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Anglo-saxon Mappa Mundi

Detail from an image of the Anglo-saxon Mappa Mundi

Anglo Saxon Mappa Mundi
Cotton MS Tiberius B.V., 56v
Copyright © The British Library Board
A high-quality version of this image can be purchased from British Library Images Online. For more information email imagesonline@bl.uk

The 'Anglo-Saxon world map' contains the earliest known, relatively realistic depiction of the British Isles. It was created, probably at Canterbury, between 1025 and 1050 but is probably ultimately based on a model dating from Roman times. This showed the provinces of the Roman empire, of which 'Britannia' (England) was one. The map was revised and updated in about 800 and again in about 1000. New information was added but at each stage errors and misunderstandings occurred in the copying process.

Like most early maps, this one has East at the top. Nevertheless the British Isles (bottom left) are immediately recognisable and the Orkneys, the Scillies, the Channel Islands and the isles of Man and of Wight are shown. The tortuous shape of Scotland is particularly well drawn. London, the Saxon capital of Winchester and Dublin are indicated using Roman-style town symbols. The size of the Cornish peninsula is exaggerated, probably reflecting the importance of its copper and tin mines in the ancient world. Most tantalising of all is what appears to be two fighting figures in the peninsula. Could they refer to the conflict between the Saxons and the native Britons in the centuries following the departure of the Romans early in the fifth century, which gave rise to the legend of King Arthur?

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