This mappa mundi is one of the earliest surviving maps of the world and the only example that originates from England before the 12th century. Drawn in an unusual rectangular format, it was probably based on a model made during the Roman period (27 BC–476 AD). The map is also known as the ‘Cotton’ or ‘Tiberius World Map’, named after ‘Cotton MS Tiberius B V’, the shelfmark it was given when it was part of the library of Sir Robert Cotton (b. 1570/1, d. 1631).
As with many examples of medieval cartography, it is oriented with East at the top. Asia, Europe, and Africa are the only three continents represented, reflecting the known extent of the world in Western Christendom during this period. Over 150 inscriptions in Latin and Old English are used to identify major regions, cities, and geographical and topographical features, as well as sites of important Biblical events and the origins of mythological peoples. Oceans and seas are painted in grey; the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, rivers, and lakes are in red; and mountain ranges are in a light green. Some cities are illustrated with drawings of walled and turreted settlements. These include Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome, London, Winchester, and Armagh in Ireland, the city’s first recorded cartographic appearance. A representation of Noah’s Ark can be seen in the centre, east of the Black Sea and close to the mountain ranges of Armenia, marking the point where the Ark is believed to have come to land after the Flood waters subsided. Meanwhile, at the very top, a depiction of a large lion appears beneath a Latin inscription that warns, ‘Hic abundant leones’ (Here lions abound).
One of the map’s most notable features is its detailed representation of the British Isles, found in the bottom left hand corner, opposite Gaul (modern-day France). Cornwall, the Scilly Isles, the Orkneys, the Channel Islands, and the Isles of Man and Wight are all recognisable, and the irregular and indented coastline of Scotland is particularly accurate. The Cornish Peninsula also features a small drawing of two armed warriors fighting each other, though it is unclear who these figures are meant to represent.
The map is part of a miscellany, made in Southern England during the 2nd quarter of the 11th century, which also contains a collection of geographical, historical, and astronomical texts, a copy of the Marvels of the East, an illustrated calendar, and a series of lists of significant figures, including popes, Christ’s disciples, Roman emperors, Anglo-Saxon kings, and bishops and abbots of Glastonbury. It immediately precedes a copy of the Periegesis, a Greek geographical survey translated into Latin verse by the grammarian Priscian (active during the 5th century).