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Carta Marina, Map from 1539
Created by Olaus Magnus
digital carta marina There are only two known copies of Carta Marina. In fact, for many centuries the world thought that it had been totally lost- or referred wrongly to the map included in Olaus Magnus' Historia as the Carta Gothica (a name he himself had used for his map). But in 1886 a copy of the real map was found in the collections of the Hof- und Staatsbibliothek in M√ľnchen. A second copy was bought by Uppsala University Library in 1962 from Switzerland. The detailed information about the circumstances of this acquisition were publicly known first in 2002, due to forty years restriction on the material pertaining to this matter kept in the Manuscript Department of the university library.

The map consists of nine separate wood-cut sheets put together into a map, the total size of which is 1,25 m x 1,70 m. The nine parts are marked by big letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I. Within the area marked by a big letter, there are smaller letters, indicating the illustrations of the map. Sheet G contains an explanation of the contents of the map in Latin.

The west-to-east extension of the map goes from Iceland (part of Greenland inserted separately in the upper left corner - though part of it is also indicated closer to Scandinavia),Scotland and England to Finland, the Baltic territories and a part of Russia. The north-to-south extension goes from the the northern-most part of Scandinavia down to the Baltic coastline of Germany.

In spite of its title, Carta Marina is not primarily a sea map. It is the first fairly correct map of Scandinavia. Up until the beginning of the 16th century, the public knowledge on Scandinavian geography was founded more or less on the description of Ptolemaeus. Only one look at the maps of Scandinavia illustrating the first printed editions of Ptolemaeus immediately reveals the revolution Carta Marina signifies. It also meant the birth of the history of Swedish cartography.

None of the two known copies is coloured. The buyer was supposed to add colours at his own initiative. The coats-of-arms at the top of the explanations in Latin are left open for the buyer/owner, there to put in his own. Only later copies of Carta Marina on a smaller scale (as Lafreri's engraving from 1572) have been coloured.

There are three different commentaries explaining the smaller letters of the map: the description in Latin on the map itself (lower left "sheet" and two separately printed descriptions in, respectively, Italian and in German. The descriptions differ both in size and in general tendency. It is very obvious that the Italian- and the German-speaking public they were intended for are given special attention. The German reader was, of course, closer to Scandinavia and knew a lot already about the countries and things described and therefore does not need as many enthusiastic and slightly exaggerated tales and commentaries as the Italian one.

For the educated Italian reader the author desired to give a picture of the so far not too well known, but rich and marvelous Scandinavian countries with all their treasures and a history not less ancient and venerable than those in the south of Europe (Sweden being the foremost, as closest to his own heart). By including in the lower right corner sheet of the map the names/arms of all the peoples and tribes tracing their origins back to the Goths, conquerors of Rome, originally to be located in Scandinavia, he expressed a special Swedish patriotic conviction, which had already got its first public manifestation in the 15th century.

He also wanted - though it must be admitted that this may to a certain degree be an after-construction - to show the Catholic world what an awful loss they had suffered through the Reformation and possibly to give them reasons for a spiritual re-conquering of the area.
© Margareta Lindgren 2003
View Digital Carta Marina
Exhibition of early cartography of the nordic region
Activities for Exploring Carta Marina exhibition. Harkko Museum, Raisio
Biography of Olaus Magnus
Original of Carta Marina is located at the University of Uppsala Library in Sweden