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

(An extended essay, supported by tables and an updated version of the comprehensive toponymic listing)

by Tony Campbell

This prints out to just under 100 pages

Mounted on the web 2 March 2015

Copyright © 2015-2017

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Summary Conclusions

Brief notes on the main documents discussed


On 3 December 2012, in the introductory paper to the first specialist international conference ever devoted to early marine charts, Ramon Pujades delivered a bombshell. The Carte Pisane was not the earliest surviving portolan chart as has long been assumed but should instead be seen as a simplified and inferior copy of an obsolete 14th-century design, updated as late as the 1420s or 1430s. "If the chart had been found today instead of more than 170 years ago, it would hardly have been dated to the end of the 13th century" (Pujades 2013(b), p.20a).

What made that claim about one of the Bibliothèque nationale de France's greatest cartographic treasures all the more dramatic was that the conference was being organised by that very institution, as an accompaniment to the finest exhibition of early maritime charts ever mounted, with the Carte Pisane as one of its central attractions.

The Pujades claim has not yet been answered nor, as far as I am aware, even discussed. But, if this judgement is accepted, the implications for the early history of the portolan chart would be immense. This was truly, as Pujades stated, a 'major earthquake' (p.19a). Nor, considering that it comes from the author of the widely acclaimed 2007 work, Les cartes portolanes: la representació medieval d'una mar solcada [with an English version of its text also available], as well as a series of significant subsequent publications, can it simply be shrugged off as implausible. The Pujades assertion deserves to be thoroughly examined. This essay attempts to do just that.

This investigation was approached with an open mind, looking for evidence to support either of the suppositions in the overall title of this essay. At the outset, no outcome was expected, nor would either answer have been preferred. It was not anticipated that the issue would be resolved easily or conclusively. Nearly all that has emerged so far, however, supports the general view of past researchers, namely that the Carte Pisane should continue to be considered as the oldest surviving portolan chart.

The Pujades thesis rests largely on toponymic observations, which is why it is appropriate to begin with that aspect. The Carte Pisane's toponymy is distinctive and includes a large number of names that are found nowhere else, that are seen only on assuredly early productions (among them two 13th-century portolani), or that are noted on the two works with which it is rightly associated, the Cortona and Lucca charts. The Carte Pisane's omissions, which were not considered by Pujades, mark it out from the work of Vesconte and those that subsequently imitated his toponymy.

Pujades claims that the Carte Pisane is an amateur copy, possibly produced as late as the 1430s. The early 15th-century toponymic context is already well documented, with perhaps 20 Italian works surviving from the first three decades. But how can the Carte Pisane be assessed against the pre-Vescontian period (i.e. prior to 1311) since there is nothing besides it and its two associates that might belong there? Remove them, and, for the period up to 1330, we have nothing besides Vesconte, the Genoese chart in the Riccardiana Library in Florence and the now-destroyed Carignano map. The Carte Pisane is required to be both the question and the answer.

This forensic examination concludes that not one of the charts surviving either from the Vescontian period or later has any real affinity with the Carte Pisane. In short, no late model for it can be envisaged, even at many removes.

No incontrovertible anachronism has been identified. Because, as will be shown repeatedly, individual inconsistencies are sufficiently frequent on portolan charts through the ages barely to count as exceptions, placing emphasis on individual instances can easily lead to unwarranted conclusions. It is essential that the prevailing patterns in the wider context are adequately understood, which is why this study takes a holistic view.

The highly distinctive hydrography of the British Isles and the Atlantic coasts, which Pujades does not discuss, provides the most compelling evidence for the antecedence of the Carte Pisane and of the two charts associated with it. It is argued that those supply a partly-oral pre-history to the steady development that can be clearly seen in the Vescontian charts. This is corroborated by the Carte Pisane's less refined outlines within the Mediterranean.

Identifying genuine anachronisms can be relatively straightforward, but making a case for antiquity often means relying on the less secure presence of redundant features or the absence of habitual later ones. With the state of our current knowledge, there can be no definite proof of a 13th-century dating for the Carte Pisane, but numerous, diverse indications point firmly to that conclusion. No compelling contradictory evidence has yet appeared, and the few apparent counter-indications identified by Pujades have, in my view, either been misinterpreted or are unexceptional.

Had the chronological relegation of the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts been endorsed, the subject's documented history would have started with the almost fully formed Vesconte chart of 1311. Nothing else, except perhaps the Riccardiana chart, could have been placed earlier. This investigation does not simply reinstate the Carte Pisane as the earliest survivor but confirms that it must be considerably older than 1311.

The close scrutiny carried out here, which has surely gone further than any in the past, reveals the staged process by which hydrographic knowledge was acquired for the European Atlantic coasts. Starting with vague oral accounts on the Carte Pisane, the coastlines gradually emerged, with their true toponymy, until they achieved a level of accuracy equivalent to that already seen in the Mediterranean. The Carte Pisane's less developed outlines than those visible on the earliest work of Pietro Vesconte, both there and in the Black Sea, reveal the refinement that was about to take place between perhaps c. 1290 and 1311/13. [The reinstated 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.]

By 1340, because of the work of the Vescontes and Angelino Dalorto, the portolan charts had reached what must have been generally accepted as their final form, as far as their constructional underpinning, drafting techniques and hydrography were concerned. The toponymy, however, would continue to be steadily amended and the illustrative opportunities later used to express personal or atelier 'house style'.

Up to that watershed the charts should be considered as 'work in progress'. Those unknown individuals who created the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts were successive pathfinders, struggling with the little known details of the Atlantic coasts and experimenting with the most effective way to compose the network of compass lines. Evolution - at least when a practical aid is involved - always favours expediency. Whereas the improvements were imitated, false paths, like the Cortona chart's network, were abandoned. The process of perfecting those uniquely portolan chart conventions that would last, in some cases, for four centuries, is vividly displayed in the ten surviving works of Pietro and Perrino Vesconte and the three by Dulceti. An equally clear line separates their contributions from what came before and afterwards.

Like the Pujades paper this essay also considers individual names. Indeed, it looks carefully at some of his examples. But the approach adopted here is statistical rather than specific; it seeks out patterns in the total picture and then offers suggested interpretations that flow from those results, rather than from any prior assumption. For each indication that might perhaps support the Pujades thesis the data threw up many more that contradicted it. The main fault it finds with the Pujades approach is the pre-supposition that portolan charts were responsive, and speedily so, to geopolitical change or to altered mercantile relevance. The Pujades explanations are no doubt historically correct surmises, but can any definite instances of such chartmaking responsiveness be cited on the portolan charts, to set against the documented norms of delay and conservatism?

In the few cases where we have a confirmed historical date for a new toponym, the average period before it reaches the charts is three generations. And those instances relate to newly created settlements, not the more obscure places cited by Pujades. Even if there was justification for assumed topicality in the Carte Pisane, how could that logically be applied to what Pujades has castigated as a careless and entirely imitative work?

This extended essay will look first at the Carte Pisane's toponymy, within the general 14th and early 15th-century context, starting with the more significant names written in red, then considering place-names in general. The next focus will be on hydrographic development, particularly that of the British Isles, the Atlantic coasts and the Black Sea. That will be followed by consideration of various constructional and drafting issues. Detailed analytical discussion, supported by tables and the overall Excel toponymic listing will be interspersed with interpretative interludes, in which speculation will be curbed as far as is practicable.

The second half will return to look at toponymy on the basis of a confirmed early date for the Carte Pisane. It will consider such broad issues as the staged introduction of new names, the sources that might have been used by the earliest portolan chartmakers and the associated question of toponymic lineage. Also considered will be the indirect light that the Carte Pisane might throw on the unsettled question of the portolan charts' origins, and the significance of the sizeable body of toponyms first noted on the Carte Pisane which should now, it is suggested, be given the accolade of 'Pisanian' names.

Much current research into portolan charts is, rightly, concerned with mathematical issues, or cartometric analysis. From lack of the appropriate expertise, I must leave that to others. I would merely issue a plea that any such investigations take full note of the solid historical evidence that has been unearthed so far.

The essay ends with some Concluding Remarks, which complement the separate page of Conclusions, and the Summaries placed at the end of the individual sections. Finally, a list of suggested avenues has been offered for future research.

Table of Contents

For the details of any publications referred to see the Portolan Chart Bibliography

Part 1. The Search for Dating Evidence

Toponymy I
(establishing the most appropriate date for the Carte Pisane)


In an attempt to arrive at a carefully considered, approximate dating for the toponymic content of the Carte Pisane, the context needs to be understood, first generally for the entire period up to about 1430, then by comparison to four specific works. These are the closely related Lucca chart, the possibly connected Cortona chart, the clearly unrelated Riccardiana chart (for which a date of c.1320 seems most likely) and, finally, the pre-1330 Carignano map (wherever the evidence can still be extracted from that). The last two are certainly contemporary with the work of Vesconte and can therefore join with it in providing a validated 'control' showing what could be expected in the period 1311-c.1330. [All those works are covered in the Brief notes on the main documents discussed in this essay.]

Such an overview is essential if patterns are to be identified, both of consistency and disparity. It is from discrepancies that individualism can be recognised; little can be learnt from common or predictable features. This toponymic section therefore seeks first to identify what is normal, so that it can then be excluded. The subsequent analysis will concentrate on what remains. The aim of this study is to seek out significance from amidst the indigestible mass of the comprehensive toponymic listing. It sets out to isolate and examine names that were introduced at a certain point, those 'archaic' (?) instances not apparently found after 1330, or pairings or rare and unique names seen only on early charts. It does not have a polemical purpose in favour of either a very early or a late date, nor against either contention.

The following pages are based on a full toponymic survey of the continental coasts from northern France, round the Mediterranean and Black Seas as far as west Morocco. Because of their complexity, the islands, big and small, have been omitted. The result is an analysis - for the 14th century as comprehensive as the original documents allow, for the later period one based on wide-ranging sampling - that provides us with a broad context against which individuals or groups of charts can be assessed.

Chronological security is provided by the charts and atlases that carry an explicit date, from the 1311 Pietro Vesconte chart up to the innovative Francesco Beccari chart of 1403. Although some of the Vescontian works are undated they can be fitted with some certainty into the period between about 1320 and 1330. Later, the story is carried up to 1430, the last date suggested by Pujades for the Carte Pisane.

As a witness to coastal names known to and used by seafarers, a further anchor is provided by the oldest surviving written text (a portolan or, less confusingly, portolano), the 13th-century 'Liber de existencia riveriarum'. While its precise date is still a matter for discussion, it seems clear that this work, and its impressively large toponymic Latin listing, belongs to the first third of the 13th century. Another early portolano, 'Lo compasso de navegare', though dated 1296, and as such the oldest surviving work of that kind in Italian, has an ambiguous content, from which it can be argued either that the text of the surviving exemplar was compiled in the 1260s or, conversely, that the creation of the extant manuscript occurred later than 1296, with the Black Sea among the additions made to a text that had been first issued only in 1296. [On these two manuscripts as well see the Brief notes on the main documents discussed in this essay.]

Nevertheless, given that none of the information included on 'Lo compasso's surviving text has been dated later than the foundation of Palamos in 1279, and given that it includes porto olivole rather than Villefranche which replaced that in 1295, it seems reasonable to consider its toponymic content as dating from the 13th century and thus supporting the 'Liber' in providing a nautical context that pre-dates the work of Vesconte.

The full toponymic listing discussed below is available as a freely available, online Excel spreadsheet comprising nearly 3000 names. Its entries are concerned with the incidence of a particular name, i.e., whether a version of that toponym is present or not, rather than with its precise linguistic form in all its possible variations. For each name, a note is made of the earliest date at which it was seen. In other words, this records when it was first unquestionably known to at least one chartmaker, who had considered it to be of sufficient relevance to the users of his charts to be worth inserting, perhaps in preference to other possible candidates. Last and most important, it needed to appear on a chart that has managed to survive. In some cases, however, where a coastline turned inwards on itself at a peninsula, the lack of available space for toponyms to be written inland might be a limiting factor, particularly when the writing was larger than usual.

The Excel listing is far from complete. It does not pretend to include more than a few variant toponymic forms (to give some idea of the range) and many rare names (particularly from the mid-15th century onwards) remain to be documented. But even if it is no more than a provisional toponymic catalogue it does provide a substantial framework to which future findings can be added or existing details amended. By using its sorting capability, and particularly the short-cuts offered by the sequence of yellow-headed, analytical columns to the right, the spreadsheet also provides direct access to the detail behind the statistics, allowing any statement to be checked or challenged, and other questions to be asked that might not have been considered. [For effective use of the analytical columns it is essential to consult the Explanatory Notes to the Excel spreadsheet.]

The reader is also directed to a sequence of lettered or numbered Microsoft Word tables, each with its own related HTML commentary. The tables focus on such factors as toponyms unexpectedly included or omitted on the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts, or names that are rare or unique. 'Precursor Names', that is those found on one of those four charts and first noted otherwise on works dated after 1311-13, are also carefully examined. Such instances must either pre-empt subsequent charts, or, according to the alternate interpretation, provide evidence of their own later date. Finally, the shared elements of the four charts are isolated as well as the interconnections between them. Further tables compare the names found on those four works with what has been transcribed by others from the two 13th- century portolani.

The investigation starts with a detailed examination of the red names on the charts. The prominent red colour denoted the granting of added status, even if we can usually do no more than guess at the criteria used to elevate a name or, less usually, demote it. There are of course many anomalies, but in general a chartmaker, or school, was broadly consistent in assigning the red distinction

A comprehensive analysis has recently been carried out into the incidence of those Red names. Seventy-five works were systematically checked for the presence or absence of red names, and more than 60 others (most from the 16th century) checked for specific toponyms. For that aspect at least it meant that there was a reliable general picture since all the legible red names had been included and from a wide range of works. Indeed, some names that were semi-legible, were cautiously noted as well, if they were in the expected place and if the letters had the appropriate profile. On the other hand, the black names on the unsigned charts assigned to the 14th century have not yet been systematically examined [although Ramon Pujades anticipates providing such a study in the future]. Given the numbers involved - there are perhaps five times as many black toponyms as ones in red - it was not feasible to provide the same level of comparative detail for the groups of black names as had been done for the isolated and more visible red toponyms.

The red names analysis that follows first will therefore offer greater depth (including dealing with the unsigned works) and a wider sample in terms of both chartmakers and date, whereas the second main section - an equivalent toponymic investigation looking at red and black names together - will focus largely on the dated works alone, and for the period up to 1430.

The three tables that accompany the red name section below focus on the Carte Pisane, the related Cortona and Lucca charts, and the chart in the Biblioteca Riccardiana, Florence, which is confidently datable to the early 14th century. Since this part of the exercise focuses exclusively on the highlighting of a toponym, equivalent to rubrication in a medieval textual manuscript, and ignoring its possible presence in black, its findings relate not to the mere incidence of names but to the way in which they were treated.

The tables deal in turn with names written in red only on those four works, names unexpectedly excluded, and those termed as 'Precursors', which were otherwise seen first on dated charts after 1313. Unlike the great majority of names that appear on the earliest productions of Pietro Vesconte (1311-13) these unexpected toponymic instances serve as useful diagnostic tools by focusing, first, on the similarity or disparity between the four charts in question and, second, on the contrasting contexts of the early 14th century on the one hand and the 1430s on the other. Are the findings in these tables best understood as pointing to a date for the Carte Pisane in the period prior to Vesconte in 1311 or do they provide evidence for a 15th-century dating?

Table of Contents



Related table: A. Listing of the 35 names found, in Red, only on one or more of the four supposedly 'early' anonymous charts (a Microsoft Word document)

The following totals of red names were found uniquely in that form on the four works under consideration: Carte Pisane (16), Cortona chart (11), Lucca chart (4) and Riccardiana chart (0). Another four were shared between the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart, making a total of 35 toponyms. [To the above could probably be added further instances that were either illegible or unrecognisable at that point, particularly on the Lucca chart.] Nine of the 35 are found equally on the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' and 'Lo compasso de navegare', a further three uniquely on the 'Liber', and another eight likewise on 'Lo compasso' (though of course not in red).

In other words, 20 of the 35 names - included here because they have been seen written in red only on one or more of those four charts - were known to have been in circulation in textual form before 1300. By contrast, eight of those names have not been recorded on any other chart even written in black. The remaining names appeared, in black, on the earliest Vesconte coverage. Thus the significance of those instances lies not in the mere fact of their inclusion on the four anonymous works but rather in the special status they were accorded there.

Unless archival evidence can be produced that a late 13th-century date for the Carte Pisane would be precociously early for those red marks of significance, despite their anticipation in the two portolani, the findings from this (admittedly very small sample) lead in a different direction. The analysis of those rare red names - no equivalent example of which is found on the Riccardiana chart - points up the singularity of the other three, particularly the Cortona chart (none of whose instances is repeated by the others), and the sharing by the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart of some of the same red toponyms.

But what of possible contrary indications? Four names, not included in that table, appeared in red on the Carte Pisane and can also be seen likewise on Venetian work of the early 15th century: No.764 in the Excel spreadsheet, mugia (red on the late 14th-century chart attributed by Pujades to the Pizzigani [his C 21], as well as the 1409 Virga chart, after which date it became standard), 776 s. joan (just on C 21), 1400 larso (on two unsigned Venetian atlases assigned by Pujades to the period 1425-50 [A 26 & 28]), and 1801 tanjer (on the early 15th century Venetian chart [C 28], and then on the 1439 Vallseca chart). A single name, 1098 zanuarda, appears in red also on one version of the 1403 chart by the Genoese, Francesco Beccari.

Do those four names provide sufficient ammunition for a c.1430 Carte Pisane date, given that twice that number are not included on charts of that period even in black? 615 rosano provides an example of a phenomenon that is not uncommon: late revival of the red marking and then erratic follow-up thereafter. This appears in red on the Carte Pisane, then on the chart by Jaume Bertran (when working in Majorca in 1482), after which it was apparently revived again about 1600 and repeated regularly thereafter.

It is certainly the case that names could be demoted from red to black. Eleven of the red names were not seen anywhere in red after 1373 (see Summary Table of Red Names: their appearance, frequency and disappearance - and sort on its column 17). Although a few of those toponyms appear in black on the Carte Pisane or Cortona chart, none is in red, so they are not relevant in this context.

Red ink was used to emphasise the importance of about 20% of a chart's toponyms. 35 instances were identified in red only on the four supposedly 'early' works. Of those, 20 can already be found in the 13th-century portolani, and eight were included on Vesconte's earliest works, though in black. The remaining eight were not noted, even in black, anywhere else. If the Carte Pisane's instances are discounted on the basis of a late date, four of its red toponyms would have appeared first on Venetian work of the early 15th century.

See also B.5. 'Totals of Rare and Unique names on charts up to 1430'

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Related table: B. 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)

The Summary Table of Red Names: their appearance, frequency and disappearance was used to select those toponyms that are usually or invariably shown in red throughout the entire period from 1311/13 to at least 1600 (repeated in Excel spreadsheet Column 36). For research into portolan chart development in general, those 138 names (representing about a quarter of the red name total noted on an average chart over those three centuries) have little use in determining either date or lineage. On the other hand, given that they comprise the names that were found in red from the time of the earliest Vesconte charts and then repeated regularly, often invariably thereafter, those habitual names do provide a checklist against which to assess the content of any supposedly very early chart, as compared to one produced, say, in the first half of the 15th century. From the patterns observed in the comprehensive analysis of red names, what could we expect to find on the Carte Pisane and its fellow contenders that would support a very early date or, conversely, place them firmly into the later period?

So as to provide the full picture, the entire global group of 138 'red throughout' names remains in Table B. However, it was reduced for the analysis by removing from consideration the 46 standard toponyms that are shown in red on all four of the charts under the spotlight (ignoring the areas they do not cover). These toponyms are indicated with a green 'modern name' on this table, but without any data in the right-hand columns. This left 92 instances to be considered where, on at least one of the four charts, a name that would generally have been shown in red was here written either in black or consciously omitted from an area for which there was toponymic coverage.

This table allows comparison across the 14th century. It does not represent complete coverage but samples the significant works. To repeat, the names have been considered in this listing only because they appear in red on both the earliest and later work of the Vescontes and continue thus as a regular feature up to at least 1600. Each cell indicates whether a name was in red or black, or omitted entirely. The table's columns 9-12 provide the profiles of the four works at the heart of this investigation: the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts (all in blue) and the Riccardiana chart (in brown). Next comes a column conflating the content of the three charts by Dalorto/Dulceti, followed by four columns detailing, individually, the Genoese works assigned by Pujades to the second quarter of that century (his C 9bis, A 9, C 10 & C 11). The multiple productions of the Pizzigani brothers and the Majorcan Cresques school respectively, are then summarised in single columns. Finally, the anonymous Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases - clearly in the same hand and likely to have been produced near the beginning of the 15th century - are combined in a single column since their patterns are virtually identical. To provide a prior reference point for knowledge within maritime circles of the 13th century, incidences or absences are noted also on the two early portolani, the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' and 'Lo compasso de navegare', though the red distinction does not apply there.

The first observation that needs to be made is that, of the 92 red names whose omission from one or more of the putative (blue and brown) precursor works is the subject of this investigation, the pattern is very different from that seen in the groups of charts documented in the right-hand eight columns (1330 onwards). To help make sense of the data, sub-totals are given towards the end of the table, in the penultimate section. These invite comparison between the number of names in red and those either shown in black or absent altogether. Other sub-totals are provided for doubtful or illegible names and for those situated in the missing sections of a few works.

The profiles of the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, shown in blue, are markedly dissimilar to those in the columns to their right, covering the period from Dalorto/Dulceti in 1330 to just after 1400. The unquestionably early, but uncertainly dated, Riccardiana chart (in brown) would seem to act as a bridge between the 'Vescontian' corpus of red toponyms - the basis on which this listing was selected, because each of these names is already found in red on his earliest works - and those of Dulceti and later Genoese, Majorcan and Venetian chartmakers alike. That said, the Riccardiana's links with the three charts to its left in the table are tenuous, whereas its connections to the Genoese and other works that apparently followed to its right are very close.

If this was the only piece of evidence on which a judgement had to be made as to whether the three 'precursor' charts can be confirmed as pre-Vescontian or, alternatively, placed at least a century later, it is hard to envisage the argument that could justify the radical re-ordering of the present tentative arrangement of the columns. The first three columns would have to be moved after the final one, i.e. the combined listing for the jointly authored Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases, whose likely date precedes by perhaps three decades the latest date proposed by Pujades for the Carte Pisane. It needs to be underlined, however, that what is being discussed here is the chronology of the toponymy, which might not necessarily match the actual dates of chart construction. Before that central question can be faced, a number of other aspects will need to be scrutinised.

Two of the table's last three rows provide totals for the red names on the one hand and those in black or omitted on the other. The final row expresses the proportion of red names as a percentage, which therefore removes any distortion from the truncation, through subsequent trimming down, of five of the works considered. Given the large number of black alternatives found on the three 'precursor' charts, as well as significant omissions (see the penultimate row), their percentages for the inclusion of 'standard' names in red were as follows: Carte Pisane (32%), Cortona chart (15%) and Lucca chart (50%).

It is however worth pointing out, with regard to the Cortona chart, that Armignacco (1957, p.188) had discerned a unique feature of that work, namely the lack of red names in the Black Sea and along the European Atlantic coast. She also drew attention to the scarcity of toponyms around the (much-enlarged) Sea of Azov. That said, the Cortona chart's author was highly selective in his use of red names, also omitting any around the coast of Greece (apart from the Peloponnese).

In marked contrast to the three blue columns, the remainder, including the Riccardiana chart, incorporated between 90 and 100% of the possible red names (as shown in the final row). The eight right-hand (uncoloured) columns record altogether a total of no more than 21 instances where a standard red name was downgraded to black or definitely omitted altogether (i.e. the combined total of the 'in black' and 'not present' columns). However, because the same toponym was often involved, the number of different names not invariably shown in red from 1330 onwards was just twelve (13% of the 92).

It might be argued that the idiosyncratic award or withholding of enhanced red status by those who created the three charts of the 'precursor' group does no more than underline their separateness from the main schools of which we are aware, those in Genoa, Venice and Majorca, rather than provide clear evidence of early dating. This might be true in one or two isolated instances and, although this analysis concerns general patterns, the names are listed and can all be checked individually. But that will not explain why the picture drawn from the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts is, to a considerable extent, a reverse image of the well defined norm, with large numbers of the 'standard' red names written alternatively in black, or omitted. The Cortona's peculiar reticence with regard to red names has already been mentioned (just above), but the Carte Pisane conveys in red less than half the total number of standard names it could have shown in that way (24 against 52, not forgetting the 20 found uniquely on it or the Lucca chart - see A.1. Rare & Unique red names). No other surviving chart is remotely similar. The names it treats in black only - Bordeaux, Santander, Seville, etc - were hardly inconspicuous at the time, any more than those it omits altogether, such as tortosa, jaffa and lucho in the eastern Mediterranean.

[For a graphic portrayal of the preceding, see Graphs: 'A. Comparing the treatment of the 92 'standard' RED names on the 'precursor' charts and those from the remainder of the 14th century: whether shown in red, black or omitted'.]

What of those twelve individual 'standard' names (out of the 92 being considered - see just above) which were omitted altogether or that appear, at least once, in black rather than in red on one or more of the post-Vescontian productions? Might they be added to the argument in favour of a later dating for the three 'precursor' charts, on the grounds that they might have provided an intermediate link?

The dozen exceptions are all found on unattributed works rather than on those emanating from Dulceti, the Pizzigani or the Cresques atelier. Five of the names of Italian ports are in this group because they were treated in black on the Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases alone. The remainder appear in black on one or more of the four unsigned Genoese works assigned to the second quarter of the 14th century. There is no obvious reason why Pescara [No. 681 in the general Excel listing and again in this table] was treated as being of little importance on so many of the works considered, though it had also been omitted from the late 13th-century 'Lo compasso de navegare'. It seems that it suffered seriously after the conquest by Roger of Sicily in 1140 and may have lost its maritime relevance for some time thereafter. But, if that suggests local knowledge, it does not explain why Pescara was still emphasised in red by those, such as Vesconte and the Pizzigani, who were working in the same Adriatic basin.

This exercise is largely concerned with general patterns of incidence rather than with individual instances. A single red name might easily be omitted by accident (it would probably have been part of a separate operation using the differently coloured ink, and almost certainly carried out later). Against the significant overall level of consistency, occasional specific exceptions are to be expected. However, attention can be drawn individually to seven of those dozen names, omitted or downgraded on some of those post-Vescontian productions, a few of which have already been cited. 681 Pescara, 716 Rimini, 723 Ravenna and 1780 Melilla do not appear in red, either, on the Carte Pisane or the other three works under the spotlight with it. Furthermore, 657 Manfredonia, 761 Trieste (occupied by Venice in the 1280s) and 1617 zenara, all predictable red names from 1311 onwards, seem to have been considered of insufficient significance to mariners to merit inclusion at all in either of the very early portolani. By contrast, the Carte Pisane gives the red distinction to ancient Siponto, abandoned after an earthquake, while including, in black ink, Manfredonia, the town that replaced it after 1256. [Coincidentally, Vesconte did something similar, if in reverse, labelling Manfredonia in red in 1311 and then adding Siponto to that, in black, as an afterthought, in one of his latest works.] The Lucca chart is the only one from the group of three to include Trieste in red, while zenara appears thus only on the clearly unconnected Riccardiana chart. These are the kind of exceptions that might be expected; they do not change the overall findings. Nor do they demonstrate that the early Genoese works or the Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases could represent a toponymic bridge between the early 14th and early 15th centuries.

If an early 14th-century context has been confirmed, how do the four supposedly early charts fit into it? The first general comment is that the pattern found on the unsigned and undated chart in the Biblioteca Riccardiana, Florence is, at the same time, noticeably different from the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, and broadly very similar to that found on all the other 14th-century works. Specifically, only three of the eight names [out of 92] that the Riccardiana chart presents in black ink are not found likewise on the other, slightly later, Genoese works. As stated before, this does not, in itself, constitute chronological proof but it does underline the extent to which the three other named charts represent a lineage that is distinct from all the others, whether that was Genoese, Catalan or Venetian, while the Riccardiana fits neatly into an earlier slot in the output of the Genoese 'school'.

Were the Riccardiana column to be mentally shifted to join those to its right (or had its brown colouring removed), the remarkable coherence of the three blue columns to its left would become even more apparent.

The Summary Table of Red Names: their appearance, frequency and disappearance lends itself to a different diagnostic approach. Its column 13, 'Standard name from... (approximate date)', can be used in conjunction with the list of anonymous charts in its column 12, to note the instances of red names, specifically those that would be expected after 1318, which appear on the three supposedly early charts as well as the Riccardiana chart (Pujades C 4, of c.1320). Out of around 65 possible toponyms that became predictably red at some point between 1318 and 1420, the Carte Pisane and Lucca charts have just seven each and the Riccardiana chart ten. Those small minorities are in keeping with what has already been described and mark those four works out from all later charts.

We will need to look, in the full toponymic analysis that follows, to see if those findings are corroborated when the majority black names are considered as well.

138 'standard' names were regularly included, in red, on almost all portolan charts between 1311/13 and 1600. Of those, 92 are considered here because, on one or all of the four supposedly early charts, these prominent names are shown in black not red, or are omitted altogether. On the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts no more than 15-50% of those names appear in red, despite being standard elsewhere, whereas on the Riccardiana chart and others throughout the rest of the 14th century the figures are 90-100%. Only 12 of the 92 names were definitely written in black or omitted on that second, later group, and in half the cases that affected no more than a single chartmaker. Hence there is a marked and consistent disparity between the 'patterns of incidence' found on the three charts in blue and all the others.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Related table: C. Listing of the 55 Red 'Precursor' names found on one or more of the four supposedly early anonymous charts, which otherwise appear first, in red, on works dated or dateable later than 1311/13 (a Microsoft Word document)

For the full picture see: 'Red Names noted first (?) on Anonymous 14th-century charts' (a Microsoft Word document) and/or Excel spreadsheet Column 35.

This section will look at the potential anachronisms represented by 'Precursor Names', and then at the repetitions of those among the four charts under the spotlight. 'Precursor' names are defined as toponyms which were first noted, in this case in red, on a work of a given date but were also seen on one or more undated charts that are considered to be earlier. Though that situation can occur for any period, the focus here is on the 'Precursor' names seen on the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts. Pujades relied heavily on such instances in his justification for a 15th-century date for the Carte Pisane. Taken together the four anonymous charts include fifty-five red names, which otherwise appear for the first time, in red, on works dated or dateable from 1318 onwards (although two 1313 Vesconte names, coron and foia, were included in this list since they do not appear on the 1311 chart).

The arrangement of Table C is the same as for Table B. By sorting on Column 7 'Red on first dated chart' [keep the default 'Text' option], the instances can be compared between the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts (in blue), the Riccardiana chart (brown) and the nine columns to the right (black), according to their first dated appearances during the period 1318-c.1400. As in the preceding analysis of 'standard' names (A.2. 'Unexpected red name exclusions'), the patterns in the three blue columns are at the same time similar to one another and yet dissimilar to the others. Again, in almost all the instances, the Riccardiana chart (c.1320) looks to the later works to its right rather than to the blue columns of the three charts under closest investigation. The 1421 Cesanis chart was added as a later 'control' for the period to which Pujades argues the Carte Pisane should be assigned, and demonstrates a continuation of the pattern established by the Pizzigani in the later 14th century.

While it is convenient to assign to each toponym the year of its first appearance on a securely dated or dateable work, describing it for example as 'Vescontian', 'Pizziganian', and so on, it must at all times be realised that any of those names - and, by the law of averages, certainly some - will have actually appeared first on an unsigned and undated work. If we knew that such and such a name had been introduced to the portolan charts by Vesconte in, say, 1321, any instance on a work purporting to precede that would indeed invalidate that dating and force it to be moved, in that case, to a date later than 1321.

That is the simplest line of reasoning. It is also the weakest. Any thorough study of portolan chart toponymy will uncover sufficient examples of intermittent, erratic, and 're-discovered' names to make perfectly plausible a pre-emption of a specific name by a few years, decades or even a century or more. It is the general patterns that should be relied upon and not individual instances, unless there are other sound arguments involved. [See further on Precursor names, B.1. Should 'Precursor' names necessarily be treated as anachronisms?, and the comment on Vescontian 'revivals', B.5. Totals of Rare and Unique names on charts up to 1430 - towards the end.]

Nevertheless, even if these 55 'Precursor' names represent only a small proportion of the total (altogether more than 600 red names can be seen on charts up to 1600 - see Red Names Statistics), the presence, particularly on the Carte Pisane, of names not securely dated until later has obvious relevance for an argument in favour of a later date. The Precursor figures for red names on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, considered together, are as follows: found after Vesconte's earliest output (6, out of a possible 29), Dalorto/Dulceti (13 out of 51), Pizzigani (10 out of 73), Catalan Atlas (1 out of 6), Corbitis & Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases (1), 15th century (7, which includes just three of the 29 names apparently introduced in red by Francesco Beccari), and post-1500 (4). The other 13 that make up the total of 55 were first noted on the Riccardiana chart, and eight of those relate to the period after its own suggested date of c.1320.

Considered alone, the Carte Pisane includes no more than 20 of the 179 toponyms that have been first observed as added, in red, to works dated between 1318 and 1403. This represents 11% of that total. Almost half (26) of the 55 'Precursor' red names discussed above can be seen earlier on the 'Liber' or 'Lo compasso'; in other words there was no general novelty in them. Since Pujades considered that the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts reflected what he called 'the new hybrid Pizziganian model' (2013(b), p.25), it is instructive to note that the Cortona chart does not include a single one of the 72 'Pizziganian' red names that are considered to be innovations (see Summary Table of Red Names: their appearance, frequency and disappearance - sort on column 9).

These findings need to be placed alongside those for the toponymic selections considered as a whole, which follows in Section B, since there may have been specific, if unknown, reasons for particular names to have been honoured in red or ignored entirely.

If the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts had been produced post-Dulceti (1339), post-Pizzigani (1373) or post-Beccari (1403), they would be expected to include a significant number of the red names introduced in those periods. In fact the proportion was no more than 15%. There are 55 'Precursor' red names - those not otherwise seen on dated charts until 1318 or later - but these represent less than 10% of what could have been included. In general, the pre-empting of names on undated works is sufficiently usual to be unremarkable, per se.

For names not found elsewhere, which cannot therefore be termed 'Precursor', see A listing of the 35 names found, in Red, only on one or more of the four supposedly 'early' anonymous charts. And for 'Precursor' names in general, i.e. black and red combined, see Comparison of the 'Precursor' and 'Antecedent' names on two 13th-century portolani and four supposedly very early anonymous charts.

On red names see additionally, CartePisaneHydrographyTables: 5. RED names from Calais to Seville (including instances in black for the four anonymous works).

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes
For the details of any publications referred to see the Portolan Chart Bibliography


Attention now turns to the toponymy as a whole, bringing in the great majority (around 80%) that were regularly written in black not red. The Excel listing provides an overview of the names found along the mainland coastlines between Dunkerque in northern France, round the entire Mediterranean and Black Sea to Mogador (Essaouira) in western Morocco. The names for islands and inland toponyms have not been included.

Seeking out the minority of highly visible red names was relatively straightforward, if time-consuming, and meant that the results could claim a high level of completeness. However, this general investigation - done in various different ways over the past 30 or more years - was originally focused on identifying the first and last appearance of a particular toponym or distinct variant thereof, whether written in red or black. Only recently have the less usual, even unique, names been added to the listing, which now numbers almost 3,000 entries. Undoubtedly, many more remain to be documented, particularly for the 15th century onwards (as demonstrated by Anton Gordyeyev's recently published full toponymic census of the Black Sea [2014]). However, the systematic inclusion (or sampling) in the Red names survey of almost all the works produced before 1450 would have brought to light any major departures from the norm. It is possible but unlikely that later investigation will unearth any significant new toponymic source, at least up to 1469 because of the microscopic examination provided by Pujades (2007, pp. 350-97) for the kingdom of Valencia and the northern Adriatic.

The discussion that follows is closely linked to a succession of Microsoft Word tables: Comparison of the 'Precursor' and 'Antecedent' names on two 13th-century portolani and four supposedly very early anonymous charts. Their statistical information attempts to present the underlying patterns in a convenient and readily comprehensible way. However, since all the information is derived from the Excel spreadsheet, it is possible to recreate the source for each statement and identify the individual names involved, along with additional pieces of information about many of them.


Tabulated Totals: Table A. 'Totals of the black and red names, first seen on dated works after 1313 but included on the four supposedly very early anonymous charts' (a Microsoft Word document)

Detailed data: Excel spreadsheet listing almost 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes. Column 32 provides a separate list of the 191 'Precursor Names', while the other columns offer analytical sub-sets

'Precursor' names

The concern here is with what has already been discussed for the Red incidences, namely 'Precursor Names'. This is the term coined for those toponyms found on undated charts, which were produced, definitely or apparently, before the time of that name's first documented appearance on a securely dated work. This methodology stemmed from one explained and utilised in Volume 1 of The History of Cartography (1987, pp. 415-24 & Appendix 19.5, p.461 - accessible online). Each 'Significant Name' - defined as one seen on a dated or reliably dateable work and repeated at least once thereafter by a different chartmaker - was provided with the date of its first verified appearance. The undated works were then examined to see how many of the 'significant' names were included from each of those dated works. From that, an individual 'toponymic profile' was created for each chart or atlas. That then indicated 'the most likely chronological slot for the work concerned by means of a comparison with equivalent profiles on dated works' (p.461). When, for example, the authorship inscription of the atlas supposedly produced by Pasqualino Nicolai in 1408 was re-interpreted by Falchetta (1995, pp.62-3) as a 1448 work by Nicolò Nicolai, it fitted much better into the understood toponymic sequence.

Some cautionary words, from over quarter of a century ago, still have relevance:

It is true that the dated works are nearly always signed, often by established chartmakers, while virtually all the undated productions are anonymous, and, usually (in the earlier periods at least), by an unidentified practitioner not known for any other work. This might be thought to strengthen the view that the undated instance is likely to be later than the securely dated one, though there is no justification for that. A 'Precursor Name' should be treated, prima facie, as possibly no more than an example of the relatively common inconsistencies found in any detailed study of the toponymy of the portolan charts or portolani. After all, 13% of the names in the 'Liber de existencia' and 16% of those in 'Lo compasso' were added to the portolan charts after Vesconte's earliest productions (1311-1313), and sometimes long after [see Excel Column 9 for a combined listing of those]. This relates to the earlier warning in Campbell (1987, p.427, note 379) about the 'divergence between the written and the cartographic records' leading to some names from the early portolani being revived long afterwards [on this see Columns 39 & 40].

But that is on the basis that there are no other arguments in favour of a later date for a potentially 'Precursor Name'. Besides being interpreted as precocity, such toponyms can equally be considered as evidence that the chart in question does indeed date from after the time that they can first be seen on a dated work, in which case 'precursor' would be a misnomer. In the current exercise the uncertainties are magnified because the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart [now with the addition of the recently discovered Lucca chart] had up to now been generally considered as defining that pre-Vescontian toponymic context.

Table A, 'Totals of the black and red names, first seen on dated works after 1313 but included on the four supposedly very early anonymous charts' deals with the names found on the three charts whose early dating has been challenged by Pujades, namely the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, and the equally anonymous Riccardiana chart (whose very early dating, however, is not in contention). This table compares the toponymic incidences of the four charts to one another, and to the supposed innovations found on dated works from 1313 to the end of the 16th century.

Table A starts its analysis of the coastal toponyms (Row 6) with the (coincidentally) neat number of almost exactly 1000 'Foundation Names', that is, those that are already found on the earliest dated works of Pietro Vesconte (1311 or 1313). That row is followed by others documenting about 1,100 names that were added, by him and others, from 1313/1318 up to 1600. The blue figures, for the total number of innovations on each work, are updated versions of those in the earlier webpage, 'The addition of 'significant names' to the 31 sections of coastline' (published in February 2012). Since three of the four works, the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, have been reduced in size through later cropping, percentages have been added to remove the distortion that pure totals would have made when making comparisons.

The overall profiles for the four charts, when reading the green percentage figures across the four columns that contain them, is generally consistent (at least for the early period), between the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts on the one hand, and the Riccardiana chart on the other. Yet, while the Riccardiana's early 14th-century slot has not been contested, Pujades is proposing that the other three should be moved to the very end of that century or even beyond, perhaps to 'the 1420s or 30s' (2013(b), p.25).

It is conceivable that the Riccardiana chart predates the earliest Vesconte works of 1311/13 [and this point will be discussed later, e.g. in the context of the British Isles] but its inclusion of 85% of those Foundation Names makes that unlikely. Conversely, the lower 60-70% figures for the other three charts do not assist the argument for their being later than the Riccardiana chart, let alone bringing them forward by as much as a century.

The three charts whose dating is being questioned certainly include a number of names that are otherwise reliably documented for the first time after 1313. But should that be considered as so surprising? There is no reason, as already warned above, to assume that names always appeared first on dated charts; indeed it is highly likely that the creators of some undated works would also have been toponymically innovative, though until a sure way is found to date their work accurately they cannot be given credit for any such introductions.

If we are trying to recreate the context of the period before and around the time of the Vescontes' activity (1311-c.1330) the chronologically unchallenged Riccardiana chart is the best witness. It is significant therefore that the percentages for its inclusion of names first documented in the work of Vesconte in [Genoa? &] Venice and Dulceti in Majorca (up to perhaps a little after 1339) is remarkably similar to that on the three other charts, with an overall figure in the range 18-21%.

Given that Pujades (2013(b), p.25) has found indications of supposedly 'Pizziganian' toponymy (or names routed through them) in the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart, it is significant that both the Carte Pisane and the Riccardiana chart (acting as the 'control') appear to include just a single one of the 84 names introduced by the Pizzigani brothers in the period 1367-83 (Excel spreadsheet No.891 goeniza) [though it is likely that 494 (erexe / lerzo / lerici) is indicated by what looks like eirse (in the Jomard facsimile of the Carte Pisane)]. Even if the Cortona and Lucca names are deemed to imitate the Pizzigani rather than prefiguring them, it affects no more than 6% of their toponymy.

From the 1375 Catalan Atlas onwards a few apparently 'Precursor' names can certainly be seen on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, but these amount to just 4% of the available innovations that were first noted on printed works up to 1600. It would be convenient for historians if each chartmaker picked up in bulk the innovations of his predecessors. But this happened very rarely. The fact that no more than three '15th-century' names can be identified on the Riccardiana chart, while the other three charts have a steady, but very small, trickle of isolated (sometimes shared) names apparently from later periods, is probably no more than an interesting lineage distinction. Given the relative frequency with which names can disappear and then reappear a century or more afterwards, these late 'Precursors' cannot of course be used to argue realistically that those charts should be moved to a date as late as the 16th century. They are probably 'erratics', no more. With this current examination it is becoming increasingly clear that the history of many, if not most, individual 'Precursors' is better understood in terms of repeated selection from a pre-existing corpus or serial re-introductions. In support of that, the high incidence of such 'Precursor' names found also on the two 13th-century portolani (discussed in the next section, B.2. Names on the two early portolani related to the those on the four charts) provides a further warning about using such toponyms without sufficient caution.

Underlining the overall consistency between the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts and that preserved in the Riccardiana Library, Table A's final row shows that the totals of 'Precursor' names found on each chart are generally similar. The message from this table is that, in terms of the chronology of their toponymy (which does not have to be the same as their date of construction), all four works sit easily in the same general early period.

The most striking difference is in the category 'Names not seen on any dated chart' (Row 5). Where the other three charts include an average of 85 names each that have not yet been identified on any dated work, the Riccardiana chart has just six instances. Again, this should probably be seen as a reflection less on dating than on lineage. The Riccardiana's creator was Genoese and firmly in a chartmaking tradition that was, in that period at least, peculiar to that city. He may even have helped to forge those conventions. For the other three charts, with between 11 and 15% of their names falling outside the toponymic mainstream (Row 5), those figures testify to their origin in one or more, as yet unidentified, chartmaking backwaters - whether early or late.

It is also worth pointing out that the number of names apparently unique to the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart slightly exceed the total 'Precursor Names' found on each of those works. In other words, their peculiarities go well beyond the possible inclusion of 'later' names. Whether those unique or very rare names emerged briefly, somewhere in Italy, say around 1400, but failed to make any impact in the recognised chartmaking centres, or if those same names should be considered as archaic survivals from a very early period, is a question that will be looked at in the following section in connection with the possible relationship between those charts and the two antecedent portolani.

The Riccardiana chart

[For a general note see the Main documents discussed]

Because of the central role it occupies in this analysis, it is appropriate at this stage to examine the credentials of the Riccardiana chart as the single effective chronological 'control'. If it were to be linked, in a number of ways, with the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, might there not be an argument for relegating that to the 15th century as well?

Even if the Genoese Pietro Vesconte learnt his trade in his home city and might have started producing charts there before his move to Venice, and even if Dalorto/Dulceti's uncertain origin fails to mask, in Pujades's opinion, a Genoese mind-set, the unknown author of the Riccardiana chart may well be the first to leave us a chart actually made in Genoa. This anonymous work provides a developmental bridge between the Carte Pisane (assuming an early date) and the productions of Vesconte (1311- c.1330), with which the Riccardiana chart is now assumed to be contemporary. It was not always thus. Given its evident importance, it is surprising that it had managed to avoid recognition until rescued by Ramon Pujades in 2007.

When I was working on portolan charts in the early 1980s I was aware of the brief, unhelpful reference to the chart listed as Ricc. 3827 in the Uzielli & Amat di San Filippo catalogue of 1882 (No.113, p.96). It was there labelled 'XVth century', and as being in a hand of that period. No reproductions were available and a letter to the librarian did not unearth any useful references. When or how it came to the Biblioteca Riccardiana Firenze was not known (then at least), and its absence from their 1810 Inventory was probably not relevant since charts were not included anyway. [For a brief history and links to the catalogues see the Library website.]

Having nothing else to go on, I included the Riccardiana chart in my 1986 Census (No.80) as '15th century', citing only Uzielli. Pujades, who had gathered up high quality scans of all those works that might belong to the period before 1470 immediately realised that it was very early, and placed it in the first quarter of the 14th century. Having examined it via his DVD (his C 4), recorded its toponymic incidences in the Excel listing (Column T, though not with transcriptions), and noted its various archaic features, I entirely concur with Pujades's judgement. Its place-names are close to those found on the group of four Genoese charts, dated by Pujades to the second quarter of the 14th century, but - and this can be seen in the earlier analysis of red names (B. The 'Standard' Red names shown in black, or intentionally omitted, on at least one of the four supposedly early anonymous charts) - evidently earlier than those. The Riccardiana's value for this investigation, as an early 14th-century anchor, seems assured.

If the Riccardiana chart was drawn in about 1320, and the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts perhaps up to a century later, we would expect to see similarities within the group of three but major differences between those and the Riccardiana. The three-column sections in Table A, one for each of the four charts, have a series of green-tinted columns containing percentages. In row 6 these reveal the proportion of 'Precursor' names on each of those charts, as measured against the supposed innovations on successive works by the Vescontes and Dalorto/Dulceti. What is immediately striking is the similarity in the four profiles rather than any marked difference between the last, the Riccardiana chart, and the other three.

It is not obvious how the 'Vescontian' and 'Dulcetian' names would have been incorporated, over the period of a generation. Although chartmakers could occasionally be erratic, for example adding a name on one chart and then abandoning it for a later one, or using it only from time to time, most of them repeated later what they had previously added. So, if for example, it was suggested that the Riccardiana chart should be dated later than 1327 because it included two innovations found first on Vesconte's chart dated that year, the question that needs to be asked is: why did it not include the other seven?

Or why do we see on the Riccardiana chart only 51 of the 246 names 'introduced' overall by Vesconte (as additions to those found on his earliest coverage in 1311-1313) during the course of his (or their) career up to 1330? Which is the more important figure: the one-fifth that the Riccardiana's author did include or the four-fifths that he did not? And, if he was borrowing from Vesconte, how could he have been working from any Vesconte chart except one from the very end of that chartmaker's career? In which case why did he decide to omit so many of the names (roughly three-quarters) that had been added earlier? The same argument applies to the limited incorporation of names from the Dulceti charts (22, from a relevant possible total of 150). The alternative, and more plausible, interpretation is that we are dealing with one or more intermediary sources, whose identity and dating we cannot know.

Table A, 'Totals of the black and red names, first seen on dated works after 1313 but included on the four supposedly very early anonymous charts' (and also visually in Graph B) demonstrates the dual role that the Riccardiana chart plays in this investigation. Graph B's first category, 'Precursors before 1367', considers the injection of names that have been first reliably dated because of their inclusion on charts produced between 1313 and 1367. The Riccardiana's total of such names is much the same as that of the five other works involved (including the two portolani - see the discussion about Table B in the next section). But for the post-1367 period, while the other five works reveal between 18 and 27 names not found on earlier dated charts, the Riccardiana has only two. Can this be considered as evidence that the Riccardiana chart more truly represents the toponymic knowledge of portolan-chartmakers in the early years of the 14th century, and, conversely, that the larger complements of 'Precursor' names on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts substantiate the Pujades claim for a much later date? This might be so, but it runs counter to the clear statistical evidence linking the three other charts closely to the two 13th-century portolani, on which we depend for our understanding of pre-Vescontian toponymy. It is more likely to indicate instead an inward-looking Genoese context.


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

  • however, Graph B shows a similar toponymic pattern among the two early portolani and the three disputed charts, from which the Riccardiana chart differs

  • 'Vescontian' toponymy was, for the most part, cumulative, so that each work repeated the innovations of preceding ones. Since the three disputed charts include a minority of names first recorded on each of the Vesconte works, if those charts had been produced afterwards, what could they have been copied from? If the model has to be the latest Vesconte work why did they omit the great majority of the names he had added earlier?

  • 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, up to the end of the 16th century, can certainly not indicate so late a date for those three charts. Why should the intermittency or occasional 'erratics' which they reveal not have occurred in the earlier period as well?

  • 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

  • the number of names apparently unique to the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart slightly exceed the total 'Precursor Names' found on each of those works. In other words, their peculiarities go beyond the possible inclusion of 'later' names

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Tabulated Totals: B. Totals of the black and red names noted first (?) on the four supposedly very early anonymous charts (related to the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' and 'Lo compasso de navegare') (a Microsoft Word document)

Visual display: Graph B. 'All names: comparisons between the two early portolani, the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, and the Riccardiana chart'

Detailed data: Excel spreadsheet listing almost 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes

For general notes on the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso' (and their dating) see the Main documents discussed

Given that no unquestionably pre-Vescontian charts exist, even as fragments - and the claimants are themselves the subject of this investigation and hence ineligible for use as evidence at this stage - we have to look instead at earlier textual records for an insight into the knowledge circulating among mariners about the toponymy of the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts. The most relevant of those are the 13th-century portolani, or navigation guides, the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' and 'Lo compasso de navegare'.

Table B, 'Totals of the black and red names noted first (?) on the four supposedly very early anonymous charts (related to the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' and 'Lo compasso de navegare'), considers, by means of simple totals in Row 4 ('Foundation Names'), the relationship between the first securely dated portolan chart names, those found on the 1311 Vesconte chart (or his 1313 atlas for the areas not covered on that), and the toponymic lists contained in the two portolani (see the Excel spreadsheet, Columns Q & R). The limited sense of the term 'Foundation Name' has to be understood, for two reasons. First, because of the large number of those toponyms that are prefigured in those two texts, many of which are places or features well-documented historically before the early 14th century, and hence (potentially) novel only in cartographic terms. Second, unless the very early dating for the Carte Pisane (at least) is abandoned, the names 'introduced' on that chart must also be considered to pre-date 1311. However, even if a number of the 'Foundation Names' were in textual, and possibly also chart use, before 1311, it remains a useful label for that fixed point in the dating discussion.

While it is convenient to consider together the two early portolani, it is important to note that their name-lists diverge more than they overlap. The statistics confirm that out of the mainland coastal names that form the subject of this investigation, 'Lo compasso' repeats just 47% of the 'Liber's names (295 out of 630 - see the first row of figures) while adding about 330 fresh toponyms itself. Since (see penultimate row) 150 'Precursor Names' (those otherwise first seen on charts dated after 1313) have been identified in one or other of the two texts but only 29 are repeated, it means that 120 appear uniquely in one or other manuscript.

In a few cases this variation can be explained in terms of different priorities behind the name selection. One example is the sequence of ports up the River Rhône on the 'Liber'. But, even if consideration of their combined toponymy (which runs to over 950 names) may be justified in establishing 13th-century use of the names in question, it is evident that such a joint list does not indicate a shared corpus of geographical knowledge. No more than a quarter of the 1311-1313 'Foundation Names' occur in both portolani (254 out of 1004 - again, see Row 4) and many of those will denote the more important places that were a standard feature of the portolan charts from the outset, as would have been expected.

Considering the two texts together, we find that more than half the Foundation Names can already be seen in 'one or other' of the portolani (Row 4, with the percentages given in dark yellow below). [This is included for visual convenience only, given that the effective overall figure against which the percentages are measured is 1000.] There is therefore no necessary reason for surprise that the Carte Pisane, Cortona or Lucca charts also include significant proportions of the 'Foundation' names (see Table A, row 6).

Moving to the main subject of Table B, the 'Precursor' names first seen on dated works from 1313 onwards (Row 6 downwards), the totals at the end (in the penultimate row) reveal that the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso', taken together (see the 'in one or other' column), have 80% more of the supposedly later names than the Carte Pisane (150 as compared to the green figure on its right, 84). Looked at in another way, whereas the Carte Pisane displays 84 of the 'Precursor' names that might form part of an argument to push it out of the 14th century altogether, two-thirds of that total (55) can be found 'in one or other' of the portolani and hence were already in use in the 13th century, even if selectively. [To retrieve the toponyms involved sort the Excel spreadsheet on Column 12, then 32 & lastly 3.] Therefore, just 29 of the Carte Pisane's 677 names (4%) - see the total at the bottom of its 'not in either' column - would need to be investigated as potential anachronisms. More than half of those, in turn, have been otherwise noted for the first time in or before 1327. [A number of those 'Precursor Names' form part of the re-dating analysis carried out by Pujades. Those are discussed, individually, in Section D.]

The totals of 'Precursor Names' included in each of the two portolani and noted in turn on the four charts are broadly comparable for the period up to 1339 [see the row, 'total of pre-Pizzigani Precursor names']. In other words, this neither distances the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts from the early portolani, nor distinguishes them from the Riccardiana chart which, according to the Pujades thesis, would date from up to a century earlier than them. Indeed, the Riccardiana chart has more than twice the number of innovative names that were not anticipated by the portolani than does the Carte Pisane (40 as against 17 - see the plum-coloured numbers in their final columns), which can lend support to the Carte Pisane having an earlier date than the Riccardiana chart.

As already mentioned, there is limited overlap between the respective name-lists of the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso'. The surprise comes when those name lists are combined. Taken together, those textual instances include as many as 100 of the names first added to dated charts between 1313 and 1339. Those names, representing almost exactly a quarter of all the toponymic innovations of that period, are therefore ones for which no novelty can be claimed by the charts that introduced them. They cannot, realistically be used for dating purposes with respect to the anonymous charts, since they were already potentially available to the maritime community.

These findings continue for the period after 1339. The impact of the toponymic injection of the Pizzigani brothers is largely restricted to later Venetian charts but again, taken together, the two portolani anticipate more of those names than the four charts, even if no more than 10 of the 84 'Pizziganian' names are seen in the earlier texts (12%). But the most unexpected finding is the figure of a further 39 names found in one or other of the two texts, which were not identified on a dated chart until between 1375 and the end of the 16th century. Compare the figures in the penultimate row of the table for each of the 'in one or other' columns. The overall figure of 150 'Precursor' portolani names contrasts strongly with the totals of those same names when seen on the four charts (which range between 34 and 55). Once again, this reinforces the point made earlier about selection from a pre-existing toponymic store being the most plausible explanation for many of the apparent pre-emptions of innovative names on the charts.

Likewise, the row near the top of the previous Table (A), giving totals of names 'not seen on any dated chart' - the great majority of which are unique - separates the Riccardiana chart (with just six such names) from the roughly 90 unusual or unique toponyms seen, with a quarter overlapping, on each of the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart. The comparable figures [Row 3 of Table B] for the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' (roughly 200) and 'Lo compasso de navegare' (just under 90) are included, but need to be approached with caution since a number of those names would be more appropriate for a written portolano than a chart, and some may refer to inland locations. However, both Graph B and those figures point to a similar, but distinct pattern of toponymic individuality between the group of five works, from which the already forward-looking Riccardiana chart is excluded. According to the Pujades thesis, whereas the individuality of the two portolani could be attributed to a formative period in the systematic documentation of the toponymy of the Mediterranean littoral, what looks like a similar phenomenon in the case of the three charts, is supposed to require a quite different explanation.

In the general toponymic listing on the Excel spreadsheet the yellow-headed columns (numbered 1-41) can be used for various short-cuts: for example to extract information about 'Antecedent' names (those that appear on the 'Liber' and/or 'Lo compasso' but are absent from the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca & Riccardiana charts) [Column 8], or a full listing of the 'Precursor' names on the four supposedly early charts [Column 32].


  • The total number of 'Foundation Names' (1311-13) seen on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts is broadly equivalent to that in the two portolani; the Riccardiana chart has significantly more.

  • Taken together, the two portolani anticipate a quarter of the names first added to the charts in the period 1313-39; the Riccardiana chart has more than twice the number of innovative names that were not anticipated by the portolani than does the Carte Pisane.

  • Taken together, the two portolani include more 'Pizziganian' names than are found on any of the four charts and anticipate about twice as many other innovations supposedly dating from the period starting in 1375 (39 names) as can be seen on the Carte Pisane.

  • Just 29 of the Carte Pisane's 'Precursor' names (4% of its overall total) do not feature in the portolani and over half of those relate to supposed additions in the period up to 1327.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Tabulated Totals: Table C. 'Antecedent' names found in the 'Liber' and/or 'Lo compasso' and on charts dated from 1313 but not on the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca or Riccardiana charts' (a Microsoft Word document)

Detailed data: Excel spreadsheet listing almost 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes

A new category of 'Antecedent' has been introduced to embrace those names that appear on the 'Liber' or 'Lo compasso' but are absent from all four of the charts considered here. This listing has been divided into three sub-categories and can be accessed by sorting on Column 8 of the Excel spreadsheet:

Table C, 'Antecedent' names found in the 'Liber' and/or 'Lo compasso' and on charts dated from 1313 but not on the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca or Riccardiana charts', concerns the first of those three categories, those flagged simply as 'ante'. It summarises the delayed reappearance of the sixty-two 13th-century names first noted in the two portolani, in relation to the dated portolan charts to which they were first added between 1313 and 1600. This sampling focuses intentionally on those that are omitted from all four of the supposedly early charts (or perhaps could not be recognised there). To provide context, the middle (black) columns repeat the overall totals from Table B. That is a reminder of the total complement of 'Precursor' names found in the 'Liber' and/or 'Lo compasso' with, in orange, the quantity that do not appear on the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca or Riccardiana charts, and, in green, the number that are actually present (again a repeat from Table B).

The figures for the portolani names that were ignored on all four of the charts under investigation are modest, particularly when considering that few of those names appear in both texts. Yet, when the fourth orange column, 'in one or other portolano', is compared with the four green columns to the right, they do comprise at least a sizeable minority of those. So, while those names were considered worthy of inclusion by later chartmakers, and cannot therefore be ignored as being suitable for a text but not a chart, their late adoption may point to those toponyms having limited relevance to earlier mariners, or having been accidentally omitted. Alternatively, these instances should be considered as no more than further examples of the erratic re-appearance of selected names (on that see G.3, The mechanisms for the staged introduction of new names). Surprisingly, a comparable number (either side of 30) of 'Antecedent' names have been first noted on charts produced on the one hand before 1375 and on the other from that date up to 1600, with at least 17 separate works involved in the later group.

The names gathered into the 'ante (P)' and 'ante (U)' categories (referring to reappearances on later portolani or on undated works respectively) can also be identified via Excel spreadsheet Column 8.

Crusader texts

In his edition of the 'Liber', Gautier Dalché (1995, pp.183-203) has helpfully brought together, in separate geographical sequences, those coastal place-names that are referred to in ten separate accounts of voyages undertaken in the course of crusades, from the Second in 1147 up to the Ninth in 1271. All those that can be identified in the listing of portolan chart toponymy are noted in Column 1 of the comprehensive Excel listing. [Note that the date of the earliest narrative only is given in the case of multiple references; Column 2 contains a code for use in sorting]. 173 such names are involved, though some identifications are tentative. Almost all are from the later 12th century and confirm that the names concerned were both known about by those undertaking such voyages and considered of sufficient interest to be mentioned. Where this was not already obvious, it pushes the currency of such names back beyond the earliest of the dates proposed for the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum', as well as perhaps 80 years before 'Lo compasso de navegare' was compiled, and (assuming an early date for the Carte Pisane) around a century before the earliest surviving portolan chart.

A quarter of the names (44) are absent from the list of 'Foundation Names', i.e., those seen on the earliest Vescontian productions. Thirty-two of the toponyms were added to the charts later, ten of those after 1400 (Excel Columns 2, 28). They are therefore 'Precursor' names: in other words, those that may provide earlier dating evidence than the information that can be derived from dated portolan charts alone. A further three can apparently be seen on one or more of the four unsigned charts at the heart of this investigation, while not apparently occurring on any dated charts at all: 1494a ciba (only on the Carte Pisane) and two seen on the Lucca chart alone, 193a R. Tambre and 250b mertula. Individual notes have been added in the Comments column for each crusader toponym that is not included among the Foundation Names.

These totals of course refer only to those parts of the coastlines visited, and usually comprise no more than intermittent toponymic references, as can be seen via the Excel broadsheet's default geographical sequence. The majority of the citations relate to the Third Crusade (1189-92), with the most detailed account coming from descriptions emanating from the fleet carrying Richard I of England. Starting near Lisbon, the documentation of that voyage continues round the Iberian, French and Italian coasts to Venice. Butrinto is then mentioned, and on to Morea and then southern Turkey, ending at Beirut. Another element of that same crusade noted names along the west coast of Morocco to the south of Tangier. Although the most obvious reason for recording a coastal name would be because the ship had put in there, notable headlands are also included in some cases, as in the 1189 sequence from No. 58 Pointe de St Mathieu (san mae) via La Rochelle to 159 Avilés in northern Spain.

See also note (@) to Table F, 'The Carte Pisane compared to the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' and 'Lo compasso de navegare', and to the work of Vesconte and Dulceti' .

'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.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Tabulated Totals: Table D. 'Names, first dated via works by Vesconte and Dulceti, which are anticipated in the 'Liber' and/or 'Lo compasso' (a Microsoft Word document)

Detailed data: Excel spreadsheet listing almost 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes

There is no intended suggestion in the heading's question that the earliest chartmakers known to us by name (if Carignano is considered to belong to a separate cartographic tradition), namely Pietro and Perrino Vesconte and Angelino Dalorto/Dulceti, might have actually seen versions of the two full pilot-books that survive today. Instead, Table D quantifies, with figures and percentages, the debt that the toponymy of each owed to that general 13th-century context. The names apparently introduced by those two chartmakers might have been 'new' to the portolan charts, or at least to the minuscule sample that has survived. Conceivably, they might even be 'new' to cartography in general. But they certainly were not 'new', in the sense of adding to the collective knowledge of mariners, unless the texts of those two portolani were seldom copied and only narrowly circulated.

As with Tables B and C, the toponymy that is pre-figured in the two texts is first considered for each separately, then in terms of their shared usage, and finally as the sum of their two lists. Unlike the preceding table, this is concerned with all the names that appear on the first coverage by Vesconte (the 'Foundation Names' seen on the chart of 1311, or, for the western section, on the more extensive atlas of 1313) or that were added, by him or Dalorto/Dulceti, up to around 1340. Approximately 1000 toponyms were present from the outset and just under 400 were added over the next three decades.

Consistent with what is emerging from other aspects of this analysis, the process of injecting onto successive charts a mixture of established names and those that might be genuinely novel, was not one that tapered off gradually in the way that might have been expected. Reading the dark yellow percentage figures down the four columns of Table D, the proportion of '13th-century' names does not vary significantly across the period 1313-39. This is particularly noticeable in the right-hand column, which combines the borrowings from the two textual sources (necessarily via unknown intermediaries). Since those names did make their way onto the charts they cannot be dismissed, as others perhaps could be, as appropriate for a written text but not for a cartographic work.

It is worth drawing attention to two aspects: that whereas this venerable origin can be traced for just over half the 'Foundation Names' (the top right-hand dark yellow figure of 53%), the totals added subsequently to that initial corpus by Vesconte and Dulceti still represented around a quarter (the bottom right-hand averaged figure of 26%). The persistence of this pattern of re-discovery (or of newly perceived relevance) warns of the need for careful judgements about the toponymy that might be expected for any particular period (on which see G.3, The mechanisms for the staged introduction of new names').

To examine the interrelationship between the names on the 'Liber' and/or 'Lo compasso', on the one hand, and Vesconte and Dulceti on the other, the following sorting strategies are recommended. For a list of the Vescontian 'Foundation Names' that can already be seen, in one form or another, on the two 13th-century portolani, sort on the Excel spreadsheet's Column 24 followed by 3 [or 4, if the 'Liber' is wanted alone and 5 for just 'Lo compasso']; for the same exercise related to names added after 1313 the sequence should be Column 28 followed by 3 [or 4/5]. Conversely, to isolate the innovations apparently attributable to Vesconte and Dulceti see, respectively, Column 29 and 30.

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 - the percentage remaining unexpectedly consistent over three decades. That pattern of delayed introduction warns us not to expect a particular name at a given date.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Tabulated Totals: Table E. 'Totals of Rare and Unique names on charts up to 1430' (a Microsoft Word document)

Detailed data: Excel spreadsheet listing almost 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes

In considering the incidence of rare names, some of which are seen uniquely on the work of a single individual, it is necessary, as in other aspects of portolan chart toponymic history, to place this into the wider context. Column 39 in the general Excel place-name listing denotes these two categories by means of R[are] or U[nique]. Those can then be related to the time when the names first appeared on a particular dated chart [via Column F]. Such unusual names may either have been archaic in the first place, were perhaps subsequently felt to have insufficient relevance, or might not have been seen by later chartmakers.

Rare names were not documented in the earlier stages of this toponymic analysis, which concentrated instead on 'Significant' names, defined as those that recurred later. Although in recent years an attempt has been made to include all names, that has not gone as far as the systematic re-examination of the thousands of names on the hundreds of charts involved. Nevertheless, at least for the very early period, an effort has been made to harvest the missing names, and all those documented by Kretschmer (1909) - covering, selectively, works up to about 1500 - have been incorporated. For one region, the Black Sea, we now have a comprehensive listing, up to the end of the 17th century, identifying a large number of unique or at least very rare names. This has been made available freely online by Anton Gordyeyev: Place names of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts from portolan charts XIV- XVII centuries (Kiev: Acaemia.edu, 2014).

Incompleteness of a different kind applies to the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, in addition to their respective physical truncations at a later stage in their history. While an attempt was made to document the complete toponymy of those charts across the same continental coastline as before, a number of names remain unrecognisable, at least to this observer. This means that the already high numbers of unrepeated names on those charts is probably a considerable underestimate; this applies particularly to the Lucca chart. Table E, 'Totals of Rare and Unique names on charts up to 1430' (see above), provides an instructive comparison between the occurrence of transitory names, first on the four supposedly early charts, then on the work of the Vescontes and Dulceti, and lastly on that of their successors up to 1430.

The label 'Unique' has usually been applied literally, although occasional exceptions are made, for example if a name appears jointly on, say, the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart. 'Rare' is loosely defined as occurring no more than five times, in the same way it was used in the analysis of Red Names (see Rare and unique names). 'Rare' can mean that the toponym was short-lived (perhaps restricted to a single practitioner) but it could also denote one that appeared, very occasionally and perhaps erratically, over a long period. While numerous medieval names were jettisoned in the latter 16th century, no more than a handful had already been permanently purged by the end of the 14th, and almost all of those were Vescontian. In the general Excel table, Column 38, 'Names that disappeared before 1600', provides corroborating evidence for this type of rarity.

In relation to the argument that the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts should be relocated to the early 15th century, their large contingents of unusual, or often apparently unique, names - for example, the 44 names discerned only, and jointly, on the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart [Columns 12, 19, 39] and the 80 unique to the Cortona chart [Columns 17, 39] - might seem to find echoes in the equivalent totals from that later era [Columns 28, 39]. Note the high percentages of rarity among the innovations of the early 15th-century Venetian chartmakers, in the figures towards the bottom of Table E's green column. While it seems clear that none of the Carte Pisane, Cortona or Lucca charts was produced in, or even near Venice, their toponymic diversity, both among themselves and compared to others, is similar to that of the (perhaps surprisingly) unstandardised Venetian toponymy, as exemplified by Virga, Pizzigano, Ziroldi and Briaticho. However, Table A had already demonstrated that those three supposedly early works, the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, anticipated (or picked up) very few of the Venetian toponymic innovations from 1367 onwards.

In contrast to that, only a few dozen of the 1,250 names seemingly introduced by the Vescontes failed to show up in later work (i.e. toponyms that remained unique to them, or reappeared only occasionally or much later - for Vescontian revivals see Excel Column 41). Those toponyms had thus effectively disappeared by about 1330 (see the' Rare' and 'Unique' columns of Table E). In terms of legacy, this is an impressive achievement, and one that contrasts markedly with the way so many Pisane and Cortona names were ignored by other practitioners (in whichever period those two charts were drawn).

The durability of the 'Vescontian' names is particularly marked in the case of the 'Foundation Names' of 1311/1313, which represent the earliest reliably dated toponyms found on the portolan charts. Almost 80% of those can still be seen, on some charts at least, in the 17th century. [This can be tested on the Excel spreadsheet by sorting on Column 24. 'Foundation Names' and then 38. 'Names that disappeared before 1600 (pure DATES version)'.]

When Column 38 is selected, it reveals the 57 names that, as far as the present investigation is aware, disappeared from the portolan charts before 1430 (perhaps close to the latest date that Pujades would suggest for the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts). [These are also shown statistically in each of Table E's two 'Disappeared' columns.] In all, 43 'Vescontian' names have not yet been observed later than the chart of 1327 (or possibly the undated atlas of c.1325-30), at least on dated works [see the second 'Disappeared' column]. We would not therefore have expected to see any of those on the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca and even Riccardiana charts, if, as Pujades proposes, those are later productions. Yet a significant number of the discontinued Vesconte names appear on the contested charts (sort on Column K, then 10 and check down as far as the last 1327 instance in each case): 11 are seen on the Carte Pisane, 9 on the Cortona chart and at least 15 on the Lucca chart. A handful also appear on a group of four Genoese works evidently produced before 1350. Further corroboration that those 43 names - destined to be abandoned soon afterwards - are indicators of the early decades of the 14th century comes from the 16 examples from that group that can be seen on the Riccardiana chart, confidently datable to around 1320. [For notes on the individual instances see the 'Comments' column (X) of the Excel listing.]

That some of the 'Vescontian' names unexpectedly reappear after 1400 serves as a reminder that this is not an uncommon occurrence. Column 41 ('revived') isolates 46 such instances. The true number is likely to be higher, since this information has not been specifically gathered. The recorded examples come disproportionately from the Black Sea, as a result of the comprehensive examination by Anton Gordyeyev of the later works which I could only sample. It is worth drawing attention to one mid 16th-century production, the Bibliothèque nationale de France's undated atlas (Ge EE 5610), which recurs frequently among the Black Sea instances, usually alone but occasionally with one or other undated 15th or 16th-century works. As described by Corradino Astengo ('Tradition et innovation dans la cartographie nautique manuscrite : l'atlas RésGeEE5610 de la Bibliothèque nationale de France', Le monde des cartes , 184 (June 2005), pp.23-30), this is a surprising amalgam of current cartography, such as its Ruscellian America, and obsolete portolan chart models like those of Sideri/Callapoda. At least seven archaic 'Vescontian' names were resurrected by the Paris atlas's unknown author, some after an evident gap of centuries, through a process at which we can only guess.

Two other apparently discarded toponyms are worth individual mention: No. 194 carbonero, introduced by Vesconte, then repeated exclusively on the 1330 Dalorto and Lucca charts, and 1802a cibo, noted only on the Carte Pisane, Lucca chart and, significantly, the Carignano map (which could have been drawn no later than 1330).

This discussion of early abandoned names has focused almost exclusively on those found on the works of Vesconte, and for a good reason. Just three other names had apparently disappeared by 1430: two Dalorto/Dulceti toponyms and a single example from the Catalan Atlas (see Table E, 'Disappeared (date of original chart')).

The quantity of rare and unique names, particularly on the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart, have parallels with the unrepeated names found on Venetian work of the first half of the 15th century. However, the names involved are quite different. Table A had revealed very little anticipation of the toponymy of Virga, Pizzigano, Ziroldi, and Briaticho on the Carte Pisane or Cortona chart. Against that, the inclusion - on the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts - of between 9 and 16 of the 43 'Vescontian' names that disappear after 1330 supports the contention that those four works derive equally from the first half of the 14th century. Likewise, the late reappearance of some of those abandoned Vescontian names in the 15th or even 16th centuries alerts us to a pattern of what would, up to now, have been considered unexpected resurrections.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes
For the details of any publications referred to see the Portolan Chart Bibliography



What other charts have survived to provide any kind of meaningful comparison with the Carte Pisane, if it dates from before 1311? Any investigation is hampered by the small number of chartmakers whose 14th-century work is still extant. Once the ten works by the Vescontes and the three by Dalorto/Dulceti are set to one side, we are left with barely a handful. As far as Genoese productions are concerned, there are six (all but one unsigned): the Riccardiana chart that can be presumed to be contemporary with Vesconte, though clearly distinct from his output, the Giovanni da Carignano map dating from no later than 1330, followed by a loosely connected group of four works assigned to the second quarter of that century, which demonstrates a slightly updated version of the Riccardiana model.

For Venice, there is nothing that can give us an insight into what might have been expected for the period up to the end of Vescontian production (c.1330), then, after a long break, for that of the Pizzigani brothers' activity (apparently 1367-83), followed thereafter by one or two anonymous and partial works assigned to around 1400. From the chartmakers of Palma, Majorca who followed in Dulceti's footsteps after 1339, we have the Catalan Atlas and a small selection of works from the circles made up of the Cresques and Soler families during the later stages of the 14th century.

If a very early dating is confirmed for the Carte Pisane, and if the Cortona and Lucca charts are also placed firmly in the portolan charts' developmental phase, that means that another three related, but distinct, models will have been added to those already itemised for the 14th century: that is, works by Vesconte, Carignano, Dulceti, a loosely knit Genoese school (perhaps pre-Black Death), the Pizzigani, Cresques and Soler. Should a further anonymous chart be discovered, attributable to the first half of the 14th century, there is every likelihood that it would be markedly different from what we already know, just as the Lucca chart (first described in 2011) has been full of surprises, even if the Riccardiana chart, effectively 'discovered' by Pujades in 2007, could perhaps have been predicted as an antecedent of the early Genoese charts already known.

A relatively small number of works can be assigned to the early 14th century thus restricting the context against which a very early Carte Pisane could be compared. That warns against any assumption that can know what to expect, particularly after the recent discovery of the Lucca chart with its numerous novel features.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Comparison of the name lists for the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart set out by Pujades (2007, pp.350- ) shows how well both fit visually, and in detail, into the very early dating position he then accepted. This can be seen in terms of the numerous additions, occasional disappearances, and altered forms, when compared, for example, to the 1421 Cesanis chart and other Venetian work of that period. This applies particularly to the Adriatic, though less so to Valencia, the two areas Pujades studied in detail. Were the columns for those two charts to be moved on a page and a half in his book, they would look completely out of place. One obvious example is the regular suite of red names in Istria (pp.360-1).

Nevertheless, this section will make that hypothetical move to about 1430 and see what emerges. However, it will consider the entire mainland coastline from northern France to west Morocco rather than just those two sections. If the Carte Pisane was really produced in the 1430s, the latest of the dates suggested by Pujades for its construction, what evidence for that might we expect to find in its toponymy? On the assumption it was a copy, as Pujades asserts, it would by definition be unoriginal. So we would need to reverse the earlier emphasis on its apparent archaisms and possible relationship to other works of the early 14th century and ask instead the following question: what source(s) might its unidentified author have used around 1430? Looking backwards from that date, which of its unusual and 'Precursor' names can be recognised in the surviving work of Italian chartmakers active between the time of the Pizzigani brothers' chart of 1367 and Briaticho's atlas of 1430?

To test this, a sub-set of the Carte Pisane's 'Unusual' place-names' was isolated (Column 15 in the full Excel spreadsheet) comprising four categories:
  1. those unique to the Carte Pisane (though repeated in some cases on the Cortona and/or Lucca charts but found nowhere else) - 70 names
  2. those otherwise found first on signed charts produced from 1367 onwards - 17 names
  3. those designated as 'Rare' - 36 names
  4. those not otherwise found after the first half of the 14th century - 12 names

Rare names have been recorded in the recent stages of this wider research project (which had begun in the 1980s) whenever they were accidentally noticed, but they had not been systematically sought out, nor checked thoroughly when they were encountered to see if they occurred elsewhere. A recent investigation therefore looked for repetition of any of those 'unusual' Carte Pisane names, in each of the four categories above, in a dozen Italian atlases and charts of the relevant period. The signed and dated works comprised those by the Pizzigani (1367), Francesco Beccari (1403), Cesanis (1421), Pizzigano (1424), Ziroldi (1426) and Briaticho (1430). The anonymous works involved the Corbitis & Pinelli-Walckenaer, Medici and Luxoro atlases, the single surviving sheet from an atlas in the Museo Storico Navale, Venice (Pujades A 15), a chart of c.1420 in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan (C 31), and a representative of a group of three Venetian atlases of c.1425-30 (A 30). The scans of the 1409 Virga chart and one attributed to the Pizzigani (C 21) proved insufficiently legible for this exercise.

1.   Overall, 123 'unusual' names were considered (Excel Column 15). 70 of those toponyms (almost 60%) fall into the first of the four categories. They are marked as Unique (i.e., with a 'U' in Column 39), because they had been found only on the Carte Pisane (sometimes along with one or both of its associates, the Cortona and Lucca charts). Not one of those names reappeared during this new examination of the Italian charts of the period 1367-c.1430.

In eight instances the Carte Pisane names do recur, but not on a chart; they appear instead in 15th-century written portolani (Columns 15, 40). Since a number of non-Carte Pisane toponyms also recur in one or more of those same portolani (for which select Column 40 on its own), often after a considerable gap, it is evident that the written texts had their own transmission route which was at least partially distinct from that of the charts. In other words, there is no reason for seeing such instances on the Carte Pisane as necessarily supporting a later date.

One of the 'unique' names, No.1689 insula canis, is found regularly on the sampled Italian works, but written offshore, next to the small island itself. That was logical and there was plenty of room for the toponym to be written in the sea, which makes it surprising that the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart (and apparently only those) placed it inside the coastline. However, what are being considered here are not names per se but specifically those found in the mainland coastal sequence, which are usually written in the opposite direction to those offshore. As a result, the two scribal operations would almost certainly have taken place at different times, perhaps using different workshop patterns, and possibly different individuals. And, as explained elsewhere (Patterns), those toponyms in the main sequence would probably, at least by the 15th century, have comprised written lists or a series of partial chart sections indicating the position of each name. When, as not infrequently happened, the toponym for an offshore feature was included in the main littoral sequence, this provides a useful pointer to the source that had been used. The fact that none of the Italian works examined placed that toponym inland is, even if apparently trivial, another indication of the Carte Pisane's distinctiveness.

2.   To turn now to the second category - the 17 Carte Pisane names (out of its total of 677) that are otherwise first found on works securely dated to the study period (1367-1430) - repeated instances were looked for in the dozen Italian works selected from that period. The fact that a name can be seen on the 1403 Francesco Beccari chart, for example, is no guarantee that it would have been generally available to Italian chartmakers over the next three decades. Indeed, only one of the seven 'Beccarian' toponyms, considered in this exercise because it is also found on the Carte Pisane, does recur on other Italian works up to 1430, namely No.1020 casandra (Columns 15, F). The same lack of imitation applies to the single relevant additions by Pizzigano in 1424 (7 Sangatte) and Briaticho in 1430 (110a s. nicolau). However, by contrast, the first dated appearances of two toponyms each on the charts of Virga in 1409 (764 Muggia and 778 Due Sorelli) and Cesanis in 1421 (331 porto magno and 1377a lalea) were widely copied.

Where there is repetition this applies mostly to Catalan introductions or to names first otherwise noted on anonymous works. The Catalan Atlas appears to offer the earliest reliably dated glimpse of 451 antiveri (noted here again only on the Medici Atlas) as well as 1392 altologo (more widely present on Italian work up to 1430). 396 cadaques is first documented by Pujades (2007, pp. 394-5) on one of the Cresques atelier works and then on the 1385 Soler, after which it became a standard feature of Catalan charts, but it appears only intermittently on Italian productions.

cadaques is also seen on the Corbitis atlas and it is that, along with its co-authored Pinelli-Walckenaer atlas, which repeat (or anticipate) several of the Carte Pisane's 'unusual' names (Column 15, then 33 for the 'CPW' entries). Two of the half a dozen names that seem relevant here (1402a agnela and 1639 balafia) appear also on the 1403 Beccari chart - which might be a little earlier or later than that pair of unsigned atlases - but only the first is found commonly thereafter. Likewise, two names seen on those two atlases were repeated later after being seen on the 1421 Cesanis chart (331 portomagno and 1377a lalea [as distinct from g. de lalea]), but a further pair (701a umana and 1634 zedico [again, as distinct from the gulf form]) were not repeated in this period. Four of the Carte Pisane's 'unusual' names were seen on the Medici Atlas (variously dated to the latter 14th century or early 15th), in one case not elsewhere (1706a tarcosa).

Thus no potential source, however intermediate, for a late-dated Carte Pisane was found by plotting the incidence of the 17 of its toponyms known to have been part of that group of almost 400 names otherwise introduced onto Italian charts during the period 1367-1430. No more than four of the supposedly new 'Italian' names presaged by the Carte Pisane became established during that period, and no single work drew attention to itself by incorporating them en bloc. And incidence only has been considered here, not the toponym's form, whose variance might rule out transmission from a particular model anyway.

3.   The third category, the 'Rare' designation accorded to toponyms in this group, provides little further help in identifying one or more possible sources to support a late dating for the Carte Pisane. Some of the 36 of those 123 'unusual' names that were also labelled 'rare' have already been mentioned but only a few were found among the twelve atlases and charts examined and those occurred on different works, which, once more, fails to indicate a single potential source.

4.   The final category relates to toponyms not recorded after 1403 (Column 15, then K). Twelve names were noted, all but one of them restricted to the Vescontian output (i.e. not visible after perhaps 1330). None was seen when examining this 1403-30 selection of Italian portolan charts. Two fall within the bounds of the comprehensive and authoritative Pujades listing of 2007 (pp.358-9) - 757 lo xvii and 785 tarsa [as distinct from the flume form] - which confirms their absence from all later works.

Exaggerating what, in one interpretation, would be their later fall from grace, three of the names in this small group of abandoned toponyms had appeared uniquely in red rather than black, as follows: No. 1293 quitolli (Vesconte, 1311), 1468 saleffo (Carte Pisane) and 1616 nemeris (Lucca chart). Perhaps future detailed studies, on these and other discarded names, will suggest possible reasons for their double down-grading.

It is generally accepted that the Carte Pisane (and the charts related in some way to it) emanated from some hitherto unidentified port rather than from one of the established portolan-chart production centres. Most of the twelve portolan charts and atlases examined in this context were definitely or probably created in Venice. But not all. Two, the 1403 Beccari chart and the Medici Atlas, are evidently Genoese works, and the atlas of 1430 by Cola de Briatic[h]o betrays distinctive elements that might indicate he actually made it in the Calabrian seaport from which he took his name. The lack of surviving early 15th-century Italian work from places other than Venice or Genoa may just mean that there were no other active centres at that time. [The Genoese Francesco Beccari signed his only surviving work, a chart of 1403, from nearby Savona, and his son Battista declined to state where he had made his two extant charts of 1426 and 1435, but there are no solid grounds for assuming that anyone else worked in Savona. Had they done so it is most unlikely they would have been un-influenced by the work of the Beccari family.]

If that significant body of 123 'unusual', and in many cases apparently unique names, widely distributed geographically, and including a handful not seen after 1400, had appeared on a crudely copied chart made in the early 15th-century we need to ask: where did those names come from? Certainly not from any chart remotely similar to those that survive. In Pujades's contention the Carte Pisane is a late copy. But, if so, why would the chart's hypothetical model itself not have had any known antecedents? Furthermore, why do those 'unusual' names on the Carte Pisane - if they were initially inserted in the first half of the 15th century, as Pujades claims - not reappear after 1430? Just four isolated reappearances have been noted on later dated works: one each on the 1435 Beccari chart, Benincasa's work of the 1460s, and two different Vesconte Maggiolo charts of the 16th century.

Were this exercise to be reversed and instead of looking at supposedly anachronistic inclusions the focus was on the toponyms that would have been expected for the early 15th century but are absent, the evidence against a late Carte Pisane dating would have been further endorsed. On this see particularly the Red Names investigation (Section A).

Just as the previous analysis into the early 14th-century context found nothing on the Carte Pisane at odds with an early dating, so this view from the other end failed to detect in the chart's toponymy any corroboration for placing it in the first decades of the 15th century. No more than seven of the 123 'unusual' names identified on the Carte Pisane (which included 17 that Pujades would presumably consider 'anachronisms') 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. That group of 'unusual' toponyms itself represented just 18% of the total number of legible or semi-legible names on the Carte Pisane (677).

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Pujades's major study of 2007 included comprehensive toponymic listings, from the earliest times up to 1469, for two areas in the Mediterranean: Catalonia/Valencia and the northern Adriatic. In an exercise carried out in 2012 this was mined by myself to reveal where and when new names were repeated on dated works. The results were set out statistically in two online Microsoft Word documents, each containing several tables:

Dealing altogether with a sizeable sample of 189 names, these tables trace the route taken subsequently by those toponyms after their introduction, while also recording the initial time-lag between their first and second reappearances, whether in the same place of production or elsewhere. Table C (on the Adriatic page cited above) compares both areas in summary form. Overall, most of the innovations (70%) are attributable to Vesconte. However, there were different patterns in the two regions: for Catalonia, 90% of the names followed the same route, namely from the initial introduction by Vesconte via Dulceti (1330-39) to the Pizzigani (1367-83); but for the Adriatic the equivalent figure was no more than 51%, or still only 77% when 'Vescontian' names that passed straight to the Pizzigani were also considered. In other words, the transmission was not a straightforward chronological one, but with a different national bias in each case. This is readily understandable as it is hardly surprising that chartmakers in Majorca would be less involved in Adriatic affairs than those who were practising in Venice.

The fresh 'Dulcetian' introductions for the two areas provides a very small sample (12) but no more than five of those toponyms can be seen in the Pizziganian charts of 30-40 years later. Evidently the Pizzigani obtained the Vescontian names via Italian sources (probably Venetian) rather than from Catalan ones. To seek corroboration of that we need to look at other tables in the Valencia and Adriatic analysis, namely Table B (on each Microsoft Word page separately - for the details see above) and the combined tables C and D on the Adriatic page.

Here the time-lags were measured, summarised and quantified in turn, as the corpus of largely 'Vescontian' names was absorbed, first by Dalorto/Dulceti and then by the Pizzigani brothers. But, whereas most toponyms followed that path, a number did not. Considering the much larger Adriatic totals, Table B reveals that seven of the 89 Vescontian innovations were not revived at all, that two were repeated by Dulceti but are not found thereafter, 11 were not repeated by the Pizzigani, six were not reproduced on Italian charts until 80-100 years later, 14 of those names were not repeated at all on Catalan charts, and a further 22 re-appear in Palma well over 100 years later - significantly not all at once but on seven separate occasions and on the work of two different chartmakers. It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that if a proportion of the names associated with so influential a figure as Vesconte could lie fallow for a considerable time, how much greater is the likelihood that the same would apply to any novel component of charts that had been produced well outside the portolan chart mainstream, like the Carte Pisane and its associates.

Neither the 'Vescontian' nor 'Dulcetian' names automatically found immediate favour. Nevertheless, in most cases, their absence cannot be attributed to irrelevance or obsolescence because later chartmakers did decide to reinstate many of them. As a result - and the proportions are almost identical for Valencia and the Adriatic - no more than 9% of such names had disappeared entirely by 1500, with a further 15% being removed during the 16th century. Thus the great majority of the early toponymic injections for each of those two areas remained available to mariners for up to 300 years if not more. If the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts were indeed 15th-century productions, we would therefore expect them to contain a large proportion of the innovations attributable to Vesconte and Dulceti, but they do not (see Black and red names considered together - Table A).

We have no comparable authoritative data for the areas that were not covered by Pujades's comprehensive survey. But the remarks in the 'Comments' column of the Excel spreadsheet (X) and the classification of 'Rare', however tentative in each case, can help us to understand, for example, what happened to the 'Vescontian' names afterwards. By sorting on the Excel spreadsheet's Column 39 ('portolani, Rare, Unique') and then F ('Date first seen in black or red'), and scrolling down to the 'R[are]' section, the names introduced by Vesconte which failed to make their way into the communal toponymic bloodstream, or at least not for some time, can be distinguished from both standard and unique names. Column 41 documents, albeit probably not exhaustively, the incidence of later revivals of the 'Vescontian' names.

The majority of the place-names first reliably dated via the works of Vesconte and Dulceti found their way into the shared toponymic bloodstream and had become a regular feature of Italian charts by the 1430s, a time when Pujades suggests the Carte Pisane might have been produced. Yet that chart does not include most of them (see Black and red names considered together - Table A). Names introduced by Vesconte were likely to be imitated thereafter but a delay in the second appearance of a number of those names, particularly in a different production centre, makes it reasonable to suggest that the same time-lag might have occurred with the late repetition of some names found on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts.

This section considered toponymic transmission in terms of lineage and routes. See G.3, 'The mechanisms for the staged introduction and repetition of new names', for thoughts about how names reached the charts in the first place, as well as Section C.4 (next) and G.5 for further comments on transmission.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


What names would generally have been expected on Italian charts of the first decades of the 15th century, and how many of those can be found on the Carte Pisane? The previous section used the comprehensive toponymic data gathered by Ramon Pujades, but that covered two sample areas only. We will now look for corroboration of those findings in an earlier analysis, which considered the entire continental coastlines on the early portolan charts.

That research, which coincidentally covered the period up to 1430, was published in 1987 in Volume 1 of The History of Cartography (in Table 19.3, pp. 416-20) - (pp.46- in the online format). It documented the toponymic borrowings (or, alternatively, pre-figurings) on a selection of undated works, but excluded the Carte Pisane, Lucca and Riccardiana charts (in the last two cases from lack of availability at that time). But the plotting of such incidences on other works (pp.416-17) demonstrated that, whereas roughly half of the supposedly 'Vescontian' names were incorporated during the 14th century onto all subsequent charts, the pattern of imitation was different with 'Dulcetian' names. Not surprisingly, those following in Dulceti's tracks in Palma, Majorca adopted his new names almost in their entirety, as did the apparently Genoese author of the Medici Atlas ('Italian 14' in that 1987 Table 19.3). However, charts produced in Venice, and perhaps elsewhere in Italy, followed Dulceti less slavishly.

Using the original 1987 figures (since that particular analysis has not been re-run against the latest version of the expanded comprehensive Excel name listing) the toponymic profiles of the seven latest works ('Italian 16 to 23' - omitting No.19, the later Medici Atlas sheets) can be used to assess the volume of 'Vescontian' and 'Dulcetian' names that might be anticipated on unsigned Italian work from the first half of the 15th century, i.e. the period to which Pujades proposes to re-assign the Carte Pisane.

The uptake of 'Pizziganian' names was modest and erratic, both on the charts being investigated in this essay and on those analysed in 1987. But the inclusion on that group of seven works (most, if not all, Venetian) of uniformly high totals of names first seen on the work of the Vescontes and Dulceti contrast strongly with the equivalent patterns on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts. Most of the seven, definitely later, charts included over 50% (sometimes well over that proportion) of 'Vescontian' and 'Dulcetian' names. In Black and red names considered together (Table A), the equivalent figure for the three contentious charts, on the basis of recent research, is no more than 21%.

Paradoxically, given Pujades's suggestion of a link between the toponymic innovations attributable to the Pizzigani brothers and the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart, the overall pattern shows a very modest connection between those and the 84 'Pizziganian' introductions. Indeed the concurrence of those toponyms proves to be the least significant among any of the tranches added in the 14th century. Just one of those 'Pizziganian' toponyms (No.891 gomenisa) is pre-figured on the Carte Pisane and no more than five on the Lucca chart. There are good reasons for that because even though the Pizzigani brothers were operating in Venice, one of the three main chartmaking centres, their toponymy was less widely imitated elsewhere than were the Vescontian and Dulcetian name lists. (On name transmission see the 2012 Table A. 'Second appearance of names on Italian and Catalan charts respectively (up to 1469)' and the accompanying text, Toponymic transmission after 1313).

Insofar as unique (or at least very rare) names provide a significant part of each chart's personal 'toponymic signature', the figures in the current Table E. 'Totals of Rare and Unique names on charts up to 1430' supply valuable evidence, particularly about the repetition of innovations by others. In the case of the Venetian, Albertin de Virga, for example, less than one third of the 27 first dated appearances identified on his chart of 1409 were generally repeated afterwards. The fate of the introductions by another Venetian Zuane Pizzigano in 1424 and the 1430 chart by Cola de Briaticho (named after his native Calabrian town) was similar.

Given the lack of the expected level of commonality, even among practitioners in Venice, there is no reliable yardstick against which to measure the Carte Pisane's toponymic complement. Nevertheless, that only seven of the 93 'Beccarian' innovations of 1403 can be seen on the Carte Pisane [Excel Columns 12, 28], followed by just six of the over 200 that were apparently added by further Italian practitioners up to 1430 [Columns F, G], does not assist the argument in favour of a 15th-century date for the Carte Pisane.

A search for the toponyms likely to be present on Italian charts of the period up to 1430 identified over half of those that had been introduced by Vesconte and Dulceti, whereas the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts have just 20%. A noticeable majority of Italian innovations from 1403-30 were shunned by their fellow practitioners anyway. Nevertheless the Carte Pisane's included no more than 13 out of about 300 Italian innovations in that period.

For more on toponymic transmission see sections C.3, G.3 & G.5.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


It is Pujades's contention that,

The following section of this essay asks if the 'old Venetian model' for the Carte Pisane can perhaps be identified. Yet the Carte Pisane is noticeably, and undeniably different from any other survivor (with the partial exception of the Cortona and Lucca charts). It is, in numerous ways, unique - more so than any other portolan work.

All portolan charts are copies, nearly always literal imitations with few if any creative additions. It was rare for portolan draftsmen to alter the 'pattern' they were following, except perhaps through the accident of carelessness, though that appears to have been rarer than might have been expected. That comment applies particularly to the coastal outlines, pointing to a sophisticated technique of direct copying, particularly of the headland positions, that is not yet adequately understood. Even the celebrated innovator Francesco Beccari, responsible for bringing the Atlantic scale into alignment with that for the Mediterranean, was basically copying existing charts. The charts' toponymy, on the other hand, while broadly conservative, reveals continual, usually minor, adjustments and additions, on the part of almost all the chartmakers until the mid-15th century ('new names can be found on the work of each of the 16 chartmakers who signed and dated their productions up to 1440' (see Introduction to the 2012 toponymy essay). A few even made significant changes to the toponymic canon of the time, sometimes adding a quantity of new names or radically altering their form. The differing number of toponymic introductions or disappearances attributable to each chartmaker (on the basis of what has survived) can be seen in an earlier exercise: 'The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline' (a Microsoft Word table). That is in need of updating but the innovations that can be assigned to each chartmaker can be retrieved from the Excel spreadsheet (Columns F, G).

Those innovative instances concerned master craftsmen who must have been provided by their seamen customers with new information which they might then choose to incorporate. Apprentices would not have been accorded such licence, probably not even when they had completed their training and were working as journeymen. Into a quite different category would fall works that, while no doubt based on a professional chart, were copied outside the atelier environment. We cannot be sure but in a few cases it would appear that such imitations were unauthorised and drawn by somebody with less skill than would be expected from a chartmaker who had completed their seven years or so of training. On this see 'Copies and imitations'.

But what of a later copy of a much earlier document, which Pujades has partly proposed? Why might that have been made? We occasionally find a literal reproduction of a past model, perhaps for some antiquarian or archival purpose. The Cornaro Atlas collection of copies of 15th-century charts provides the best (although unique) example of that but if just a single one of its sheets had survived, even without the name of its original author, it would still have been recognisable as a precise, late copy (see 'A note on the Cornaro Atlas').

A straightforward copy of a chart from, say, the 1420s, whether by a clumsy amateur or a professional scribe, would precisely reproduce what had been in front of him. It would be as outmoded or as up to date as its model. Pujades is proposing a third possibility, a hybrid, where an isolated chartmaker, working with a pattern then 100 or more years old, had access to, and incorporated, a limited amount of contemporary information as well. This is highly unlikely and would, according to what has survived, be unprecedented [at least for the early period but see a comment on a partial 16th-century throw-back (BnF EE 5610) in B.5 'Totals of Rare and Unique names on charts up to 1430' (towards the end).] And what might have been the purpose of such a work?

For Pujades, "It seemed absolutely clear that the chart was not the work of a professional clerk, not only because of the crudeness of its calligraphy, but also because no handwriting professional would have had trouble maintaining the horizontal when writing as the person who copied the Pisana Chart did" (2013(b), p.18b). Patrick Gautier Dalché expressed a similar view in a conference paper published in 2001, where he passed judgement about the Carte Pisane on the grounds that "son aspect grossier, comparé à la qualité des premiers témoins datés, devrait amener à vérifier l’hypothèse selon laquelle il s’agirait plutôt d’une copie maladroite tardive" (pp.11-12). [This article in Castrum 7 is freely available online via Google Books.]

Despite being the arguments of respected scholars, the claim from Pujades and Gautier Dalché that the Carte Pisane is both a late copy and one created by an inexperienced, presumably amateur scribe, yet (in the Pujades contention) incorporating fresh material, is trebly improbable. First, because there is no work that can be conjured up as even a remote model for it, and second, whether the result is expected to have been either archaic or clumsy, the Carte Pisane's mixture of coastal outlines that are sometimes close to the reality displayed by Vesconte and at others wildly different, cannot be reconciled with being the product of a second-rate copyist, or indeed a copyist at all. The third reason for rejecting the demotion of the Carte Pisane is because part of the Pujades argument depends on the contradictory supposition that its creator (or that of its model) would have been alert to political and mercantile developments, as evidenced by his inclusion of the supposedly 'new' names he describes. As Pujades asserted, the unknown copyist had apparently been able to update an "obsolete cartographic model by introducing some innovations supplied by the Venetian cartography of his time" (2013(b), p.25b). [For comments on the coastal outlines and supposed geopolitical or mercantile awareness, see the later sections D & E.]

Why should we think that an inexperienced copyist, working in some unknown back-water, would have had the necessary editing skills to knit together old and new and, at the same time, have been able to demonstrate a level of contemporary awareness not even found in the work of the best-known practitioners? As described below (D.2, Historical Time-lag (from physical creation to recognition by mariners) it usually took decades before the charts reflected historical events; and that involved cases where we have a confirmed date, for example when applied to an act of foundation, rather than the ingenious, but unprovable, dating implications that Pujades proffers.

There is a central paradox here. If the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts are as early as most previous historians have claimed, there is nothing, beside perhaps the earliest Vesconte work, to compare them with. Gautier Dalché's comment, comparing the Carte Pisane's coarse appearance with the quality of the early dated witnesses (i.e. the Vescontes) ['son aspect grossier, comparé à la qualité des premiers témoins datés' - 2001, p.11], actually supports rather than contradicts the interpretation that sees the Carte Pisane as a representative of an earlier evolutionary branch that died out soon afterwards - Neanderthal not homo sapiens (and perhaps, like the first of those, ready for rehabilitation). There is no justification for assuming that what has survived is in any way representative of the full range of what might actually have been produced. Indeed, looking at what has emerged over recent decades, particularly fragments preserved in book bindings, it is not unreasonable to predict that should another very early chart, or more likely a portion of one, emerge it would have a number of surprising features.

If, however, the thesis of a much later date were to be accepted, we do have the advantage of sufficient surviving works to give us a dependable idea of the comparative context, at least partly for the late 14th century and rather more so for a date in the first half of the 15th century, which is much more heavily populated with survivors.

It also needs to be accepted that even if a few of the specific anachronisms Pujades claims to identify can be sustained (and I argue against them individually below in Section D), or if palaeography (strangely absent from the discussion of a document potentially left in a 150-year limbo between the late 13th century and the 1430s) is able to offer a confident verdict for a later dating, the nearest we might come to a compromise that is true to the evidence would be to see the Carte Pisane as a slightly updated copy of a very early original. The few names inserted later on the Cortona chart and the elements, specifically the Black Sea, added to 'Lo compasso de navegare' might provide parallel instances, though - and this is significant - neither interpolation affects the argument about the dating in those cases. Whether the Carte Pisane's Atlantic outlines, for example, were actually placed on that piece of vellum in about 1290 or 1420, would not, of itself, be of great historical significance. It is the date of the information displayed that is crucial, not the year of the work's construction. That, however, is not to deny that such a scenario is highly improbable. Nor does it answer the obvious question: why would anybody want to copy, and sparingly amend, such an 'antique' and obviously out-of-date chart a century or more later? The copies in the Cornaro Atlas of c.1489 date back to the beginning of that century but the coastal outlines remained broadly the same throughout that period.

Pujades claims that the Carte Pisane stems from a simplified copy of 'Vescontian roots' compiled in the second half of the 14th century, and updated in the 1420s or 30s by an unskilled artisan from southern Italy who incorporated some contemporary Venetian innovations. This is challenged here on various grounds, e.g. that the Carte Pisane is notably dissimilar from any surviving chart (whether Vescontian or otherwise and of whatever period, but specifically relating to Venetian work of the first half of the 15th century) and that the supposition that its creator was ignorant and careless, yet simultaneously innovative is self-contradictory.

For further discussion of toponymic issues, see Section G

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes
For the details of any publications referred to see the Portolan Chart Bibliography



Tabulated Totals: Carte Pisane Specific Names Tables, Table A . 'Toponymic and other evidence purporting to show that the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts are post-Pizzigani, and probably no earlier than the first part of the 15th century'

Detailed data: Excel spreadsheet listing almost 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes

The arguments marshalled by Ramon Pujades in his Paris conference paper of December 2012, 'The Pisana Chart: really a primitive portolan chart made in the 13th century?' - published in Cartes & Géomatique, 216 (June 2013), pp.17-32) - focus mainly on some 50 individual toponyms and the depictions of two North African hydrographical features. The various analyses already described above have been concerned with the competing overall contexts that might have produced the Carte Pisane, as well as the Cortona and Lucca charts. Does the Carte Pisane rightly belong where it has almost always been placed up to now, somewhere in the pre-Vescontian period before the first surviving dated chart of 1311? Or should all three charts be moved to at least the late 14th century and perhaps even further, on to the 1420s or 1430s?

We will look later at the other, non-toponymic elements of those charts but first we need to consider the detailed evidence that Pujades offers. Carte Pisane Specific Names Tables Table A . 'Toponymic and other evidence purporting to show that the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts are post-Pizzigani, and probably no earlier than the first part of the 15th century', lists the individual names to which Pujades refers in his 2012 conference paper. Since this is a sortable Microsoft Word table it is possible to arrange it either in the order of the original Pujades sequence (via his page numbers), or in geographical order around the coast (via its Column 1), or by selecting a combination of up to three columns. Separate columns indicate if the name appeared in the early portolani, the 'Liber' or 'Lo compasso', or in the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca or Riccardiana charts.

My argument, that names found on the Carte Pisane and/or the Cortona and Lucca charts, but not noted on dated works until after the first full coverage by Vesconte (1311, and 1313 for the western sections), should be considered as 'Precursor Names', i.e. those that can be seen as anticipating the dated instances, is challenged by him on a number of grounds. At the time that term was coined, in February 2012, few, if any, serious doubts were being cast on a very early dating for the Carte Pisane. 'Precursor Name' was applied as a matter of supposed fact. Such a name found on a chart assumed to date from the late 13th or very early 14th century must anticipate one first seen on a dated work of, say, 1327.

With the re-dating for the Carte Pisane newly proposed by Pujades, such names now appear as evidence for the prosecution rather than the defence. In his contention they are now seen as anachronisms, or rather as making sense only in terms of a 15th-century creation [nobody suggests that the Carte Pisane is not wholly genuine]. This applies to several of the names he specifically cites. Some of the toponyms might seem to have a claim to archaic status on the basis of their inclusion in the pages of one or other of the early portolani, the 'Liber' or 'Lo compasso'. However, the strength of such corroboration is considered by Pujades to be seriously weakened because of the fundamental differences, on which he insists, between a portolan and a portolan chart. There is certainly some truth in that but it is not always relevant, particularly when, as not infrequently happened, a portolano name was indeed added to a chart somewhat later (as has already been pointed out, see 'Precursor' names).

As was noted previously, just 29 of the Carte Pisane's 677 names (4%) would need to be investigated as potential anachronisms. Half of those, in turn, are otherwise found for the first time on Vescontian works in or before 1325. Note also that the volume of 'Precursor' names identified in each of the portolani is comparable to that found on the Carte Pisane.

In two of the individual cases cited by Pujades, however, there is strong corroboration for an early cartographic rather than just textual date. No.1443 quirpastor appears on the Riccardiana chart of about 1320 and 1802a cibo on the Carignano map (whose author was dead by 1330) (Pujades's note 21 & p.21b respectively).

Difficulties first in reading and then interpreting the names have led us to different conclusions in a few cases, and one or two of those Pujades considered not to be present in the portolani can, I think, be seen there, for example, my No.412 lates [treating grado de lacte and lacte as the same], 426 port-mill [as pomege], 543 castelu [Castellamare], 544 c. de mesene, and 1388 sosanto.

We come now to the crux of Pujades's thesis, namely that several names found on the Carte Pisane - which is closely linked to the Lucca chart, and 'by extension' to the Cortona chart (on which we agree) - can be shown by historical evidence to have had insufficient relevance to mariners for inclusion on a chart until at least the late 14th century. These instances can be conveniently divided into two categories:

Manfredonia's foundation in 1256 near the site of ancient Sipontium (Nos 656-7) is the best known instance of the first category and has been used as an argument for dating 'Lo compasso's creation to before that date, since it does not include it, and likewise for establishing a terminus post quem for the Carte Pisane, which displays both names. Pujades offers an ingenious explanation for the Cortona chart's omission of Manfredonia: "Because the Angevins and Guelfs, headed by Charles I of Naples and the popes, long refused to recognize the name of the newly founded imperial city, using the ancient name Siponto to refer to the new city as well" (2013(b), p.19b). Leaving aside the fact that we know nothing about the Cortona chart's author, where he lived or what his political opinions might have been, this argument is open to a number of objections. Charles I died in 1285 and it is not clear how long the attempt continued to suppress the memory of their enemy Manfred (who had died in 1266). Taken on its own, it seems that this argument could be used in favour of an early date for the Cortona chart.

Given that ancient Sipontium had been abandoned after an earthquake and the new town built some distance away it would certainly have made sense to use the term 'Siponta nova' for Manfredonia, or 'vecchio' for the old city, as happened in other cases, such as No.1555 Alexandria and 1381-2 Foya. Indeed the passage quoted by Pujades, dating from 1289, does indeed talk of 'Sipontus nova' (p.19, note 13).

But the chartmakers, from Vesconte onwards, were clearly confused. Having included Manfredonia on his first work (in 1311) Vesconte, ten years later, revived Sipanto (which had been present on both the earlier portolani). The Carte Pisane and Riccardiana chart, but not that recently discovered in Lucca, included both names, as did the later Vesconte works and Dulceti. Indeed, both forms continued in use until beyond 1600, as can be seen in the analysis by Piero Falchetta (Periplus Adriaticus).

That Sipanto has been noted in red only once over the four centuries investigated, and that instance being on the Carte Pisane, merely adds to the confusion. It is not clear how any of that helps with the dating of the Carte Pisane and its related charts. However you interpret the use of the alternative names, those who included both were duplicating what was essentially a single entity. Unless the reference to Sipontium was part of a general policy to document the classical world - and there seems scanty evidence for this on the charts - the inclusion of that obsolete name is hardly a testimony to detailed local knowledge. That is particularly relevant for charts produced in Venice, for example by Vesconte, who was working at the head of that same Adriatic Sea.

Two other places are noted by Pujades as having early creation dates: No.593 Gioia Tauro (p.19b) and 391 Palamos (18b). There is no question that any chart referring to them must be dated after the known year of their foundation. Gioia Tauro was first documented in 1271 but not noted on a dated chart until Dalorto/Dulceti's of 1330. Palamos followed soon after in 1279, being founded, as Pujades comments: "in a virtually uninhabited location. Thus is seems quite natural that it does not appear on any dated chart until 1327". The time-lag between a fact on the ground and its acknowledgement on a surviving dated chart was thus 59 years in the case of Gioia Tauro and 48 for Palamos (if the Carte Pisane's instances are left out of consideration - see Table B). While there are some long gaps in the chart record, most notably over the period 1339-1367, this certainly does not apply in the second of these cases. Vesconte had been making charts for 15 years before he/they added Palamos on their two final works, namely the chart of 1327 (signed by Perrino) and the undated atlas of c.1325-30 in the British Library.

If it is considered 'quite natural' that there should be long delays in the toponymic receptiveness of the portolan charts, what does it say about our ability to date added names - particularly where the suggested historical reason for their apparent contemporary relevance to their users is less clear? In this instance the names are 'Precursors' because each can be seen on one or more of the three charts considered in this investigation. Following on from that, and in the light of the examples above - particularly that of Sipontium, abandoned in the early 13th century and yet still present on an Oliva chart (in garbled form) in 1602 - what are we entitled to expect in terms of portolan chart responsiveness?

Three historically documented foundations are considered by Pujades: Manfredonia (1256), Gioia Tauro (1271) and Palamos (1279). While those can certainly provide a terminus post quem for any chart that includes them, and Manfredonia was recognised early, the other two did not appear on a dated chart for many decades, although both are recorded in 'Lo compasso' (1296?).

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Tabulated Totals: Carte Pisane Specific Names Tables: Table B. 'Toponymic time-lag (from physical creation to recognition by mariners)'

Detailed data: Excel spreadsheet listing almost 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes

To widen the discussion, it may be instructive at this point to look at the augmented, though still modest, list of portolan toponyms, securely dated in the historical record, which were originally set out in the 1987 chapter in The History of Cartography (pp.426-7). If the charts were as responsive as Pujades claims we would expect many more instances of up-to-date geopolitical information. In fact the reverse is clearly demonstrated in Table B. 'Toponymic time-lag (from physical creation to recognition by mariners)'.

Nine names in this group were initially seen on dated charts produced in the first half of the 14th century (sort on the table's 4th column 'First seen....'). Since the initial four appear first on the earliest possible dated work, the notional time-lag of up to half a century between the historical event and its reflection on the portolan charts is meaningless, though those gaps would be significantly reduced if the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts were accepted as early productions.

The remaining toponyms comprise too small and arbitrary a sample on which to base a confident generalisation, particularly as the charts available to us today represent a minute fraction of what must have been produced,. This applies especially during that large gap in the record of dated works between 1339 and 1367. Nevertheless, in several cases the name in question could have appeared on an earlier extant dated chart. The two Vesconte additions of 1325 (Palamos and Novi Vinodolski) could have been added at any time from 1313 onwards, just as the two incorporated by Dulceti in 1339 (Belforte and Bilbao) could have been introduced in 1330, and the Pizzigani could have added Mola di Bari in 1367 rather than 1373.

But what is clearly revealed by this sample of fixed historical baselines, however small, is a consistent pattern of delayed introduction, in no case less than a generation and sometimes more than a century. From this it is evident that cartographic introduction must have depended on perceived relevance for the chartmaker and his clients, or perhaps, more importantly, on the preferences of the returning voyagers who passed the information on to the port-based practitioner. We can do no more than speculate about what that relevance might have been in most cases. It may be that the places to which Pujades has given the most attention, for instance, No. 371 Portu Alfacso, 376 El Torm, 402 Canet de Rosselló, 505 Livorno and 764 Muggia (see Table A . 'Toponymic and other evidence purporting to show that the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts are post-Pizzigani, and probably no earlier than the first part of the 15th century'), were of unusual concern, for example because of changes that carried commercial implications, but the group of early introductions already mentioned does not support any assumption about the likelihood of an immediate response from the chartmakers. When considered overall, the thirteen names in Table B whose origin is reliably anchored in the historical record, and for which meaningful time-lags can be cited, took an average of 76 years to achieve acknowledgement on a surviving portolan chart.

In addition, the survey of overseas trading posts and colonies, which was undertaken in 2013 as part of a comprehensive analysis of the charts' red names, showed that many of those toponyms were never incorporated into the charts at all, whereas others, by contrast, continued there indefinitely, long after the place had been lost to the Ottomans. [On this see 'Red names of overseas trading- posts'.]

The conclusions above are supported by the judgement of David Jacoby, in the context of the early portolani: '... there always was a time lag between developments in navigation and trade and the integration of new information in nautical guides and commercial manuals' (2012, p.76). This sentence added 15 November 2015 }

With those considerations in mind we now need to examine the handful of names at the heart of the Pujades claim. He has rightly warned that, "given the dangerous mistakes that can be made when relying excessively on elements such as the absence of a toponym or the presence of archaisms (included when a previous tradition had been uncritically perpetuated), it is obvious that it is the introduction of new elements that allows more reliable dating of such works" [my italics] (p.19b). What I have said above underlines another danger, not apparently considered by Pujades. That is to assume, without the chartmakers having any opportunity for explaining their reasons, that we can take it for granted they would necessarily have had immediate access to a specific piece of local knowledge (now being unearthed in an archive) or that they would inevitably and speedily have realised its significance for their sailor customers.

Pujades feeds into his argument the absence of some of his supposedly anachronistic place-names from the pages of the two early portolani, the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso', and their presence on the Carte Pisane, Cortona or Lucca charts. It is therefore worth drawing attention to a comparable, if reverse, effect, namely the much later first repetition of some of those 13th-century names. Excel spreadsheet Column 33 allows easy access to names re-introduced, perhaps centuries later on the c.1489 copy of the Zuan Soligo chart in the Cornaro Atlas, and Column 40 documents in a similar way late revivals on 15th-century portolani. This applies particularly to the 1490 Rizo portolano (whose text was included in Kretschmer, 1909, pp.420-552).

In seventeen cases the introduction of a toponym can be related with reasonable precision to the date of a place's foundation or [re]-naming. Contrary to Pujades's assumption that portolan chartmakers were generally responsive to geopolitical change, the average gap between the naming of a place and its subsequent recognition on a surviving chart (after 1313) was 76 years. In five instances the name could have been included on previous work by the chartmaker involved.

See further Historical time-lag from the 2012 toponymy essay

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Tabulated Totals: Carte Pisane Specific Names Tables, Table A . 'Toponymic and other evidence purporting to show that the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts are post-Pizzigani, and probably no earlier than the first part of the 15th century'

Detailed data: Excel spreadsheet listing almost 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes

We now take in turn five of the specific instances cited by Pujades on the grounds that archival evidence he had unearthed demonstrated that it would not have been relevant for the name in question to have appeared on a chart before a given date: Livorno, Port del Fangar (p.alfacso), El Torm, Oriola and Muggia.


Of the names described by Pujades as evidence of anachronism on the three charts under scrutiny undoubtedly the most compelling is my No.505 Livorno (Pujades, 2013(b), pp.22-3). Like the others in this group it is not a case of a physical foundation or name-change but rather relates to a pivotal moment in the town's history. In 1406 Genoa gained control of the port, which they would hold until 1421. It had previously formed a subsidiary part of Porto Pisano. I had already noted the significance of this event in my 1987 chapter (p.427), but that was before the discovery of both the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' and the Lucca chart, each of which names Livorno. The bald facts are these. The name is an old one, already recorded in the early 10th century, but it is first seen on a dated chart on Battista Beccari's of 1426. However, whereas his father Francesco did not show it on his sole surviving chart of 1403, it can be found on the undated copy of a lost Francesco work (presumed to be a little later than 1403) in the British Library's Cornaro Atlas of c.1489.

The complications arise because Livorno or liburne occurs in the early 13th-century 'Liber', though apparently referring to its fortress rather than to its status as a port. The 'Compasso de navegare' omits it altogether, and it otherwise appears only on the Cortona chart (but clearly as a later addition), and also, integrally, on the Lucca chart. It is Pujades's contention that nobody, and certainly not a Genoese, would have drawn attention to Livorno before 1406. On that basis, he also moves the jointly-authored Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases slightly later than their previous c.1400 dating, to no earlier than 1406. Does that evidence not provide conclusive proof for a 15th-century dating for the Lucca chart and hence the Carte Pisane to which it is undeniably related?

It cannot be denied that the argument is a strong one. But it is not so impregnable as it seems at first sight.

A name on a portolan chart may be prefaced by a word or initial to denote a port, bay, headland, river and so on. It may have a word such as castle after it. But not necessarily. Whether from lack of space or for other reasons, such prefixes or suffixes were quite often omitted. At other times we are left to guess which use of the name was being referred to. "What, for example, is the meaning of agulones, introduced just north of La Rochelle by the Pizzigani brothers in 1373 [No.92 in my listing]? Is it the port of L'Aiguillon, the Pointe de l'Aiguillon (a headland) or Anse de l'Aiguillon (an inlet)?" Or perhaps a convenient shorthand for all three (see The meaning of names).

Livorno was already of sufficient importance to sailors to be cited four times in the 'Liber' (Gautier Dalché, 1995, lines 1642, 1751, 1753, 1757) - always in conjunction with Porto Pisano. In the first two instances it is clear that this refers to its fortress but in the latter pair the word Liburnia is given on its own.

It is also worth noting that, after Livorno's first appearance on a chart, according to Pujades's hypothesis shortly after 1406, it was not immediately adopted by other chartmakers. Historically, the port did not fully supersede Porto Pisano until the middle of the 16th century. A census in the 1420s found only a few hundred inhabitants. This might explain why, for example, it is not named on either the 1421 Cesanis chart (produced in Venice) or that by Vallsecca of 1439 (made in Majorca). The first instance we can find where the toponym is written in red as a mark of significance comes on the 1436 Bianco chart (also Venetian). Surprisingly perhaps, the next red instance I could locate was on a work by Battista Agnese more than a century later.

It is not out of the question to suggest that the Lucca chart's reference to Porto Pisano could refer to Livorno's fortress, which port-seeking sailors would see first of all, and that a reference of this type would not have been out of place on an early 14th-century chart. The Pujades argument rests on a number of assumptions. In the first place it is surprising that the addition of a name, particularly one in so central a location, should be determined solely on the basis of whether or not it was accessible to the ships of one city state. Are there any other comparable instances? There are certainly toponyms (for example along the eastern Adriatic) which are absent from charts produced in a particular centre, and others again unique to that same place. But the mouth of the River Arno, which is itself often named on the charts, was hardly a backwater. Nor is it easy to reconcile the lively trade in portolan charts carried by travelling merchants (as documented by Pujades 2007, pp.459-60 and 2012, pp.60-7) with the concept of Genoese charts made exclusively for Genoese sailors.

That Christian vessels were more than simply debarred from many Muslim ports did not lead to the removal of those names from the charts. Nor did the loss by Genoa and Venice of their Black Sea holdings in the 15th century lead to much toponymic culling. True, the Genoese Batista Beccari did remove Livorno from his later chart of 1435 but, since Genoa had already sold Livorno to Florence five years before it had been included on his 1426 chart, this may reflect no more than its still modest maritime significance at that time.

Another major assumption by Pujades is that the charts, which surely reflected the priorities of their users as well as, if not more than, those of their creators, would favour political considerations over the very practical concerns of those charged with a ship's navigation. Doubtless, sailors would anyway be aware where they would be welcome or which ports to shun. If they relied on their charts to tell them that, perhaps in terms of the political allegiance read from the town's armorial on an illustrated chart, they would frequently have run into trouble, given the lack of care, or perhaps concern, about updating that element of the charts' iconography (see, for various references, Stylistic development).

On the basis of overall patterns of toponymic development, it appears that whether a port was noted or ignored, or even marked out in red, was a reflection of its perceived importance. Livorno did not achieve significant status until the late 16th century. Its successive castles, on the other hand, would always have been a useful landmark, visible from the sea.

There is evident circularity in the Pujades argument. Once the 1406 terminus post quem had been established, at least to his satisfaction, it was used, without any other corroboration, to re-date the Cornaro Atlas copy of the Francesco Beccari chart as well as the Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases. This was on the further assumption that both those authors would have responded immediately to Livorno's changed overlordship, despite the usual pattern of very delayed reaction already described, and the fact that the creator of that pair of anonymous atlases was Venetian not Genoese.


Four other names, considered to be anachronisms, were identified by Pujades. Three fall within the bounds of the Valencia and Catalonia portion of Spain's east coast, to which he devoted a detailed toponymic study in his major work of 2007. All three of those appear on the Lucca chart. They are p. alfacso and el torm, both featured on p.23b in the 2012 Paris talk (2013(b)), as well as Oriola (discussed elsewhere, in a 2011 article, p.271). The final name in this group is Muggia, south of Trieste. These will be considered separately.

While No. 371 Port del Fangar (p.fangos) can be seen in Vesconte's first atlas (1313), the concern here is with the Lucca chart's variant form, portu alfacso, noted first by Pujades on that faithful 1489 copy of a Francesco Beccari chart, already referred to, whose original version can probably be dated a little later than his sole surviving production, the chart of 1403. The detailed explanation about the Port del Fangar's history during the 14th century is given by Pujades elsewhere (2011, note 27, pp.275-6).

In the case of No. 376 El Torm - whose name Pujades was able to read as torme on the Lucca chart - its confirmed introduction onto the portolan charts, by Gabriel Vallseca in 1439, is seen to be related to "the construction from 1405 to 1411 of a cart road connecting the riverside city of Mora d'Ebre with the coast, through the initiative of the city of Barcelona." This, Pujades explains, transformed an isolated spot into "the perfect haven for loading and unloading merchandise coming from or bound for inland towns or cities" (2003(b), p.23b). Like the preceding example, the identification of these toponyms as anachronisms if present on a supposedly very early chart depends on unproven, and untypical, chartmakers' responsiveness.


Until the discovery of the Lucca chart, No. 338 Oriola had been noted only on the Carte Pisane. It is now one of at least 42 names that uniquely link those two unsigned works (Excel spreadsheet Column 21, and select the coded entries ending in 3). Pujades described Oriola in 2011 (p.271) as being a reference to the town of Orihuela, which passed in 1296 from the crown of Castille to that of Catalonia-Aragon. In his 2007 listing (p.386) he had treated it as the equivalent of today's R. Segura (the river on which it sits).

The town itself is some 20 km inland, on a river that was evidently not navigable, and it is not clear why it should have been included on a portolan chart, even if it was a major source of the salt sent down to the sea at Guardamar del Segura. Kretschmer (1909, p.584) refers to a mention in the portolano of 1490, published by Bernardino Rizo in Venice, noting that he had only seen Oriola there and in what he describes as the Magliabecchi 'Parallel-Portolan' (evidently 15th century). The Rizo text can be found on p.452 in Kretschmer or online via the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Gentiluomo veneziano, Un. Portolano per i naviganti), where it is page 38 [to get there you seem to have to jump in tens via the link at the bottom left of the page; 'Aller Page' does not help]. The Rizo portolano (attributed in the past to Alvise Cadamosto), was working from south to north, in the apparent sequence here (in my number order): 332 c. de pali, 334 c. ceruer, 338(a) oriola, 337 guardamar, 338(c) p. vedres de balzuch, 339 c. de iupo, 340 la cantara.

The entry [line 9 in Kretschmer and nine lines from the end in the online version] reads: 'Dal chauo ceruer al oriola ostro [i.e. south] e tramontana [north]. mia 6'. [From Cape Ceruer to Oriola going [?] south and [or better, 'to'?] north, 6 miles]. Five lines further down we see: 'Dal chauo ceruer a guarda mar tra maistro (NW) e tramontana (N). mia 5'. Guardamar is north of Cape Cervera so that entry is correct. Orihuela, however, lies north-west of C. Cervera and much further inland. It seems, for the creators of the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart, that the river may have been known by the name of the most important town found along it. If so, the two charts would be referring to the mouth of what is now the R. Segura. Since this is indeed a little to the north of Guardamar, the difference in the portolano's figures of six and five miles makes sense. That the Catalan form of the town's name was used - a change effected in practice in 1296 although ratified only in 1304, as Pujades points out - is interpreted by him as just one example on the Carte Pisane of the extensive use of indigenous name forms. He sees that as a diagnostic feature because such linguistic mixtures, he explains, are not found on dated charts until much later.

However, it is possible that 'oriola', on the Carte Pisane and Lucca charts and certainly much later on the 1490 Rizo, was something quite different, perhaps an insignificant coastal settlement. The Rizo reference does not mention a river. An alternative hypothesis might be that this is a further illustration of the way that the Rizo portolano 'resurrected' a number of earlier names, sometimes after a century or more [Column 40 lists the Rizo instances as '(port.(R)'); the Comments column (X) provides an explanation for the more than 100 entries involved]. Around 20 of those names have not been noted between the time of the 13th-century 'Liber' or 'Lo compasso' and the Rizo text, while a further five are not seen between their appearance on the Carte Pisane or Cortona chart and 1490. How that transmission occurred is just one of the outstanding questions for future research. Perhaps a fuller toponymic analysis might be able to identify intermediate steps.


Muggia, just south of Trieste (No.764 and Pujades, 2003(b), pp.18-19), is another supposed anachronism, found this time on the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart, rather than on the manuscript now preserved in Lucca. Its first appearance on a printed work is in 1409 on the chart by the Venetian, Albertin de Virga, though it can also be seen on the undated chart attributed to the Pizzigani brothers (Pujades C 21 - 'last quarter 14th century'). This late appearance is explained by Pujades on the grounds that that date coincided with the period when the town 'ceased to be under the authority of the Patriarch of Aquileia to definitively become part of the Venetian dominions.' Venice overlordship seems to date from 1420, and again it has to objected that it is highly unlikely that makers of portolan charts, and those who were simultaneously their users and informants, would have been uninterested in a toponym just because entering that harbour might present difficulties. Indeed, mariners would surely have had even greater need of such negative information, if the Pujades interpretation of 'relevancy' is followed. An alternative, common-sense, interpretation of such toponymic additions is that sailors would have wanted a coastal sequence comprising all the more prominent natural features, along with the trading ports. The political affiliation of the latter, on the other hand, was not an element they could expect to find, in up-to- date form, on their chart. As has been discussed elsewhere and under 'time-lag' above (D.2. Historical time-lag), it is rare to find, among the many hundreds of toponyms added to the charts over the centuries, names that had gained any clearly documented fresh significance in the short period before the date borne by the work in question. A gap of many decades was more usual.

The toponym mugla was one of those that was already written in red on its first appearance, whether that is considered to be the Carte Pisane (though not the Cortona chart which shows it in black), the anonymous Venetian chart from before 1400 or Virga's of 1409. After that date it was regularly written in red. The Carte Pisane's usage, civitas de mugla, presumably refers to the city status it had claimed, possibly in the 13th century. It should also be underlined that Muggia is the only name to be included on the Carte Pisane out of 27 first noticed on that 1409 Virga chart.

None of the foregoing should be considered as challenges to the historical facts cited by Pujades but rather offers a different interpretation of them based on the pattern observable in portolan chart toponymy in general. That was one of conservatism rather than responsiveness to geopolitical or mercantile change. Even if the motivation described by Pujades for the incorporation of those specific toponyms into the charts fits into our imperfect understanding of the possible reasons for such choices, the speed with which this is supposed to have happened in those cases would have been unprecedented, as far as our current knowledge allows.

Historical evidence Summary
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.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Detailed data: Excel spreadsheet listing almost 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes

For a general note see: Brief notes on the main documents discussed

Pujades noted some similarities between the Carte Pisane and Lucca charts on the one hand and, on the other, this pair of very similar Venetian atlases, both clearly in the same hand, which he dated to shortly after 1406 at the earliest (as discussed above: Livorno). The instances he itemised, indicating the sharing of distinct erroneous and imaginary toponymic forms, as well as one small stylistic feature (pp. 24-5), are too close for coincidence and leave no doubt that the three unidentified chartmakers concerned had some kind of direct or indirect connection. But which was the model and who was the imitator, albeit indirectly? As we shall see, there was almost no general toponymic overlap between these two atlases and the Carte Pisane or Lucca chart.

An attempt must first be made to understand the nature of these productions. The Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer [CPW] atlases (named after their earlier owners - the former's signature having been corrected by Piero Falchetta from the earlier reading, Combitis) are distinctive and significant. However, their lack of a stated production date frustrates efforts to incorporate them with confidence into the general chronological narrative. The c.1406 date proposed by Pujades may be correct but, if so, it must be acknowledged that a number of their names are otherwise first seen on works dated later than that. A full transcription has not yet been made of the content of the two atlases and the statistics cited below may need amending in future. However, it is apparent that at least ten of the CPW toponyms anticipate those on the 1409 Virga chart or, alternatively, were copied from it. [Since that represents more than one third of the total innovations ascribed to that 1409 chart, this might suggest moving the date of these two atlases to post-1409.] There is then a 12-year gap in the record of surviving dated Italian charts but the following apparent anachronisms in the two atlases - or, as I would prefer to call them, 'Precursor' names - can be noted: 1421 (8 new names, out of 44), 1424 (2), 1426 (3 from two different chartmakers), 1443, 1447, 1459, 1461, 1462 and 1465 (1 each) - in other words 29 in all [to retrieve those, sort on Column 33 in the Excel listing, then Column F and scroll down to 'CPW'].

Other CPW names, also brought together in Column 33, represent revivals of much earlier toponyms: two are of at least 13th-century origin, visible in both the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso'. By scrolling further down the Excel column to reach the entries labelled 'CPWr' [for 'revived'] some 'Vescontian' names can also be observed coming out of obscurity on those two atlases about a century later (although only very temporarily, it seems). Two of the names - No. 935 Proti and 1605a larsis - were revivals of names seen in Genoese works of the period 1325-50, but no suggestion has been made that those should, as a result of that, be moved to a 15th-century date. On the contrary, these aberrations can be considered as surprising only if numerous similar examples elsewhere in the overall record are ignored. They may serve no more than to reinforce what has already been said about the need to give potential credit to anonymous works for anticipating dated ones.

Besides 'Precursors names', the revivals of those found on much earlier dated charts, and toponyms classified as 'rare', 68 toponyms are found uniquely on one or other, but usually both, of the Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases. To retrieve those scroll a little further down the Excel column to 'CPWu' [i.e. unique or very rare]. That said, when the 15th-century anonymous Italian works come to be fully transcribed, recurrences of some of those names may be expected elsewhere. Besides those examples, the analysis of names written in red on the portolan charts reveal several instances where these atlases were the first or only works to treat the names in that distinctive way (see Summary Table of Red Names: their appearance, frequency and disappearance - sort on its column 12).

This further testimony to the individuality of the unknown author of that pair of atlases is, coincidentally, reminiscent of the similarly large bodies of names not seen, in red or black, on dated charts but noted only on the Carte Pisane (88), Cortona (88) and Lucca (79) charts. Yet I have not been able to find a single one of the apparently unique Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer names on any of the three charts [compare the Column 33 CPWu entries with the absence of names in Columns S, T & U]. Even though names in the three supposedly early works, loosely termed 'unique', overlap with one another to a certain extent (on which see the numbered codes in Column 21) the combined total of their unrepeated names still comes to 138 (Columns 39, 11, 19 - scroll down to 'U' in Column 39).

Pujades claims that the errors and peculiarities he has identified as being shared between two of the claimants for a very early dating (the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart) and the co-authored Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases are to be seen as evidence of some kind of interchange, in toponymic terms. The analysis above firmly contradicts that. Overall, 123 unusual names can be seen on the two CPW atlases but the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart have just six of those each (three of them not shared - Columns 12, 33; and 19, 33). Indeed, looked at overall, it is the dissimilarities between those two charts and the paired atlases that are most striking.

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.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


A few comments about Francesco de Cesanis may be helpful here. Only one signed and dated work by him is known, his chart of 1421, which was referred to above as having eight of its names anticipated on the Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases. However, as was pointed out in my 1987 History of Cartography chapter (p.403), the anonymous Luxoro Atlas (Biblioteca Berio, Genoa) is clearly in the hand of Cesanis and can therefore be given a similar date to the 1421 chart. Besides those, two versions survive of an Adriatic chart, headed 'Francesco Cexano', included in the Cornaro Atlas (British Library, Egerton MS 73), a collection of copied charts made in Venice in, or shortly after, 1489. These are placed on a single vellum leaf, arranged head to toe. It is logical to assume that the authorship inscription refers to both versions, although there are noticeable differences between them. To facilitate the joint study of the toponymy of Francesco de Cesanis the names he introduced have been gathered together in Excel spreadsheet Column 34. [There was also an Alvise de Cesanis, a close imitator, still alive in 1496, and, presumably a descendant, Aloisio Cesani, author of a 1574 atlas in the Biblioteca Palatina, Parma.]

When Column 34 is used in conjunction with Column F it can be seen that both the Cornaro Atlas copies and the Luxoro Atlas include names not recorded on dated charts at all. In addition, the Luxoro Atlas has three names first seen on charts dated later than 1421, which may not be significant, but the 14 equivalent instances on the Cornaro Atlas copies presumably point to a date for those later than 1421. Taken together, the combined list of 91 'Cesanian' names gives a better indication of his toponymic contribution than the 44 first reliably dated by his 1421 chart.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


There is an unsurprising connection between the portolan charts and their textual counterparts, the volumes of sailing directions or 'portolans'. Such textual manuscripts provide a littoral toponymic itinerary, giving the direction and distance from one place to the next. There are also digressions to nearby islands as well as lists of distances between one significant headland and a string of others (pelagi), usually hundreds of miles away Because of the frequent confusion in the literature, with charts sometimes unhelpfully labelled 'portolans', the Italian term for the texts, portolani, is preferred here.

The Excel broadsheet includes toponymic information from the two earliest complete surviving portolani. Columns Q and R set out the relevant names in the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' (Gautier Dalché, 1995) and from 'Lo compasso de navegare' (Debanne, 2011). The Excel default sequence is geographical (clockwise from northern France round to west Morocco), but because selecting their own column will automatically leave the names of those portolani in their alphabetical sequence, separate analytical columns have been provided so that those can be selected and then freely sorted (Column 3, for the two together, 4 for the 'Liber' alone and 5 for 'Lo compasso'). [For more on each of those, see Brief notes on the main documents discussed.]

Information about other, later portolani has been obtained from the invaluable work of Konrad Kretschmer (1909). He identified and discussed a number of such texts and extracted names from eight of them (see his numbers 12-18 on p.556), ranging in date from the early 14th-century Sanudo to the edition printed by Bernadino Rizo in Venice in 1490. Other portolani cited regularly by Kretschmer in his detailed toponymical listing (for which Column L gives the relevant page number) are those by Pietro de Versi (Michael of Rhodes) (1444-5) and one, dating from the mid-15th century, preserved in Parma (Codex Palatinus 246). It might have been expected that the portolano compiled in 1435-45 by Grazioso Benincasa, then a ship's officer and later to become a noted chartmaker, would have been a rich source of toponyms. Perhaps it would provide earlier instances of the 37 names whose first appearance is attributed to him on the charts he produced after 1461 (Columns G, F). In fact, coastal names are sparse in his text, and Kretschmer gives few references to the portolano, none of which seems to precede the first use of that name on the charts of others.

Column 39 (select the 'P' entries) isolates the names found on one or more of those five works mentioned above (with their Kretschmer page numbers), whereas Column 40, 'portolani: unique, rare or reinstated names', allows separate retrieval of the instances found in the same five works. [Most of the Benincasa portolano references in Column 40 are part of multiple entries, coded simply as 'port'.] To get the full picture of the portolani contribution, add in to the sort command, the combined names found on the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso' (Column 3).

Whereas interchanges between the written and cartographic formats are usual, there are some toponyms that appear mostly, or sometimes exclusively, in the portolani. Leaving aside, for example, the inland names included in the 'Liber' on account of their classical or biblical interest, the exclusion of certain names from the charts may be explained by different selection mechanisms being applied perhaps to the two geographical genres. Most interesting are the various exceptions: rare names found equally in cartographic and textual form (cross-over, if you like) or rare names revived much later, especially on the 1490 Rizo portolano.

Information about the toponyms found in those portolani can be retrieved in various ways from the Excel listing. But note that the names in those texts have been recorded only when they are unique, rare, or either earlier or later than those observed on the charts. To retrieve those, select Column 40 ('P, R, U'). The entries in Column 39, under 'P' for portolano, list the names that have so far been noted only in the texts. The sub-group in Column 9, retrieves over 60 toponyms that had appeared in the 'Liber' and/or 'Lo compasso' and were then apparently revived in the 15th century, in most cases not until the 1490 Rizo publication.

While numerous names were shared between the portolan charts and the written navigation manuals, the portolani, some have been noted only on the latter. It was not unusual for toponyms found in the two 13th-century portolani, the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso', to be noted next on 15th-century examples. For instance, 60 such names were not observed between the 13th century and 1490.

For detailed discussions of the toponymy of two specific areas see: Atlantic coasts and Black Sea

( See further on place-names in Toponymy II)

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes
For the details of any publications referred to see the Portolan Chart Bibliography


The strongest arguments in favour of the Carte Pisane's primary chronological position have always focused on its 'primitive' coastal outlines. These will be looked at in turn, in a geographic sequence starting with the British Isles and then moving down the European Atlantic coastline. That will be followed by a separate examination of areas within the Mediterranean, where the outlines have sufficient sophistication to challenge Pujades's argument that the Carte Pisane is a consistently poor copy. Finally, a fresh analysis will focus on the Black Sea.

The developing hydrography was discussed in outline in Campbell (1987, pp. 403-15). The discovery of the Lucca chart and recognition by Pujades of the early dating of the Riccardiana chart, neither of which were discussed a quarter of a century ago, assisted by the literature of the intervening period and the availability of high resolution images, has led to a number of further significant insights. No reason has been found, though, to change my earlier overall conclusions.



For the supporting data see Carte Pisane Hydrography Tables: 1. 'Development in the outline and toponymy of the British Isles' - as well as 2. 'Early names along the south coast of England' (both Microsoft Word documents)

In considering the first hydrographic charting of the British Isles, carried out, it seems, by a succession of unknown Italian mariners in the early 14th century, it is necessary to set the scene.

In the late 13th century Britain was not unmapped, but it was essentially uncharted. At that time, the Ptolemaic outlines, which, for all their imperfections were far closer to reality than those of the contemporary mappaemundi, were still not available in Europe. Nor is it likely that anyone in Italy would have been aware of the Anglo Saxon Mappa Mundi (c.1025-50), or any derivative of it, even though this geographical picture derives from Roman times. Anyone who had seen that would have been provided with the essential geographical elements, albeit in distorted form - the long south coast with the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly, the Isle of Man in the sea separating England from Ireland, and a surprisingly realistic Scotland, along with the islands to its north. Likewise, there is no trace on the portolan charts of the mid-13th century outlines for Britain laid down by Matthew Paris. [On these see Catherine Delano Smith & Roger J.P. Kain, English Maps: a History (British Library, 1999), pp.40- .]

Instead of hunting for possible cartographic sources, it seems more profitable to work on the assumption that the portolan charts arrived at their British outlines without any assistance from pre-existing maps. Where their antecedents were focused on the internal geography of the British islands, what emerges on the portolan charts, apparently either side of 1300, are the configurations of their coasts and offshore islands. The view from the sea was now added as a complement to the conceptions of landsmen.

Starting from a point on the French coast opposite the south-east of England it would not be difficult to estimate the gap across the Straits of Dover, given that the two sides are sometimes inter-visible. The difficulties would come with the Thames estuary leading up to London, which was guarded by shifting sand-banks requiring pilotage. The south coast of England should have presented fewer problems until Cornwall was reached and beyond that the Isles of Scilly, whose treacherous rocks and currents proved to be the grave-yard of so many ships heading for St George's Channel, which divides England from Ireland.

What happened thereafter in those early 'surveys' depended on mercantile priorities. The important British ports lay in three regions: on the south and east coasts of England (and to a much lesser extent in eastern Scotland), in the Bristol Channel to the south-west, and along the east coast of Ireland. As a result, once coastlines had been laid down - with very approximate ones for the north of Britain and for the west coasts of both main islands - no further effort was expended and they remained broadly unchanged. A comparison between the late charts of Vesconte, which rounded off that first phase at the end of the 1320s, and a chart from up to two centuries later - say that by Jehuda ben Zara in 1505 - is more revealing about their similarities. This point about the precociously early completion of the process by Vesconte and the almost universal conservatism that followed will be returned to later in connection with the suggested 15th-century date for some of the contested charts.

The development over the nine Vescontian works (1313-c.1330), as highlighted in bold in the right-hand column of Table 1, 'Development in the outline and toponymy of the British Isles', is both clear and consistent. Already, at his first surviving attempt in the atlas of 1313, Vesconte showed a surprising awareness of southern Britain, including the Isle of Wight, Scillies and the Channel Islands, along with the major indentations into the east coast: the Thames Estuary and the Wash. The regions that were not available to Vesconte in 1313 have a number of common characteristics: they were further away; they had less mercantile relevance (apart from the Bristol Channel and the Irish coasts near to it); they had fewer of the convenient stepping-stones whose position, once fixed, could provide corroboration for the distance to nearby coastlines. The Channel Islands, the Isles of Man, Scillies and Wight, could all have served that purpose. Somebody with sufficient surveying skill must have sailed round Ireland, but most of the west coast of Britain and virtually all Scotland, on the other hand, remained effectively uncharted.

If other chartmakers were copying from the work of Pietro (and later Perrino) it would be evident which of at least five distinct surviving models they had used. [For references to illustrations of these see the central columns of Table 1.] As well as the coastline development, particularly with respect to the Bristol Channel, the toponymy of Britain grew steadily until by the final works it was roughly double the total seen in 1313. While Vesconte presented londres [London] in red from the outset, by 1318 he had sufficient additional information to be able to identify a further seven places thought worthy of being highlighted in red (five of which feature on the table 'Early names along the south coast of England' - see Table 2, cited at the head of this section).

In parallel, Ireland first appeared, in outline only, on one of four atlases assigned to about 1320-21 (Pujades A 4; Ireland is not included on A 3) but, apart from the name for the island as a whole, there was no toponymy. A more elaborate outline for Ireland can be seen on the other two atlases in this mid-period group (A 5 and A 6), in conjunction with around 40 toponyms. While the large bay set into the west coast (Clew Bay) had already featured in the earlier simple outline with just ten rudimentary islets in red, a multi-coloured array of about 30 has now appeared, with a label alongside: issolle ccc lviij sce beate (Islands of the 358 holy saints). This reference, which would later be expanded to refer to the bay as 'Lacus Fortunatus', continued as a standard feature of portolan charts until at least 1563, being perpetuated on the work of Grazioso Benincasa's successors (see Lacus Fortunatus). In parallel with the development of the British toponymy, the number of Irish names also increased in the two final works. The first printed representations of Ireland from two centuries later were not noticeably improved; indeed, they were themselves based on descendants of Vesconte's charts.

The Isle of Man, lying between Ireland and Britain, makes its first appearance on a surviving portolan chart on Vesconte's middle period works (Pujades A 5-A 7) [though it can be seen, much exaggerated in size, on the Anglo Saxon Mappa Mundi (c.1025-50)]. It was then named on the final two Vescontian productions. [For a note on its various shapes, see Isle of Man.]

The 1313-30 developments in the shape and toponymy of the British Isles cannot justifiably be attributed to Pietro and Perrino Vesconte themselves, since there has been no suggestion that they would have personally sought out the information, or indeed that they ever left Venice (or Genoa?) during that time. The credit is due instead to what is likely to have been a succession of unknown informants. Nevertheless, the piecemeal accretion of new hydrographic and toponymic data - which, if we had even more surviving Vesconte charts, might have revealed further separate updatings - suggests that the flow of information into Vesconte's workshop was not purely accidental. On the assumption that the Flanders fleet rested in Bruges for some summer months, as Andrea Bianco did in London a century later, there would surely have been an opportunity for planned data gathering. If so, that would presumably have involved more than one surveying voyage, working first up to the Bristol Channel, and later examining the English, Welsh and Irish shores that are divided by St George's Channel. Such trips would have had to be supplemented by the oral transmission of further names beyond the voyage's limits.

It might be assumed that this steady, and well documented, development would be connected in some way with information brought back to Venice by the 'Flanders Galley' from 1314 onwards. Furthermore, after 1325 part of an annual fleet of some 15 vessels diverted to London. Tempting though this link might seem, it certainly does not provide a credible answer, given that the major cartographic developments had already taken place by 1313. Since Genoese trading vessels are recorded as visiting southern England as early as 1277, it might be necessary to look to that city for some or all of the very early cartographic information about the British Isles. {This sentence added 26 June 2015}

How might this unusually clear chronological record help with the dating of the other maps supposedly from that same general period: the Carte Pisane, the Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts, as well as the Carignano map? It is unfortunate that the British islands, probably the single most useful diagnostic feature relating to the coastal outlines on the early portolan charts, should be wholly or partially missing from several in that group as well as from other undated works.

The relevant area on the Cortona chart has been trimmed away, as can be seen by mentally extending the large left-hand red compass-line circle to the west. This would have been necessary for the inclusion of the coasts of Brittany and then Iberia. We cannot assume, though, that the British Isles would have been drawn in, although there would certainly have been space for them. In the Carte Pisane the tip of south-east England is placed (correctly) close to Sangatte (?) (san galaby). Tantalisingly, this is, coincidentally, the last full name shown down that coast on the Cortona chart, but any British detail would have been just to the west of that, on the section now trimmed away.

Further works that have to be left out of any analysis of the British Isles include the earliest Vesconte production, the chart of 1311, which omitted everything west of Sardinia. Whatever the Lucca chart might have included of Britain only the south coast of England remains, as is also the case with three out of the four Genoese charts assigned by Pujades to the second quarter of the 14th century (C 9bis, C 11 & A 9; C 10 is not relevant). Only the Riccardiana chart and semi-legible reproductions of the destroyed Carignano map permit meaningful comparison with the Vescontian charts.

The Carte Pisane, Lucca and Riccardiana charts, and the Carignano map will be considered in turn.

Carte Pisane

The Carte Pisane's Britain is no more than a simple rectangle with a schematic undulating outline. All it contains is an indication of one large and one small river estuary in the south coast, whereas the main rivers actually flow out of the west and east coasts respectively. This must have been based on a very general description rather than an informed eyewitness account.

We might surmise that his early informant could tell him no more than that England's south coast, which ran broadly east-west, turned to the north at the eastern end, the narrowest point of the English Channel, and again after Cornwall in the west. Viewed in that light, as a pre-cartographic diagram rather than a map or chart, and one that attempted to convey the essence of a wholly unknown island, it can be considered a reasonable beginning. It is in very marked contrast, however, to Vesconte's earliest surviving portrayal of 1313, which demonstrates instead a good understanding of both the salient features of England's southern coastline and its place-names.

The interpretation of hearsay, or oral transmission, on the Carte Pisane is backed up by its confused toponymy [see Table 2]. These are written as if they are coastal names (though two are in the reverse direction). One, cornoalla, refers to the south-west region of Cornwall in general whereas civita[te] londra, for London, is placed in the middle of the south coast beside the large unnamed river [the Thames?], and the wrong side of civitate dobra [Dover], rather than being correctly sited in the east coast. The other three names comprise izula engreterra (Island of England), stanforte? and sco pomas de conturba.

The last of those has been plausily identified by William Shannon (personal communication) as St Thomas of Canterbury, on the basis of a confused reading of the letter thorn (þ) at the beginning of pomas. If correct, that would indicate an otherwise unexpected textual source. He suggests that a smilar process might have turned antona (Southampton) into the Carte Pisane's starforce. {This paragraph added 3 March 2015}

From the foregoing it is hard to conclude otherwise than that this depiction of Britain (whenever the Carte Pisane may actually have been drawn) derives from a stage considerably before 1313, and was concocted on the basis of very partial and confused information that was imprecise both about the nature of England's south coast and its toponymy. There is nothing that survives, from any period, that could have supplied this wholly inadequate rendition, whose garbled toponymy may represent no more than the stitching together of a few bits from one or more misunderstood verbal reports.

If, as seems most likely, the treatment of the British Isles points to a very early date, possibly towards the end of the 13th century, the formulaic, pre-cartographic outline for Britain should be seen as a voluntary acknowledgement by the Carte Pisane's author (or the creator of its model) of his almost complete ignorance of the actual shape of that geographical entity. Viewed in that light, his scanty and muddled toponymy could also be seen as an apologetic statement about the paucity of such information available in Mediterranean seaports, even if Bristol, Southampton, and other cities besides London, were names that would have been well known to Italian merchants, though perhaps not their actual position.

Lucca chart

For general comments on the Lucca chart see Brief notes on the main documents discussed

The Lucca chart's Britain is curtailed at the top left of the vellum. It is not clear how much might have been lost in the later trimming or if its author was happy to let the artificial limits of the outer border disguise his ignorance. A close inspection of the full-page colour reproduction in the 2011 article by Philipp Billion (2011(b), Plate 1) shows that, at the bottom of the chart, the outer border is unbroken by the compass lines. However, at the top, the outer border, linking up, as would be expected, the two most northerly of the compass intersection points, is breached to right and left by compass lines as well as extra chart detail extending to the north. Such an extension at the right would have been necessary to complete the Black Sea (also truncated by the trimming) but, if the chart is indeed very early, the western section containing the little-known British Isles, whose south coast is all that remains, might not have deserved equivalent attention.

In line with his overarching, and generally correct thesis about the marked similarities between the Carte Pisane and the Lucca chart, Billion (p.4a) states that "Britain on the Carte Pisane, as on the Lucca chart, is almost rectangular with little coastal detail, and, again like the Lucca chart, the characteristic shape of the Cornish peninsula is missing". This is somewhat disingenuous since it is the Lucca chart's visual differences from the Carte Pisane, and indeed from all other survivors, that is most noticeable in relation to Britain. The Lucca's coastal outline, helpfully reproduced by Billion as one of five comparative drawings (p.5), does not necessarily present a 'rectangular' British Isles because, as is shown in his drawing, all but the southern littoral has been omitted or lost and we can have no idea what the other three sides might have looked like. The Carte Pisane, on the other hand, shows a single complete British island.

The Lucca's southern coast is noticeably distinct from any other surviving outline, with two large islands where only the Isle of Wight exists in reality. The toponyms of the two islands are not clearly legible but the one shown to the east, beginning gui, might be a form of the vich [Wight] found on Vesconte [see Table 2]. However, when we now consider the seven Lucca names along the south coast, which unlike those on the Carte Pisane are in a recognisable sequence, it is instead the second island to the west (also blue and with a similarly obscured name) that occupies the Isle of Wight's position between Portsmouth and Portland [just the beginnings of whose two toponyms remain]. However, the fact that the island to the east is placed at the entrance to what looks like a large inlet (Southampton Water?, i.e. the Isle of Wight's location) adds to the confusion. The apparent mismatch between the coastal configuration and toponymy suggests that the Lucca chart's details might reflect two distinct sources: a separate description (rather than a map) of the coastal outline, and a place-name listing.

Besides the most westerly name, trimmed down to just cauo de..., and the reference to Cornwall, treated exactly as in the Carte Pisane [albeit repeated here off the coast as if it was the name of an island, isula cornoalla], the other five names are quite different from those on the Carte Pisane. They can, however, be identified, if sometimes tentatively, with those found in the 1313 Vesconte atlas. Two have already been mentioned; the others appear to refer to Falmouth, Fowey, Portland and Portsmouth. To the east of those is bene, which can perhaps be identified, along with Vesconte's beucef or belas, as Beachy Head, the Sussex promontory after which the south coast starts, in reality, to turn to the north-east. However, on the Lucca chart the coastal outline continues in the same direction up to the edge of the trimmed vellum. In addition, at the western end, the Lucca's isula seli [-] perhaps indicates the Sorlinges, or Isles of Scilly, which are also marked in the 1313 atlas as well as on the Riccardiana chart (on those see Isles of Scilly).

Where the Lucca chart includes seven genuine coastal names, the 1313 Vesconte atlas has fourteen for that same south coast [see Table 2]. By 1318, Vesconte would start emphasising four of the south coast names in red: Winchelsea (ginsellexea), Southampton (antona), Dartmouth (artamua) and Plymouth (premua ). None of those was included by the Lucca chart's author, even in black ink, yet they recur in red on the work of later chartmakers. From this we can draw the following provisional conclusions. First, that the Lucca chart did not derive its outlines from a work by Vesconte. Nor indeed, was it beholden to any other chart known to us, given that the mature Vescontian depiction of the British Isles was to remain the standard delineation for centuries, with only modest improvements to the west coast of Britain [compare, for example the work of Benincasa in the 1460s].

The second conclusion is that the Lucca chart's south coast names, unlike those on the Carte Pisane, represent part of the genuine littoral sequence that Vesconte was to set out in 1313. Hence the Lucca chart must presumably be displaying the reduced selection seen on an earlier, lost work by Vesconte or one that Vesconte had in turn copied. In support of the view that the Lucca chart's toponymy reflects the limited knowledge available prior to 1313, it should be noted that its selection omitted prominent names that Vesconte had already included by that date. Several of those must always have had a greater mercantile importance, since Vesconte wrote them in red when he came to introduce that distinguishing feature into the British sequence no later than 1318 [see Table 2]. This seems to indicate the ignorance of the Lucca chart's unknown author about the relevance of those names, or, to put it another way, it might highlight his reliance on the inadequate sources that would have been available to him if, as plausibly suggested by both Billion and Pujades, he was working in some smaller chartmaking centre.

To sum up: as far as its highly distinctive representation of southern Britain is concerned the Lucca chart is not - any more than the Carte Pisane - a crude, distorted and late copy, which can be safely consigned to the early 15th century. Rather, the only reasonable interpretation of its British content is that the Lucca chart has preserved for us the state of knowledge current, somewhere in Italy, prior to 1313. Evidently working independently of, and later than, the Carte Pisane (though clearly influenced by it in other ways), the Lucca's model might have been an earlier version from Vesconte himself, before the latter had been provided by a returning sailor with what must have been some kind of running survey of the south coast of England. If that were to be confirmed, the Lucca chart's imperfections are transformed into archaisms of great historical value, illuminating one stage in the original data-gathering phase of the portolan charts' extension into the Atlantic.

It is worth emphasising that, leaving aside the Carte Pisane's inclusion of London, the neglect, by both it and the Lucca chart, of the other important trading ports does not suggest informant(s) with mercantile interests. Nor does either 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 Column 5 of Table 2 in Carte Pisane Hydrography Tables).

Riccardiana chart

For general comments on the Riccardiana chart see Brief notes on the main documents discussed

The outline for southern Britain on the Riccardiana is very similar to that on the 1313 Vesconte, which was not to be improved until the two final Vescontian works, the atlas of c.1325-30 and the chart of 1327. There would have been room for only part of Ireland before the vellum ends at the western neck of the Riccardiana, which could explain its complete omission, as well as that of the Isle of Man. Arguing against that hypothesis is the fact that, in order to complete the Black Sea, the compass network, and the outlines running north to the head of the Sea of Azov, were extended as far beyond the outer border as that required. The same could have been done for Britain, including coastlines reaching at least as far as Berwick and the border with Scotland, as Vesconte did in 1318. That this did not happen seems to indicate that the knowledge, or interest, of the Riccardiana chart's author went no further north than Yarmouth (about 300 miles south of Berwick).

This becomes more likely when it is appreciated that the Riccardiana's toponymy is in an earlier, or at least more reduced form than that found on the 1313 Vesconte atlas. The Riccardiana's 19 names are all repeated in the 33 that can be seen on the 1313 atlas. Four of the 1313's names between London and Yarmouth have been omitted on the Riccardiana, and a further two between London and Land's End, as well as Bristol and Chepstow on the west coast. In 1318, as the first stage in a steady sequence of elaborations, a number of other names were added by Vesconte, for example four between Southampton (antona) and Portland (porlan).

The close similarities, in terms of their outlines as well as the incidence and form of the toponyms, indicate that the Riccardiana's author used a pre-1313 model, whether a lost Vescontian work or a shared prototype. This is the strongest single argument pointing to the possibility that the Riccardiana was actually produced before 1313. If the Carte Pisane is demoted to at least the late 14th century, that would make what had been (until its 'discovery' by Pujades) no more than just another '15th-century work', a contender as our oldest surviving portolan chart. Certainly, its assignment to somewhere within the first quarter of the 14th century has not been challenged.

Carignano map

For general comments on the Carignano map and particularly its toponymy see Brief notes on the main documents discussed

The Carignano map's shape for the British islands is unique. The outline for England and Wales has some similarities with that of Vesconte, particularly the recognition of the Bristol Channel, which first features on the latter's charts between 1321 and perhaps 1325, certainly 1327. The east coast of England, on the other hand, is quite different from Vesconte's work and Carignano's Scotland is strikingly dissimilar, with a westwards-inclining landmass ending in a long promontory mimicking that for Wales. Vesconte's informants were clearly in almost total ignorance of Scotland and there is no necessary reason for supposing that Carignano's source knew any more. The Carignano map appears to have ten, barely legible, town names. Bristol, with Lundy Island nearby, emphasises the importance of the Bristol Channel, and confirms the Carignano map's toponymic connection with the latest of the Vescontian productions. The four names along the south coast, apparently denoting Plymouth, Dartmouth, Southampton and Winchelsea, are those emphasised in red by Vesconte from 1318 onwards. Besides Dover, the east coast names - London, Yarmouth, sanbetor [Boston] and Berwick - are again those Vesconte wrote in red. The inclusion of the Isle of Man and a sketchily outlined Ireland adds further confirmation of a creation date for the Carignano map towards the very end of the priest's life [he died in 1330 or a little before], and certainly during the 1320s.

Angelino Dalorto / Dulceti, working in the period 1330 to a little after 1339, continued with the Vescontian outlines for the British Isles, adding a squared-off north coast to Scotland. Though his toponyms have not been individually checked, his name totals for both Britain and Ireland remained the same as those on Vesconte's final works. Thus the traditional depiction of the British Isles was laid down for the future, removing the likelihood that any 15th-century chart would have shown or named those features differently.


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 observed in the early portolan charts. 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. It should be considered as 'pre-cartographic'. 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 steadily growing from the Carte Pisane's seven to around 30 for southern England on the latest Vescontian works. By that time the British Isles had broadly gained the appearance they would retain for centuries. No dated or confidently dateable later chart deviates significantly from that norm.

Besides the Carte Pisane's inclusion of 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 (and also by later chartmakers): Plymouth, Dartmouth, Southampton and Winchelsea. The neglect on the two charts of those important trading ports does not point to informants with mercantile interests.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


For the supporting data see Carte Pisane Hydrography Tables: 3. 'Early North Sea names' (a Microsoft Word document)

The pattern of toponymic development for the North Sea is comparable to that for the British Isles, although here it is the Cortona chart that provides a coverage similar to that on the Carte Pisane. In this case it is the Lucca chart that has been truncated. Assuming an early dating for the three remaining anonymous works and counting in the names of provinces, the totals on Table 3 show a steady progression of unfolding knowledge about the region between Denmark and Dieppe, with eleven names each on the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart, 16 on the Riccardiana chart, followed by 27 on the early Vesconte works, rising to almost 40 by the time of his latest pair (c.1325-30).

As before, it is not just the addition of names that distinguishes the three anonymous works from Vesconte's but also a different selection. This is most noticeable north of Bruges where the proper sequencing of both provincial and specific names remained a problem for the Vescontes right up to their final productions. As with the British islands, the toponymic array eventually presented on Vescontian charts would form the basis for a relatively stable pattern that would continue long afterwards. Compare for instance, Benincasa's names from the 1460s: almost the same number, allowing for a few substitutions.

From Bruges southwards there are few surprises, and most of the 1313 Vesconte names appear also on the Riccardiana chart (c.1320). Several other toponyms, however, feature only on the Carte Pisane and/or Cortona chart. By contrast, for the larger northern section above Bruges the three unknown authors could provide between them no more than the labels of three provinces and three specific names, only one of which, Aardenburg, can be readily recognised. The development that can be followed through the successive Vescontian works is less confident than that for southern England. As well as being added to the canon, names were being abandoned or included intermittently. Although this section of the coastline was not part of my comprehensive investigation, it seems that a number of the names inserted into the final pair of Vesconte works may not recur on later charts [but that would need to be systematically checked by others].

The names have been listed in what seems to myself and other commentators to be the most logical modern geographical sequence - indeed the one repeated on most 15th-century charts - but the original order can be created from the occasional bracketed numbers placed after a name. Although Denmark (later denoted by dacia) is consistently the northernmost name (for Benincasa as well) the coastline north from Belgium continues to run in a straight line, without any hint of the sharp turn to the east along the Netherlands' northern islands. This can be seen more clearly on the 1339 Dulceti chart, which extends far enough to include the Baltic. Here the coast proceeds uninterruptedly due north from Dordrecht to the end of the Jutland peninsula. The initial, and continuing confusions must indicate that, even if the toponymic glitches were straightened out later, the Mediterranean chartmakers were not provided with [or at least did not reproduce] a surveyed coastline, only a verbal description. {Two sentences about the Dutch provinces and Zeeland were removed, 7 March 2015. The toponym clearly refers to Zealand, the Danish island.}

Some of the names gathered by Vesconte refer to expected coastal features but a number of others - such as Dordrecht, Cologne, Antwerp, Mechelen/Malines, and Ghent [assuming that is what ganto refers to] - are all located some way inland. Clearly it was their commercial importance and indirect navigational significance that won them their place in the littoral listing. This applied particularly to Cologne, way up the Rhine, and a Hanse city since 1260, which the 1339 Dulceti chart places as if it was close to the sea. Paris and Seville were treated in a similar way.

Bruges must surely be pivotal here, as a strategic hinge between the northern Hanseatic cities and the Mediterranean markets. It is clear that the information on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Riccardiana charts was based, almost entirely, on what sailors encountered on their way to Bruges from the south. Only on the middle-period Vesconte charts do ports in the northern Netherlands, rather than just provinces, start to appear in any number. Surprisingly, other Dutch Hanse towns, such as Groningen, are not mentioned, but the addition of Antwerp in the late 1320s may reflect its growing significance as a future replacement for Bruges when that silted up. The Genoese had certainly visited Bruges by 1277 but the first of Venice's 'Flanders galleys' called in there no earlier than 1314, the year after Vesconte's first surviving depiction of the North Sea. The later improvements and additions to his charts are likely to have stemmed from reports by participants in subsequent fleets, particularly after 1325 when a Venetian fleet of fifteen vessels sailed annually, before splitting up between England and Flanders.

Among the toponymic selections on the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart four are highlighted in green on Table 3. Three of those cannot be identified, but one is unexpected. Assuming that san galaby and s. gallart refer to today's Sangatte/San Goter, and the positioning is indeed correct, this has not otherwise been noted before the Beccaris introduced it, certainly in 1426 and possibly earlier. That is therefore either a lone anachronism, and thus possible evidence in favour of a much later date for the Carte Pisane, or, as I would argue, just one further example of the widespread incidence of 'precursor' names on anonymous works, which pre-empt their appearance on a later dated chart. Evidently of classical origin, the port of Sangatte had some significance in the Middle Ages, passing to England at the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360.

On the contrary, the similar name sequences on the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart, and the absence of almost all information north of Bruges, fit in well with a very early date for their respective contents. The Riccardiana chart is, once again, in a pivotal position between the other two unsigned charts and the output of Vesconte. It includes just two names north of Bruges (Holland and Aardenburg), where the 1313 Vesconte atlas already lists thirteen. South of Bruges it marches in close step with Vesconte, including Calais (and in red), which does not appear at all on either the Carte Pisane or the Cortona chart. Its only unexpected inclusion is Blankenberge, not otherwise seen except in a middle-period Vesconte atlas.


The similar sequences of sparse names on the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart, particularly north of Bruges, fit with a very early date and are markedly different from the improved coverage of the Riccardiana chart of c.1320 and the much enlarged array found on the latest Vesconte charts, which would be repeated long thereafter without significant amendment.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


For the supporting data see Carte Pisane Hydrography Tables: 4. 'Name totals between Bruges and Seville' and 5. 'RED names from Calais to Seville' (both Microsoft Word documents)

In contrast to Vesconte's gradually developing outlines for the British Isles, the northern section of the opposing continental coastline as it appeared in 1313 remained largely unchanged throughout the fifteen years or so of his/their known activity afterwards. From the outset, the coastal configuration - all the way from Bruges to Brittany, then down France's west coast to Bayonne and the 90 degree turn to the west along the consistent northern coast of Spain to Cape Finisterre, then down to Cape St. Vincent and round to the Mediterranean's entrance at Gibraltar, followed by the succession of large bays along eastern Spain, each of which takes the coastline a little more to the north - all of that can be followed with as much familiar recognition as with the other Mediterranean outlines.

No doubt the commercial magnet of Bruges was the key impetus that led to so detailed a survey, which must have embraced southern England as well. As far as securely dated charts are concerned, that is as far back as we can go, and both the Riccardiana chart (c.1320) and the Carignano map (no later than 1330) have very similar outlines to those on the 1313 Vesconte. But the story clearly did not start with that level of sophistication.

Juan Vernet-Ginés (1962) described how detailed geographical information existed, at least in Arabic sources such as the portolano of Ibn Sa'id al Magribi (d. 1276 or 1284), before the first appearance of Italian mariners on the Atlantic coasts in 1277 [two years before the foundation of No. 391 Palamos, the latest datable toponym so far identified on the Carte Pisane]. Until then, Atlantic goods heading for the Mediterranean had generally been transported up the River Garonne to Toulouse and thence overland to Narbonne. It seems likely that at least part of the pre-history of the development of the Atlantic coasts on the portolan charts can be read in the earlier attempts displayed in the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart.

Any navigator would have been aware of the salient features when leaving the Mediterranean and proceeding north. The Carte Pisane shows some understanding of the first part of that voyage, north and west to Cape St Vincent and the sharp turn to the north after it. But, thereafter, the Carte Pisane offers one long unbroken coastline, trending steadily north-east all the way to Bruges. There is no indication here that the coast actually takes two dramatic right-angled turns, first to the east at Finisterre and then to the north at Bayonne, or that another major direction change was involved at Ushant. As a result, the outline gives no hint of the vast Bay of Biscay, even though the naming of La Rochelle and Bordeaux, as well as a few ports along northern Spain, might seem to indicate that the informant had sailed along the entire French coast rather than striking out from Ushant directly across the Bay of Biscay to Finisterre.

As with the Carte Pisane's depiction of the British Isles, though, this outline must be based on a verbal description (and clearly a very poor one) by some traveller, with no navigational experience or interest, passed on to somebody, not necessarily a 'chartmaker', who already had fully adequate information available for what lay south-east of Cape St Vincent but lacked surveyed data for anything to the north.

The same curtailment of the Cortona chart at the west that removed the British Isles, has also deprived us of most of France and the entire Iberian Peninsula. But what appears to represent an earlier form of the first actual survey of the Atlantic coasts of France and Spain can be seen on the Lucca chart. The Billion article includes comparative outlines of the Carte Pisane, Lucca chart and 1313 Vesconte atlas in Fig. 3 (2011(b), p.6). The Lucca chart has major errors compared to the broadly correct Vescontian outlines, for example the truncated west French coast and the extended north and west coasts of Spain, but significant steps have been taken towards reality. The coastlines are at least partially recognisable and can only have resulted from the recording of one or more actual voyages along those coasts. In contrast to the Mediterranean there are no large islands in the Bay of Biscay that might have been used to corroborate distance and direction. Further voyages must have occurred between the time of the Lucca chart's depiction and that on the 1313 Vesconte atlas in order to correct the Lucca's errors, which were largely ones of distance measurement.

The Billion drawing does not extend far enough to convey the shape of southern Spain. This had been turned into a large triangle (where in reality there is only a modest protrusion down to the Straits of Gibraltar) distorting the broadly square shape of the Iberian Peninsula. The understatement of the Atlantic scale as compared to that used in the Mediterranean, as was first pointed out by Francesco Beccari in 1403, may perhaps be relevant here.

Once again, therefore, for the continental European coasts as with the British Isles, we are presented first with purely notional outlines and confused toponymy resulting from second, or even third-hand verbal accounts. There then follows (gradually, in the case of the British Isles) a simplified depiction based on an initial running survey, which, by 1313 for the continental coasts and about 1325 for the British Isles, achieved outlines and associated toponymy that would prove sufficiently accurate for the continued use of mariners over subsequent centuries.

Where, for many other regions, their place-names became generally fixed on the charts - if allowance is made for a certain amount of subsequent innovation and rejection - the toponymy for the northern French coast remained contorted, for a longer period and more extensively than for any other section of the traditional portolan coverage. That needs to be remembered when considering the following quantitative analysis of the names found between Bruges and Seville on the charts discussed above, in the light of Pujades's hypothesis of a later dating for the Carte Pisane. For that reason the table concerned - Carte Pisane Hydrography Tables: 4. 'Name totals between Bruges and Seville' (a Microsoft Word document) - includes the 1421 Cesanis chart to represent the latest period to which Pujades suggests the Carte Pisane might be assigned.

Minor differences in Table 4's totals should not be treated as significant and may reflect no more than the difficulty in determining just how many names are actually present. What is apparent is the very real difference between the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart, on the one hand, and the other five, which includes the 1421 Cesanis chart. The divergence is even greater than the figures suggest because some of the names on the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart are unique to them. The transitional position suggested above for the Lucca chart, as the result of its apparent incorporation of the results of a provisional survey of the Atlantic coast of continental Europe, is supported by the toponymic figures, and the similarity of the Riccardiana chart's profile to the earliest Vesconte coverage is also endorsed.

Little can be learnt here from the two 13th-century portolani texts. The 'Liber' starts at No. 183 A Coruña (brigancia), near Finisterre, and includes a further eight names down to 247 Cape St. Vincent followed by as many as 17 beyond that to 274 Seville. However, apart from C. St Vincent (albeit disguised as tarph soerch) and Seville itself, none of the Carte Pisane's names matches those in the 'Liber'. The Carte Pisane's omission of Nantes, Avilés and A Coruña, is in keeping with its author's partial understanding of Atlantic geography, and its consecutive toponymy effectively starts at Seville. 'Lo compasso', for its part, begins at Cape St Vincent but includes a single name before Seville, the seccha (i.e. shoal) of Cantara (267a), which (significantly?) is a name it shares uniquely with the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart. The Lucca chart, on the other hand, does duplicate seven of the 'Liber's names in its own larger complement. It is of interest, though perhaps of little importance given the number of castles that are involved, that the 'Liber' has more names for the final section from C. St Vincent to Seville than is found on any of the other documents considered here.

For the supporting data below see Carte Pisane Hydrography Tables: 5. 'RED names from Calais to Seville' (a Microsoft Word document )

By way of emphasising the more significant names between Calais and Seville, Table 5 provides an overview of the red toponyms on selected prominent works between 1313 and the Bianco atlas of 1436 (chosen to match the latest dating suggested by Pujades for the Carte Pisane). Preceding the columns for those are the four charts under close investigation - the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts - whose black alternative instances of those names are also noted ('B'). Likewise, the names from the two 13th-century portolani are also recorded (without emphasis), although they occur only in the latter part of the coastal sequence, and of course not in red.

As a stark indication of its sparse toponymy, the Carte Pisane includes a mere six names altogether between No. 18 Dieppe and 96 La Rochelle, one of which is a reference, in red, to the province of Brittany and the remainder which remain unidentified. By contrast, the 1313 Vesconte atlas has 45 names, in red or black, for that same stretch of coastline. Table 5's column 11 notes by means of an asterisk those names that are found in red throughout the period from 1313 to at least 1600. There are 14 of those but the Carte Pisane includes no more than three of them in black and just two in red. Instead, it and the Lucca chart include in red two (different) unique names, without taking into consideration what may be three further untypical red names yet to be identified on the Lucca chart. One of those unusual red names on the Carte Pisane stands out, the reference to Castro Urdiales, a Cantabrian port that received its municipal charter in the 12th century. Although the 1313 Vesconte atlas cites castro, only the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart include the ordialesi version.

Table 5 demonstrates clearly how most names, once they have been written in red, tend to continue thus, providing a full and consistent sequence of red toponyms for the 1420s. As has already been seen in other contexts, the Riccardiana's pattern matches almost exactly that of Vesconte (with the sole exception of No.267 nebla), whereas the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart march generally in step with one another while at the same time being notably dissimilar from the remainder. In other words, this table, like the previous ones, strongly supports a separate, unsophisticated origin for the content of those two charts coupled with a very early date.


The combined hydrographic and toponymic evidence relating to the continental coasts of Atlantic Europe provide the most compelling justification for according a pathfinder role to the Carte Pisane and rebutting the Pujades thesis of a late 14th or early 15th-century date for its construction. The broadly consistent patterns for both outlines and names along the Atlantic coasts found on all charts from the time of Vesconte onwards make it impossible to conceive of the later model for the Carte Pisane that Pujades has postulated.

Had Pujades examined the Atlantic coasts with the same thoroughness he applied elsewhere he might well have come to similar conclusions as mine. Instead he dismissed this aspect of the Carte Pisane in a single sentence: "This absence of reasoning greatly facilitated Nordenskiöld’s proposal of an alternative date {i.e. as compared to the late 14th-century estimation of Armand d'Avezac, 1867} 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).

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


The development of the Atlantic coasts from perhaps 1290 up to about 1330 has already been described. What about the heart of the charts, the Mediterranean and Black Seas? Were they already in their broadly final form by the time of the Carte Pisane, or, if that really is a late production, by that of the 1311 Vesconte chart, or can a parallel pattern be detected there as well?

Concentration will be initially focused on selected areas of diagnostic interest within the Mediterranean, later moving on to consider the Black Sea.

E.5a. Italy

It has long been recognised that the Carte Pisane portrays Italy as wider than it should be. Now, as Billion has demonstrated by comparative coastal overlays (2011(b), p.6), a very similar outline can be seen on the closely related Lucca chart. The error does not relate to the Italian landmass of course but rather to the seas either side of it. The portolan charts were the creations of marine, not land surveyors. It would seem (and the comparative details in Pujades, 2007, p.314 are helpful here - NB they should be read down the page) that the fault was caused by an under-estimate of the distances across the Adriatic Sea, which is therefore much too narrow. While Vesconte certainly reduced the width of Italy on his earliest surviving work of 1311 (see the third Billion detail), it would appear that he achieved that by moving the west coast of Italy to the east, not by shifting the east coast westward. The faintness of the 1311 chart led Pujades to omit it from his visual line-up but subsequent Vescontian output retains the narrow Adriatic. The 1330 Dalorto/Dulceti chart is the first to appreciate that it needed to be enlarged - surprising perhaps given that Dulceti was based in Majorca whereas Vesconte was working in Venice, at the head of the sea in question.

Once enlarged, it seems that the amended Adriatic was there to stay (although that needs to be systematically checked). In any event, the narrowing of Italy, which is evident on both the 1311 Vesconte and Cortona charts, should be seen as part of the general pre-1330 refinement of the portolan chart outlines, with the Carte Pisane representing the earliest surviving stage of that process.

E.5b. Peloponnese (Morea)

The Carte Pisane indicates the three southward-pointing peninsulas, even if they are seriously understated, while it gives due weight to the fourth, running south-east, which divides the Argolikos and Saronikos gulfs. The Gulf of Corinth is shown diminished and running due east. Little development can be seen throughout the Vescontian output, indeed the Gulf of Corinth now trends a little to the north instead of the actual south-east. It seems likely that Greek historians will have investigated the early cartographic configurations of the Morea but a superficial comparison between the Carte Pisane, Benincasa (1460s) and Oliva (1602) suggest that any significant improvements are likely to have occurred no earlier than the 17th century.

E.5c. Asia Minor (West and South coasts)

The Sea of Marmara, with its two bays, as well as the Dardanelles, are presented realistically on the Carte Pisane. Moving down the irregular and deeply indented west coast (where the section between No.1370 landermiti and 1395 annia is hard to read) the main bays again seem to be in place, while it is only along the south coast's eastern section (roughly between 1454 stalimura and 1480 Gulf of Iskenderun) that the coastline is levelled out where it should have shown a trend north-east towards today's Mersin and 1473 Tarsus. The 1311 Vesconte chart corrects that and adds the distinctive hook between modern Karatas and 1478 Yumurtalik, even if the Carte Pisane's Gulf of Iskenderun is generally closer to reality. There was to be no significant hydrographic improvement on later charts.

E.5d. Gulf of Sirte (Libya)

The Gulf of Sirte (Khalij es Surt) is one of the portolan charts' most distinctive features. Indeed, when its characteristic outline is seen on a mappamundi this is a clear indication that the mapmaker had made use of that source, at however many removes. On a modern map, when viewed from the west, the coastline slopes down steadily south-east from Misrata before climbing north to Benghazi. The deepest part of the bay is therefore at its south-eastern point. The Carte Pisane shows the gulf with both sides roughly vertical and a levelled-off head. It is too deep and narrow, although the chartmaker responsible for the outline had correctly appreciated that the approach from the west started at a less northerly point than that from the east, even if he exaggerated the difference.

On Vesconte's chart of 1311 the bay is shown with more correct proportions although, once again, levelled off along the bottom. The latest Vescontian works show a deterioration, with an extra 'bulge' at the south-west rather than where it should really be placed in the south-east. Benincasa, in the 1460s, returned to a levelled-off southern shore. Again, after an initial process of refinement, the gulf's configuration would see little later improvement.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes

E.5e. Larger Islands

Seven of the islands in the Mediterranean are large enough to allow meaningful analysis of their shapes. But first, it is worth considering how those islands might have been originally positioned, on the one hand, and then 'surveyed', on the other.

Whether the island's location - or more relevantly the position of its prominent capes - was derived from a cartographic drawing, or was a direct result of written observations of distance and duration over a series of voyages, is a 'chicken and egg' question that has yet to be resolved.

It is clear, though, that numerous long-distance measurements had been formally codified and made available from well before the time of the surviving charts. The authors of the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' (first quarter of the 13th century?) and 'Lo compasso de navegare' (second half of the 13th century or perhaps later) devote considerable space in their respective coastal itineraries to open-sea, sometimes long-distance voyages from the headlands in question. Gautier Dalché (1995, pp.304-5) illustrates on a pair of schematic maps the routes described in the 'Liber'. Among the longer courses are Bugea (Algeria) to southern France, Alexandria to its nearest points in Asia Minor, and Tripoli (Libya) to Crete's prominent Cape Ákra Spátha (in that case about 1000 km). Four Sicilian capes, for instance, are termini for six such passages, known as pelagi (or variants of that word, or the term used by the 'Liber's author, transfetus).

The pelagi tend to be interspersed throughout the 'Liber' but are given their own sections in 'Lo compasso'. In the latter about 20 pelagi distances are provided from Malta [and/or Gozo], see for example (Debanne, 2011, pp. 86-7 and (repeated) 108-9). Gautier Dalché (pp. 205-19) supplies a comparative list of the respective pelagi in those two manuscripts.

When assessing changes to the islands' configurations, and determining whether those represented improvement or degradation, there are two, as-yet-unanswered questions to be considered. First, how accurate was the initial placement of the island's terminal capes, both in relation to neighbouring islands and the surrounding continental coastlines, but also to one another? And, second, if any alterations were made to those relative positions subsequently, did those represent conscious corrections or careless copying? This is another potential application for a future cartometric research project.

A complicated shape is difficult if not impossible to describe, and invites vague and unhelpful comments such as 'fairly accurate' or 'similar to'. Seven islands are involved: Majorca, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Negroponte (Evvoa), Crete and Cyprus. Alongside any attempt to sum up the overall level of truthfulness, the focus for a modern commentator will probably be on the prominent features, usually capes and bays. Since these were also the aspects of most relevance for navigation, they were often exaggerated by the chartmakers, sometimes massively so.

When considering if a change was one of improvement or deterioration it seems sensible to look for the following indicators. On the progressive side these might comprise additional features, correction of previous errors along a coastline, a more realistic overall shape, etc. As signs of corruption we might expect to note simplification, with a previously realistic outline smoothed out or rounded. Some later chartmakers moved to more geometric and artificial forms, introducing distortion of the overall island shapes in the process.

A confident generalisation can be made that no significant general improvement was made to the coastal forms of any of the seven islands between 1330 and Benincasa in the 1460s. Indeed, at whatever stage outlines that might be considered 'modern' were achieved (and this has not been carefully checked ) it would seem to have occurred in the 17th century at the earliest, given that the 1602 chart in the Huntington Library, San Marino - drawn by Joan Oliva, a member of a long-established family business - has outlines for all seven islands that are significantly more debased than those visible almost three centuries earlier.

For five of these islands Vesconte's depictions effectively become the medieval charts' 'final' forms. These can usually be seen already in 1311, although Corsica is unclear on that chart and the 1313 atlas had to be consulted instead. Little, if any noteworthy corrections or additions were made by Vesconte afterwards. In two cases, Majorca (1330) and Crete (possibly 1330, certainly 1339), the final form was reached instead on the work of Dalorto/Dulceti, active in Majorca.

Where does the Carte Pisane stand in this? Leaving to one side Negroponte (Evvoa), whose sea-horse shape defeated all the chartmakers and ended up by the time of Benincasa's charts in the 1460s as little more than a rectangle, the Carte Pisane's outlines for these islands are always recognisable and, in the case of Sardinia, Sicily and Crete, are notably realistic. In each case, however, Vesconte or Dulceti was able to add, or sharpen, features that the Carte Pisane's author had not sufficiently understood (assuming here an early date for it). Examples, for Majorca, are the southernmost extension, Cabo de Salinas (noted by Vesconte) and the two big bays scooped, respectively, out of the south-west coast (Palma) and that to the north-east (Alcudia). In the case of Corsica, it was the pointing finger of Cape Corse that Vesconte added, and for Sicily the two peninsulas at the western end of that coastline, respectively S. Vito and Palermo's hinterland. Vesconte was the first to appreciate the configuration of the eastern end of Crete's north coast around Ay Nikolaos along with its bay, the largest in the island, while the 1311 chart also introduced into the Cyprus outline the two prominent capes, Arnauti and Kormakiti. [On this, see further Campbell (1984, p.52).]

None of the observations above could be readily accommodated into the hypothesis that the Carte Pisane should be moved on at least 100 years from its traditional dating in the late 13th century, perhaps to a date as late as the 1420s or 1430s. The Carte Pisane's generally convincing coastlines do not endorse this as a careless, amateur copy by a much-later, isolated practitioner.

In each of these cases Vesconte or Dulceti bequeathed to their successors outlines that evidently served their purpose. Had this not been the case, what might be termed the 'crowdsourcing' effect described by Francesco Beccari on his chart of 1403 (Pujades, 2007, p. 461) would surely have ensured that missing capes or bays, at least along well-frequented coasts, would have been inserted at the urging of their sailor purchasers. Since that did not happen, at least after about 1340, the charts from the time of Pujades's suggested re-dating of the Carte Pisane (1420-30), look different from both that work and from those charts that unquestionably belong to the very early 14th century. Productions such as the 1421 Cesanis chart (Pujades C 32), for example, are presumably professional works, but that is not incompatible with the fact that the Vescontian outlines had become corrupted by that stage.

On the contrary, placing the Carte Pisane's usually (but not invariably) inferior outlines before the date of the 1311 Vesconte chart fits into the overall pattern of improvement up to 1330 - steady, although uneven - that has already been described. The Carte Pisane's imperfections testify to an earlier stage in the gathering of hydrographic information, which is the opposite process to degradation.

It is worth pointing out here that Pujades had earlier noted similarities between the Cortona chart and the Carignano map, relating to the shape of Corsica, along with southern Italy, the Sea of Azov and the Crimean Peninsula (2007, p.517a). The Carignano map is of course fixed chronologically by its author's death in or before 1330.

E.5f. Small Island Shapes

The treatment of the medium and small islands, particularly where those proliferate in the Aegean, have been the subject of my detailed study ['Why the artificial shapes for the smaller islands on the portolan charts (1330-1600) help to clarify their navigational use', Cartes et géomatique, 216 (June 2013): 47-65 (paper delivered at the international conference, 'D'une technique à une culture: les cartes marines du XIIIe au XVIIIe siècle', Paris 3 December 2012)]. It is only on the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart that those entities are presented as simple shapes, often as little more than indented rectangles. For Skyros, the Carte Pisane's form, a rectangle with a groove out of one of the long sides, is similar to that on the Ricciardiana chart of c.1320 (Pujades C 4). Just a few of the Carte Pisane instances show the beginning of the outlines they would later be given, whether realistic or imaginary. Lesbos is a good example of that.

Individual characterisation can already be made out on the 1311 Vesconte chart and the undated one in Lucca. A few island outlines, such as Skyros with its space-rocket shape and Limnos encircled with a regular pattern of excrescences, are already hinting at those wholly artificial designs that would later be contrived by Vesconte or Dalorto/Dulceti, and subsequently become part of the chartmakers' standard repertoire for at least the next two centuries. There is no trace of the introduction of these distinctive, fixed 'mnemonic' shapes on the Carte Pisane, Cortona or Lucca charts. All subsequent charts, certainly Italian work of the early 15th century, would display those easily recognisable invented forms (termed 'signature shapes') or variants of them.

Numerous other examples could be given to underline the archaic nature of the treatment of the small islands on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, which do not recur on any later works. [See also Census E 22, the Lucca chart.]

Mediterranean Summary

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 the very different outlines that had become standard by about 1340.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


New findings about the Carte Pisane's Black Sea, particularly its toponymy, are based on belated appreciation of the importance of an 1852 hand-copy (made before conservation intervention removed some details). These are, I suggest, among the more significant contributions of this essay. The fact that the eastern third of the Black Sea was intentionally omitted seems not to have been noticed before.

E.6a. The Carte Pisane

It is evident that the Carte Pisane has suffered damage and some loss of toponymy since the time it was carefully hand-copied for the pre-photographic-era facsimile in Edme François Jomard's Les monuments de la Geographie ou recueil d'anciennes cartes [Paris, 1842-62 - No.IX, 1852]. This was not long after it had been acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1839. The most degraded areas fall within the Black Sea.

Much of the commentary that follows depends on the skilled and highly professional work of the 1852 copyist. It seems that this was the lithographer named at the foot of the Jomard version, 'E. Rembielinski'. About Eugeniusz (who collaborated on the atlas with Juliusz) Rembielinski we learn from the BnF catalogue [with thanks to Catherine Hofmann for this information] that he was an engineer-geographer and engraver ('graveur') working in Paris, and responsible for around 50 maps over the period 1840-88. He also signed the Jomard copy of the 1367 Pizzigani chart. Comparison between high resolution images of the original in its current state and the Jomard facsimile demonstrate that the copyist faithfully reproduced the toponymy he saw. Names are left incomplete (even when it is clear from other early charts what was intended) or even reduced to a series of vertical lines, if that was all that was visible to him. Copies, particularly hand-drawn ones, would never ordinarily be accepted as adequate evidence. However, the following text uses the Rembielinski copy when the original is now unclear - for the first time as far as I am aware - in an attempt to identify and interpret the lost detail preserved through his careful handiwork.

Where the hydrographic detail on the Carte Pisane extended beyond the two large circles that define the compass directions a rectangular grid was added. The western edge is defined by the Iberian coast, which runs, apparently un-truncated, along the vellum rim, and the southern edge is marked by the long (indeed, over-long) southward projection of the Gulf of Sirte. Despite its appearance and past comments (for example on the Pujades DVD that it has been 'cut back'), the vellum on which the Carte Pisane is drawn is effectively complete. Furthermore, for the Atlantic coast of Europe the outline clearly stops just before the upper vellum edge, although it is not possible to determine if that happened in the same way for West Africa at the south.

However, the Black Sea region is a special case since the outlines and toponymy press right up against the outer edge. It is clear that the narrowing of the vellum to the east of the Levant must represent the original neck of the animal skin, with the scale circle carefully placed in its middle. This is corroborated by the way that the eight surviving names at the extreme north-east, which would normally have been written inland (at right-angles to the coast, i.e. in this case aligned west-east) are here crammed up awkwardly against the outer edge in a north-south direction, parallel with the coast. The final name along the southern coast is No.1275 laliminia, one toponym to the east of [Samsun]. In other words, from comparison with other charts this establishes that the eastern two-fifths of that Turkish coastline were never included.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes

E.6b. Crimea

Running a line due north from laliminia confirms that the squeezed names in the extreme north-east must belong to the west coast of Crimea. Foncin et al. (1963, p.9) refer in their brief description to 'partie de la Crimèe', but without elaborating this point. The chart's truncation from the outset seems not to have been commented upon before.

It is unfortunate that the surviving parts of the Black Sea on the Carte Pisane do not include the Crimean outline because this, like the British Isles, is one of the more important pointers to an early dating. Though the coastal outline of western Crimea was not clearly visible to the Jomard copyist, the evident lack of any indication of the large bay (Kalamitskiy Zaliv) that shapes the western side of the Crimean peninsula, shows this to be a less developed form than the remarkably accurate coastline displayed on the 1311 Vesconte chart. His outline would be followed in the main by subsequent chartmakers.

Crimea is missing from the Lucca chart but the Cortona and Riccardiana charts seem no more sophisticated in their outlines than the Carte Pisane. Neither, for example, includes the long west-east island/sandbar, Tendrovskaya Kosa, nor the Kalamitskiy Zaliv.

The top right-hand Black Sea name on the Carte Pisane - like the remainder, visible at all or fully legible only in the Jomard facsimile - is No.1134 la negropila (i.e. the g. de nigropilla on the 1311 Vesconte chart) just to the west of Crimea. This is followed by a further eight toponyms: laro osaro [1140 rosofar?], porto laggiue, sco iorgi, salline [1142?], c[]lamita [1144?], dogi, tronien, son o (the last three only partly legible). Few of those names have yet been identified, and their alignment is highly unusual [though on that, see Section E.6e, the discussion about the Bosphorus].

See further on Crimea under Section E.6d, 'What can be recovered from the 1852 facsimile?'

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes

E.6c. An intentionally truncated Black Sea?

It would become usual for portolan charts to occupy as much of the usable vellum surface as possible, and this seems to be the case here. The scale to be used and the chart's geographical extent would have had to be considered together, since any decision about one would affect the other. So, when the chart was originally planned and laid out, the concern at the eastern side must have been to include the Levant in its entirety, but not necessarily the complete Black Sea.

Indeed, just how much could have been fitted in would have been a matter of mathematics. Because the Black Sea extends east considerably further than the Levant coast, the only way to have covered the whole of that sea would have been to use a larger skin, or reduce the scale. The width of the Carte Pisane is of a typical size, for example the same as the charts of Dalorto/Dulceti (see Pujades, 2007, p.204), but the measured distances between various pairs of places, and the chart scale computed from that (see the right-hand columns on the same page) show that the Carte Pisane was drawn (for the longest of those measurement at least) at a slightly larger scale (1:4.5 million) than any other chart before 1403. The differences in the figures are not significant but they serve to demonstrate that it would have been possible to reduce the scale so as to include the entire coastal outline, without the lettering becoming too small.

Had the vellum been turned around so that the natural truncation of the neck was placed at the west rather than the east then it would have been Britain that had to be omitted instead. Given the considerable knowledge of the Black Sea on the part of the Carte Pisane's author, and his almost total ignorance of Britain, the decision to sacrifice some of the Black Sea's important trading posts might seem strange. In fact there seem to have been two reasons that such a switch was not made. In the first place, while the loss of southern Britain might not mattered overmuch, the neck's matching reduction to the south would have removed parts of Spain and Morocco. An alternate explanation might relate to the need to conform to what seems to have been an early tradition in favour of placing the neck at the east (i.e. to the left if, as seems likely, they were then considered to have a south orientation), something that would change later. [On this see Campbell (1987), p.444.]

In the early 15th century an experiment was briefly made to detach the Black Sea and move it to the west so that the Levant could press against the eastern edge (on this see Campbell (1987), p.444). But no surviving 14th-century chart shows that device. As a footnote to the above, there might perhaps be a counter-argument relating to the placement of Iberia as defining the western edge, on the grounds that this had been squashed in purely because of the lack of room. If that were to be considered, I hope that the explanation provided in the discussion about the Carte Pisane's archaic representation of the Atlantic coasts would be preferred instead.

Later charts, particularly after the loss of the Italian bases to the Ottomans in the 15th century, would sometimes omit all or part of the Black Sea, just as later abrasion to what might have been the outer edge of a rolled-up chart has occasionally caused the accidental loss of part of the sea's eastern shore. But, in general, the eastern limit of a portolan chart was expressly defined by the need to include the entire extent of the usual coastlines, allowing a little extra space to the right of that for the associated toponymy to be included beyond it and at right-angles. In a similar fashion, the northern limit might coincide with the northernmost point of the Sea of Azov, even if the outer border had to be breached to accommodate it. In the case of the Riccardiana chart this meant that the entire Sea of Azov fell between the outer margin and the vellum edge. The northern section of the Black Sea has been trimmed off the Lucca chart but it is likely that Crimea and the Sea of Azov would have formed part of the extension that can already be seen in embryo. Comparison of the northern borders on those three charts and the 1311 Vesconte show that, in the case of the Carte Pisane, there would not have been room for Crimea and the Sea of Azov.

From the foregoing it seems clear that there was never an intention on the part of the Carte Pisane's author to cover the entire Black Sea coastline. If so, this is an evidently unique instance of an intentional truncation of that sea (at least in the medieval period), certainly at the east and almost certainly at the north as well. The significant fact to note is that this must have been planned, or at least appreciated, before drafting began, which asks an important question about the geographical priorities of the unknown chartmaker, or those of his customer. Was this simply a mathematical result of a miscalculation between scale and content? Was that the only skin available? Did its creator lack the skill required to reduce the scale of his model? Given that we have yet to understand precisely how such a reduction was achieved by later chartmakers, it seems quite possible that he would not have known how to carry out that procedure. Pujades's claim that the author was an amateur, in the sense perhaps that he had not been formally trained up to chartmaking, might well prove to be correct.

It is generally accepted that the Black Sea information was added to 'Lo compasso de navegare' after the text's initial compilation in the latter 13th century. Even though the date of that insertion is not agreed, and it might have taken place after the 1296 date on the surviving exemplar, it must surely mark the point at which the commercial importance and growing volume of marine traffic to and from those Catalan, Genoese and Venetian outposts made it essential to include that region. Certainly from the time of the 1311 Vesconte chart, with its remarkably correct outlines and sufficient toponymy, the Black Sea had cartographically 'come of age'. A date for the Carte Pisane of c.1290 would fit into that wider context, whereas the wilful omission of Tana, Savastopoli, Trapesonda, etc. is hardly conceivable for the various later dates Pujades proposes for that chart.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes

E.6d. What can be recovered from the 1852 facsimile?

Even though more detail was visible to Jomard's copyist than is available to us today, the Black Sea region had clearly suffered considerable damage before its re-discovery. It is not easy to make out from the existing original exactly which sections had been included originally. The faint, squiggly lines carefully laid out in the Jomard facsimile presumably indicate the areas of loss in 1852, rather than coastlines. It is distressing to see that the significant area at the top right of the chart which is now filled in with plain replacement vellum originally had a further section of the rectangular grid and at least two of the direction labels. More important is the loss of some toponyms, but thankfully those can be supplied from the facsimile, even if only tentatively.

What can be learnt additionally from the careful reclamation of the 1852 copyist? If this is the earliest survivor we must be careful about making assumptions based on analogy with other early charts, which might date from one or more decades later. The discussion that follows is a toponymic one but it seemed more relevant to include it here, alongside the other comments on the Black Sea, since there is considerable overlap between the hydrographic and toponymic elements.

Immediately beyond Constantinople, working clockwise round the Black Sea, there are portions of perhaps two relevant names before a lengthy gap as far as Excel spreadsheet No.1089 Varna (whose surviving porto in red is there followed by the addition, var...). This presumably represents loss from the chart before it was acquired by the French national library. The next four names are all in red as well, and, assuming an early date for the Carte Pisane, shown thus for the first time. caliacre, porto pangalia, porto costanza, zanauarda can still be made out on today's chart but not what follows them to the north.

It is at this point that the copyist's own construction method becomes very apparent. For some reason he did not use the compass line network as an aid for positioning the chart's features but must instead have added that at the end. This means that the offshore name which follows here, loso misi [if it is indeed a single name] is shown on the copy as split between the rectangular grid and the right-hand of the two large circles. In reality that name appeared entirely to the north of that circle and in the grid. On the original, the circle divides porto costanza and zanauarda while on the copy it runs to the north of the name that follows those in the main sequence [ ]essoa [1099 Grosea?]. After that, the copy reveals the semi-legible les[ ]ria, a name beginning 'a' and another starting 'an'. No more coastline is shown.

[Given the frequent similarities between the Carte Pisane and the recently discovered Lucca chart, it might have been hoped that the latter's Black Sea toponymy could help to unravel that on the Carte Pisane and reconstruct what is now lacking. In fact, the Lucca chart is a disappointing witness here because its truncation is comparable to the Carte Pisane's, although in this case due to subsequent trimming rather than a restriction caused by the vellum's extent. Lucca names can be discerned up the west coast as far perhaps as 1116 lazinestra (though the readings are unclear at the extremity).]

For the Carte Pisane there is then a gap before [ ]estra [1116 zinestra], and another break before []on. The last two names are on a detached section of the rectangular grid. No more coastline is shown after 'an....' but the alignment of the two final names indicates that the shore would have continued in roughly the same direction.

For the north coast, there are two groups of names that form part of the same rectangular grid section as loso misi. The first group comprises (from west to east) losucery [1123, c. de zacori?] and lanegropila [1134, nigropilla - this is just to the west of Crimea and is placed, as on the Riccardiana chart, and broadly correctly, approximately due north of a line running between 1297 Samastro and 1306 Penderachia on the south coast].

The second group comprises a further eight toponyms following the Crimean coast to the south before, as expected, turning to the east at calamita: namely laro osaro [1140 rosofar?], porto laggiue, sco iorgi, salline [1142?], c[]lamita [1144?], dogi, tronien, son o (the last three are only partly legible). Few of those names have yet been identified.

For Crimea, the Lucca chart has just three barely legible names [or perhaps four, since the last is long and formed of two words], angled out but written the other way round, in other words, in the same direction as those on the opposite coast. The way they project into the sea suggests they are likely to belong to the most southerly section of the Crimean coastline. Considering each sequence in the same east-west direction, the three Crimean names are placed approximately opposite to the south coast group comprising the range 1284-1288: sinopi, porto erminio, lefeti, stefanio, quinoli. On the analogy of the 1311 chart, this would place the Crimean names somewhere between [1162] caffa and the toponyms that follow to its west - perfidimia, calitra, meganome, soldaia, escuty, pangropoli, santo dero, lagia, cenbaro - as far as [1145] cersona. None of the names can be confidently read, at least on the scans available to me, but the first seems to end poli, which suggests [1154] pangropoli. If the various suppositions are correct it means that the Lucca chart's Crimean fragment is placed a little to the east of the point at which the Carte Pisane's ends.

Returning to the Carte Pisane, we find that the entire east coast, with 1237 Fasso at its centre, had to be omitted. This meant, inter alia, the loss of at least seven names that Vesconte considered to be of sufficient significance to warrant being emphasised in red in 1311 (between Nos 1219 and 1272): auogasia, pezonda, savastopoli*, fasso, trapesonda*, chirisonda*, vatiza* - and, because of the inward curve of the neck, probably a few more besides to the north. The four with an asterisk were among those names found habitually in red until at least 1600 and Sevastopol (Sukhumi) had had important trading connections with Genoa from the 12th century onwards.

Though now intermittent, it is fair to assume that the southern coast would have been complete. Running east to west its surviving names can be read on the 1852 copy as follows: [1275] laliminia, [1277] simiso, [1279] langisy, [1280 or 1282?] lalico, [1283a] [ ] de staipy?, [1284] sinopi, [1285] porto armenu,[1287] lusiafany, [1288] quinoli, [1288a] lucapanly, [1291a] musi[ ]ay, [1293?] quico, [1297?] sara. That represents the sequence between modern Yesilmark nehri and, if the identification of sara is correct, Amasra (samastro). The similarly curtailed Lucca chart has perhaps two names to the east of [1275] laliminia, namely tentative readings of [1272] vatisa and [1270] lavona.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes

E.6e. Bosphorus

For the supporting data see Carte Pisane Hydrography Tables: 6. 'Names on the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart apparently referring to the Bosphorus' (a Microsoft Word document)

The largest group of names resurrected via the 1852 copy of the Carte Pisane also present the greatest problems in terms of their identification. At least ten toponyms are involved, written apparently in a single line to the east of Constantinople and following the same orientation as those running along the Thracian coast from Saloniki. In other words, they are oriented in the opposite direction to the (otherwise missing) names along the Black Sea Turkish coast going west from Amasra to giro at the entrance to the Bosphorus strait. Apart from a probable Penderachia, the intervening Black Sea toponyms have disappeared.

The Lucca chart has an apparently comparable sequence of its own nine toponyms. At first glance, this substantiates the close links between the two charts, already described. However, no more than two pairs of names appear to refer to the same places: (oloa / miola and []irio / lagiro).

What does that group of names represent, given that they are arranged along a non-existent coastline actually broken by the strait that divides Europe from Asia? No confident coastline was visible to the Jomard copyist; the names are merely written in an approximately straight line. The Microsoft Word Table 6 ['Names on the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart apparently referring to the Bosphorus', see just above] attempts to unravel the mystery by means of a comparative study involving the two early portolani, the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' and 'Lo compasso de navegare', Pietro Vesconte's chart of 1311, and the unsigned Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts. The results are far from conclusive.

It is proposed here that the single line of names may have been designed to represent, first, the western (European) shore of the Bosphorus strait and then the eastern (Asiatic) side. If the intention had indeed been to supply several names running north from Constantinople and then a similar sequence returning south down to Scutari (which faces it at the entrance to the strait) there would have been little, if any, space for those to have been inserted in their proper positions. The 31km strait is less than 1km wide in places, and no amount of exaggeration would have allowed the toponyms to have been squeezed in.

Along the western (European) shore Vesconte and other 14th-century chartmakers include the single name Pera between Constantinople and fanar [Rumeli], although the Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases (from the beginning of the 15th century) add foca at the north-west end of the strait, before filea. The five intermediate names recorded on 'Lo compasso de navegare' do not seem to match the five Carte Pisane names nor the three Lucca instances that apparently fill that gap.

For the eastern (Asiatic) shore, 14th-century charts do not include any names at all between giro [Anadolu burun] and scutari [Usküdar]), whereas the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart appear to assign three names each to that stretch of the shoreline. Further work by experts in Turkish toponymy might resolve these questions. It should be stated here that Anton Gordyeyev, the acknowledged expert on Black Sea toponymy, does not agree with the interpretation above. Instead, he considers that the sequence of names had been reversed by the Jomard copyist [or perhaps, I might suggest, during an earlier attempt at restoration of the original?] and that estilla, for example, refers to No.1315 Sile.

Despite the significant loss of sections of the Black Sea coastline and the related toponymy by the time the Carte Pisane was discovered, as well as the difficulty in interpreting what did once, or does now, survive, it is clear that this work is quite unlike any surviving portolan chart. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the regions where the Carte Pisane diverges radically from all other known charts are those outside the Mediterranean, namely the Atlantic and the Black Sea. Though there is no reason to suggest that the author would have been ignorant about the omitted eastern section of the Black Sea, the unfamiliar names in Crimea and, as has been proposed, those of the Bosphorus, fit in with the interpretation of a 'work in progress', as has been demonstrated more convincingly for the British Isles and Europe's Atlantic coastline.

Black Sea Summary

  • Notwithstanding its appearance, the vellum on which the Carte Pisane is drawn seems to be effectively complete. However, the author, or perhaps the person who commissioned it, intentionally accepted a reduction in its geographical scope, choosing to run up to the outer border on three sides but to end at the east with the Levant. As a result, the eastern third of the Black Sea, the entire Sea of Azov and almost all Crimea had to be omitted for lack of space. [I am not aware that this observation has been made before.] Such a conscious downplaying of the Black Sea, which was due to become of vital commercial importance for its Catalan, Genoese and Venetian outposts, would be hard to explain on a chart produced as late as Pujades suggests (later 14th century at the earliest).

  • Using the 1852 lithographed copy prepared for Jomard, at a time before abrasion and a destructive 'restoration' had yet taken place, it proved possible to recreate, at least partially, 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.

  • 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.

  • The Carte Pisane's Black Sea presents an underlying contradiction: the intentional omission of the Sea of Azov and the right third of the Black Sea, set alongside a realistic toponymy augmented with a number of unrecorded names.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


It has been estimated, using the clear Pujades scans from a Benincasa atlas, that a portolan chart might contain as many as 3,500 very small hydrographical signs, formed out of red or black dots and crosses, whether singly or in clusters. [See Small hydrographical details.] A project to determine the history of these symbols, how accurate they were and how much their depiction changed over time, is due to be carried out in the second half of 2015. Particular attention will of course be paid to the Carte Pisane in comparison with others from the 14th century and beyond, see the Pelagios blog.

For our present purpose, namely the dating of the Carte Pisane, the concentration is on the nature of the navigation symbols used. Pujades himself underlined the distinctiveness of the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts in this respect. "Among other conventions of their own, it is very important to note that those charts marked sand-banks with black crosses instead of red dots, in contrast to the rest of all extant production made in the three main production centres: Genoa, Venice and Majorca" (Pujades, 2013(b), p. 26). This comment was made in the context of Pujades's argument in favour of an equally late dating for the Carte Pisane and the other two charts, but a table puts these conventions into context (Carte Pisane Hydrography Tables, 7. 'Development of the signs for navigational dangers').

As confirmed by the parallel lack of island colouring on the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart (F2d. Colour) the first to introduce red for nautical hazards was Vesconte in 1311. By the time of the latest Vesconte productions most of the standard configurations of such symbols were in place, leaving little to be added in the next century. As in so many other ways, the relative lack of sophistication of the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart is better interpreted as the archaism of a very early work rather than that of a clumsy and much later copy.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes
For the details of any publications referred to see the Portolan Chart Bibliography



Surprisingly perhaps, this is one of the shortest sections in this extended essay. Not because the issue of the Carte Pisane's palaeography is in any way resolved, but rather because it has barely been mentioned at all in discussions of its dating. Pujades provides a good summary of the 'evidence' for that, if it can be so termed (2013(b) p.18, referring back to my own 1987 comments (p.404, note 253)). The most recent historical information so far clearly identified on the Carte Pisane is the foundation of (Excel spreadsheet) No. 391 Palamos in 1279, which ruled out any previous suggestions of a date prior to that. Leaving aside some falsely precise dates for its supposed production, most commentators have placed the chart, very approximately, at the end of the 13th century or the very beginning of the 14th. Although almost all had been in agreement that it preceded the 1311 Vesconte chart, that is not an argument that will be used here. Truth should not be looked for in conformity.

Anyway, there were occasional dissenting voices, as Pujades notes, starting with d'Avezac in 1867. In that case, reference was made to the handwriting, which the author considered had 'tendances gothiques inclinant vers la fin du XIVe siècle'. Gautier Dalché (2011, pp.11-12) concluded that, compared to the earliest dated charts, the Carte Pisane is a clumsy, later copy ('une copie maladroite tardive').

I am not aware that there are any necessary dating implications in the quality of the respective penmanship, whether assured and professional on the one hand (Vesconte) or carelessly amateurish on the other (the Carte Pisane). So, just as supposed palaeographic expertise failed us in the past with the placing of the Luxoro Atlas as early as the 13th century, when it later transpired that its creator was also the author of a chart dated 1421 (Campbell, 1987, p.403), so Motzo wished to co-locate the Carte Pisane with the 'Compasso de navegare' in the second half of the 13th century, on palaeographic grounds. Now Pujades, whose earlier doubts (2013(b) pp.18-19) were based on the fact that the Carte Pisane's author was an amateur, as well as the supposed toponymic anachronisms that form the bulk of his Paris argument, wishes to transfer the Carte Pisane from the end of the 13th to the later 14th century, or even to the 1420s or 1430s. Perhaps an amateur hand is less responsive to changes in scribal fashion, and other factors in the creation of portolan charts could have supported a tendency towards scribal conservatism: for example the requirement for unusually small neat lettering, and what may have been a rigid apprenticeship system, largely isolated from the activity of other purely textual scribes. For whatever reason, it appears that palaeography [in which I am entirely unskilled] is not - at this stage at least - offering to help with a possible dating range of perhaps 150 years for the Carte Pisane, leaving a similarly large uncertainty for the Cortona and Lucca charts as well.

This will not assist those, including myself, who are required to take on trust the confident pronouncements of expert palaeographers from the past, particularly on the occasions when there seems to be no general agreement among them. That said, I am happy to endorse almost all the other amendments to the dating of anonymous charts carried out by Pujades. Whether or not those were made on palaeographic grounds, his judgements are strongly backed up by other factors, notably toponymy.


F.2a. Compass network

As Pujades clearly explains, the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart have features in their compass networks which are not found on other charts (2007, p.476). In each case the outer circle (usually visible thereafter, if at all, only as a line scraped by one arm of a pair of dividers) is here inked in red. The Cortona chart is unique in using a different colour for the two networks, black (?) for the left and red for the right.

The twin networks are entirely contained within the paired outer circles on both the Carte Pisane (apart from some squared extensions) and the Cortona chart. The network on the Riccardiana chart extends only partially beyond the circles, so that sections of the English and Palestine coastlines are left unprovided with compass directions. The 1311 Vesconte chart treats Palestine in the same way. Writing of the 1311 chart's solution to that mathematical problem, Pujades explained that 'as from that moment [1311], on all charts the central wind system was prolonged outside the limits of the circle or circles until it occupied the entire navigable area of the space represented' (2007, p.476).

The cataloguers of the marine charts in the Bibliothèque nationale de France noted that the Carte Pisane's extended red grid, with green diagonals, also operated as a scale, since the side of each square was precisely equivalent to two divisions of the chart's own scale (Foncin, et al., 1963 p.9). None of the above suggests a late date for the Carte Pisane or Cortona chart.

Twin-circle networks remained the norm until the end of the 14th century. The first single-centre instance covering the full usual extent was Soler's undated chart now in Paris (Pujades C 14), followed by Beccari's of 1403. Thereafter single circles become the default, although a double network can be seen on the 1447 Ziroldi chart in the Hispanic Society (Pujades C 45) as well as the unsigned chart in Barcelona (C 50) - see Billion (2013, p.330).

All the four charts under discussion, the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts, have the twin networks. It is worth highlighting, though, the fact that the Cortona and Lucca charts are the only ones to have lowered their systems so that the meeting of the tangential circles occurs south of Sicily [coincidentally, both occupying almost the same position close to Malta], rather than at various points in southern Italy. Whereas, as with other later productions, the circles on the Lucca chart cover the Adriatic and most of the Black Sea, the Cortona's awkward arrangement means that both of those regions languish outside the network. Indeed, since no lines extend beyond its twin circles, virtually the entire Italian coastline is left without the assistance of any compass directions at all. As a corollary, the benefits of the compass network are instead wasted on large empty tracts in Africa. This is surely down to inexperience, since it is hard to see why a later chartmaker, inevitably presented with the standard pattern of his time, would have chosen so impractical an arrangement.

F.2b. Borders

In his 2012 Paris talk, Pujades found similarities between the Lucca chart's "intricate border decorating the graphic scale, which has nothing to do with any of those on extant charts from the 14th century" and the al-Tanji chart that he signed in Tunis in 1413-14 (2013(b), p. 22b). As acknowledged by Pujades, the Arab chartmaker had been much influenced by Christian charts, which surely does not rule out the possibility that a much earlier model had been used for that element, perhaps via a lost intermediary. That is of course speculative, but we need a stronger argument for moving the Lucca chart into the 15th century, given my wide-ranging critical comments up to this point.

F.2c. Scales

Pujades, in the context of his earlier opinion that the Carte Pisane and Cortona charts were the oldest survivors, detailed various archaic elements that they have in common, although the Cortona chart "has already undergone a number of fundamental changes that herald the main traits of future conventions..." (2007, p.481).

Billion (2011(b), p.9a) points out that, "The intersections [on the Lucca chart] are all indicated by vertical lines with circled dots in the middle. This practice is a characteristic of early charts, that is, the Carte Pisane, the Cortona chart and some charts in the Vesconte atlas of 1313. On later charts the smaller intersections are distinguished solely by a point in the middle of the bar". For a visual parade of the later scale bars see Pujades (2007, pp.220-1).

F.2d. Colour

Little needs to be said here under this heading. As has already been demonstrated elsewhere, the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart are the only two survivors not to have distinguished the smaller islands and estuaries by means of different colours (Colour and Shape Analysis). The summary Microsoft Word table of the Colours Used for the Islands, Estuaries, etc. documents the palettes employed by each of the major chartmakers from Vesconte onwards. The Lucca and Riccardiana charts, placed at that stage (2010) after the late work of Vesconte, used just two colours each, whereas Vesconte in 1311 was already using three. The chromatic range increased thereafter, if erratically, until, by the mid-15th century, about six colours were common. No later charts have been observed without that varied colouring, right up into the 18th century.

This convention was apparently introduced into cartography by Vesconte or conceivably by the author of the Riccardiana chart, presumably as a means of greatly improving the charts' readability. Placed against a background of tentative early experimentation by Vesconte followed by universal adoption of that custom, it is hard to envisage a situation in which a 15th-century Carte Pisane would have been produced without that useful colour differentiation.

F.2e. Flags

On the assumption (which my foregoing analysis partly contradicts) that the Carte Pisane and Lucca chart were "executed close to one another, both in time and space" (2013(b) p.22a), Pujades focuses on the flags shown on the Lucca chart to counter the early date suggested by Philipp Billion. He bases his criticism on two different grounds. First, that flag-poles of the type shown on the Lucca chart were only introduced in 1327 by Perrino Vesconte and, second that one of the armorial designs could not be dated earlier than 1336, for historical reasons. The art-historical differences between Pujades and Billion depend over-much on analogies with the very few (and almost certainly unrepresentative) charts that have survived from the earliest period. Clearly, the Lucca chart, with some general similarity to the Carte Pisane in terms of content (though not apparently of dating), was produced elsewhere than Vesconte's Venice, and is the product of a broadly unrelated tradition.

The assertion that the flag of durazzo (No. 864 Durrës), whose emblem is admitted to be partly unreadable on the Lucca chart, must necessarily refer to the period after the end of Angevin rule in 1336 would, if it could be confirmed, constitute very strong evidence. Indeed, given that Pujades ignores, here as well as elsewhere, the fact that there was usually a considerable time-lag between an event and its acknowledgement on the charts - often a generation, if not more (see Specific Name Tables: B. Toponymic time-lag (from physical creation to recognition by mariners) - this could well have pointed to a much later date for the Lucca chart and hence, in his contention, to the Carte Pisane as well. On other grounds, he suggests that the Durazzo device might point to a date as late as 1368 or even 1392. Yet on that same page (22), Pujades points out how Catalan charts continued to ignore the political changes affecting Durrës as late as the 15th century. The blurred, and hence semi-legible, image of its flag in this case, and the lack of any other such supposed anachronisms on the Lucca chart, render this evidence unconvincing.

The Carignano map (produced no later than 1330) has a large number of town standards, which have not apparently been carefully studied. How do those compare to examples on the work of Vesconte and the Lucca chart, as well as the 14th-century Il Libro della Conoscenza di tutti i regni paesi e signorie che isistone nel mondo (Astengo, 2000)? This is surely a valid area for future research.

On the city signs found on the Lucca and other early charts, see Billion's comments and his conclusion that "they can be interpreted as early attempts to create realistic perspective city views" (2011(b), pp.9-11).

Construction and drafting Summary

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 later practitioner.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes
For the details of any publications referred to see the Portolan Chart Bibliography

Part 2. The Carte Pisane's significance reassessed on the basis of a pre-1311 dating

It is hoped that the preceding detailed analysis of the toponymy - both in its general patterns and selected individual instances - as well as the hydrographical and constructional aspects of the Carte Pisane, set alongside the broader context of 14th and early 15th-century portolan chartmaking, will have made a compelling case for restoring it to its former position as the earliest survivor. On that basis the neutral position that has been attempted up to now - where the discussion needed continually (and awkwardly) to refer to the mutually incompatible possibilities of a c.1290 or c.1430 date (not forgetting a c.1380 alternative as well) - can now be abandoned. Instead, on the assumption of a date for the Carte Pisane significantly earlier than 1311, these final sections will seek a better understanding of what it can tell us about the early history of the portolan charts for which it (and to a lesser extent the Cortona and Lucca charts) are the only witnesses. First, we return to deal with some outstanding toponymic issues and, finally, summarise how the Carte Pisane might throw indirect light on the origin of the portolan charts while documenting their earliest history.


Toponymy II



Detailed data: Column 22 in the Excel spreadsheet listing of almost 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes

The eighty-four names in the present selection are found on one or more of the Carte Pisane, Cortona or Lucca charts - with, selectively, the chart in the Riccardiana Library in Florence (Pujades C 4) - and are then not seen after 1330 (unless they reappeared in the 15th century). Falling into one of three categories (Archaic, Discarded or Reinstated), this subset can be found by selecting Column 22 in the full toponymic Excel spreadsheet.

In half these instances the name has not been noted elsewhere. On its own, that does not constitute comparative data powerful enough to have assisted the debate about the age of the Carte Pisane, Cortona or Lucca charts. However, with the Carte Pisane's very early dating reaffirmed, that sub-group isolates the toponyms that are the exclusive hallmark of those three charts when considered together [to see how they are shared select Column 23 for the codes ranging between 501 and 603]. What is not included in the 'Archaic' category is the sizeable number of names found uniquely on the Carte Pisane, Cortona or Lucca chart alone, since they have, as yet, no proper chronological or lineage context.

45% of those toponyms are also seen in one or other of the two texts, the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso', which are definitely (in the first case) and probably (in the second) earlier than the first possible date for the Carte Pisane's own construction. These names, some of which could perhaps have been available to Vesconte, were nevertheless not incorporated into his charts. Hence, the justification for calling those 'archaic' lies in their presence in 13th-century maritime texts coupled with their lack of subsequent documentation in the 14th century.

Transcriptions, sometimes tentative, are included for the two portolani, as well as for the Carte Pisane and the Cortona chart (in Columns Q-T). Those for the 'Liber' are taken from Gautier Dalché (1995), and 'Lo compasso's readings from Debanne (2011). For the Lucca and Riccardiana charts, on the other hand, their columns (U & V) indicate no more than the apparent presence or absence of a name, but not its actual form. Increasing numerals are used to reflect diminishing legibility, with only the more confident readings of '1' or '2' being included in the various analyses. Column W uses a hash (#) to indicate the incidence of a name on the Carignano map (drawn no later than 1330) four of whose toponyms occur in this analysis. [For background on the Carignano map see Brief notes on the main documents discussed.]

The 84 names have been divided into three distinct groups:

Archaic (55 names). These were not considered in the investigation carried out in the 1980s that led to the chapter in The History of Cartography (1987 - see pp. 415- & Appendix 19.5). 'Archaic' names are deemed to be those found on one or more of the Carte Pisane, Cortona or Lucca charts, but not on other charts (apart from one Carignano map instance).

Four of the entries involve much later revivals of earlier names found subsequently, not on a chart but on various 15th-century portolani, as documented by Kretschmer (1909). Those instances are picked out in brown in the Comments column (X). This applies particularly to names found in the version printed in Venice by Bernardino Rizo in 1490. This suggests that the toponymic transfer between portolani may have been partly independent of the mechanism in use among chartmakers. [For a comprehensive list of the unique, rare or reinstated portolani instances see Column 40.]

Discarded (12 names). These can be seen among the 'Foundation Names' on the earliest productions of Pietro Vesconte (1311 and 1313). They were then included by him up to the time of one of his final works (1327 or perhaps c.1330), but were ignored by successor chartmakers thereafter. Exceptions to that are one or more of the group of four anonymous Genoese works assigned by Pujades to the second quarter of the 14th century (C 9bis, A 9, C 10 & C 11).

[Note. The ten names that disappeared between 1401 and 1430 (Column 37, and also included in the totals in Black and red names considered together - Table E, 5th column) are not signalled in that way in Column 22 of the Excel spreadsheet.]

The Riccardiana chart's unquestioned assignment to the first quarter of the 14th century gives added significance to the fact that it includes a third of those toponyms that were the first to be abandoned. The close similarity between the Riccardiana's pattern of red name incidence described above (Red name 'Precursors') and those on the four, slightly later works (also Genoese, just mentioned) makes it likely that when the Riccardiana chart's overall toponymy has been analysed in depth (so far only the red names have been systematically documented), it will likewise be seen to look forward rather than backwards. Indeed, only one of its names, No.891 goeniza, occurs in the next, 'Reinstated' category and none in the larger 'Archaic' one.

Reinstated (17 names). As has been demonstrated more than once already, portolan chart toponymy displays numerous inconsistencies. Names that had been common might be abandoned, but then revived much later, perhaps as a regular feature of the charts, whereas others occur infrequently and erratically over the centuries. For that reason, names that would, for this part of the exercise, need to have qualified solely on the basis of their absence from any dated production, have nevertheless been included if their observed reinstatement dates from later than 1400. Their revival in a later period might reflect either borrowing from an old chart or a fresh introduction. The orthographic forms involed might assist in making that distinctiion.

To assist in understanding the sharing of these Archaic, Discarded and Reinstated names between the two portolani and three charts, a system of coding was devised [Column 23 - for which you will need to see the separate Explanatory notes ]. Starting with the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso', it then treats, in this order, the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts.

Just two names, No. 1576 carse / tarsa (Egypt) and 1733 marsa de gega (Algeria) were found on all five works and additionally on the Riccardiana chart. Those were both original 'Vescontian' names but are examples of those that did not survive beyond the final works of that chartmaking atelier. Next come those toponyms found on both of the early portolani as well as on the three charts on which we have mainly focused (code 201). Among other categories - to give some examples - are duplicated appearances on the 'Liber' and the three charts (301), 'Lo compasso' and the Carte Pisane only (404), and the three charts alone (501). The largest numbers of concurrences come with the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, in various combinations (501-603 - in all, 45 instances).

It is hoped that two broad claims may be permitted. First, that the presence of an 'archaic' name on one or other of the portolani establishes it as forming part of the wider context of 13th-century littoral toponymy. A little under half the 84 names fall into that category. That the proportion is not higher need not be considered significant since it may merely highlight the different priorities of a pilot book and a chart.

The second general assertion is that the level of exclusively shared incidence between the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts (referred to above) allows them, to a certain extent, to be considered together - as Pujades has indeed demonstrated with his analysis of some individual toponyms. This suggests the strong likelihood that their content (though not necessarily their actual drafting) has a broadly similar date. On that basis it may be acceptable to extrapolate provisionally from any two to the third, so that toponyms anticipated on either of the 13th-century portolani, then found on two out of the three charts being discussed, and not noted thereafter, can be classified as part of a broadly common, early toponymic pool. Just under 60% of the entries in this group of 84 names occur on two out of the three charts, with a further 20% found equally on a single chart or on all three. All the larger concurrency totals involve the Carte Pisane, just 14 of whose names are not involved.

In other words, while only 38 (45%) of the names considered here are of proven 13th-century provenance (even if no chart definitely survives from that era), none was evidently in use on charts after 1330, except for the occasional 15th or even 16th-century revivals. In that sense at least, the few Riccardiana and Carignano names fit into that pre-1330 context.

It is worth adding at this point a general comment about the toponymic totals found on early charts. Pujades had already noted, in the context of the Riccardiana chart that, along with other features, including the "toponomy (the coastal toponyms amount to fewer than 1,300 as opposed to the over 1,700 in the 1327 chart of Perrino Vesconte or the over 1,600 in that of Angelino de Dulceto, from 1330) loudly proclaim that the chart must be from the first quarter of the 14th century" (2007, p.447, note 4). Debanne (2011) p.17 notes that the Carte Pisane has 662 terraferma names, and 265 for islands. [My own total for the Carte Pisane's continental names is 677, which, making allowance for its missing sections, would be the equivalent of no more than around 850 toponyms altogether.]


84 names, found on one or more of the three charts, were not then seen after 1330 (unless revived in the 15th century or later). Almost half of these rare names are also found on one or both of the 13th-century portolani. The exclusive incidences between the three charts allow us to extrapolate provisionally from any two to the third, so that toponyms anticipated on a 13th-century portolano, then found on two out of the three charts, and not noted thereafter, can be fairly classified as part of a broadly common, pre-1330 toponymic pool.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


This question is inevitably bound up with linguistic elements in the Carte Pisane's own toponymy as well as that of the two works related to it, the Cortona and Lucca charts. Pujades devoted part of his 2012 Paris paper to the question of dialectic aspects of the Carte Pisane's toponyms, drawing from those, inter alia, implications about its most likely place of origin. "This and many other linguistic features that I do not have space to discuss here in the depth I would like, clearly point towards a central or southern Italian dialect. Many of these peculiar linguistic traits uncharacteristic of Tuscans or Ligurians are present on the Lucca Chart as well, which also bears a disproportionate, exclusive representation of a secondary Neapolitan city like Gaeta, offering us a key for deducing that perhaps both works could have been created in the Kingdom of Naples" (2013(b), p.21b, see also 25-6).

The linguistic historian Alessandra Debanne concluded that the Carte Pisane's toponymy was definitely Italian, even if it was possible to observe the author's attempt to approximate to phonetic forms [specifically 'forma fonetica encorica'], a feature that she said was difficult to find in later charts (2011, p.17). Billion, who commented on the Lucca chart's range of dialect variations, concluded that its toponyms 'cannot be classified simply as either Italian or Catalan names' (2011, p.7).

But can regional differences in spelling be a reliable pointer to a chart's place of production? Arguments about linguistic norms need to be set against the very real disparity between the three charts under investigation, both from each other and from all other extant charts. This may demonstrate that the search for 'norms' or expected patterns may prove to be a chimera.

A small scribal device (not noted by other researchers?) provides an additional link between the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart, namely the fact that the prefixes for porto and golfo are sometimes written with a full-stop either side of the abbreviation, 'p or 'g'. This can be seen more frequently on the Cortona chart, but interestingly was not observed on the Lucca chart, which is more obviously a linear descendant of the Carte Pisane. This device should be distinguished from the use of a terminal full-stop only after the place-name, which is a distinctive feature of the work of Francesco Cesanis, and can also be seen on the Medici Atlas (on this see Pujades, 2007 p.495a and note 116 on p.504).

The exclusive toponymic overlap between the Carte Pisane and the Cortona chart can be observed in the relevant shared codes in Column 21 (for which the separate Explanatory notes are essential). Whereas those highlight what is presumably imitation or common sources, the Cortona chart's 'no antecedents' (Column 18) - on the basis of an assumed date prior to 1311 - finds 110 toponyms not present on the Carte Pisane nor on the 12th and 13th-century texts discussed in these webpages. The overlap between the Carte Pisane and the Cortona chart (which can be gauged by sorting on Columns 12 & 17, then reversing the order) is as follows: shared (413 names), Carte Pisane alone (268), Cortona chart alone (188). The relationship between them, neither close nor distant, but with less than half the names shared, leaves the disentangling of their evident connection for future research.

As regards the Lucca chart, both Billion (2011) and Pujades (20139(b)) were concerned to emphasise similarities between that and the Carte Pisane. For Billion, this provided a supposed anchor for a very early dating of the Lucca chart; for Pujades, the Lucca's supposed anachronisms helped to drag the Carte Pisane along with it into the 15th century.

It is clear that the Lucca chart does share several otherwise rare or unique features with the Carte Pisane. Sorting on Column 12, then 19, then 21 isolates around 80 instances (classified according to the codes in Column 21, as listed on the Explanation page). The 'guardate, guardate' warning in the sea south-east of Italy is just the most obvious of those repetitions (though not listed in the spreadsheet). Pujades draws a number of implications from that supposedly close connection. "The problem is that, although this was not noted by Billion, the Lucca Chart contains a significant number of elements forcing it to be objectively dated to between the very late 14th century and the first decades of the 15th. Fortunately, some of these elements are also present on the Pisana Chart, which now offer us strong arguments for questioning its commonly accepted dating, and, by extension, that of the Cortona Chart" (2013(b), p.19a).

Following Pujades in accepting the close connection between the Carte Pisane and the Lucca chart, I would emphasise instead an apparent gap in their dating of up to three decades. It would appear that, wherever they were made, the subsidiary centre involved might have had its own continuing chartmaking tradition, possibly extending over at least a generation. On the assumption that charts alone, and not the more durable atlases, were produced in that unknown centre, the survival of just two exemplars would not be unexpected, since there are no more than a pair of extant Vesconte charts for the period 1311-1327 (or 1330), which represent (it seems) the work of two different people, Pietro and Perrino.

The Pujades strictures about the quality of its draughtsmanship notwithstanding, the Carte Pisane's scribal and other failings can plausibly be attributed to a very early date, well before the development of what seems to have been the first professional chartmaking business established by the Vescontes. On the other hand, the same excuses cannot be made for the Lucca chart, with a likely date during the Vescontian period. Its clumsy workmanship is described elsewhere: Brief notes on the main documents discussed in this essay.

Speculation about the place of origin of the Carte Pisane has thrown up the possibility of Naples (Pujades, 2013(b), p.21b) and, for the Lucca chart, Gaeta or Pisa, because of the prominent way they were illustrated (Billion, 2011, pp.10-11, 14). There is little purpose in adding to these hypotheses beyond pointing out a feature that seems not to have been observed by others. Column S on the Excel toponymic listing distinguishes those names that are included on the Carte Pisane without appearing in the earliest work of Vesconte by picking them out in pink. When viewed in the default geographical sequence (i.e. sorted on Columns A & B) five such names appear next to Rome, falu, foce picola (between No. 528 Santa Severa and 529 Rome) and foce de roma, paterno, sca laurensa (between Rome and 532 Cabo d'Anzio). There may no significance in this but the names are very rare. falu is found (apparently) on the Lucca chart and foce de roma occurs in 'Lo compasso de navegare'. Otherwise they seem to be unique to the Carte Pisane.

Might this perhaps be a reflection of local knowledge about the creator's home port? Enticing, but probably unlikely, given that no charts are known to have been produced in Rome until Benincasa signed three atlases from there in 1467. Moreover, Rome's port (No. 530 Ostia), although mentioned in the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum', is not named on the Carte Pisane. It is, however, included on the Lucca chart. Ostia's first dated appearance is on the Dalorto/Dulceti chart of 1330. There are other 'pink' names further to the south, including another five to the north of 548 Naples, but those are not clustered, and none is close to either 538 Gaeta or Naples itself. Nor are there any in the vicinity of Billion's other candidate for the Lucca chart's creation, 503 Pisa. Groupings of unrecognisable names on the Carte Pisane, like those around Rome, are unusual. The only other comparable sequence occurs between No.1383 Izmir and 1412 messi along the west coast of Asia Minor, and that may in part be the result of the chart's creator, or this historian, failing to recognise some toponyms as distorted versions of those already recorded.

In any event, the search for evidence that a chartmaker's home port might be silently signalled by means of toponymic density may be misplaced. Cola de Briaticho was unusual in upgrading to red in his atlas of 1430 the name of the relatively insignificant Calabrian port from which he took his name but Giovanni da Carignano, a priest in Genoa, offered surprisingly few names along the coast either side of that city.


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.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


A previous section (C.3. Toponymic time-lag (delay in the repetition of new toponyms)) used earlier research - Pujades's and my own - to look statistically at the routes new 14th-century names took subsequently as they passed between chartmakers. Here, in a necessarily speculative passage, we will attempt to understand the mechanisms involved: first the way that toponyms reached a chart in the first place, then the way that names were subsequently disseminated, third, phonetic variation, and lastly the role of oral or textual corruption.

Incorporation of toponyms
Not all the toponyms brought to a chartmaker's notice could have been included. It is easy to envisage a range of possible reasons for rejecting a proffered name. In some cases, if the chartmaker's handwriting was not sufficiently miniscule, there would have been insufficient room anyway. As noted elsewhere (see Toponymic Innovations) each identified chartmaker up to 1440 has been observed to have introduced at least one name not previously noted, which must surely point to the large number of minor variations in the toponymic lists in use at any given period or place, perhaps related to privileged information from different preferred advisers.

It is likely that an informant would have personally provided toponymic information to a specific chartmaker, perhaps involving repeated transfers: for example each time he returned from a voyage. In a few cases a concentration of added names in one area clearly indicates a transfer from a single new source (for instance in the work of Francesco Beccari - see Innovative Portolan Chart Names). Those additions might or might not be imitated subsequently by other practitioners.

Knowledge of a particular place or feature would not of itself be sufficient for its inclusion. Chartmakers must have intentionally omitted many toponyms, for a variety of reasons. That the same name appeared on different charts is not necessarily evidence of transmission between chartmakers. Some instances will be the result instead of unconnected oral re-introductions. The process was not a systematic one. It was always individual, often random, and dependent on numerous chance factors. There is no justification for seeing it as a progressive or necessarily evolutionary process. However, it is likely that a place of any significance to mariners would eventually be recognised on the charts.

It seems safe to assume that few of the names on portolan productions were taken from literary sources. Instead, as described by Francesco Beccari on his chart of 1403, it was 'masters, ship-owners, skippers and pilots' who were his informants (Campbell, 1987, pp.427-8 - Pujades includes the full un-translated text, 2007, p.461). Names would have been gathered by seafarers on the basis of their own local knowledge or when they travelled abroad, and in the form they were told was then in use. That information might then be passed on to a chartmaker. This meant that two oral/aural stages could have been involved. What was said by the local informant might be misheard. Even if remembered carefully, the same could happen when the information was passed, perhaps months later, to a specific chartmaker. He, in turn, might misunderstand or intentionally adapt what he had heard to suit his linguistic preferences. Finally the names that had been selected were sold back to mariners in the form of a working portolan chart. As a result of subsequent usage, this might lead to later correction, perhaps of the name's pronunciation, in the same way as it had been introduced in the first place.

Toponymic dissemination
Once a name had been introduced to the charts by one practitioner it might or might not be replicated by others. It could have been expected that a chartmaker would have made a close copy of an existing chart, including its toponymy, perhaps by following his former master or another respected practitioner. That would result in something approaching a clone of the model used. Even if it did not incorporate every detail or toponym from the original, it would have been unlikely to include anything of significance that was not present on the model. In practice, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find evidence of this since no surviving chart has been based directly on any other extant work, with the possible exception of multiple works by a single author.

It is improbable that any practitioner would have had the time, inclination or ability, to make a careful toponymic selection from the names seen on different pre-existing charts. Even if the concept of a comprehensive toponymic store into which each chartmaker could dip is theoretically attractive there is no trace of this, and such a source is highly implausible. So how did they operate in practice?

Because of the high survival rate of the bound volumes of charts produced by what were apparently two Vescontes, Pietro and Perrino, we have a good idea of their growing toponymic knowledge. For the most part, once a name was introduced it was there to stay, although it is not unusual to find a regular name omitted or, conversely, rare introductions. Indeed, it is the mutually exclusive innovations seen on the two latest Vesconte works (the undated Sanudo volume in the British Library, Add. MS 27376*, and Perrino's chart of 1327) that leave the dating of the volume uncertain (see Add. 27376*). While they share uniquely a group of late Vescontian names, each has several toponyms not found on the other.

It is logical to assume that the introduction of new names on at least five different occasions (after the 'Foundation Names' of 1311-13 and treating the four middle-period works together) reflected newly received information, whether orally from a succession of unknown intermediaries, from written documents, or via the work of other chartmakers (hypothetical for that period). However, it is not impossible that Vesconte might have returned several times to an earlier source (conceivably a textual one) to extract further names.

This means, in principle, that if somebody, say the author of the Riccardiana chart, had been copying from a single Vesconte chart or volume we would be able to identify the Vescontian 'edition' involved. Does it lack all names introduced after 1313, for example; or does it include each of the c.1320-21 additions? Would he, and others, have returned regularly to Vescontian productions for updates? Here, as often elsewhere, there are no neat answers. From Black and red names considered together (Table A) it can be seen that, if he was using Vesconte as his source, the Riccardiana charts' author incorporated 20% of the new 'Vescontian' names, but significantly this proportion was spread across all the successive introductions.

There is a comparable situation when we look again at the 'Precursor' names on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts. Now that those no longer need to be considered as potential anachronisms, and now looking the other way down the telescope, we need to ask how those toponyms might have migrated, presumably indirectly, from the Carte Pisane, in particular, to become apparent innovations on the charts of the Vescontes and Dulceti. The way that such innovations were introduced at a steady rate into dated works of the period 1313-1339 (see Black and red names considered together - Table A), rather than as single large additions, would seem to indicate very indirect and tenuous links between the place(s) where the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts might have been produced and Venice or Majorca.

Looking at the even later adoptions of Precursor names, even if a few sometimes found their way together onto a single chart there is no clear pattern, rather a fissiparous process with re-emergences in different periods, on the work of various chartmakers and even on individual productions. The question can be easily posed but the most truthful answer is that we cannot readily identify any coherent system of transmission routes. It is as if a complex reality is actively defying generalisation. Whether such reappearances indicated borrowing from a much earlier chart, whether they might point to separate lineages, perhaps in chart backwaters that have left no trace, or whether they were simply reintroductions, they would all feed into the observation that runs through these pages: namely that, until we find the key, much toponymic transmission will remain apparently random and erratic.

For more on toponymic transmission see the earlier sections C.3, C.4 & G.5

Toponymic variation
It is not helpful to see portolan chart toponyms as forming part of an organised system of discrete, distinct and fixed entities but rather as consisting of variations: some trifling, some recognisably different and some ambiguously confusing. When the identified variants have been set down - as has been done generally for fifteen charts and atlases by Capacci (1994), and comprehensively for the Black Sea in the publications of Gordyeyev - they sometimes form a logical continuum, but one that can leave the forms at either end looking very different from those in the middle. See, for example: almognecha, muleca, salmonica [i.e. No.299 Almuñécar] (Capacci, 1994, p. 403) and penderachia, ponta rana, pondara, raclnia [1306 Eregli] (Gordyeyev, 2014, p.26).

It is tempting, as some have done, to speculate that two dissimilar toponyms are definitely or probably alternatives for a single name and should therefore be merged. One sample instance is 347b porto zenoese, which Pujades combines with Moraira (2007, p.388). Among the more prominent examples that can be cited are 453 Olivula, first noted with its modern name Villefranche in 1455, and 656/657 Sipanto being replaced, in reality, by Manfredonia (after 1256) [even if Vesconte started with the second name and then added Sipanto much later on]. The conflation of Oriola and the river Segura by Pujades (mistakenly in my view) is discussed elsewhere (Oriola). But unless an identification can be justified by other historical evidence, or by reference to a well-documented continuum of the sort mentioned above, it will be no more than a hypothesis, and very likely a confusing one. Orthographic match-making of that kind has therefore been carefully avoided in these pages.

The Excel listing treats distinct name forms separately, placing them next to one another under a common modern name if that has been proposed by others, or, in a few cases, suggesting a possible link between two or more relevant entries via a note in the 'Comments' column [X] of that spreadsheet. But the information about each clearly distinct variant has been intentionally kept separate. Even if the historian knows that two forms refer to the same place, we cannot assume that the chart copyist had access to that information. Indeed, there are several occasions when a toponym has been duplicated under different forms or in slightly different locations. Whether a chart was an imitation of one by another practitioner, or was reproduced within an atelier, it is the name actually present in front of the copyist's eyes that will have been relevant for him.

The different orthographic forms may, perhaps, represent successive alternatives for the same place (see, for example, No.283 Algeciras: c.isalcaldera, zizera, algecira) in which case it is useful to know the first and last dates during which each has been recorded (though their respective usages will almost certainly overlap). But this history of portolan charts concentrates on the manuscripts themselves and how the names were first gathered and then transmitted to others. In other words, it is primarily concerned with cartographic history, rather than an imaginative reconstruction of oral history.

Nor is the absence of archival documentation necessarily a major defect. Even if any researcher would have the time and expertise to investigate in detail the early history of nearly 3, 000 names - presumably by labouring in scores of archives - would that necessarily unearth the information needed? Administrative archives will sometimes provide essential information about the creation, or perhaps abandonment, of a harbour or coastal settlement, and they can supply the 'official' name for a place at a given time. This will undoubtedly provide vital information for political and administrative historians. Yet the community that depended on their use when travelling would surely have preferred the toponyms on their charts to reflect widespread spoken usage, or specific local variations, rather than any form that might be employed in official circles.

Toponymic corruption
It is likely that names arrived by various routes, with different pronunciations or even in recognisably different forms. Sometimes this must have lead to duplication, with the two versions being treated as distinct toponyms. Such subsequent transmissions will be hard to identify, but that possibility needs to be separated from alterations due to scribal replication, possibly involving a degree of transformation. Some of the repeated identifications may have been garbled by the middle-man informant, thus introducing immediate toponymic corruption, as distinct from that resulting, over time, from any careless copying. Transmission via copying (rather than from fresh information) allows us to use variant forms to indicate different sources. Name variation, or mutation, might also have been due to the error of a copyist who was not familiar with the toponym in the way a sailor would have been - hence the long s, for example, will sometimes be confused with f. Occasionally a two-word toponym is split into two distinct entities; in other cases a pair of toponyms might be joined. Anton Gordyeyev (private communication) points out that a mid 16th-century invention, No.1318b stutulurca, is likely to derive from the toponymic merging of nearby scutari and lerta.

It often took a long time for chartmakers to expunge from the charts a toponym that would no longer have had any relevance for mariners (for examples, see Abandoned portolan chart names and Red names of overseas trading-posts [towards the end]). In some cases those might represent previously unrecognised variants of the same place. But, if so, they represented no more than irrelevant clutter, rather than any real inconvenience. Perhaps some of the names that were distorted beyond recognition remained on the charts accidentally, alongside the more correct form, since it is hard to imagine that erroneous toponyms were left there intentionally - any more than vigies, imaginary rocks or islets.

The above has bearing on the otherwise unrecorded names on the Carte Pisane and the other early anonymous charts. Are they corruptions? Some of the 'unique' Carte Pisane names may have been misheard or misunderstood by the informant or chartmaker; alternatively, they might be dialect variations, or earlier forms of those found routinely from 1311 onwards. However, this was presumably not the case with the Carte Pisane's saints names (a little under 10% of its 'unique' instances), or other fully plausible toponyms. In a few instances the Carte Pisane form is similar to that of a usual nearby name, which was sometimes included as well. The chartmaker must have been unaware that he had included two toponyms for the same place. Such duplication might have been the result of a second, independent report, rather than corruption. If so, it gives us a further glimpse into the prehistory, and oral history, of the charts.

Other peculiarities may well result from the significant legibility problems affecting the Carte Pisane, leading to some improbable letter combinations in the version by the Jomard copyist and in my own transcriptions. On the other hand, some Carte Pisane toponyms, not found on Vescontian charts, are indeed corroborated in one of three ways: in the early written nautical guides (the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso'), in the other charts in the study group, or in later dated works.

That there was no replication of those unique names is a further argument against the contention that the Carte Pisane is a late copy. On the other hand, if some of those unrecognised toponyms can be shown to be corruptions of known names (as distinct from local or phonetic variations), very real questions would arise: where would those misunderstandings have emanated from, why were they not reproduced by others, and why do post-Vescontian charts, in general, not reveal similar patterns of toponymic distortion?

How could portolan charts have retained their usefulness as a medium for toponymic communication if each chartmaker was to have introduced his own dialect preferences and then sold the resulting charts from his home port to like-minded customers only? The peripatetic life of a mariner, who must often have needed to replace a lost or damaged chart wherever he was, would seem to make that scenario unlikely even if the trans-Mediterranean trade in charts documented by Pujades (see The chart trade for references) did not provide the evidence to disprove it.

Nor could the portolan chart have survived as a functional tool if its practitioners distorted through ignorance the forms found when copying the charts of others. What mechanism would have been in place to restore unintelligible corrupted forms to recognisable usefulness? At least until the latter 16th century, when extensive distortion seems to coincide with a reduction in the practical role played by the charts, there is little evidence of progressive, uncorrected deterioration. There was of course a wide spectrum of orthographic variation in portolan chart toponymy. Any patterns in its development over the centuries would be a worthy subject for future analysis. The charts might prove valuable witnesses to changing local pronunciation (in an era before conventional spelling) though such data would not in itself be reliable evidence of vernacular usage.


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; indeed, names must frequently have been independently re-introduced. This history of portolan charts concentrates on the manuscripts themselves and how the names were first gathered and then transmitted to others; it is primarily concerned with cartographic history, rather than any attempt to recreate oral history.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


There will doubtless be continued discussion about the unusual dialect elements in the Carte Pisane's toponymy but the distinctiveness of so many of the names found there and on the Cortona and Lucca charts is in marked contrast to the Vescontian names that were to dominate thereafter. What the Carte Pisane offers us, I am claiming, is not just a significantly earlier view of the Mediterranean world than that seen in the 1311/13 Vesconte productions but one that was noticeably dissimilar from everything else. The Carte Pisane has no obvious affinities with the work of Giovanni da Carignano, the unknown author of the Riccardiana chart, or the group of four anonymous works assigned by Pujades to the second quarter of the 14th century (all five produced in Genoa), any more than with Vesconte in Venice. Wherever the Cortona and Lucca charts were produced - with the Lucca chart datable perhaps one or more decades later than the other - their tenuous connections with Genoa or Venice more plausibly indicate antecedence rather than borrowings, and their numerous unique features should surely be considered a mark of separate development.

The difficulty lies in separating out the assessment of date from that of the chart's lineage, its 'school'.

Whichever port(s) produced the late-13th-century (?) Carte Pisane, the probably very early Cortona chart, and the Lucca chart that appears to have been contemporary with Vesconte, they seem to represent one or perhaps two independent centres for the production of utilitarian charts. The Carte Pisane was evidently created earlier than any other known chart but, if the authors of the Cortona or Lucca chart were working at the same time as the earliest practitioners in the three places known to have been creating portolan charts, Venice, Genoa and Palma in Majorca, they must have been broadly unaware of what was taking place there.

Such parallel development, which can be clearly seen later in the divergence between Venetian and Catalan work in the first half of the 15th-century, disrupts any neat narrative of steady development from a single pre-Vescontian source. The Carte Pisane and the Cortona chart, the recently discovered Lucca chart, and the Riccardiana chart (only brought into the discussion about early marine cartography by Pujades a few years ago) all now need to be assigned to a portolan chart 'hall of fame' and scrutinised for what they may be able to tell us about the pre-history and earliest development of these extraordinary documents.

If the Carte Pisane was not produced in either Genoa or Venice, how important were those cities in the portolan charts' early history? We know that Vesconte was Genoese-born, because he says so on his charts; but it is unclear where he was established up to 1318 when he first includes Venice in his imprint. In his 1313 atlas, for example, he signs simply: 'Petrus vesconte de Janua fecit', with no mention of Venice. The statement on the 1311 chart is partly trimmed away at the neck but from what remains it is clear that it would not have mentioned Venice either. This point could be important because of the implications that might flow from it. Was Vesconte already in Venice in 1311 or did he move there from Genoa at some point in the period 1313-18? Given the sophistication of his earliest surviving work is it not likely that he had been making portolan charts for some time previously? In a parallel instance, some of the toponyms on the map by Giovanni da Carignano, whose death occurred no later than 1330, while apparently anticipating the work of Dalorto/Dulceti (fl.1330-c.40), more plausibly point to reliance on a lost earlier work by that innovative chartmaker, whose cartography (if not necessarily his birth) was evidently Genoese (Pujades, 2007, p. 491).

We can surely assume that chartmakers active in the port area of the same Italian city would be aware of each other's work even if that might not have applied so readily to those practising on different sides of the country. Equally, the seafaring contacts available in Genoa would probably have been rather different to those found in Venice. From that it follows that a chartmaker's additions, whether toponymic or hydrographic, are likely to relate more to their location at the time than to their earlier experience.

Vesconte may have brought his coastal outlines with him from Genoa but most, if not all, his toponymic innovations could have been collected in Venice. But might some of those names introduced onto his charts between 1313 and 1318 (for which we have no record) have been 'Genoese'? Is there, for example, a discernible change in his geographical emphasis before and after 1318? The figures in the 2012 Word table, Table 1. Addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline [on dated works], distinguish the total innovations for the western Mediterranean on the one hand (sections 5-10) and on the Adriatic and Morea on the other (11-16). Whereas for Vesconte's initial period (the 'Foundation Names', 1311-13) there are more toponyms for the sea in which Genoa sits, thereafter (for each of the the periods, first up to 1318 and then c.1321 onwards) more than twice as many were introduced for the Adriatic, where Venice held sway. Those figures are indicative rather than conclusive, and based on a survey that has since been expanded. Also, it could be argued that there is likely to have been more alteration to the toponymy of a region with which the chartmaker was not already familiar. Nevertheless, the indication from those figures may be that Vesconte was already in Venice by or soon after 1313.

To pursue this beyond Vesconte himself, if the names on what appear to be the earliest surviving Genoese productions - the Riccardiana chart (probably no later than 1320 and perhaps somewhat earlier) and the Carignano map (c.1325-30) - were to be carefully studied, their relationship to the documented introductions on successive Vescontian charts might have bearing on their own respective datings.

While the reassignment of a very early date to the Carte Pisane seems to reduce the primary importance of both Genoa and Venice in the formative stages of portolan chart history, the significance of Venice from at least 1318, but very likely before that, is undeniable. Future research could with advantage be directed at these points, which are likely to help in disentangling the toponymic lineages and, simultaneously, clarifying what knowledge came first to Genoa and what originated in Venice.

The following article, which I am unfortunately unable to read, may throw new light on the question of Vesconte's move to Venice, see Anton Gordyeyev, [Russian title, and:] 'Analysis of toponyms on portolan charts of Pietro Veskonte dated 1311–1321', Izvestiya RAN. Geographical Series 6 (2014): 123-36. [In Russian, but click 'more', twice, on the Academia entry to see an English abstract, which includes the following: "The hypothesis of migration of cartographer from Genoa to Venice after 1313 is tested. The influence of Marino Sanudo on the edition of toponyms of western part of the Black Sea on the portolan charts of Pietro Veskonte dated 1320–1321".]

On the general question of transmission see further: Toponymic Innovations and in particular its section on 'Toponymic transmission after 1313'


The Carte Pisane is both earlier than any other charts and dissimilar to them all. Since it and the 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 much reduced, although the significance of Venice from at least 1318 is undeniable.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Related Table: Table F. 'The Carte Pisane compared to the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso', and to the work of Vesconte and Dulceti'

Detailed data: Excel spreadsheet listing over 3,000 names. Before using the analytical columns you are advised to consult the Explanatory Notes

The first part of this essay's analysis of place-names (Toponymy I) had started with the 'Vescontian' names and then related those to the Carte Pisane. Now that an alternate chronology has been [re]established, it is worth reversing that exercise and considering the extent of possible overlap between the sources used by the Carte Pisane's unknown author and those available to the Genoese-born Vesconte, presumably (but not necessarily) then working in Venice. Instead of noting totals of 'Vescontian' names found on the Carte Pisane and the three other anonymous charts, as had been done before, we need to focus here on the proportion of what we should now call 'Pisanian' names found later in the charts of Vesconte. ['Pisan' would unjustifiably suggest an origin in that city.] How many of the Carte Pisane's toponyms, absent from the 12th-century Crusader texts and the two 13th-century portolani, the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso', may - subject to much broader checking - have as yet no recorded antecedents?

Table F, 'The Carte Pisane compared to the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso', and to the work of Vesconte and Dulceti', analyses these questions of primacy and borrowing, from the point of view of the Carte Pisane. The works being considered are not securely dated; indeed, that point remains a matter of contention in each case. For this exercise, the 'Liber' is assumed to date from the early 13th century and the original text of 'Lo compasso' to have been compiled between the founding of No. 391 Palamos (1279) and the date of the surviving exemplar (January 1296, or 1295). Even though the proposed approximate dating for the Carte Pisane is 1290, it is not suggested that it predates 'Lo compasso' (although it might). In any event it is highly unlikely that the two had any direct connection and only about 60% of the Carte Pisane's names can be seen on 'Lo compasso'.

All the statistics in Table F concentrate on the Carte Pisane, relating that first of all to the various textual sources that precede it and then to the toponymy seen on the three earliest periods of dated charts that followed it, namely: 'Foundation Names' (Vesconte, 1311-1313), 'Vesconte additions' (1313, i.e. the names indicated in green in the Excel listing, and then up to 1327), and 'Dulceti additions' (1330-39). The 'Excel column numbers' suggest the most effective strategy for retrieving from the spreadsheet the full details of the individual toponyms referred to in each sub-total. Further comments in the Table's notes serve the same purpose: to lead from the bald statistic to the core evidence provided by the actual instances.

The 'Carte Pisane pre-empts' figure, one for each of the three time periods, indicates the number of instances found equally on the Carte Pisane and in the individual or combined texts listed in the left-hand column. So, for example, for the 'Foundation Names' section, whereas the Carte Pisane 'pre-empts' 507 of those altogether (almost exactly half the possible total) only 127 of them were not also pre-figured in those 13th-century pilot books (third row from the end: 'not in either of the portolani'). That pre-empted total was itself reduced a little to 120 because seven of the names can be found in the 12th-century Crusader texts.

That and the other brown numbers in the final row highlight four aspects of the Carte Pisane's originality: the number of its toponyms that were not observed in any of the Crusader texts or in the pages of the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' - both analysed by Patrick Gautier Dalché (1995) - or in those of 'Lo compasso', transcribed and edited by Alessandra Debanne (2011). 219 toponyms fall into those categories.

It is helpful to start with a summary of the toponymic totals relating to this range of documents: the concurrences and the exceptions. Four of Table F's columns indicate the Column numbers in the analytical (yellow-headed) section of the Excel spreadsheet, which provide corroboration for the figures below and allow the individual instances to be retrieved.

Total of legible or semi-legible names between northern France and west Morocco: 681

Total of the 1004 Vesconte 'Foundation Names' it pre-empts: 507 (50 %) [Column 24, then 12]:

    Pre-empting the three periods from 1311 onwards mentioned above (respective totals: 120, 13 and 4)

    Total anticipated on the Crusader texts or on one of the two early portolani: 460 [Column 12, then 7]

    No known antecedents: 219 (the brown figure, including about 70 'unique' names [Columns 39, 12], and 83 names otherwise first seen on charts dated from 1313 onwards [Columns 12, 28]

Total names between northern France and west Morocco: 1,250 (i.e. 1004 Foundation names + 246 added later - see Black and red names considered together, Table A):

    'Foundation' names not pre-empted on the Crusader texts, the pages of the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso', and the Carte Pisane: 326 [Column 25].
    (If the Cortona chart [Column 17] is confirmed as dating from before 1311, a further 33 of the Foundation Names will be prefigured there, reducing 326 to 293)

    No known antecedents altogether: 489 [Columns 25, 29]


    No known antecedents: 110 [Column 30]

In other words, the Carte Pisane is (provisionally) responsible for introducing 219 names into our present (very limited) understanding of the state of maritime knowledge in the High Middle Ages; and then for the period up to about 1330 Vesconte can be credited with a further 489 introductions and, for the next decade, Dalorto/Dulceti with 110. The fact that Vesconte could add twice as many fresh names as the Carte Pisane's author had managed can perhaps be interpreted as a widespread engagement by the maritime community, over those two decades, in the effort to improve the toponymic density of the charts he was selling to them. However, it needs to be underlined that a chartmaker neither deserves the credit for toponymic and other improvements, nor, probably, the blame for corruption. Unless he was a sailor, basing any added or corrected information on his own experience, all those details must have been supplied by unknown others. [The earliest sailor-chartmaker of whom we are aware is Albertin de Virga in 1387, although his only surviving chart dates from 1409 (Pujades, 2007, p.486).]

Little systematic work has been done to document the subsequent transmission of a name after its first introduction. The focus has usually been on the initial stage. Some observations have been made, though, about the repetition by Dalorto/Dulceti of names introduced onto dated charts by Vesconte. The first, an assessment of the Vescontian content of the unsigned late Dulceti chart (British Library Add MS 25691 - Pujades C 9), found that it had absorbed 46% of those names introduced by Vesconte, 55 out of 119 (Campbell, 1987 p.416 (Table 19.3)). A more recent analysis using the 2007 Pujades name list for the northern Adriatic found a very similar 42% overlap, with 37 out of 89 Vesconte names picked up by Dulceti by the time of this, almost certainly his latest work (Adriatic reappearances).

The figures in that same 1987 chapter also emphasise the extent to which later Italian work, counter-intuitively, repeated more of the 1330 names than those from the same practitioner's chart of 1339. This has some bearing on the Pujades statement about the combining of "the old Vescontian model with the more up-to-date Dulceti-Majorcan model to create the new hybrid Pizziganian model." (2013(b), p.25b). [For more on toponymic transmission, see the earlier sections C.3, C.4 and G.3.]

Given the Carte Pisane's perfunctory coverage of the Atlantic coasts and the extensive damage to its Black Sea section, the Excel Column 16 allows those two areas to be stripped out, leaving the Mediterranean (including the Adriatic, Aegean and Sea of Marmara) for more meaningful comparison with the equivalent Vescontian 'Foundation Names' (1311-13). Considering first the coastline between No.283 Tarifa and 1065 Constantinople, then 1319 Scutari to 1819 Azamor (Column 24, then A, B) we find a total of 700 relevant 'Foundation Names' of which the 471 pre-empted by the Carte Pisane represent 67%, with the other 33% supplied by Vesconte from an independent source. 67% is probably a more indicative ratio than the overall figure of 50% given above for the Carte Pisane's pre-emption of the Foundation Names.

Since many of the names shared between the Carte Pisane and the work of Vesconte were of places prominent at the time and hence unlikely to have been omitted, the mis-match between their respective name lists in relation to lesser places will be even greater than those figures suggest. One way of testing that is to discount the 'Standard' red name toponyms seen invariably from the first dated works of 1311/13 up to at least 1600 (those can be excluded by nominating Column 36 as the first option in any search). Analysing the significance of what remains might be a suitable topic for future research.

No doubt, the great majority of the 396 names so far identified (in black or red) as having been added to the charts between the time of Vesconte's initial treatments and 1339 will feature in earlier written records, besides those referenced above. But, where those archival sources exist at all as far back as that, such research would have to be done piecemeal, by country, by province or by town, and that is far beyond this author's abilities or resources. How many of the names that Vesconte omitted in his earliest complete coverage, but that were added later by himself, Dulceti, or those who followed afterwards, have genuine historical significance? Specifically, how many would be important for historians of trade, navigation routes and shipping (because changing vessel shape and size might render some harbours newly relevant and others redundant)? Few ports will have the well-documented history of Bilbao, founded in 1300, and first shown on a surviving chart, in red, by Dulceti some 40 years later. On the general question of the charts' responsiveness to external events see D.2. 'Historical Time-lag (from physical creation to recognition by mariners)'.

Already classical and medieval toponymy is being captured from a range of world and other maps produced before 1492 (see the Pelagios Project) and attention is currently being directed to the portolan charts (February 2015). But the other medieval texts with geographic content remain for future research.


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 cartographic toponymy.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes
For the details of any publications referred to see the Portolan Chart Bibliography



Now that the Carte Pisane has been confidently reinstated as the earliest survivor, with a tentative (though approximate and arbitrary) suggested date of around 1290 (but surely somewhat earlier than 1311) we are in a position to examine some of the implications of this for portolan chart history. We can look forward to the major refinements introduced by Vesconte and Dulceti but also peer back into the mists of the charts' pre-history in the 13th century, and the outstanding question of their origin.

There will be no attempt here to claim to have solved the enduring mystery about where, when, how or by whom the prototype portolan chart was created. We seem still to be a long way from answering those questions with any confidence. But we can at least ask: what does the foregoing investigation suggest about the charts' origins? Most notable is the demonstration, on each of the four works most closely studied, the Carte Pisane, Cortona, Lucca and Riccardiana charts, of the hesitant efforts at understanding the Atlantic coasts. How can that be accommodated alongside the contention in the recent doctoral thesis of Roel Nicolai that the portolan chart is not a medieval invention. Instead, he concludes:

    "It appears to be the most likely scenario that Italian merchants acquired a body of ancient maps or charts through their trade with Constantinople ... The merit of the Italian mariner-traders would have been that they saw the potential of these maps, while the Byzantines, who preserved the heritage of antiquity but did nothing with it, may not have been greatly interested in them. It will have to be borne in mind that no person in the Middle Ages could have known how accurate these maps were."
    (section 12.2.1., p.412 in the 'provisional edition' - where the main arguments of the thesis are summarised).

Even if the Atlantic had been bolted onto a hypothetical synthesis of pre-existing outlines for the separate Mediterranean basins, the Carte Pisane's sometimes 'primitive' hydrographical and other features found in those areas as well must be explained. Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that the Nicolai thesis gives no succour to the idea of a late-dated Carte Pisane.

Those who, in Nicolai's opinion, supposedly lacked the technical ability to create a marine chart in the first place were nevertheless able to make significant improvements to the Carte Pisane's unsophisticated baseline, raising it, by about 1330, to a level of refinement considered adequate for navigational use for several centuries afterwards. And how did they have the additional capacity to add, onto what is a largely contemporary (not ancient) toponymy, almost 400 mainland names for the Mediterranean and Black Seas over the period between 1313 and about 1340?

In the debate that will surely follow the promised publication of the Nicolai thesis, the Carte Pisane's unique features must not be ignored. Indeed, Nicolai considers it to be "an early chart, created before an approximate cartographic consensus emerged about the relative positions, orientation and scales of the component sub-charts" (p.403, point 16).


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 the period around 1340.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


The likely dating of the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' to the first part of the 13th century and its apparent reference to a prototype marine chart raises the possibility that something which looked like a portolan chart, and may possibly have functioned in a similar manner to one, had been in existence for around a century before 1311. However, that is far from certain given the lack of intervening evidence. Gautier Dalché himself expressed doubt about the significance of the much-cited Guillaume de Nangis instance of 1270 connected with Saint Louis (1995, pp. 26-7) and in his 2004 article, 'Les sens de mappa (mundi): IVe-XIVe siècle' [on which see my note in the Portolan chart bibliography], he identifies the first confident reference to a marine chart as occurring only in 1294, dating the Nangis text no more precisely than 'before 1300'. One might question anyway how much use a small-scale marine chart would be in fixing a fleet's position after four days of violent storm, as in the situation described by Nangis, unless it helped the sailors to narrow down the possible identity of any coastal features they might then be able to make out. Thus the general lack of any other documented reference to such a navigational aid earlier than the 1290s (the period to which the Carte Pisane had traditionally been assigned and which I have reaffirmed) and the absence of even a fragment of such a work, does not support any claim that chartmaking was a well-established craft prior to Vesconte.

But nor, it seems, could isolated amateurs have first developed and then maintained both a tradition and a market for their work over many decades, if not a century, before 1311. We would expect there to have been one or more family dynasties and probably at least one chartmaking centre, even if there is no tangible evidence for this. The four anonymous works, the Carte Pisane, Cortona chart, and possibly the Lucca and Riccardiana charts in addition, may well point to that hypothetical earlier phase, before enduring chartmaking traditions were established in Venice, Majorca and, to a lesser extent, Genoa.

However, the following may serve as a useful analogy. Five members of the well-established Soler family were active in Majorca for perhaps 100 years from the mid-14th century onwards (Pujades, 2009, pp.312-15), yet no more than five examples of their work survive, one of which is a recently discovered binding fragment. Without the archival records, which are almost entirely absent for the earlier period, we would have known almost nothing about that long-lived dynasty.


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.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


It is right to consider toponymy and coastal configuration in tandem in some circumstances, and separately at others. If a distinct new form is given to a coastal feature then that could only have been copied from a single prototype. But toponymic developments, while much more dynamic after 1330 than those affecting the coastlines, were not normally introduced wholesale. This makes it more usual than not for there to be contradictory signals: for example, the small selections from the names that can be first seen on successive works in the steadily developing Vescontian output that then recur on the work of some later chartmakers.

The sequence of changes documented by Pujades (in his 2012 Paris talk) relating to the hydrographic representation of the Gulf of Gabès in Tunisia (within the Gulf of Sirte) are presented as if they form an inevitable chronological progression. Since the Lucca chart contains features not otherwise observed on extant charts before the 15th century, he cites those as evidence that an early 14th-century date for that work would be anachronistic (2013(b), p.24b). The foregoing analysis has clearly shown that much-delayed toponymic revivals are sufficiently common to be unremarkable, per se. When dealing with portolan charts it is also rarely justifiable to assume that changes will represent improvements, based on the injection of new information. As has been shown in the analysis of the variation in coastal outlines in the Mediterranean between the time of the Carte Pisane and works up to as late as 1600 (see Section E. Hydrography) it is evident that most such change represented degradation. Indeed, Pujades himself describes some of the alterations relating to the Gulf of Gabès as erroneous.

The detailing above (in the first parts of that Hydrography section) of such a clear, staged development for the British Isles and the mainland Atlantic coasts is based on observation, not on any belief in the inevitability of 'progress'. Indeed, it is without precedent in portolan chart history. That account is validated by the fact that those changes can be found in the work of a single chartmaking family, the Vescontes, whose dated productions never, it seems, reverted, other than in minor respects, to an earlier form. Since surviving charts after 1330, as far as we can tell, continued from where the latest Vescontian productions left off, this makes it easy to identify outlines that, on the one hand, are less confident than those found on the 1313 atlas and others, by contrast, that have taken note of some or all of the five stages (so far distinguished) in the consistently developing Vescontian portrayal of the British islands.

What must surely now be accepted as the very early Atlantic outlines discernible on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, if not on the Riccardiana chart as well, underline the difference between a verbal account - for example of a few named places with the coasts on which they sit represented diagrammatically - and a drawn coastal configuration. On the Carte Pisane the names are unconnected to the concerns of a Euclidean map, or indeed to a portolano which would have shared the same cartographic currency of direction and distance. In other words, the Carte Pisane's Atlantic outlines and toponymy are pre-cartographic.

Therefore what is revealed for that region is an earlier evolutionary phase, already overtaken for the Mediterranean by 1311/13 with the systematic surveys of its separate basins, and by a generally convincing overall charting of the Black Sea. However, the Carte Pisane's false outlines for some Mediterranean areas and the cruder shaping of some of its islands allow us, there as well, a few further glimpses into that earlier experimental stage. Already by 1311, in most cases, those configurations on the work of Vesconte had reached a level of accuracy that was evidently considered adequate by sailors over the following centuries, with, at most, no more than superficial improvement.

It seems likely that the (mis)information fed into the Carte Pisane derived, for the British Isles, from someone who had never been there, whereas, for the continental Atlantic coasts, the source was perhaps a merchant or unobservant traveller, who visited or heard about several of the ports (confusing some of their names) but who had no interest in the routes he had followed or how the coasts tended. Like the passenger in a chauffeur-driven car, how he had got there was not his responsibility.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


There are good reasons for considering that the Lucca chart may be even earlier than its biographer believed - at least earlier in terms of development though not necessarily chronology. Its unique links to the Carte Pisane make it likely that they have a common heritage - as accepted by both Billion and Pujades - even if Pujades's perception of a 'common model' is less likely than an explanation that sees the Lucca chart as a later link in the same chain (2013(b), p.17). In that sense, the Lucca chart should be seen as adding, to the Carte Pisane's prototype model, the first, very provisional surveys of the Atlantic coasts, at a stage certainly no later than 1313, which Vesconte would significantly improve thereafter. The Cortona chart, most of whose vital Atlantic evidence has unfortunately been lost to us, would undoubtedly have thrown more light on this question, which lies at the heart of our understanding of this 'pre-history' of the portolan charts.

Pujades's strictures about the Carte Pisane's inferior geographic quality (on which, as shown above for example in the Mediterranean section, we disagree) can be used instead as supporting evidence for that chart's very early date. The coastlines on the Carte Pisane are not simplified versions of some later model. Nor do they contain a précis of what would have been included on any hypothetical exemplar. We can be sure of that because we can make comparisons across the entire range of what has survived (thanks, indeed, to the 2007 Pujades DVD). On the contrary, in several different areas the Carte Pisane's outlines are less sophisticated than those seen on early Vescontian work. This would be the expected result of a very early date, but is confirmed by the Carte Pisane's very noticeable differences from the work of any chartmaker from the alternative periods suggested by Pujades.

We know nothing about the five individuals whose loose charts have survived from the period before or during which Vesconte was working. Had he not produced bound volumes, mostly for Marino Sanudo and his educated circle - some with the elaborate decoration that helped ensure their special treatment (and hence survival in a library) - we would have had just two separate portolan charts from the Vescontes. Several of the anonymous works being considered here owed their (often partial) preservation to the value of their vellum, not their cartographic content, having probably been cut down much later for some different, recycled use. Not only must the survivors constitute a miniscule fragment of what was produced but there is no reason to suppose that they truly represent the range of chart types that there might have been.

Of those evidently operating in the early 14th century, only the two Vescontes acknowledged their work, unless the signature, which we might expect to have been placed at one edge or the other (as it was with the 1311 Vesconte chart), has now been lost from the incomplete Cortona and Lucca charts, or, though this seems unlikely, intentionally discarded when the narrow strip was removed from the bottom of the eastern side of the Riccardiana chart. That, and the inferior technical quality of their productions, would fit with their suggested placement in a period before chartmaking had become a formal and recognised craft, with the transfer of skills via apprenticeship. It certainly looks as if Pietro and Perrino Vesconte were the first chartmakers who could reasonably be termed fully 'professional' (perhaps full-time), with the business robust enough for Pietro to be able to bring in a family member as a partner, by 1321 at the latest.

Vesconte set down, in 1311 and 1313, the astonishingly realistic outline of the coasts that embrace almost the entire coverage of the standard portolan chart. If we had to speculate what an equivalent chart might have looked like if it had been drawn perhaps twenty years earlier, the Carte Pisane would be a good fit. It was accurate enough to have been effective for navigation within the Mediterranean but with room for the coastline improvements that are described in detail above (in Section E. Hydrography) as well as the major revisions to the toponymy that were were to be carried out up to about 1330. The Carte Pisane might well embody the work of a part-time copyist (who was not a trained scribe, as Pujades points out) imitating the work of one of a new breed of reproductive 'chartmakers'. The original author would probably have been happy with his users' confidence in the overall Mediterranean outlines though perhaps grappling with conflicting opinions about, for example, the placement of Italy's west and east coasts. On the other hand, he would have been reliant for the Atlantic coasts on what he knew (or guessed) to be highly unreliable reports, albeit relating to places of whose importance he was probably aware.

The earliest documented phase of portolan chart development starts with the Carte Pisane (c.1290) and includes the Cortona and Lucca charts. Even if it runs into the Vescontian period (1311-c.30) this is characterised by a mixture of commonality and diversity. A number of the fundamental conventions - for example, placing the toponyms inshore in a continuous sequence that ignores orientation, and a pervasive network of compass lines - are already in place and point back to a shared origin and purpose. But the differences of style and substance between those three anonymous charts and the work of Vesconte shows that to have been a period of experimentation. There are a number of signs of 'work in progress', of clumsiness that would later be refined, with chart copyists, not yet perhaps fully professional, working with little knowledge of one another in different Italian ports.

One of the more significant findings of this essay is the identification of a clear watershed in terms of portolan chart development around the middle of the 14th century. After that date the coastal outlines, the structure of the compass network, and most of the drafting conventions had become formalised. All later charts conform, broadly, to the patterns left by Vesconte and Dulceti, leaving toponymy and the charts' illustrative features as the more obvious ways to distinguish the work of different chartmakers.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes


Rather than leaving the Carte Pisane locked into a chronological limbo as the possible product of three different centuries (13th, 14th and 15th) this study hopes to have provided a compelling body of evidence to reassert a dating for it, however approximate, significantly earlier than 1311. The difference between the Carte Pisane's conventional dating of about 1290 (or theoretically at any time after the founding of Palamos in 1279) and the earliest surviving dated chart of 1311 is much greater than just 20 years. [c.1290 is perhaps a better approximation than c.1300 because of a need to accommodate in the chronology at least three documented stages in the emergence of the British Isles coastlines before 1313.]

The methodology employed in these pages has taken a very different path to that followed by Ramon Pujades. His 2012 Paris paper, with its case for relegating the Carte Pisane to a later date, and thereby removing all significance from it, would have had, in his own words, the force of a 'major earthquake', were it to be generally accepted (2013(b), p.19). But his argument depended mainly on specific instances of what he deemed to be toponymic anachronisms ("that have never been documented until well into the 15th century" (2013(b), p.17)) as well as detailed linguistic observations. However, that line of reasoning - with its assumption of consistency and linear development, as well as its focus on individual instances as providing supposed evidence of anachronism - ignored the wider picture. It is perfectly possible that a particular name (out of many hundreds) might represent an incontrovertible terminus post quem, the 'smoking gun', assuming it was not an interpolation like Livorno on the Cortona chart. But the examples he gives are not examples of that and should be interpreted in the sense of could not would, in other words, without providing definite proof. Indeed, in the light of the charts' reaction to changing mercantile relevance, or more usually lack of it, his hypotheses are unlikely.

The present comprehensive study tells a different story, armed with solid statistical backing. It is based on detailed evidence not assertions, and focuses on observed patterns across the portolan charts' full geographical and chronological range. Although conflicting indications are never welcome - after all, inconsistencies interfere with neat generalisations - the overlapping disparities and congruences between the charts whose comparative examination lies at the heart of this essay are a necessary part of the exercise.

For instance, not only could there be marked and long-term variation in the toponymic sequences of works from different places, but charts emanating from a single production centre might differ significantly. The overall record shows us that variation in the toponymy is actually to be expected, and even individual chartmakers could be inconsistent. An exception is only noteworthy if it is truly 'exceptional'. This survey reveals, instead, the difficulty of making any confident generalisations about portolan chart toponymy, particularly in the early period. Indeed a widely shared toponymy does not become apparent until around the mid-15th century. Prior to that, regional isolation led to unique features or much delayed adoption. There were also parallel processes at work, particularly with regard to hydrography and toponymy. The coastal outlines on the Riccardiana chart, for example, seem significantly earlier than its place-names. Even though the Cortona and Lucca charts appear to pre-date Vesconte in a number of respects, they could still have been drawn at a later date. If so, that does not lessen the value of their archaic elements.

It is not the occasional 'exceptions' that will lead to a proper understanding but the mass of indications pointing in the opposite direction. Whatever their overlapping characteristics - some of them significant ones - probably more differences can be discerned between the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts. In the same way, the two 13th-century portolani , the 'Liber' and 'Lo compasso', are statistically dissimilar. But what forces those three charts into a distinct very early group, besides their many archaic features, is the absence of a wide range of firmly entrenched later conventions. Mostly forged by Vesconte and Dulceti, these had become cemented into chartmaking practice by around 1340. Even if, in terms of omission or addition, any later work imitates one of the distinguishing features of the three anonymous charts, it will be no more than an isolated instance. In whatever ways the work of subsequent chartmakers can be distinguished from one another it is not in terms of their hydrographic underpinning (at least until much later). The charts' coastal outlines had been changed quickly, radically and for ever, long before the periods to which Pujades wanted to assign the Carte Pisane. There was no reversion.

Unlike the Pujades arguments, few of the toponymic findings in this essay derive from individual names. Instead, they are based on statistical comparisons and assessments of the broader context of the period during which the Carte Pisane might have been produced. No evidence emerged to doubt the early dating of the three charts reassigned by Pujades, whether the approach was a general one via totals and percentages or related to specific toponyms, whether the focus was on what was unexpectedly present or surprisingly absent. Indeed, time after time, the statistical profiles of the three charts whose early dating has been challenged by Pujades proved to fit plausibly, particularly in the case of the Carte Pisane, nowhere else than the period before 1311. That the Carte Pisane includes higher percentages than Vesconte of the names that can be seen in the 12th and 13th-century texts consulted for this exercise underlines those findings (see Black and red names considered together Table B, row 5). Likewise, the Carte Pisane's omission of two-thirds of the red names that can be seen thus on the earliest Vesconte productions and then almost invariably for the three centuries afterwards, should be enough, in itself, to confirm its very early dating.

Those conclusions should be able to withstand minor modification in the light of future detailed investigation. It is also appropriate to draw attention to the possibilities offered by the Excel spreadsheet that carries the evidence here, both as a tool for replicating the analyses that were carried out and for identifying (and, if required, following up) the individual toponyms involved. Of course, it is also available for your own manipulation in ways that were not considered.

We cannot know why those early chartmakers acted as they did. The only record they left us is their charts, whose diagnostic value is enhanced when more than one work survives from a particular practitioner. The Vescontian record (1311-c.1330) demonstrates marked and continuous development which elsewhere must usually remain hypothetical. That does not mean of course that we can automatically apply what we learn from Vesconte to other chartmakers and other times. On the contrary, it seems likely that his/theirs was a unique case.

Some of the Pujades arguments rest on an assumption that similarities, which logically point to a shared source, can also indicate equivalent dating. It is the second observation that the evidence in this essay contradicts. Stylistic norms undoubtedly reveal lineage, but they should be used as a dating aid with caution. The Carte Pisane and Lucca chart are joined umbilically by, most visibly, their repeated 'guardate quardate' warning. But that does not mean that the Lucca chart is not some decades later. A mid-16th century atlas in Paris (BnF, Ge EE 5610) can be easily dated via its American outlines, yet it includes some names otherwise abandoned after 1330. That is an exceptional example, but not an exceptional occurrence. Toponymy has great value for portolan chart studies, but other conventions can sometimes offer a better guide to date.

The Pujades arguments seem to have depended on various assumptions, even if those were not expressly stated: (1) that, if a name is first seen on a dated chart, any unsigned work that includes it will be later than that, thus providing a valid dating aid; (2) that toponyms generally passed from one (usually named) chartmaker to another and that any long gap in the progression is an exception of little relevance to historians; (3) that the content of a chart will reflect the period of its construction, given the supposed speedy incorporation of fresh information; and (4) that neither the omission of expected names nor the inclusion of unique ones merits detailed attention.

As has been shown by this extensive study none of those assumptions is reliably true and most are contradicted by copious evidence. For example, when an occasional introduced name can be dated by reference to the historical records, the average time before its appearance on a chart was about 75 years [see Table B, 'Historical time-lag (from physical creation to recognition by mariners)']. There is no reason why an unsigned (and hence usually undated) chart should not have provided the source for a dated one by an acknowledged chartmaker. Given that some anonymous work is in no way inferior to that by the practitioners known to us, we should surely have expected a reversal of priorities in a number of cases. The jointly-authored Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases are good instances of that. There are undoubtedly patterns in toponymic transmission but there are also numerous inconsistencies or breaks, with a name sometimes revived a century or more later.

Pujades described a handful of instances of names that he claimed were anachronisms when found on a chart produced earlier than the late 14th century. (See D.3, Historical evidence for my counter to those arguments.) But what he does not discuss are four other aspects, in particular the far more numerous omissions of expected names. Nor does he consider, on the Carte Pisane and the other charts analysed alongside it, the significant group of early toponyms that would disappear after about 1330, or the even greater number of their rare, often unique names. Pujades also did not refer to the fact that any chart drawn after the middle of the 14th century would have incorporated a wide range of hydrographic outlines and drafting conventions that had become standard by that date and are invariably found thereafter. In this author's opinion each one of those aspects provides compelling evidence for dating and lineage. No model for the Carte Pisane has been identified, for the simple reason that none could have existed in any of the periods to which Pujades wished to consign it.

Table of Contents

Numbers preceding the place-names refer to the comprehensive toponymic listing, an Excel spreadsheet
For the yellow-headed numbered columns in particular please see the Explanatory Notes
For the details of any publications referred to see the Portolan Chart Bibliography


It is essential that there is general agreement about the dating of the Carte Pisane since without that we are left with two contradictory narratives about the early history of the portolan charts. On the one hand there is the traditional view, here robustly defended and restated, that sees the Carte Pisane as the earliest survivor and the sole witness to the start of a period, of perhaps forty years' duration, during which simplified Atlantic coastlines were added to fully recognisable Mediterranean and Black Sea outlines as part of the final phase of the charts' initial development.

The alternative view, that proposed by Ramon Pujades in 2012, would banish the Carte Pisane, along with its acolytes, the Cortona and Lucca charts, to the insignificance of a late 14th or 15th-century date. If that thesis wins general acceptance, the portolan chart story starts, not with its beginning or even middle phase, but, almost fully formed. Vesconte's initial coverage of 1311-13 and the Riccardiana chart (which is likely to be no later than 1320) would be followed by perhaps one or two decades of further improvement until, during the 1330s, the charts achieved, broadly, their final form (at least in terms of their littoral outlines, compass network and drafting conventions).

Toponymy was Pujades's central focus and particularly the various discontinuities that arise between the very early date usually agreed for the Carte Pisane and the reappearance, a century or more afterwards, of some of its names which would otherwise be considered innovative. How was that large gap to be bridged? If the Pisane and Lucca charts were indeed very early, why, he asks, have those shared features failed to leave "the slightest trace on any of the dated or reliably datable extant works from the 14th century" (2013(b), pp.24-5).

If portolan chart toponymy was reliably progressive, that would indeed be a valid question. And portolan chart researchers, myself included, would certainly like that to have been the case. [How many people sub-consciously want to disparage rather than praise the object of their research?] But, disappointingly, the evidence does not support this. The charts' toponymy certainly remains dynamic over the centuries, far more so than their hydrography. But there is little straightforward development. Indeed, from the copious contrary evidence there should be no surprise, in principle, at gaps in a name's successive appearance of a century or more, potentially covering situations such as those to which Pujades refers.

The statistics for post-1400 revivals demonstrate that. While a quarter of the names seen in the 12th-century accounts of crusading voyages were omitted from Vesconte's earliest works, most do appear on subsequent portolan charts. However, 10 of those toponyms (6%) are not seen until the 15th century or even later. For the names first encountered in the two early portolani, or on the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts, and those of Vesconte himself, the percentage of 15th and 16th-century reintroductions was a steady 2-4%. Those figures are surprisingly consistent coming from such disparate sources and given that, in many cases, it was different toponyms that were involved. The relevant frequency of such 'exceptions' or 'erratics' forces us to accept such delayed reappearances as part of portolan chart normality.

The toponymy of the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts may possibly be corrupted to the point of unrecognisability in a few cases but sufficient of their rare names can be traced back to the earliest portolani, or shown to anticipate later dated works, to make worthwhile the attempt to identify their apparently unique toponyms. [Castro] Urdiales is just one example of a toponym of known significance in the late 13th century that is not found elsewhere. How many others, if they were made the focus of detailed local research, might help to illuminate maritime knowledge before Vesconte?

The two 13th-century portolani listings are uniquely valuable as the systematic compilations of (apparently) single individuals. That their differences are greater than their overlap confirms the originality of the second of those, 'Lo compasso'. Even if their toponymic information was necessarily gathered, in each case, over numerous voyages and several years - Benincasa's portolan of the Adriatic, Aegean and Black Sea would take him ten years (1435-45) - the hydrographic itinerary they contain offers a comprehensive and consistent, first-hand view. Contrast that with the portolan charts, which, after initially displaying a selection of place-names found relevant through personal observation, must then have been supplemented by a fortuitous process of verbally-conveyed suggestions passed on by a returning shipman to a specific port-bound chartmaker. The compilers of the portolans were direct observers, the craftsmen producing the charts rarely more than recipients of second-hand information. The portolani offer us verified data; what the charts added after the initial surveys had to be taken on trust. No subsequent exercise was ever carried out by a chartmaker in order to compile a new comprehensive catalogue of coastal toponyms. If that was done by the creators of, for example, the various 15th-century portolani (rather than by borrowing from earlier examples) the results were not directly conveyed to the makers of charts - as evidenced by the separate transmission routes for portolani toponyms, described previously.

In the judgement of Pujades: "Such works of low technical quality were, of course, even worse when they were the product of secondary imitation by an even less experienced hand, as clearly occurs in the case of the Pisana Chart. Although we often tend to identify them instinctively, rudimentariness and antiquity are not synonymous, nor is there any reason they should automatically be equated" (2013(b), p.26). We have argued instead that the poverty and occasional obscurity of the Carte Pisane's toponymy is the result, not of its creator's own inadequacies but those of his sources, whereas its divergences from the early 14th-century norm should indeed be attributed to the antiquity of that chart.

Two of the other charts under the spotlight alongside the Carte Pisane, those preserved in Cortona and Lucca, are also the subject of argument about authorship and dating. However, the final work in this essay's study group, the Genoese chart in the Biblioteca Riccardiana, Florence, has been given by Pujades an assigned date during the first quarter of the 14th century. Significantly, this work mirrors some of the atypical aspects of the three others,. The Riccardiana's dating has yet to be challenged, and my own findings confirm that, on the basis of its content, it should certainly be placed during the Vescontian period (1311-c.1330) or conceivably even just before it.

This study, apparently the first systematic and wide-ranging examination of the Carte Pisane's content, allows it to be restored to its rightful position as the oldest tangible witness to the closing stages of the portolan charts' initial formative period. Its apparently unique toponymy and the expected names it omits provide us with a valuable insight into the geographical knowledge available to 13th-century sailors. It is not the 'UR' chart, since there must have been considerable development beforehand, but it has no identified antecedents and no peers. We can now see the process of early elaboration at work, even if we cannot yet glimpse the still earlier stirrings that must have preceded it. I would like to offer thanks here to Ramon Pujades who provided the stimulus for this research project that would not have been carried out otherwise.

It is not surprising that it was the most frequented areas, the Mediterranean on the one hand and the Black Sea on the other - where from the early 13th century onwards the Catalans, Genoese and Venetians wrestled for control of trading posts around its perimeter - that went through, first of all, what must have been a gradual and extended process of hydrographic refinement. It was natural, because of the geopolitical interests of the Italian cities, that only later, particularly after 1277, would attention be turned westwards towards the Atlantic coasts of Portugal, Spain and France. The focus on the British Isles came later still, giving us a demonstration of what is likely to have been a process rather different to that of the earlier shaping of the enclosed Mediterranean and Black Seas, already largely completed by the time of the Carte Pisane's construction. [The role that the triangles accidentally created by the network of documented open-sea voyages, pelagi, might have played in fixing positions within those two enclosed seas and the different Mediterranean basins, in contrast to the open Atlantic, is touched on in the first section of 'Some areas for possible Future Research into early portolan charts'.]

This study has skirted round the history of expansion by the mercantile powers of the central Mediterranean, whether to the east or west. Might the Carte Pisane's toponymy throw any light on that process or would its significance be refined if future research offered a clearer picture of those developments?

The depictions of the continental Atlantic coastline and that of the British Isles from the time of the Carte Pisane up to around 1330 provide us with what can best be interpreted as a partial time-lapse series of images, as little-understood verbal accounts gave way to partial seaboard survey and ultimately hydrographic outlines that would not be bettered, or apparently need to be bettered, for centuries. And all that happened over a period of probably no more than 40 years.

The contrast between the Atlantic coastlines and the treatment of the Mediterranean is marked, with the Carte Pisane's outlines occasionally even superior in the second instance to those seen on Vesconte and later charts (for example Peloponnese (Morea)). What is most evident about the Carte Pisane are its obvious and fundamental differences from anything else that has come down to us (aside, perhaps, from the Lucca chart).

"If the chart had been found today instead of more than 170 years ago, it would hardly have been dated to the end of the 13th century" (Pujades 2013(b), p.20a). To that we can reasonably counter: even if the general toponymic evidence detailed in this essay was not sufficient proof of a very early creation, how can the Carte Pisane be seriously considered to constitute a copy? Is it conceivable that an ignorant scribbler in an obscure 15th-century Italian port would have decided to doodle an improbable Atlantic coastline, fitted out with imaginary names, rather than just copying the outline and toponymy that had then been standard for several generations, and hence necessarily present on any chart he might have seen?

Rather than being a copy of a chart remotely similar to any that are now available to us, the Carte Pisane's numerous unique features make it the most distinctive and atypical of all surviving portolan charts. We can now say with greater confidence that the Carte Pisane, from its toponymic, hydrographic and constructional features, is so self-evidently earlier than anything else that any later date would necessitate arguments strong enough to force the complete rewriting of the early (and not so early) history of the portolan charts. There is longer any need for that.

I would urge any reader who finds fault with the evidence and arguments set out in this essay to say so publicly. Only an open debate can resolve this issue, which, in my opinion, is the most important since my own 1987 work, and Pujades's in the period since 2007, set out to codify systematically the surviving charts and their content. Unless the preceding thesis is demolished, in all its varied points, the reinstated Carte Pisane can now be seen to offer a number of promising avenues for future research into the charts' earliest recorded history. [See 'Some areas for possible Future Research into early portolan charts'.]


Summary Conclusions

Some areas for possible Future Research into early portolan charts

Brief notes on the main documents discussed

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