The Tabula Peutingeriana (4th c. AD), also referred to as the Peutinger Table, is an illustrated itinerarium (ancient Roman road map) showing the layout of the cursus publicus, the road network of the Roman Empire.
The Tabula is thought to be a distant descendant of the map prepared under the direction of M. Vipsanius Agrippa, a Roman general, architect, and friend of emperor Augustus. After Agrippa’s death in 12 BC, that map was engraved in marble and put on display in the Porticus Vipsania in the Campus Agrippae area in Rome, close to the Ara Pacis building.
The Tabula Peutingeriana is thought to be the only known surviving map of the Roman cursus publicus, the state-run road network. The surviving map itself was created by a monk in Colmar in eastern France in 1265. It is a parchment scroll, 0.34 metres (1 foot 1 inch) high and 6.75 metres (22.1 feet) long, assembled from eleven sections, a medieval reproduction of the original scroll.
It is a very schematic map, designed to give a practical overview of the road network, as opposed to an accurate representation of geographic features: the land masses shown are distorted, especially in the east-west direction. The map shows many Roman settlements and the roads connecting them, as well as other features such as rivers, mountains, forests and seas. The distances between settlements are also given. In total no fewer than 555 cities and 3,500 other place names are shown on the map. The three most important cities of the Roman Empire at the time – Rome, Constantinople and Antioch – are represented with special iconic decoration.
Besides the totality of the empire, the map also shows areas in the Near East, India and the Ganges, Sri Lanka (Insula Taprobane), and even an indication of China. It even shows a “Temple to Augustus” at Muziris on the modern-day Malabar Coast, one of the main ports for trade with the Roman Empire on the southwest coast of India.
On the western end of the scroll, the absence of Morocco, the Iberian Peninsula, and the British Isles indicates that a twelfth original section has been lost in the surviving copy; the missing section was reconstructed in 1898 by Konrad Miller.
The map appears to be based on “itineraries”, lists of destinations along Roman roads, as the distances between points along the routes are indicated. Travelers would not have possessed anything so sophisticated as a modern map, but they needed to know what lay ahead of them on the road and how far. The Peutinger Table represents these roads as a series of stepped lines along which destinations have been marked in order of travel. The shape of the parchment pages accounts for the conventional rectangular layout. However, a rough similarity to the coordinates of Ptolemy’s earth-mapping gives some writers hope that some terrestrial representation was intended by the unknown original compilers.
The stages and cities are represented by hundreds of functional place symbols, used with discrimination from the simplest icon of a building with two towers to the elaborate individualized “portraits” of the three great cities.