WWW-Virtual Library: History
Map History / History of Cartography: THE Gateway to the Subject

WWW-VL Main Catalogue WWW-VL History Central Catalogue
(main menu)


What the
site is
Map History

Red Names on the Portolan Charts (1311-1677)
a detailed investigation

Commentary on the analysis

Mounted on the web 6 September 2013. This prints out to about 15 pages

Summary Table of Red Names: their appearance, frequency and disappearance (a Microsoft Word document)    |    General toponymic listing (an Excel spreadsheet)

Red Names Menu (see for details of all the tables and graphs)   |  Toponymy Menu   |  Portolan Charts Main Menu

The number in front of a place-name refers to the first column in the various toponymic listings
For the full details of the works mentioned below see the Bibliography



[Most of the points below are taken from Red Names - Basic Statistics (a Microsoft Word document) or can be seen by sorting the relevant column(s) of the Microsoft Word table, Summary Table of Red Names: their appearance, frequency and disappearance]

The overall ratio of black coastal names to red varied between 5:1 and 3:1, with a steady increase in the proportion of red over time. [See Relationship of black and red names]

It is likely that over 90% of the red names are those of trading ports. The remainder will refer to natural features: headlands, river mouths, mountains, nearby islands, etc.

Almost a quarter of the red toponyms were both 'Foundation Names' (i.e. they were present on the earliest Vesconte works of 1311/1313) and were still there, in red, in 1600.

Of the total number of identified red names (633) over 60% were added after 1313. The most noticeable introductions of red names were by Dalorto/Dulceti (1330-9), who first showed in red several of the more significant ports along the eastern Adriatic; the Pizzigani brothers (1367-83?), almost all of whose 72 red additions were 'promotions' of existing names; and the idiosyncratic selection of red names for the Atlantic coasts in Andrea Bianco's 1436 atlas.

Surprisingly, 17% of the red names added after 1313 appear in that way from the outset.

18% were classified as intermittent or rare in their occurrence or - and this affected more than a quarter of the overall total - were found uniquely in the work of a single individual or on a specific chart or atlas. If these are confirmed as part of that chartmaker's unique 'signature', they could prove valuable in attributing unsigned or incomplete works. [See Rare and unique names.]

10% of the red names were observed only on unsigned works. [See Anonymous charts.]

45% of the black names were 'promoted' to red after 1313, and at a steady rate.

Less than 30% of the red names disappeared before 1601 or were downgraded to black, leaving many with that badge of significance long after they can have had any continuing relevance to mariners. It was presumably for that reason that many later charts omitted the Black Sea. [See 'Downgrading'.]

As an indicator of responsiveness to political and commercial developments, the red names are a disappointing witness. Some 80 Catalan, Genoese and Venetian overseas trading-posts or possessions were checked but there was little relation between the historical record and the introduction or abandonment of red names. [See Red names of overseas trading-posts.]

In terms of chart construction, there was clear confirmation that the black names were inserted first, leaving space for the red toponyms to be added in a separate operation later, even if there might possibly be occasional exceptions to that sequence. [See Drafting conventions.]

Top of page


A casual glance at a portolan chart shows that some of the names are written in red, presumably because they were thought to be more important than the majority, written in black or brown ink. But which ones were distinguished in this way? And were new names added or upgraded while others were demoted to black? Did some coastal sections show more dynamism in this respect than others; were some chartmakers more active with their red ink pen?

Once introduced, was a name's red status likely to be repeated by other practitioners, and if so how quickly? How many chartmakers introduced red names that subsequently earned a regular place? Or did some red names appear uniquely on the work of a particular named or anonymous chartmaker, on work emanating from a particular production centre, or from a specific period? And, perhaps most important, was the addition or removal of this very visible distinction a timely commentary on wider historical developments?

This is the first systematic survey of the incidence of mainline names in red on the portolan charts, from the time of their earliest survivors up until the late 17th century. 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 names. As a result, over 630 names were found to have been written in red: generally, occasionally or even uniquely. The analysis made of that detailed listing, in this commentary and in a suite of tables and graphs, attempted to answer the questions above.

The number of names involved - 630 as against the overall total of 2,750 - coupled with the greater visibility of red lettering, means that this project took a matter of months, as against the several years that would have been required for an equivalent study of all the names. It proved possible to plot the incidence or absence of every name (though not its precise form) on the work of most chartmakers. If the columns in the three detailed tables are read vertically the red 'profile' for that practitioner will emerge. Reading across the rows will reveal if the name recurred in red over time or was ignored.

Inevitably this survey is not wholly comprehensive. No attempt was made, for example, to unravel the multinational network formed by the different members of the widespread Oliva/Ollives family. Furthermore, the post-1469 charts had to be available as online scans or in accessible facsimiles.

The findings are conveniently summarised in a single-page of statistics. Besides the listings of first and last appearances, the figures are extracted from detailed tables focusing on specific aspects such as significant changes, unique red names, their incidence on unsigned 14th-century charts, and their relation with the history of overseas colonies and trading-posts.

It can be confirmed that the majority of red names (as with their black counterparts) fit into a pattern of consistency, over time and between chartmaking centres and individuals. But, as has been regularly found in the other surveys that make up these portolan chart webpages, local and individual variation form significant minorities pulling in the other direction. Most surprising perhaps is the discovery that the number of red names seen uniquely on the work of an individual chartmaker (whether he can be identified or not) is considerably larger than the total of such toponyms found almost invariably over the three-hundred year period between Vesconte and 1600.

For these reasons it is necessary to issue a warning against the assumption that portolan chart toponymy is a reliable barometer of geo-political change. Given that red names are presumably charged with some kind of added value, even if we are frequently left to guess what that was, it might have been anticipated that the act of assigning that special colour would have been more sensitive to financial, political and diplomatic changes than merely introducing the name in black. In fact, while a significant majority of the red names were added after the time of Vesconte's earliest productions, just a quarter were downgraded to black or abandoned altogether (which was not the case with the black names). Of the 'regular' red names only about 10% were reassessed in that way, yet by 1600 a much greater proportion must have lost any realistic claim to enhanced status. As always, inertia is a powerful force.

This is an argument against underestimating the accidental creation of toponymic anachronisms by chartmakers lacking knowledge or concern. But looking in the opposite direction, at the introduction of new red names, similar considerations apply. Now that we have a clearer overview of the patterns of toponymic development - in terms of both addition and removal, for both black and red mainland names - a normal, extended time-lag has become even more evident. In the relatively few cases where the foundation or renaming of a coastal settlement is clearly documented, it is usually decades or even upwards of a century before the charts take cognizance of it. It is of course possible that, as more work is done to piece together the individual histories of the places referred to, we may come to a better understanding of the time-lag between the situation on the ground and its acknowledgment by a chartmaker.

Given that few chartmakers travelled to collect the new names themselves, whether a name was inserted in, or upgraded to, red perhaps reflected the extent to which their seafaring informants interacted with their environment, how much notice they took of any change they noticed, and whether they passed on that information to their chart supplier. However indistinct to us now, this must all have formed part of a widespread exchange of knowledge among sailors, who had a better understanding of the coastlines that form the subject of this analysis than anybody else.

It is tempting, indeed historians are perhaps expected to do this, to seek out one or more underlying currents that make sense of what might seem disparate facts. Given that charts must have been made for and used by those engaged in trade, it has been natural to seek that as the unifying explanation. But the toponymic developments, described in this and the previous commentary on innovation and abandonment in general, suggest that the drivers of change may have been more personal and random than purely commercial. Certainly, if there is an overall pattern, it is well camouflagued. The Majorcans, Genoese and Venetians who produced the charts might have been expected to favour toponymically their own spheres of influence. But, as is pointed out, this does not seem to have been the usual pattern. Perhaps the land-based chartmakers received toponymic suggestions from non-seafaring sources, travellers for instance. Or might a respect for antiquity have led them to retain names from the classical period long after the place concerned had fallen into ruins?

Top of page


As with any essay on an aspect of portolan chart history that depends on observation rather than documentary sources, it is necessary both to highlight the value of such evidence while simultaneously underlining its limitations. What has survived is a minute and unrepresentative fraction of what was produced and only a small amount is available in reproduction - at least for the period after 1470. Furthermore, some charts have survived but, whether from use or accident, are now partially or wholly illegible.

So any analysis of portolan charts over the full four centuries of their existence depends on two arbitrary samplings relating to their survival and reproduction. A necessary third phase requires the selection of a manageable number from among the scores of post-1500 works that have survived and are freely accessible in reproduction.

Using the comprehensive DVD accompanying Ramon Pujades's Les cartes portolanes: la representaciˇ medieval d'una mar solcada (Barcelona, 2007), almost all the charts and atlases apparently produced up to 1450 (whether dated or not) were individually checked for the presence of red names. For the remainder of the 15th century, all the available charts bearing a signature and date were considered via reproduction. However, the outputs of the prolific practitioners Pietro and Perrino Vesconte, Giacomo Ziroldi/Giroldi, Petrus Roselli and Grazioso Benincasa were merely sampled. Thereafter, and up to 1677, examples were chosen to reflect the work of different chartmakers, using their earliest and latest productions where possible. Subsequently, those red names found first or finally in a particular chartmaker's output were checked on their earlier or later works as appropriate. This was done with reference to my extensive listing of online scans and facsimiles of Securely dated charts post-1469 (a Microsoft Word document).

At the core of this Red Names section of the wider Portolan Chart website is a detailed record of the presence or absence in red of each of the 633 names that have been observed on charts from the time of Vesconte up to 1677. The table is broken down, chronologically, into three parts but the information is arranged consistently between them. Each section could be printed out, and by arranging the sheets horizontally, provide a complete record for a given name across the 75 works that were systematically examined. [For details see the Red Names Menu.]

Since information of this kind can be indigestible, colour coding has been used in two ways. First, to distinguish at a glance the pre-1500 Genoese and Catalan charts from the more numerous Venetian productions and, second, to highlight a red name's first appearance (indicated by bold type for a signed work and green for an anonymous one) and the last noted instance in blue.

In a further attempt to aid the comprehension of this dense material, the information has been summarised and codified in the Summary Table of Red Names: their appearance, frequency and disappearance. Taken in conjunction with the Red Names - Basic Statistics, and the Conclusions at the head of this essay, this should help to ensure that any meaningful insights derived from this exercise are not obscured.

That said, the purpose of providing the full background data - here and throughout the entire Portolan Chart website - is not only to justify the findings that are based on them but also to enable others to 'mine' that information for their own research.

Subject to the provisos mentioned above, and leaving aside the possibility that an available but unchecked work might have pushed on or back a date of first or last appearance, the findings that have come out of this study should be generally reliable. They are likely to give a good overall account of the introduction, upgrading and abandonment of the chartmakers' red code by which they signalled toponymic importance.

Because red names represent, on average, about 25% of the total of black (or brown) names along the continuous continental coastline running between Calais and Safi (west Morocco), and because only their presence or absence was being noted, not, usually, their precise spelling, the task was a manageable one. For that reason, it was decided to include all the unsigned charts considered by Pujades to belong to the period up to 1450. Those had been excluded from the earlier general survey.

Rubrication is designed to catch the eye and red names certainly stand out from the surrounding black ones. On the 1424 Pizzigano chart (Pujades C35), the red names were slightly enlarged. Even where there is limited legibility it is often possible to identify the presence of a red name with sufficient confidence - from its position, its shape or perhaps one or two of its letters. Trying to decipher the black toponyms for lesser places is a much harder task.

For further details about the methodology see Explanation and footnotes to the three 'Red Names Analysis' listings

Top of page

The meaning of rubrication

Human and physical features

In his valuable general survey attached to the Barcelona exhibition catalogue of 1995 Rossell˛ i Verger claimed that red was never used for physical features (see the beginning of the toponymy section - p.345a in the English text version). Astengo in his 2007 chapter in Volume 3 of the History of Cartography (p.205a) disputed this. It is certainly true that some of the more prominent capes, and a few river mouths, are emphasised in red but, in general, as far as such names can be readily identified, the statement is broadly true. Perhaps upwards of 90% of red names are those of settlements, but confirming that ratio would require reliable modern identifications, which does still not apply to a sizeable minority of the names.

Relationship of black and red names

Rossell˛ i Verger (1995 - again at the beginning of the toponymy section: p.345a in the English text version) generally found between three to six black names between each of those that had been picked out in red as a mark of their greater significance. However, his remarks related to the relatively short stretch of coast that he was studying, a sequence of roughly 80 names between Cartagena and Narbonne.

Nevertheless, as the following table demonstrates, Rossell˛'s estimate of the ratio between black and red names (at between 3:1 and 6:1) has been confirmed by this detailed general study.

Ratio of black names to red







Total names







Black names







Red names







Ratio of black to red







% of Red names







The total number of names, and hence, by subtraction, the number of black ones shown above, are those cited in my 1987 'Chapter' (p.420, note 334), with the Vallseca figure added from Pujades (2009 pp. 154-71). I had observed then that the overall name total, for that long stretch of coastline, was relatively constant over the three centuries (i.e. up to 1600). While the table shows a greater complement of red names in 1593 than earlier, the Benincasa and Russo works (added specifically for that purpose) make it clear that there was no steady increase.

However, it is certainly not the case that there is a generally consistent relationship between red and black names. Along the Italian east coast, for example on the 1469 Benincasa atlas in Milan (Pujades No.41, sheet 3), there are six consecutive red names between Bari and Barleto, or nine out of ten if that run is extended north to Peschici. On the 1497 Freducci chart, all the Istrian names are in red, making a consecutive sequence of nine. But equally there can be long uninterrupted groups of black names, such as between Alexandria and Lucho to its west.

Top of page

Statistical analysis

[For this section see Red Names - Basic Statistics]

'Foundation Names'

This term is used here to denote names already found in red on the earliest Vescontian coverage (the chart of 1311 - except for the Atlantic coasts and western Mediterranean, which were first included in the atlas of 1313). Those early red names totalled 17% of what is the first reliably dated toponymic listing on a portolan chart.

The red Foundation Names represent 27% of the total number of red names recorded up to the late 17th century (173 out of 633). A further 61% of red innovations are noted on dated works produced between 1313 and 1600, and another 10% on undated works.

To place the earliest appearance of red names on the charts in context, the presence or absence of those (and equivalent) toponyms has been noted for the two 13th-century portolani: the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' and 'Lo compasso de navegare' (see columns 3 & 4 in the Microsoft Word table, The Presence of Red Names on the portolan charts (up to 1400)). Obviously, since these are texts not maps, there is no rubrication to indicate more important toponyms. Nevertheless, the presence of a name in either text does indicate an awareness of that place or natural feature in maritime circles before the oldest surviving charts. This is relevant when attempting to understand why some names available in the 13th century do not appear on the charts at all, or are added only later, sometimes much later. Conversely, it helps when attention is focused on names introduced into the list by Vesconte and those who followed him.

Standard and less usual red names

Almost a quarter of the red names were present in 1311-1313, were then repeated predictably afterwards, and were still there in 1600. Little can be learnt, though, for historical or dating purposes, from those regular red names. [For a map plotting those places habitually shown in red in the period before 1500, see Fig.19.2 in the 1987 'Chapter', p.379.] Another 14% can be placed in a frequency somewhere between 'intermittent' and regular. But a significant group, numbering 45%, have been termed, variously, 'intermittent' (5%), 'rare' (13%) or 'unique' (28%).

Red name innovations

In pure totals, the observed introduction of new names, or the promotion to red of existing black ones, fluctuated markedly. The Foundation Name total (173) was almost doubled between 1318 and 1400 (a further 161). The four half centuries that followed up to 1600 had a neat, if not obviously explicable pattern, at a much reduced rate: 15th century (71 new red names in the first half, then 38 in the second) and 16th century (70, followed by 32). Finally, a further 26 new red names were noted for the 17th century, though that was on the basis of a very small sample. In all, the number of new or 'promoted' names first seen in red from 1318 onwards (including those on unsigned works) represented 69% of the total.

For observations about chartmakers' responsiveness (or lack of it) to geo-political developments, see Red names of overseas trading-posts below.


It might be expected that a name would first appear in black and then, if it grew in importance and/or commercial significance, it would be 'promoted' to red. Likewise, those ports that had fallen into abeyance would surely be discarded or at least 'downgraded' to black.

To test these points the Summary Table of Red Names: their appearance, frequency and disappearance pairs the first recorded instances of a name in black and in red. Similarly, the final appearance in red is coupled with a record of the latest date it was seen in black.To help make sense of this information the table has a column recording the 'gap' between a name's first appearance in black and red. Where it was red when first seen the date is artifically repeated (in italics) in the 'First seen on dated chart Black' column. By creating the imaginary figure of zero this brings all these instances together at the beginning. Where date spans are given these should not be treated literally but merely as a general indication.

The surprisingly large figure of 38% of toponyms were evidently red on their first appearance. Very similar proportions, around 13% in each of the three cases, were upgraded, respectively, within half a century after being included in black, up to a whole century afterwards, and between 100 and 200 years of their first appearance.

Top of page

Regions and people involved

Matching the procedure used for the earlier overall toponymic analysis (Toponymy Main Menu), the geographical sequence was first divided into 31 coastal sections, which were then grouped into seven regions. The Addition of Red Names to the 31 sections of coastline (a Microsoft Word document) records, first, the number of 'Foundation Names', and then the additions found on the subsequent dated works, for each of those geographical units. Table 2 on that same page, 'Innovative Red name totals by individuals to 1600', sums up the innovations attributed to the various individuals, broken down by half century.

The most striking injection of new red names is found in the work of the Pizzigani brothers (1367-83?), specifically 39 additions to the coastal sections covering Italy's Adriatic coast and then continuing round to Istria and Dalmatia. This is hardly a coincidence, since it represented the hinterland of their home city Venice. Had most of that group appeared in red only on the Pizzigani work it would have been treated as part of the quite extensive 'unique' category (Red Names apparently Unique to a Particular Chartmaker or found only on Anonymous Works). But this is not, broadly, the case. The 39 red introductions into the Adriatic form a little over half of the 72 names that the Pizzigani introduced overall. The way in which those names were repeated later was similar in each case. Around a quarter are indeed unique to the Pizzigani, or at least they were not noted elsewhere. Again in each case, over half the new red names continued until at least the mid-16th century. It is noticeable, though, that the majority of the Pizziganian innovations in the Adriatic were reproduced only on Venetian works and 12 of them were not picked up, at least in red, by chartmakers working in Majorca.

Besides the contribution of the Pizzigani, the other noticeable injection of fresh red names is attributable to the Vescontes (after 1313), Dalorto/Dulceti (1330-after 1339), Francesco Beccari (1403+) and, in the early years of the 16th century, Pietro and Jacopo Russo. These innovations were spread fairly evenly, without any marked regional bias, except in the case of Dulceti. Having introduced only a few names for the Tyrrhenian Sea (where they might have been expected on the basis of propinquity), his chart of 1330 - which if not drawn in Majorca would presumably have been compiled in his place of origin Genoa - added a surprising eight names down the coast of the eastern Adriatic. Including such well-known towns as fiume, nona, narenta, cataro, antivari and dulcigno, nearly all of these would continue in red beyond 1600.

Also worth emphasising is the group of 15 red names that Bianco introduced along the Atlantic coasts of France and Iberia in his atlas of 1436. His '1448' chart, despite being exclusively devoted to that region, added just two more red names.

The numerical density of added red names can be seen in Table 3 'The totals of RED names found in 31 designated coastal sections over five periods' [see The Addition of Red Names to the 31 sections of coastline]. The proportion of names added for each of the 31 coastal sections becomes apparent from the column headed 'ratio of Added/Foundation names'. Sections where the number of names increased after 1313 by less than the initial total are highlighted in green (3 instances) and those where at least four times as many were added are shown in plum colour (8 instances).

In terms of the introduction of red names, the majority of the least dynamic sections fall in the Black Sea, eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, while the greatest change can be seen in the Atlantic coasts and those of the Adriatic - although Egypt proves to be an exception.

Top of page

Anonymous charts

[For this section see Red Names noted first (?) on Anonymous 14th-century charts]

The original, full toponymic analysis considered all names, black or red, along the designated coastline between France and Morocco (Toponymy Main Menu). Since the concern was to establish reliable dates for a name's first and last appearance, undated works, which are almost always unsigned as well, were omitted. This time, these have been incorporated into the exercise but in a way that recognises the uncertainties surrounding their supposed dating. Two columns in the Summary Table of Red Names: their appearance, frequency and disappearance (a Microsoft Word document) have been assigned to them: one for their suggested date (usually based on the work of Pujades), the other for their habitual title or, where that did not apply, their number on the 2007 Pujades DVD. Where possible, all the anonymous charts assignable to the period up to 1450 have been included in the analysis.

It is unfortunate that the uncertainty over dating applies most particularly to those that have long been considered to be the earliest survivors, pre-dating the Vesconte chart of 1311, the first to bear a date. The BibliothŔque nationale de France's 'Carte Pisane' has been universally accepted as the oldest survivor, with various (unsupported) dates having been suggested between the latter 13th century and the very beginning of the 14th. In the marine chart conference in Paris in December 2012 Ramon Pujades argued, and on detailed toponymic grounds, that the Carte Pisane could not be earlier than the second half of the 14th century. Because (and there seems to be no dispute about this) two other charts share several of the Carte Pisane's peculiarities, Pujades's argument might well push all three out of the portolan charts' formative period. Those closely related works are the Cortona chart, first described by Vera Armignacco in 1957, and a fragment in Lucca, only recently revealed to the world by Philipp Billion (in Imago Mundi, 63:1, 2011).

The Pujades argument (see the Bibliography entry for Pujades 2013b), published in summer 2013 and due to be made freely available online in summer 2014, needs to be examined very carefully. In the meantime, in a table that focuses on the incidence of red names on unsigned works supposedly produced up to 1400, those three works have been left at the beginning of a tentative chronological sequence. That should, however, be seen as neither endorsing the traditional view of their dating, nor as criticism of the Pujades re-dating. [See Red Names noted first (?) on Anonymous 14th-century charts.] I hope to be able to comment on the Pujades re-dating later.

Visually, in terms of their construction and drafting conventions, and particularly with regard to their toponymy, the Carte Pisane, Cortona and Lucca charts are noticeably untypical of all other survivors. First, the density of their place-names, whether black or red, is markedly less than that of Vesconte and other dated 14th-century works. Where 173 red names are found on the earliest Vescontian coverage (the 'Foundation Names') the Carte Pisane has 118, the Cortona chart just 63 and the Lucca chart 105 (though all three are incomplete). Of more significance, perhaps, are the number of red names not found elsewhere, except on one or more of those three charts. Indeed, several of those unique names are not present on other works even in black. Twenty-two of the Carte Pisane's red names (nearly 20% of its total) are not seen elsewhere in red. For the Cortona chart the figure is 13 (but that is still 20% in its case) and there are four instances for the Lucca chart.

As an anchor, this table of 14th-century anonymous charts indicates, in blue, the total of red names found on the relevant dated chart or atlas. Reading across the row it is possible to see how many of those innovations appeared on the undated work in question. This leaves the usually unanswerable question: does the presence of a name or, in this case its red designation, indicate that this would have been copied from the dated work in question (or from that work's own source) or, alternatively, did the anonymous author pre-empt the dated work?

Anyone studying portolan chart toponymy soon realises that, while there are discernible patterns, the exceptions are so frequent as hardly to deserve that name. Leaving aside the three charts discussed above, the chart in the Biblioteca Riccardiana in Florence (Pujades, C4) is unquestionably the earliest of the other surviving anonymous works. Confidently assigned to the first quarter of the 14th century, it appears to fall within, or even conceivably before, the period of Vescontian activity. Yet 13 of its 153 red names are not found treated in that way until somewhat or much later, including one first noted in 1508. And where the Riccardiana has five of the 48 red names first recorded on the work of Dalorto/Dulceti, the Carte Pisane has only a few more, nine.

The table's final column considers the significant, but still in many ways mysterious, Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases, which are clearly in the same hand. Those include five red names not noted elsewhere as well as a further 10 that may or may not anticipate the work of known Venetians working in the first part of the 15th century. Much depends on whether that pair of unsigned atlases date from before or close to 1400 or well into the 1420s.

If the Summary Table of Red Names is sorted on Column 12 and 16 (specifying 'Text' for each) it will make clear the instances in which the works discussed above, and others identified only by their Pujades number, differ from the signed and dated productions.

Top of page

Consistency across regions and periods

It is difficult to gain an overall picture by looking across the equivalent row on the three separate Microsoft Word tables that list the detailed incidence of red names on the 75 individual or representative works analysed. The same would, of course, apply if the information was arranged on a single Excel spreadsheet. For that reason Column 12 of the Summary Table of Red Names offers a date, sometimes a very approximate one, from which the name in question could be considered to have become 'standard'. 238 of the 607 names (39%) that have been recorded in red up to 1600 have been given that designation. Of those, over 60% are 'Foundation Names', seen first in 1311/1313. A further 62 names became standard during the remainder of the 14th century and a mere 28 for the two centuries that followed.

Red usage restricted to place of production or individual

Column 14 in the Summary Table of Red Names identifies when the incidence of a red name is restricted by the place of production. Regional selectivity is noticeable in the period up to 1500, or at least to the mid-15th century. 17% of the red names first seen between 1318 and 1450 (67 out of 405) fall into this inward-looking category. Almost half of those were seen on Venetian work only, a small group appear on Genoese and Catalan charts but not Venetian, and another 26 on Venetian and/or Genoese but not Catalan. When that table is sorted first on Column 14 and then on the geographical sequence in Column 1, it is readily apparent that all those 'Venetian only' red names occur on the coastline between western Italy and the Black Sea. The detailed patterns in the selective adoption of red names can be compared with similar data for toponyms in general, i.e. where the majority of black names were included. [See several of the tables under 'Toponymic Additions' in the Innovative Names section of 'The Introduction and Abandonment of Toponyms on Portolan Charts 1300 to 1600 ' - via the Toponymy Main Menu.]

Rare and unique names

[For this section see Red Names apparently Unique to a Particular Chartmaker or found only on Anonymous Works]

'Rare' names, loosely defined as occurring no more than five times, can be retrieved from Column 15 of the Summary Table of Red Names. Occurring more than twice as frequently, though, and surprisingly constituting over a quarter of the total, are names that have been termed 'unique' since they were noticed only on the work of a single chartmaker or in a single production. Those, along with others found on unsigned works, have been extracted to form the separate table noted above. It is unlikely that we shall ever know the reasons for the initial decision by a single chartmaker to upgrade those particular names, any more than we can usefully speculate why other chartmakers did not imitate them afterwards. Some of those names, despite having being marked in red for their presumed greater significance, are not found elsewhere even in black.

Occasionally, as can be seen in the table (when in its default, i.e. geographically-sorted, order - Columns 1 & 2) the recurring names of chartmakers in Column 16 point to places quite close together. This may suggest a single transfer of intelligence from a mariner to that particular chartmaker, which later practitioners did not feel was of sufficient importance or reliability.

From the totals at the end of the table it can be seen that the greatest number of such 'unique' names are found in the work of the early 16th-century Russo family. The 14 unique names ascribed to the Pizzigani brothers (1367-8?) include a run of six either side of their home city Venice (Malamocco to Iesolo). Those formed part of their large injection of red names, particularly in the northern Adriatic. Most of the others would be imitated by other chartmakers.

It is certainly possible, particularly for the period after 1470, that once other works are examined in the future some of the 'unique' names will lose that title. But it appears from the sampled charts that the use of red for a particular name, and sometimes even its presence at all, forms part of that practitioner's unique 'signature'. If so, and it would be good to see that tested, the presence of those 'unique' names might prove helpful in attributing unsigned or incomplete works. For example, eight names were noted in red only on the work of Agnese. The nine that seem to be specific to the Maggiolo family are particularly interesting because some were in use for many decades.


167 red names (representing 27% of the overall total) cease to be shown in that way at some point before 1600. The first table in the Abandoned Red Names: Listings cites all of those, in a geographical sequence. As usual, that can be sorted in various ways, using up to three different fields at a time, for example relating the latest recorded instance of red and black forms of that name.

A subset of that listing is also included in a second table, 'The date when regular Red Names were abandoned'. A large proportion of the downgraded names (59%) were those classified as 'rare' or 'unique'. Often, those were associated with a single chartmaker and the withdrawal of a name's privileged status at a certain time indicates no more than the date of the most recent of the accessible works by that particular practitioner.

What is left, namely the 69 regular or intermittent red names that were intentionally downgraded, constitutes just 11% of the total complement. Thirty of those names were downgraded in the 15th century, while the greater part of the remainder ceased to be red during the second half of the 16th century.

The distribution of the downgraded red names in the seven main regions into which this toponymic analysis has been divided are as follows: Atlantic (10), Mediterranean Iberia to south Italy (13), Adriatic & Morea (24), Aegean & Sea of Marmora (5), Black Sea (13), south Asia Minor & East Mediterranean (1), and North Africa (3). While there was modest reassessment for most of the regions, the static nature of the eastern Mediterranean and entire coast of North Africa is a clear echo of the pattern found in the overall toponymic analysis.

Top of page

Red names of overseas trading-posts

[For this section see List of Colonies and Trading Posts and for further reading see the following (full details in the Bibliography)]

  • Balard (1994, 1978)
  • Carile (1970)
  • Crowley (2011)
  • Moore (n.d.) - including an interactive map, focusing particularly on Venetian possessions
  • Piemontese. Castelli Europei. Paese per Paese
  • Salmon (1754)
  • Stringa (1982)
  • Zevakin & Pencko (1969)
  • on Genoese activity in the Black Sea see Karpov and Pistarino respectively
Any attempt to assess the topicality of the portolan charts' toponymy, and specifically the use of a red designation, runs up against the difficulty of knowing the extent of a specific place's historical importance at a given period. Few ports were affected by a single known event of sufficient significance. Silting, for example, tends to be gradual. The problem remains that, even if a majority of the medieval names on the portolan charts can be readily identified - despite their physical successors sometimes having very different designations today - there is a significant minority of lesser places that remains elusive. A major systematic research effort, aided by those with specialist local knowledge, is needed to try to turn meaningless toponyms into places with at least a partial history. Only if that could be achieved for almost all the red names might it be possible to draw useful conclusions between the incidence of red names and the priorities of the time.

For convenience, a sub-set of the full listing is available, see Significant Appearance and Abandonment of Red Names. By excluding first, those names that appear in red in 1311/1313 and were still there in 1600, and, second, those considered 'rare' or 'unique', the full listing of 633 toponyms has been reduced to a more manageable 239. Their addition or removal was the result of a conscious decision by a single chartmaker, which was then imitated by others. As such, these are the names that should form the focus of historical investigation.

One way of circumventing that problem is to look at the overseas reach of the major mercantile powers. The date that, say, the Catalans won a trading privilege in a particular city may not be easy to establish, but the year that the Venetians gained control of an Adriatic town or the Genoese founded one of their Black Sea colonies will often be known.

An effort was therefore made to identify the more significant overseas trading posts or settlements of those three powers, the dates at which they gained or lost them, and the charts' response (if any) to those events. The region considered starts with Sibenik in Dalmatia, then moves around the coastline of the eastern Adriatic, Aegean and Black Sea (though excluding the islands), and on, clockwise, to Morocco. It is hoped that the list of almost 100 names includes all the significant places, even if it will certainly be incomplete. Nor, since it considers only the continental coastlines, does it give due weight to the many important island holdings of those mercantile states.

As evidenced by the 'Red first' column of the List of Colonies and Trading Posts, the majority of names were written in red from the outset. So, to look for signs of historical responsiveness on the charts we need to consider those whose names were added in red after 1311/1313 and those whose red signifier was removed.

Sorting that 'Red first' column (via the 'text' option) brings together the small group (about 25), representing the addition, from 1318 onwards, of red names - or, more usually, red colouring to names previously in black - for places that feature in the overseas history of Genoa, Venice or Catalonia. As with the overall situation, mentioned above, the majority of 14th-century additions appeared in red well before the settlement became a trading-post or overseas dependency. This is hardly surprising since it was usually their pre-existing commercial or strategic importance which made them an attractive base.

However, in other cases, the response was much delayed. The Genoese had settled in Pera (also known as Galata, a town within the city of Constantinople) by 1267 but Vesconte left it to Dalorto/Dulceti to recognise the significance of that enclave in 1330. And saito (Sidon) in the Holy Land, which had earlier been destroyed after the fall of nearby Acre in 1291, first features in red on Dulceti's third and latest chart (undated, but evidently after 1339).

Other delayed responses can be mentioned, although the places in question might not have been thought of sufficient importance to mariners in general: cenbaro (Balaklava, in the Crimea) was taken by the Genoese in 1365 but not shown in red until the Beccari chart of 1403; Butrinto (in Albania), Venetian since 1386, had to wait for its red designation until the Benincasa chart of 1461; Prevesa (western Greece) held by the Venetians from 1401 until lost to the Ottomans in 1477, is first noted in red on a 1541 work by Sideri (Callapoda).

Herceg Novi is an interesting case. Founded by an independent duke (i.e. Herceg) in 1382 at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor, it was intended to rival nearby Ragusa/Dubrovnik. The first noted appearance on a chart dates from Fiorino's of 1462, where it appears, in black, as castel nuova. Its promotion to red on the Freducci chart of 1537 was continued only by his successor Sideri/Callapoda until 1570 {altered from 1565, after analysis of the recently re-discovered 1570 Sideri chart in Central St Martins Library, London - 21 January 2014}.

Other late, and in the first two cases very temporary red 'promotions' involved the Genoese post at Candarli (castri / grixona) in Asia Minor, noted in red only in the period 1552-65, and two in the Peloponnese: Chlemoutsi (castel turnese), a Venetian holding shown in red only in the 1590s; and Navarino (pylos), occupied by various Mediterranean powers since the 13th century but featured in red no earlier, apparently, than 1594.

Among the many peculiarities of the Carte Pisane is that no other chart yet identified gave red status to Costanta, on the west Black Sea coast, held by the Genoese since the 13th century and lost to the Ottomans in the early 15th. A number of other outposts were not marked in red (indicated in the 'Comment' column with the label 'not in Red') or sometimes not apparently recorded at all on the charts ('not included').

The presence of three possible candidates for red status are noted on the charts but only in black, two of them in the Peloponnese, Zonchio / Pylos (p. iuncho), which had been in Venetian hands from 1414, and Kalamata, held by various powers since the 13th century; as well as Bodrum (lesteri) in Asia Minor, occupied by the Knights of Rhodes since 1402.

Among a much larger group along the west coast of Greece and the Peloponnese, most of them Venetian possessions, the following can be mentioned: parga, vonitsa, zarnata, chielefa, passava and githio. None was evidently included, even in black, on the portolan charts . The same applies to kilija (on the west Black Sea coast), calitra (in the Crimea) and cismes (Cesme, near Izmir), though the first two may occasionally appear in corrupted form.

The final consideration is the abandonment of a name, or at least of its red designation. The names of all but five in this listing of almost 100 overseas trading-posts or colonies continued in red into the 17th century, and three of those have already been referred to because of their very brief appearance in red.

In short, the charts displayed little awareness of an overseas possession's growing commercial significance, nor of the point at which its trading importance declined or it became irrelevant once it was lost to the Ottomans or others. Astengo (2007a, p.205a-b) provided corroboration of this toponymic nostalgia, in the cases of altologo (ancient Ephesus, my No.1392) and palatia (ancient Miletus, No.1397). "Both had enjoyed an economic boom under the fourteenth-century emirates (thanks to dealings with the Venetians, who established trading posts there), but they had then gone into irreversible decline when they were taken by the Ottoman Turks at the beginning of the fifteenth century, and thereafter rapidly became insignificant small towns. Nevertheless, this dramatic change in their fortunes was not reflected in the nautical charts of the Mediterranean." My own analysis found them in red almost invariably from the 1370s to the second half of the 17th century. Interestingly, the exceptions, in each case, were anonymous Venetian works, assigned by Pujades to the second quarter of the 15th century. It seems that the downgrading of their status was acknowledged only by those who were most likely to have been aware of their fate.

Top of page

Drafting conventions

Red or black first?

[The number in front of a place-name refers to the first column in the various toponymic listings]

Were the red names written before or after the black/brown ones? Given that the names were not usually aligned precisely alongside a distinctive feature of the coastline and, as has been shown, the approximate ratio of black to red was 4:1, it would have been logical for the copyist to insert the bulk of the toponyms in black, leaving spaces for the less frequent red names to follow. That is, on the assumption that it would be more convenient to work in one ink colour at a time, rather than continually switching pens so as to be able to write the names in a single continuous sequence.

One instance - actually occurring twice on different works by the same unknown chartmaker - might seem to contradict this. On the Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases (Pujades A11 & 12 - sheet 3 in each case) the red name for No.350 Denia (south of Valencia) seems to have been written in first. In both instances the black cauo de martin (No.348) was written around the red denia. While presumably intentional, this is inelegantly done. In the Corbitis Atlas case, this meant breaking the first word into two, cau o, and on the Pinelli-Walckenaer Atlas the two sections of the black name do not align properly. It is hard to see a different interpretation but the reason for this is obscure since there was ample room for both red and black names.

However, it seems clear that that inserting the red names first would have been an unusual procedure. Pujades's experience matches mine in observing that the red names were generally added later. He also noted instances where the red names had been carelessly omitted (2009, p.305). This is unlikely to have happened if those red names were supposed to be already in place when the person wielding the black ink pen proceeded along the coast [see below for a discussion of whether one or two scribes is likely to have been involved].

Indeed, there is ample evidence that the red names were usually added in a separate operation after the black/brown ink ones. A good example is the anonymous Venetian atlas from the second quarter of the 15th century (Vatican, Vat. Lat. 9015) reproduced on the Pujades DVD as A31 (sheet 3). There was insufficient space to insert in red No.470 Nolli (near Savona) and so it was written inland with a line pointing to its proper position. On the same sheet, a little to the east, the black ink scribe had started to repeat the black name magra by mistake. The two redundant black letters were then crossed through with the red ink pen that then wrote No.500 motron alongside.

A puzzling, and apparently contradictory example, is provided by the Luxoro Atlas (unsigned but in the hand of Francesco Cesanis, fl. 1421). Its first sheet (Pujades A14) appears to include a repeat of No.79 Nantes, again in red. Certainly there is no other red name expected at that point. Evidently written over the top of the misplaced second instance, and diagonally across it, is the usual normoster (No.85) in black. This might seem to indicate a 'red first' procedure. However, confusingly, the same sheet includes a red Aviles on the north Spanish coast, written inland with red dots running from the name to the point on the coast to which it referred - clear evidence that insufficient space had been left by whoever wrote in the black names earlier. No.1803 Arzila (west Morocco) provides another example of the use of locating red dots. That technique may, incidentally, prove to be one used only by Venetian practitioners of the early 15th century, though that needs to be confirmed.

Another question that arises is whether the black and red names were written by the same person. In the case of the 1424 Pizzigano chart (Pujades C35) there are indications that two different scribes might have been involved. Some of the red names, Bilbao, Lisbon and Tortosa, for example, have been inserted in a way that is unsympathetic to that of the earlier black names. The red toponym has been placed partly on top of the black name or with a different alignment. Incidentally, the same chart provides further proof of the 'black names first' thesis with the treatment of No.1803 Arzila (west Morocco). This has been broken in two, arlara sia, either side of Tangier. It has to be said, though, that there is no obvious difference in the handwriting. See for example the second, black instance of Arzila.

As always with portolan chart analysis there are exceptions to any rule and frequent inconsistencies. Names that regularly appear in red in a particular chartmaker's work may occasionally be written in black. Sometimes a name will be written twice, with the black and red versions alongside one another. However, it is generally fair to make three assertions.

First, that the decision to accord or remove the enhanced status that red implied was not casual but usually the result of careful consideration, or perhaps just faithful copying from the work of another. One telling example can be found in the anonymous Venetian atlas of c.1425-50, already referred to above (Pujades A31). No.1056 malido (near Gallipoli) has not been noted in red anywhere else. But the fact that it is shown thus on two overlapping sheets (1 & 2) proves that the red was intentional.

Second, whether there were two separate toponymic workshop 'patterns', showing the sequence and general placement of, respectively, black and red names, or whether there was a single composite model, the usual practice was to write the black names first and then, as a separate operation, the red ones. But it was, effectively, part of a single operation since the second, red-ink insertions depended on the appropriate space being left when the black toponyms were written in previously. Exceptionally, in Istria most of the names, by a certain period, had become red. This meant, for example on the 1426 Ziroldi atlas in the Marciana Library, Venice (Pujades A16 sheet 6) that the two black names, No.771 quieto and No.772a leme, had had to be carefully positioned so to allow the nine red ones to be added around them afterwards in their appropriate places.

The 1494 chart by the otherwise unknown Venetian chartmaker Giorgio di Giovanni argues perhaps for the existence of a separate listing or pattern for the red names. Proceeding along the south coast of the Black Sea, between No.1260 Tripoli and 1284 Sinopolli, he made a mistake. This affected the three intervening red names. Demonstrating that he was working along the coast in a clockwise direction, he first repeated Tripoli in error, which thus pushed down the next red names, No.1263 Chirisonda (chresona) and No.1272 Vatisa (varša). Realising his error at this point, he simply added the correct names alongside. Thus the sequence runs, tripolli, tripolli chresona, chressona varša, varša simiso, sinopolli. As so often happens, it is the mistakes that reveal the working methods. Had he been using a composite toponymic guide with all the names in a single sequence, or if he had relied on memory, he would surely have been aware that Chirisonda, and not Tripoli, should be placed between giraprimo and sco vassilli.

The third assertion would be that any new decision as to which name would appear in black and which in red must have been already taken at the first, black ink stage, though the duplication of a name in both black and red must indicate a lack of coordination in the workshop or carelessness at one or other stage.

A different explanation will be needed for the total absence of red names in a few instances. One example is the Vatican fragment, Vat. Lat. 14207 (C12). This might conceivably result from the specific composition of the red ink leading to it becoming a fugitive colour (as is certainly the case with the Lucca chart). However, that could not explain the omission of red names from sheet 4 of the Medici Atlas (Pujades A25) since the other sheets all have red names. It is more likely that the works in question were simply unfinished.

More difficult to understand is the intermittent absence of the expected red names on, for example, the untypical atlas of 1430, drawn in Siena by a chartmaker named after his home port, Briatico. His omissions can be seen by reading down the column for that atlas in the relevant detailed table: Presence of Red Names on the portolan charts (1400-50).

Top of page

Red Names Menu (see for details of all the tables and graphs)   |  Toponymy Menu   |  Portolan Charts Main Menu

HOME (main menu)  |  Tony Campbell articles  |  Index   |   Sitemap   |   What this site is about   |   What's New

eXTReMe Tracker