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Summary Conclusions

relating to the essay

'A detailed reassessment of the Carte Pisane: a late and inferior copy
or the lone survivor from the portolan charts' formative period?'

Contents Page   |  The Essay

(see also the expanded Summaries at the end of the sections and the final Concluding Remarks)

The Carte Pisane has generally been considered to date from the late 13th century but Ramon Pujades has proposed dating it, and the clearly related Cortona and Lucca charts, to the later 14th century or even the 1420s or 1430s.

Which is the correct dating? In what follows, reference is made to the chart in the Riccardiana Library in Florence, confidently datable to around 1320 and thus a valuable 'control' for what might be expected at that time


The Main Conclusions

On the basis of the chart's toponymy, hydrography, constructional method and drafting conventions, the Carte Pisane should be returned to a very early date. The approximate date of 1290 was chosen rather than 1300 because of the need to accommodate several stages in the development of the British Isles prior to 1313. The Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts are also confirmed as very early productions, which can be confidently placed in or even before the period of Vesconte (1311-c.30).


Toponyms included
The Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts have comparable numbers of names not seen after 1330.

Between them, the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts have well over 200 apparently unique names.

Toponyms omitted
Red was used to emphasise the significance of approximately one in six toponyms. About 140 have been identified as found almost invariably on all charts from 1313 to beyond 1600; yet the Carte Pisane includes no more than a third of those.

The Carte Pisane includes no more than 13 of about 300 names otherwise introduced onto Italian charts in the period 1403-30. Of its 123 'unusual' names, just seven can be seen regularly on Italian work of that same period.


British Isles

The Carte Pisane's schematic depiction of southern Britain and its toponymy are 'pre-cartographic', based on unreliable oral information. The Lucca and Riccardiana charts represent the first attempts, before Vesconte (from 1313) fills in the detail over five distinct iterations. By 1330, the British islands had become essentially fixed for the next two centuries. The Carte Pisane's garbled selection of seven names grew to 100 recognisable toponyms by the latest Vesconte production.

Atlantic coasts
Likewise, unmistakeable development can be seen along the Atlantic seaboard after the Carte Pisane's almost total ignorance of the Bay of Biscay and its omission of such major ports as Nantes, Avilés and A Coruña, via the Lucca chart's recognisable, though inexact coastline and toponymy, and on to Vesconte's 'adequate' version that would become the standard for future chartmakers.

As confirmation that the charting of the Mediterranean had already been largely completed by then, the coastal configurations on the Carte Pisane are realistic. However, they are slightly inferior to those of Vesconte and Dulceti , who would bequeath, by 1340, the conventional forms seen on subsequent charts up to the 17th century.

Black Sea
Making the first systematic use of an 1852 hand-drawn facsimile of the Carte Pisane, it proved possible to reconstruct some of the detail lost in a subsequent 'restoration'. Apparently not noted before, the Carte Pisane is essentially complete but the right third of the Black Sea was intentionally omitted.


A range of features - the compass network system, the colour and shape of the smaller islands, and the depiction of navigational hazards - are found on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts in forms not seen in any work dated after 1311.

The 'anachronisms' supposedly identified by Pujades on the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart have been individually disputed, but so has his assumption that charts would have responded to events which had mercantile relevance. Where the date of a toponym's creation can be fixed - and the sample is small - it took an average of 75 years to reach the portolan charts.

The Carte Pisane is not a copy and nor is it late, since its distinctiveness from everything other than the Cortona and Lucca charts (and sometimes the Riccardiana chart as well) is clear and undeniable. Instead, it allows us a glimpse into the refinement of the Mediterranean and Black Sea's shape and toponymy in the period before Vesconte, and (probably) the entire process of incorporating the British and continental Atlantic coasts into the portolan charts. The Carte Pisane's distinct toponymy needs to be carefully studied for what it can tell us about the knowledge available to sailors and merchants in the late 13th century.

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Conclusions: the full listing


35 red names were identified only on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts. [See A.1. Rare or Unique Red names.]

The Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts include no more than 15-50% of the 138 'standard' names included, in red, on almost all charts between 1311/13 and 1600, against 90% on the Riccardiana chart (c.1320) and 90-100% on all later productions. [See The 'Standard' Red names shown in black, or intentionally omitted, on at least one of the four supposedly early anonymous charts (a Microsoft Word document).]

There are 55 'Precursor' red names - found on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, then not otherwise seen on dated charts until 1318 or later - but these represent less than 10% of what could have been included. [See A.3. Red name 'Precursors': those that pre-empt later charts or, alternatively, are evidence of their own later date.]


The unquestionably early Riccardiana chart includes a higher proportion of 'Foundation Names' (1311-13) than the three works under investigation, the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts; its percentage of names otherwise found first on the subsequent work of Vesconte and Dalorto/Dulceti (1313-1339) is broadly the same as that for the other three charts

However, there is a similar toponymic pattern among the two 13th-century portolani and the three disputed charts, from which the Riccardiana chart differs. [See Graph B.]

'Vescontian' toponymy was, for the most part, cumulative, so that each work repeated the innovations of preceding ones. The three disputed charts include a minority of names first recorded on each of the Vesconte works. If the model has to be the latest Vesconte work why did they omit the great majority of the names he had added?

Pujades claims that the three disputed charts reflect Pizziganian toponymy yet the Carte Pisane has just one of their supposed 84 introductions

The scattering of later 'Precursor' names [i.e. those added to dated works after 1313], up to the end of the 16th century, can certainly not indicate so late a date for those three charts

The three disputed charts incorporate between 18 and 27 of the post-1339 additions but the Riccardiana has just two. This could provide evidence to support the Pujades claim, or point to an inward-looking Genoese context. [For all the above see B.1. Should 'Precursor' names necessarily be treated as anachronisms?]

Taken together, the two 13th-century portolani include more 'Pizziganian' names than are found on any of the four charts. They anticipate about twice as many other innovations supposedly dating from the period starting in 1375 than can be seen on the Carte Pisane.

Just 29 of the Carte Pisane's 'Precursor' names (4% of its overall total) do not also feature in the two portolani and over half of those relate to supposed additions in the period up to 1327. [See B.2. Names on the two early portolani related to the those on the four charts.]

'Antecedent names' - those found on one or other of the 13th-century portolani but not on the four charts under investigation - can sometimes be found on later dated charts. The fact that a comparable number were first noted, respectively, on charts dated before 1375 and those from the period 1375-1614, provides further evidence of the often non-linear development of portolan chart toponymy.

Likewise 18% of the names retrieved from 12th-century Crusader texts were added to the charts after Vesconte's initial productions, in 10 cases not until after 1400. [See B.3. What can be learnt from the 'antecedent' names included in the early portolani but not repeated on the charts?]

Over half the 'Foundation Names' (those seen in Vesconte's earliest coverage) had been anticipated by the 13th-century portolani.

Of the toponyms added at various times by Vesconte and Dulceti (1313-39) an average of a quarter had been similarly pre-empted by those portolani - the percentage remaining consistent over three decades. That pattern of delayed introduction warns us not to expect a particular name at a given date. [See B. 4. How much of the supposedly 'innovative' toponymy on the Vesconte and Dulceti charts can already be seen in the earlier portolani?]

The Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts include between 9 and 15 of the 43 'Vescontian' names that disappear after 1330. [See B.5. Totals of Rare and Unique names on charts up to 1430.]


Only a small number of works definitely belong to the early 14th century, which restricts the context against which a very early Carte Pisane could be compared. The recent discovery of the atypical Lucca chart warns against any assumption that we can know what to expect. [See C.1. What was available in the 14th century for comparison?]

No more than seven of the 123 'unusual' names identified on the Carte Pisane were found with any regularity on Italian charts of the first three decades of the 15th century, and no more than a dozen others were repeated at all. [See C.2. The Carte Pisane compared to the Italian toponymy available in the 1430s.]

Over half of the toponyms introduced by Vesconte and Dulceti can be seen on Italian charts of the period up to 1430 whereas the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts had just 20%. The Carte Pisane includes no more than 13 out of about 300 Italian innovations in the period 1403-30. [See C.4. What 15th-century model could there have been for the Carte Pisane?]


In 17 cases the introduction of a toponym can be related to the date of a place's foundation or [re]-naming. The average gap between that event and subsequent recognition on a surviving chart (after 1313) was 76 years. In five instances the name could have been included on previous work by that chartmaker. [See D. 2. Historical Time-lag (from physical creation to recognition by mariners).]

Pujades argues that several names found on the Carte Pisane, Cortona or Lucca charts can be shown by the historical evidence to have had insufficient relevance to mariners for inclusion on a chart until at least the late 14th century. These instances depend on extrapolating from documented political or commercial developments to the world of maritime cartography. Pujades's underlying assumptions are challenged and alternative interpretations proposed for the more significant of his specific examples. [See D. 3. Historical evidence.]

The Lucca chart, and sometimes the Carte Pisane as well, share a few distinctive stylistic features with the Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases, which are probably dateable to the first decade of the 15th century. Nevertheless, each of those pairs has a large number of unique names not found on the other pair. Toponymically, they are clearly distinct. [See D. 4. The Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases.]

While numerous names were shared between the portolan charts and the written navigation manuals (the portolani), some have been noted only in the texts. For example, 60 of the toponyms found in the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso' were next noted in 1490. [See D. 6. The toponymic contribution of the portolani .]


British Isles
The shaping of Britain and Ireland is crucial to the dating of the Carte Pisane since this is the only region where steady hydrographic development can be seen.

The Carte Pisane's schematic south coast of Britain and jumbled toponymy can most readily be understood as the product of non-expert oral transmission.

By the time of Vesconte's first coverage of that area in 1313 a recognisable south coast had emerged, with appropriate place-names.

Four subsequent iterations followed up to c.1330, with the number of toponyms for southern England steadily growing, from the Carte Pisane's seven to about 30 on the latest Vescontian works.

By that time the British Isles had broadly gained the appearance they would retain for centuries. No confidently dated later chart deviates significantly from that norm.

Besides the Carte Pisane's inclusion of a misplaced London, neither it nor the Lucca chart record the four names along the south coast that would be picked out by Vesconte in red from 1318 onwards: Plymouth, Dartmouth, Southampton and Winchelsea.

Nor does the Carte Pisane or Lucca chart refer to the five place-names that Gautier Dalché (1995, p.184) identified as having sufficient significance to be referred to in the narratives of 12th-century crusades. [See E.2. British Isles.]

Atlantic coasts of mainland Europe
Pujades dismissed this aspect of the Carte Pisane in a single sentence: "This absence of reasoning greatly facilitated Nordenskiöld’s proposal of an alternative date on the sole basis of its coarser cartographic design as compared to those by Pietro Vesconte (especially in the Atlantic area)", (2013(b), p.18a).

Comparison of the outlines and toponymy for the Atlantic coasts from Denmark to the entrance of the Mediterranean on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts demonstrates that the earliest version, seen on the Carte Pisane, was the result of very limited, non-expert oral transmission. Essentially, it should be considered as 'pre-cartographic'.

Much of this region is missing from the Cortona chart but a recognisable coastline can be seen in the Lucca chart (whatever its date of construction), necessarily resulting from some kind of actual survey. With Vesconte, coastal outlines and a full toponymy were achieved that would remain broadly standard for centuries. [See E. 4. Atlantic coasts of France and Spain .]

Analysis of the Carte Pisane's outlines for other parts of the Mediterranean - for example, Asia Minor and the Gulf of Sirte as well as the larger islands - found less accuracy, in most but not all cases, when compared to the work of Vesconte.

No similarities were noted with works from the later dates suggested for the Carte Pisane by Pujades, which all, as expected, reproduce outlines that had become standard by about 1340. [See E. 5. Mediterranean.]

Black Sea
Though it appears to have been trimmed, the Carte Pisane's vellum is actually complete (an observation that seems not to have been made before).

However, the way the outline was placed on the vellum meant that most of Crimea and the eastern third of the Black Sea were omitted. Close examination of an 1852 hand-drawn copy, made before highly intrusive 'restoration' had taken place, reveals that this truncation was done intentionally.

Finding space for a virtually unknown Britain instead of a fairly well-understood Black Sea - with the resulting loss of such entrepôts as Tana, Savastopoli and Trapesonda - is surprising. It is evidently not compatible with the increased commercial interests of Catalan, Genoese and Venetian traders in the later periods suggested by Pujades for the Carte Pisane's construction. [See E. 6. Black Sea.]

Only the west coast of Crimea is included on the Carte Pisane but its omission of the large bay (Kalamitskiy Zaliv), likewise absent from the Cortona and Riccardiana charts, confirms that all three are less developed than the 1311 Vesconte outline. [See E. 6b. Crimea .]

The 1852 copy also allows the partial recreation of some of the outlines and toponymy that had been lost (apparently the first time this has been done). Most intriguing is a line of names running east from Constantinople, which, it is tentatively suggested, may perhaps constitute a list of the (yet unidentified) places along the European and Asiatic shores of the narrow Bosphorus channel. [See E. 6e. Bosphorus.]


Palaeography has so far failed to assist in the dating of the Carte Pisane.

In the compass network, in the shapes and colouring of smaller islands, and in the depiction of navigational hazards, clear development can be seen up to about 1330. In each case, the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart are noticeably more primitive than the work of Vesconte or any subsequent practitioner. [See F.2. Drafting conventions and Table 7. 'Development of the signs for navigational dangers' (a Microsoft Word document).]

G. TOPONYMY II (now assuming a very early date for the Carte Pisane)

85 names, found on one or more of the three charts, were not then seen after 1330 (unless revived in the 15th century or later). Half of these rare names are also found on one or both of the 13th-century portolani. This constitutes part of a broadly common, pre-1330 toponymic pool. [See G. 1. Names which confirm that the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts form part of the portolan charts' formative period.]

No convincing evidence has yet emerged to support the various birth-places suggested for the Carte Pisane (Naples) or for the closely related Lucca chart (Pisa, Gaeta). Perhaps future disentangling of their mix of dialects may help resolve this. [See G. 2. Does the toponymy of the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts indicate where they might have been made?]

Looking at overall portolan chart toponymy, it is evident that exceptions are part of the norm. This is not surprising given the informal oral/aural route that each name must have taken from mariner informant to chartmaker, sometimes more than once. The process was informal, random, and dependent on numerous chance factors. There is no evidence that it was progressive or necessarily evolutionary. [See G 3. The staged introduction and repetition of new names.]

Since the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart were apparently produced before 1311 and in two different southern Italian ports, the primary importance of both Genoa and Venice in the earliest stages of portolan chart history is lessened, although the significance of Venice from at least 1318 is undeniable. [See G. 4. Toponymic lineage in the early 14th century.]

The Carte Pisane is (provisionally) responsible for introducing 219 mainland names into our present (very limited) understanding of the state of maritime knowledge in the High Middle Ages. Subsequently, for the period up to about 1340, Vesconte can be credited with a further 489 introductions and Dalorto/Dulceti with 110.

It is hoped that future analysis of the geographical component of the literature of the 12th to 15th centuries will clarify the relationship between textual and cartographical toponymy. [See G. 5. What toponymic sources might have been used by the early chartmakers?.]


The investigation of the possibility of an antique origin remains among the recommendations for future research, though it would also need to consider the notable developments in the period between the Carte Pisane (c.1290) and around 1340. [See H.1. The Carte Pisane and portolan chart origins.]

The lack of any archival documentation, or even a single chart fragment, means we can only speculate about the possible production of marine charts during the decades before the Carte Pisane appeared around 1290, nor do we know what such hypothetical charts might have looked like. [See H.2. The Carte Pisane's antecedents.]

The mid 14th century represents a watershed, with the way the charts were structured and their details presented having evolved to become the settled conventions that would be found on all later charts. That period of consolidation is in marked contrast to perhaps two previous decades marked by the experimentation - on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts - that would have been expected from such 'works in progress'. [See H.4. The early 14th-century context.]



Finally, please help to move this discussion on by responding to what I have said, and considering the suggestions for future research

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