table of 'Significant Names' was systematically revised during 2011 and the rest of the section,
    which includes 36 tables & graphs, was published in February 2012





    Some areas for possible future research into early portolan charts


    Please send corrections and additions to the author Tony Campbell:  

    Date range of this study and the areas covered
    There are three terminal dates. Since the 'Colour & Shape Analysis' is based on the 2007 Pujades DVD, it is comprehensive only up to 1469. However, where scans were available it was continued to 1500, and the conventions it describes have been selectively checked up to the late 17th century. The 1987 'Chapter' and its updates terminated in 1500, as did the 1986 'Census' and its Excel replacement. As far as toponomy is concerned the commentary extends to 1600 and the Excel spreadsheet to 1700.
          The coastal areas considered in these pages are those that might be found on a portolan atlas of 1469, i.e. excluding all later discoveries.
    See the ongoing listing: Significant post-publication additions & corrections to the portolan chart pages

    How permanent is this site? No human is immortal and no site can guarantee permanence. However, the 'Map History' URL is independent of its host, so any subsequent move [and none is planned] would not affect existing links. More important is the fact that the UK Web Archiving Consortium started to archive the entire 'Map History' site in October 2008 [although it says just 'Home page archived'] and is repeating the capture in April and October of each year. For full details of the places where this site continues to be regularly archived see 'Map History' Archive.
    I would like to express my particular thanks to Ramon Pujades i Bataller for taking so much time to share his valuable insights about a wide range of portolan chart issues. This has led me to modify my views on several points. I am also most grateful to others for providing much appreciated help in various ways: Corradino Astengo, Peter Barber, Michael Barritt, Juan Ceva, Catherine Delano-Smith, Evelyn Edson, Piero Falchetta, Jens Finke, Enrique García Sánchez, Joaquim Alves Gaspar, Anton Gordyeyev, Paul Harvey, Mónica Herrera Casais, Alfred Hiatt, Friedrich Hild, David Jacoby, Joel Kovarsky, Jeremy Ledger, Luisa Martín-Merás, Jacques Mille, Roel Nicolai, Richard Pflederer, Luis A. Robles Macías, Sandra Sáenz-López Pérez, Emmanuelle Vagnon, Chet Van Duzer and Frank Weiden. The way I have made use of their suggestions is of course my responsibility alone.
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