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Innovative Portolan Chart Names

(an extended essay)

Mounted on the web 12 February 2012 - additions and corrections are noted in the appropriate place with a dated statement between { }, which can be searched for

Toponymy Menu (listing the tables and graphs referred to here)   |  Portolan Charts Main Menu
Table of 'Significant Names' (a Microsoft Word document)           |        Toponymy Methodology

See also Abandoned names (a note, with tables & graphs)

For the full details of the works mentioned below see the Bibliography

This prints out to about 32 pages




How should we understand the significance of the added names?
How did names get onto the chart?


Historical Comments

Themed Comments

For details of the accompanying tables and graphs see the Toponymy Main Menu


These pages on portolan chart toponymy from the earliest times up to 1600 bring together the work of several years, spread, intermittently, across more than a quarter century. The provision of high quality scans - covering the period up to 1469 on the DVD accompanying Pujades (2007) and via the internet for the period thereafter - has allowed the original study, published in The History of Cartography in 1987, to be extended so as to give an overview of three centuries, with some later sampling as late as 1677.

The main data source is the listing of all the 1,800 {increased to about 2,800 in the period up to 2017} recurring names found on the continuous coastline between France and Morocco. The year of the name's first recorded inclusion and the chartmaker responsible are noted, as well as the date of its last observed appearance. Modern identifications are attempted for each name and comments provided.

There have been various general listings of all the names found on one or a small group of charts but Konrad Kretschmer's Die italienischen Portolane des Mittelalters of 1909 is still the only large-scale toponymic survey, at least of charts up to about 1500. He examined eleven charts and seven written portolani, providing modern identifications where he could. [Harvard University has mounted a scanned version of this. You can search for any word and enlarge the retrieved page.]

The criterion for inclusion in the present listing was that the name recurred on the work of a subsequent chartmaker, i.e. that it became part, however tenuously, of the shared toponymic language. Only dated or reliably datable works were considered although some of the comments refer to undated charts. A very rough estimate is that perhaps a further 350 rare and irregular names might have been overlooked for the period up to 1470.

This main toponymic table has been heavily exploited for this essay and subsidiary tables pulled from it. However, as each is sortable on up to three fields at a time, it invites future researchers to pose their own questions.

What generalisations can be made? The main conclusion is a firm endorsement of my original claim for the dynamism of the charts' toponymy, in the face of previous interpretations that saw it as essentially static. There are many figures (perhaps too many) among the dense analysis in these pages but one or two may be helpful here. The fact that the overall total of names found on charts between the early 14th century and 1600 remained broadly constant masks the reality that a large number were introduced into the shared language (as so-called 'Significant Names') or were abandoned. The baseline is provided by what are termed 'Foundation Names', those found initially in Vesconte's earliest works of 1311-1313. The later Significant Names total as much as 75% of that original selection, and those discarded at some point before 1600 nearly a half.

Nor was it a simple process of introducing new settlement names and jettisoning those for places that had fallen into irrelevance, though some of that did happen. Perhaps half the introduced names referred to natural features, which, by definition, were not new, but the same applies to the human geography. It was less a settlement's creation than its growing relevance for navigators that seems to have won it a place on the charts. Nor was it just a case of abandoning 'old' names. Over a half of those rejected had themselves been added to the original selection.

The detailed analysis looked at the work of individuals and, for the earlier period, the different production centres. The coastline under examination, running from Dunkirk right round the Mediterranean and Black Seas to Mogador, Morocco, was broken down into 31 sections, and those in turn shaped into seven main regions. Statistics were gathered separately for the 14th century and for each subsequent half century.

Numerous patterns can of course be observed: for example the way that many of the names Vesconte introduced in Venice are picked up by Dulceti in Majorca and then repeated by the Pizzigani in Venice. But the single most plausible generalisation is the disappointing conclusion that few confident statements can be made at all. Dynamism is undoubtedly, and understandably, more marked in the Adriatic than along the north African coast, but to any pattern relating to areas or periods there will be clear exceptions. Indeed, several of the accompanying tables concentrate on phenomena such as rare or irregular names, long gaps between a name's introduction and its second appearance or as a result of a late revival (sometimes of a century or more later), delayed transmission between chartmaking centres, and so on.

Nordenski÷ld's ground-breaking Periplus of 1897, compared the names of four charts from different periods, concluding that there was little change between them. Inevitably, Barcelona and Alexandria will appear in every case. It would be amazing if they did not, just as three-quarters of the original names (a number of them in red) survived beyond 1600. But the way to understand the charts' vitality is to concentrate on the often inconsistent introduction or exclusion of (mostly) lesser names.

The practitioners of 15th-century Palma, Majorca, when they belatedly repeated some names that had by then long been a standard feature of Italian work, did so, not in a single burst, but in at least seven small selections. This emphasises a recurring observation: that, while portolan chart toponymy was certainly shared, whether a name lived or died was often the result of an individual's choice.

Some of the findings of this new, expanded study merely corroborate the earlier results: for example emphasising the importance of Vesconte, Dulceti, the Pizzigani brothers and Francesco Beccari. But the new availability of images for the period after 1430 (and for a few earlier charts that had previously been misdated) made it possible to answer such questions as these: which chartmaker was responsible for introducing a particular name, which areas saw most/least innovation, in which period, and so on. One result of that analysis was an appreciation of the surprising toponymic energy of the Oliva/Olives family in the second half of the 16th century, following a century of relative stagnation. This does not seem to have been remarked on before.

The second half of the 16th century, which ended this systematic investigation, was also surprisingly ruthless in discarding names that were no longer needed. No less than 60% of the names that disappear from the charts over those three centuries vanished in the period 1550-1600, at a time when the usefulness of such hand-drawn navigational aids might have been thought nearing its end in the face of printed alternatives. Much of that culling was due to the relentless conservatism of Benincasa's successors, who had preserved his toponymic selection for a century after the 1460s. The 17th century was merely sampled but there are indications that a considerable number of names disappeared in what appears to have been a kind of mass extinction during its first decade or close to that.

Attaching the label 'new' to some of the 'Significant' names is hard to sustain. A superficial examination of four documents that predate the first dated chart - two 13th-century written portolani (the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum' and 'Lo compasso de navegare') and two charts that are supposedly earlier than Vesconte's of 1311 (the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart) - produced the unexpected finding that at least 14% of the names found on those documents were subsequently added to the charts after the date of Vesconte's initial productions. At least 17 of those names reappear only in the 15th or 16th centuries - further evidence that toponyms were being continually assessed for inclusion or rejection, or perhaps that old charts were being copied. This also provides a warning against placing too much weight on the presence or absence of a single name, unless that is supported by local evidence.

It has long been assumed that the motivating force behind this toponymic dynamism was trade. Charts were made for merchant seamen, who were both the consumers of such essential navigational information and the people who must have provided the toponymic details to the mostly land-bound chartmakers. There are certainly a few signs of this but more often than not the added names, sometimes in a cluster pointing to a single informant, have no obvious commercial significance. They seem to reflect neither the known patterns of trading voyages nor the location of the entrep˘ts set up by the Venetians, Genoese or Catalans. What does emerge clearly, however, is the importance of propinquity. Not surprisingly, you always know more about your immediate surroundings. So the Venetians were toponymically more active in the Adriatic and the Catalans and Genoese in the seas they shared.

The pages of text and tables that make up the Toponymy component of this Portolan Chart publication provide a solid factual basis for future investigation. Many questions have been posed; a number remain unanswered. Since the tables can be sorted they are a potential springboard for the research of others, though it is necessary to warn that the understandable search for clear patterns underlying the four or more centuries of portolan chart production may at times be frustrating.

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When I started working on the early portolan charts at the beginning of the 1980s, the only attempt to comment on their overall toponymic development had been in the pioneering study of 1897 by Adolf Erik Nordenski÷ld, Periplus. Having transcribed (pp.25-44) all the names ('legends') from four works [one of which, the Luxoro atlas, like others at that time, he unfortunately placed at the beginning of the 14th century rather than well into the 15th] Nordenski÷ld concluded that the Sanudo-Vesconte atlas, 'in its style of drawing and in its legends completely corresponds ... with all the portolanos of the normal type from the 14th-17th centuries' (p.56b). My specialist concentration on this topic, aided by the almost full-size illustrations in the monumental Youssouf Kamal work (1926-51), allowed a wider exercise than was possible for Nordenski÷ld, as part of the preparation for Chapter 19 of Volume 1 of The History of Cartography (Chicago University Press, 1987). One of the main motives for my investigation was to test Nordenski÷ld's statement.

The resulting analysis considered 47 out of the 57 works then thought to date up to 1430 [the point at which Kamal's systematic reproductions ceased]. For fully understandable reasons it was not possible to publish massive columns of parallel names and so the findings were presented purely numerically: in other words, in terms of presence or absence, not orthography. Returning to portolan chart research again after a gap of 25 years, aided by developments in computing and the Internet, I decided to put some flesh on the bones of that earlier presentation and extend its date range. These webpages are the result.

The 1987 'Chapter' could do no more than assign what were termed 'Significant Names' and then test for their recurrence on the work of at least one other chartmaker, so that they entered, even if erratically, the general toponymic pool. The oldest surviving dated work, Pietro Vesconte's chart of 1311 omitted the Atlantic coasts and the western Mediterranean. The baseline for this new and expanded exercise comprises what are termed here 'Foundation Names'. These are defined as those first seen in 1311, or on the 1313 atlas for the areas not shown on the earlier chart. 1313 additions to what had been covered in 1311 are treated as the first Significant Names. At the other end of the timescale, although the main thrust of the analysis broadly ended with 1600, sufficient 17th-century productions were examined to determine which names continued up to or beyond that point. In the 'Disappears after' column of the 'Table of Significant Names' those that continue into the 17th century are indicated with a right-pointing arrow.

It is now possible to list all 1,800 recurring names that are found around the coastline between France and Morocco, thus covering the bulk of the toponyms included on the portolan charts. The circumstance of their first observed appearance and the date of their apparent abandonment are noted, along with modern identifications, commentary, and other classes of information, on the Table of 'Significant Names' (a Microsoft Word document) with accompanying Explanatory Notes. [For details of the decisions taken and the methods used in this investigation see Toponymy Methodology.]

This analysis still falls far short of the depth achieved by Ramon Pujades (2007, pp.350-97) who set out, for two stretches of coastline (Catalonia & Valencia and the northern Adriatic), every name on almost all of the accessible surviving charts up to 1469. This is now a necessary and invaluable starting-point for toponymic research and I have made much use of it in these pages.

The centrepiece 'Table of Significant Names' is based on full transcriptions for the continuous coastline between Dunkirk and Mogador on eight works up to 1468 and nine from there until the mid-17th century. The 85 handwritten, A3-sized pages that resulted are not being published but have been used to assess the need to cite variant name forms so as to assist recognition. To flesh out the details derived from the transcriptions, all the works up to 1469 reproduced on the Pujades DVD (2007) were examined and as wide a range as possible of facsimiles and Internet scans used for the period after that.

What I wrote in 1987 still seems relevant: "What [the portolan charts] show and what they omit should be considered an important comment on aspects of the medieval world. Had the influx of new names or the purging of obsolete ones occurred only at widely separated intervals, the portolan charts would be a much less useful and convincing record of the growth and decay of coastal Mediterranean settlements. Additional significance attaches to a name first found, say, on a dated chart of the fifteenth century because of the existence of successive earlier charts that had failed to show it" ('Chapter' p.426a). That needs to be qualified by the comment that the transmission of names from one chartmaker to others was far more erratic, piecemeal and at times delayed than I had appreciated.

Likewise, these words are still valid: "what is particularly surprising, about the early charts at least, is that all the dated or datable ones produced up to 1408 are innovators. Each one injects into the communal bloodstream at least a few names that show up in later work" ('Chapter' p.422a). However, that does needs minor amendment in the light of new findings, among them that the garbled date of the '1408' atlas, supposedly by Pasqualini, should be reinterpreted as 1448. But what can now be said goes even further in that new names can be found on the work of each of the 16 chartmakers who signed and dated their productions up to 1440: Vesconte, Dalorto/Dulceti, the Pizzigani, Cresques (Catalan Atlas), Soler, F. Beccari, Virga, Cesanis, Ziroldi, Viladesters (though not 1413 or 1428), Z. Pizzigano, B. Beccari, Briaticho, Bianco, Vallseca and Roselli. The only exception is the severely truncated Sentuzo Pongeto chart of 1404 (which, nevertheless, includes one name not otherwise seen after Vesconte, No.49 setiles).

To take the study of portolan charts - which must largely mean their toponymy - to a higher level, the approach demonstrated by Pujades would need to be extended both geographically and temporally. The full complement of names across the entire area covered by the early charts, including the islands, would need to be transcribed from all available works up to an agreed date and selectively thereafter. It is hardly conceivable that this could be carried out by a single person, and the six-volume cartobibliography of Dutch atlases by Cornelis Koeman, Atlantes Neerlandici, may provide an instructive model. Its Introduction talks of 'materials assembled by many hands, during thousands of hours of painstaking labours'.

Those (volunteers?) who came forward to assist in this enterprise would need - besides limitless dedication - certain specialist skills, most notably the ability to read the varied hands and to assign each name to its correct entry line - not a straightforward task given the confusion in areas like the eastern Adriatic. Obtaining scans of legible quality from the libraries and other owners around the world would entail considerable expense. And, at the end of it, there would be the challenge of 'publishing' this in a usable format. Having such non-numerical information available is of no value unless it can be effectively analysed, which is hard to do with columns extending well beyond the restricted size of a normal computer screen or the spread of a book opening. Each name in the 2007 Pujades analysis for Catalonia & Valencia and the northern Adriatic is arranged in up to 18 columns spread across a total of 24 double-pages, in an unusually large volume.

Until such a (dream?)time, it is hoped that the 'Table of Significant Names', along with the commentary and analysis found in these pages, will help to move the subject along in a constructive direction. It is perhaps permissible to echo the realistic words of Vicenš Rossellˇ i Verger (1995, p.350), when he wrote, "We believe that we have opened up paths - or modest tracks - which lead to the establishment of some toponymic characteristics ... One thing should be made clear at this point: these deductions have only been made by taking account of the toponyms recorded. Other approaches may either reinforce or cast doubt on these deductions."

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How should we understand the significance of the added names?

It is possible to read the introduction of new place-names in one of two ways: they could be a sign of strength or of weakness. On the one hand, a lack of additions along a particular coastal stretch may confirm the relevance and completeness of the original selection. Alternatively, added toponyms might reflect the way that successive seagoing informants had managed to overcome the chartmaker's ignorance or resistance to change. Resolution of those points would require the detailed, and necessarily local, investigation of each individual added name - not forgetting those that had been ignored. {Alterations made to this paragraph 25 January 2018 }

The fact that the personal totals for toponymic innovations read thus, in descending order of those with over 50 instances: at least 195 (Vesconte), 138 (Dulceti), about 115 (F.Beccari), 58 (Oliva family), 56 (Pizzigani brothers) - may, with the sole exception of the late Oliva contribution, reflect the fact that by, say, the early 15th century, most of the required names were already in place and what was added was genuinely new or newly relevant.

How did names get onto the chart?

A number of chance accidents must lie behind the incorporation, into a shared toponymic catalogue, of many of those innovative names. Those chartmakers who still went to sea, like Bianco, could have decided that certain places or features, currently omitted, were sufficiently important to navigators to be included. Perhaps they were indeed the first to include a particular name (and eight are attributed to Bianco) but, if so, few seem to have been repeated by other chartmakers and thus added to the list of 'Significant Names'.

There is no evidence that any of those who provided us with the great majority of new names did so on the basis of their own observations. Even the shipmaster Grazioso Benincasa had retired from the sea before he began to make charts. Francesco Beccari, the great innovator of the period around 1400, refers in his famous statement (transcribed in Pujades, 2007, p.461) to the 'masters, ship-owners, skippers and pilots' who were his informants ('Chapter' pp.427-8). Though he was referring to hydrographical improvements, it is inescapable that his toponymic additions must have come in the same way.

Occasionally there are clusters of fresh names, pointing presumably to a single informant. But that is rare. The majority arrive separately, thus underlying the intermittent and individual nature of toponymic injection into the charts. {This paragraph added 2 October 2013}

The borrowing of a name endows it with legitimacy and endorses the navigational relevance of the place or natural feature concerned. Alternatively, for those responsible for first placing a name on a chart, it might reflect the strength of an informant's urgings or the respect in which he was held by the chartmaker.

For those who added to their already worn workshop toponymical 'pattern' names plundered from the charts of others, that was presumably a form of tribute from one craftsman to another whom he considered superior. Chancing on a chart - perhaps one shown him by a sailor - whose signature he recognized as that of a famous master, we can imagine him noting down, in their correct sequence, those names that did not appear on his own work.

So, provided an informant could persuade the chartmaker to include the name on the first chart, what then? It would presumably be repeated by that practitioner and his family, as occurred with the Beccarian additions. But getting general acceptance was a different matter. How did the name get onto the work of a different chartmaker? Did somebody, perhaps in another city, see that man's work and copy it? Thus a pair of chance events might have been needed to get a name onto a chart and then into general circulation. A number of names managed the first stage but not the second.

Short-lived, even unique names must indicate specific information supplied to, or acquired personally by, the chartmaker (or the person they imitated). That they were not copied by others presumably indicates their lack of general relevance. Some names might even have been added at the customer's request. Intermittent names may be a reflection of the same thing. As 'rare' or 'intermittent' names, those have not been considered in this analysis (to keep it within manageable proportions), but they have not of course been ignored entirely (see below, Rare and irregular names).

A qualitative distinction needs to be made between the names that would have been already present on the prototype charts - whether gathered specially or plundered from works like the 'Liber' - and the toponyms added to the charts over the following centuries. The original names were presumably gathered systematically, even if no exercise had covered more than an individual region. But later additions would have depended on the successive judgement of an informant, subsequently ratified by a chartmaker. Crucially, the toponymic lists were not subject to the same limitation of space as the charts, which might, for example, explain some of the Istrian names found only in the 'Liber'. This pressure of space caused more rationing as the number of toponyms increased over the centuries. Thus the initial collection of toponyms was the result of an intentional and consistent process, but that would be replaced thereafter by a sequence of gradual, piecemeal and random additions, unless - and this seems unlikely - any data-gathering was commissioned. {This paragraph added 28 January 2018}

The removal of names might have occurred in similar ways, reflecting input from the same informants. An added impetus could have been to reduce, even by a small amount, the workload associated with the scribal aspect of a chart's creation. This may partly explain the big toponymic cull around 1600.

The value of these pages is likely to lie less in dramatic new findings than in the corroboration that this deepened and widened analysis gives to the earlier conclusions. The claims that had to be taken on trust in 1987 are here displayed as hard, detailed evidence that can be checked and, if and where necessary, challenged, corrected or amplified.

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As always, comments, criticism, new information and suggestions are sincerely welcomed

Please contact the author Tony Campbell:  




A few general figures may help to set the stage, and give an immediate, impressionistic answer to the question: how dynamic was portolan chart toponymy?


as % of Foundation Names

as % of Foundation & Significant Names combined

Foundation Names (1311-13)




Equivalent names on the 1439 chart




Total names still there in 1600 (found on at least one work)




New 'Significant Names' up to 1600




Foundation & Significant names combined




Total abandoned by 1600




Foundation Names still there in 1600




(*) The 1987 'Chapter' (p.422a) talked about the "sizable changing minority now revealed: more than five hundred place-names for coastlines where an average chart would have fewer than three times that number in all". For the period being considered then (up to 1469) the figure of identified innovations has now risen to 645, because of a greater tolerance of intermittent names and new access to illustrations.

First, the overall name total, for that long stretch of coastline, was relatively constant over the three centuries. I gave the following totals in 1987: late Vesconte atlas (1,191), Catalan Atlas (1,121) and 1593 Volcio (1,076). "Except for the very earliest period when regular additions were being incorporated, therefore, a simple name total is no easy pointer to the date of compilation" (see 'Chapter' p.420, note 334). To those figures can be added the 1,154 for the equivalent stretch on the 1439 Vallseca chart (Pujades, 2009 pp. 154-71). The slightly larger total of names still current in 1600 (1,287) would never have been present on a single chart, given the different selections favoured by respective chartmakers.

Over three quarters of those names first found on Vesconte's earliest productions ('Foundation Names') were still there 300 years later. But the dynamism comes out clearly in the overall figure for innovations, the 'Significant Names'. In all, those comprise three-quarters as many as were found initially in 1311-1313, while the total number of names abandoned at some point in those three centuries (462) represents 46% of the Foundation Names. As a further argument against the conservative view of portolan chart toponymy it should be noted that 243 of the abandoned names were themselves innovations.

That is the overall picture. How it breaks down by individual, place of production, region and by date, is illustrated in a suite of tables and graphs. The attempted interpretations that follow rarely provide a full match with expectation and are at times unexpected.

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The following analysis highlights individual features and general trends that might not be immediately apparent in the highly detailed general listing, The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline (a Microsoft Word document). As would be expected, the 14th century is dominated by the work of the Vescontes and, secondarily, by Dalorto/Dulceti.


Since this analysis is concerned exclusively with dated or reliably datable works, and given that no other identified chartmaker was working during the Vescontes' period of known activity between 1311 and 1327, there is a danger in assuming that they alone were responsible for all the toponymic innovation that preceded that of Dalorto/Dulceti in the 1330s. As is demonstrated in the Later introduction of 'precursor names' seen on selected early works (a Microsoft Word document) almost 60 of the Vescontes' supposedly 'new' names (roughly one-third) can be found on earlier written portolani or on two charts assumed to pre-date 1311. However, there is a handful of other undated charts that have been loosely assigned to the period before 1330. The detailed investigation of the toponymy of those and other early works is planned to form a future part of this investigation (**).

According to the criteria already explained, Vesconte initially deployed just short of 1000 'Foundation Names'. Over the next fourteen or so years Pietro and Perrino steadily contributed almost 200 more names. [I had stated in 1987 that they had added just 119 names but that is a reflection of the more thorough recent revisitation and a greater willingness to include as 'Significant' some that did not reappear later ('Chapter' p.423a).] Those names that recur regularly in their charts and atlases but then seem to die with them have been treated as 'Significant Names', even if this breaks the declared rule. It is likely that some will be found repeated on the unsigned charts of the 14th century even if they did not enter the general toponymic 'blood-stream'.

Overall, the Vescontian additions to Pietro's earliest work represented 20% of the entire total of recurring innovative names added up to 1600. [See '3. Innovative name totals by individuals to 1600' on The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline (tables) (a Microsoft Word document)]. But how many of the 994 'Foundation Names', treated as the bedrock, were actually further Vescontian additions that might have been seen on lost works by him before 1311? One-third of those names are not recorded until 1313, but almost all of those are in nine of my 31 sections that were not covered in 1311. At least 40 names were noted as having been definitely added in 1313 to the 1311 corpus but how many more of the other 324 names on the 1313 atlas would have been identified as innovations had the 1311 chart covered the whole region? The steady stream of additions introduced after 1313 by the Vescontes must make it likely that the true number of Vescontian innovations was considerably more than the 195 so far identified. About another 20 names could be expected, pro rata.

A note of all the Foundation Names that had not appeared on the Carte Pisane or Cortona chart would be instructive but, as far as I know, such an exercise has not yet been carried out. The early portolani might be considered here as well, although, as we show below (Portolani and printed charts), the written charts and texts have partly independent developments.

The 138 names first found on the three charts of Dalorto/Dulceti (1330, 1339 and the [slightly?] later unsigned work in the British Library) represented a further 14% of the overall total. Given the possibility of overlap between the active careers of Vesconte and Dalorto/Dulceti, some of the late Vescontian innovations might actually have been added in Majorca. The remainder of that century saw another 56 new names from the Pizzigani brothers and 24 from the Majorcans (on the Catalan Atlas of Jafuda Cresques and on the 1385 chart of Guillem Soler).

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Geographical distribution

The foregoing is the biographical view of the insertion of fresh toponyms in the 14th century. How were those distributed geographically? The same general table [The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline (tables) (a Microsoft Word document)] divides the continuous coastline between northern France and west Morocco into 31 sections. To give a more generalised picture, those are then grouped into seven regions [The addition of 'Significant Names' to the seven main regions (graphs & tables) (a Microsoft Word document)]. These comprise: (1) the Atlantic coasts, (2) from southern Portugal round to southern Italy, (3) the Adriatic and Morea (Peloponnese), (4) the Aegean and Sea of Marmora, (5) the Black Sea, (6) the southern coast of Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean, and (7) North Africa. Since the number of names in the various sections and regions varies considerably, the totals are also expressed as percentages so as to provide meaningful comparison.

Not surprisingly, given their base in Venice, the Vescontes' most notable contribution after 1313 was to add to the Istrian and Dalmatian coasts a further 29 names on top of the original 40. Other high totals were found for the adjoining sections of Italy's Adriatic coast. Because those sections are short, it would not immediately be clear that the coastal stretch comprising Albania, western Greece and Morea added 24 names to the baseline 45. Specifically, nine new names were recorded for the very short section for western Greece, where only eight were found originally.

At the other end of the scale no new names at all were noted on Vescontian work for western France or Egypt and no more than two for southern Italy, the eastern Mediterranean, Algeria and Tunisia. Additions along the Libyan and Moroccan coasts were the only exceptions to their otherwise limited innovation for the long stretch from Thrace, round the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean, and along north Africa.

Predictably, there are exceptions to those patterns: for example the thirteen names first found along the southern coast of Portugal and Spain. But the overall picture seems to be of the Vescontes strengthening the toponymy of the Adriatic, while receiving (with the exceptions mentioned) limited fresh information about other coastlines. The toponymy of the British Isles was not considered in this exercise but it is worth noting the contrast between Vesconte's notable updating of both their shape and toponymy and his generally conservative treatment of the European coastal names between Dunkirk and Cape St Vincent. Just ten new names were added there to the original 126.

Trading Routes

How obvious a match is there between these observed toponymic innovations and the pattern of Venetian trade in the early 14th century as well as the distribution of their commercial posts? In relation to two historical maps showing, respectively, commercial establishments and trading routes, the connection between chart and trade seems to be an erratic one (see Pujades, 2007, pp.34-7 - taken from Sezgin, 2004). The Adriatic was of course of considerable concern to the Venetians and no doubt the added place-names reflect that. But they also had strong interests in the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean, as well as Tunisia and Algeria - all areas that benefitted little from additional Vescontian names. And why were eleven names added to the original selection for Libya? Most are far from the important trading centre of Tripoli. Likewise, what is the commercial significance of the run of eight names added by Vesconte in 1318 to the west Moroccan coast between Azamor and Mogador [Nos 1820-33]?

One possible line of enquiry would be to list the direct, long-distance sailing routes (the pelegi, or variant spellings of that) in the surviving portolani. If the destinations change over time it could be revealing.


Continuing with further Venetian innovations, it is significant (if unsurprising) that the only other known practitioners in that city during the 14th century, the Pizzigani brothers, inserted almost half their 56 additional place-names along the same Italian, Istrian and Dalmatian stretches as Vesconte had favoured.

Turning now to those active in Palma, Majorca (Dalorto/Dulceti, Jafuda Cresques - considered only in this context for the Catalan Atlas, not the workshop productions - and G. Soler) the analysis throws up little of note except perhaps the 12 names added on the 'Dalorto' chart of 1330 along the south coast of the Black Sea. Five of those, between Sevastopol and Fasso, adjoin, which presumably points to a single information transfer. It is worth pointing out that whereas Vesconte introduced considerably more names for the Adriatic (coastal sections 11-15) than can be found added to dated Catalan charts (68 against 19), as might be expected, the Catalan chartmakers introduced slightly more names (24 rather than Vesconte's 20) for the coast between southern Portugal and Calabria (sections 6-9). [See the detailed listing in The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline (tables) (a Microsoft Word document).]

Propinquity is the most obvious explanation. Chartmakers were most likely to receive toponymic suggestions relating to areas closest to their home port, and to act on those.

Overall, the 14th century is most notable for the toponymic innovations around the Adriatic. Precisely as many names, 120, were added to Sections 11-15 as appear among the original 'Foundation Names'.

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Toponymic innovations from the first half of the 15th century are just half those for the 14th (202 against 413), while those observed in the period 1451-1500 plummet to a mere 46. Unquestionably the greatest innovator of the 15th century, in more than just toponymy, was Francesco Beccari. He left a single original chart (1403), on which 80 fresh names can be discerned. But the later Venetian collection, known as the Cornaro Atlas, includes what is obviously a careful copy of a lost work of his (with two versions of the Black Sea), evidently later than the chart now at Yale University. This adds to his total a further 22 previously unrecorded names, if, as seems most plausible, they are attributed to Francesco rather than to those - Virga (1409), Cesanis (1421), Pizzigano (1424) and Francesco's son Battista - on whose dated works they otherwise first appear. Battista is credited with 30 new names, some of which were probably added by him. However, 16 of those, first definitely identified on Beccari's charts of 1426 (which is partly illegible) and 1435, can be seen on the Cornaro Atlas copies. It is therefore likely that Francesco should be credited with about 116 toponymic innovations in all. [See the additional lines in that detailed table, first for the Cornaro Atlas copy of a Beccari chart, then for the estimated total of Beccarian introductions for each coastal section - The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline (tables) (a Microsoft Word document) - see Table 1 and its note 4.]

Working from the larger totals of those names that can with reason be attributed to Francesco Beccari, we can see three areas that are more affected than others. The eight new names he adds for the east coast of the Black Sea equals the total number of 14th-century innovations for that stretch. These interpolations into what was populated almost entirely with 1311 Vescontian names are relatively close together. The second concentration (of 23 names, against 12 added in the 14th century) can be seen along the west coast of France and north coast of Spain. There is a notable cluster of seven consecutive additions between Brest and Nantes, which indicate a single informant (or an earlier chart bearing those details) . Finally, the Genoese Beccari, like his Catalan predecessors in Majorca, adds a considerable number of new names (42 in all) for the coasts to the west and south of Savona where he signed his chart.

The other 15th-century practitioners who introduced more than a handful of new names - or, more correctly, on whose dated works they can first be made out - are F. Cesanis (31 - no doubt partly reflecting the innovations of his anonymous Venetian contemporaries) and, somewhat later, G. Benincasa (23). The modest number of 46 names for that period (half of them from Benincasa) are too evenly spread to reveal any regional bias.

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Further comments can be offered on a handful of individual 15th-century chartmakers:

Pinelli-Walckenaer Atlas
This or the same author's Corbitis Atlas, and other related Venetian works assigned to the first quarter of the 15th century - for example the atlas in the Naval Museum in Venice (Pujades A 15) - introduce a number of names that were restricted to Venetian works and apparently short-lived. This was particularly noticeable along the North African coast. For example, between Tripoli and Rasamabes there are normally three names but four new ones have been added.

The 1424 chart, covering just the Atlantic coasts and Spain, has a considerable number of distinctive, perhaps unique, names. Though these were not studied carefully, examples can be seen along the French coast between Saint-Malo and Brest, and then Nantes to La Rochelle. The toponymy of this chart, celebrated for other reasons, is surely worth further investigation. See CortesŃo (1954) pp. 12-18, and his comment (p.11) about the difficulty of reading some of the names and doubts about his own suggested modern equivalents.

A check of the 1430 Briaticho columns in the Pujades listings for Catalonia & Valencia and the northern Adriatic (2007, pp. 390, 353, 361, 369) revealed just a single original name: fun naso (No.729 Fornace, between Ravenna and Loreto). This name, given as for ni on the slightly later Bianco atlas (1436) is otherwise recorded by Pujades only for the Cornaro Atlas copies of charts by Francesco and Alvise Cesanis. However, nearby pelestrina (No.736), a little closer to Venice - and not noted by Pujades - is another recurring innovation that should be attributed to Briaticho.

The red briaticho which he places next to Turpia (in Calabria, No.590) is almost certainly a unique instance of that small coastal town's only chartmaker celebrating his birth-place. However, in checking for other names I noticed some unusual (possibly unique) Briaticho toponyms, particularly in the Morea, as well as some ambiguous names which, if accepted as such, would represent further first appearances.

The 1436 atlas and 1448 chart seem to have introduced a number of new, uncommon names, for example along the stretch between Calais and Dieppe.

There are unexplained variations in Roselli's toponymy. Pujades's listings for Catalonia & Valencia and the northern Adriatic (2007, pp. 397, 377, 381, 385), include four Roselli charts (1447-62) but not the four later surviving works (dated 1464-8). For Catalonia & Valencia there is broad consistency in the Pujades listings but for the Adriatic the 1456 and 1462 charts are distinguished by a number of shared additions and omissions. However, for the stretch between Thessaloniki and Asperoza, the 1456 chart (Pujades C 59), right in the middle of Roselli's dated output, stands out from his other name selections, both earlier and later. In that short stretch there are six omissions or additions not found on any other Roselli chart. A different situation can be seen with plagie [arenosas] in Morocco between Niffe and Azamor. What had at first seemed like a useful dating aid proved illusory. That two-word form appeared in 1447, the second word was dropped for charts in the period 1456-64, but the fuller version was reinstated for 1465-8. Overall, Roselli's toponymy seems to have been far less consistent than Benincasa's. The erratic inclusion of iconographic elements described elsewhere [Anonymous works and the question of their attribution to individual chartmakers or to their supposed workshops] may point to similar aspects of his (or, if he had one, his atelier's) working methods but, if so, their meaning is elusive. While the 1456 and 1462 charts are the only ones to feature a vignette of Venice without the usual accompaniment of Genoa, in terms of Rosellian iconography neither chart is particularly distinctive.

Grazioso Benincasa was not a major toponymic innovator, although the 23 names noted as appearing first on his work and then repeated thereafter was a higher total than could be seen on the work of his contemporaries. However, in contrast to what seems to have been his marked toponymic conservatism after 1465 (and for a century beyond that on the work of his successors), a number of discrepancies were noticed for the section between Toulon and Genoa (in all, representing about 32 names) [see Table D of Rare names, toponymic gaps and reintroductions (a Microsoft Word document)].

Benincasa signed his earliest surviving chart from Genoa in 1461, although he was in Venice by 1463. Unfortunately, neither the work of 1461 nor the other preserved in the Florence Archives (and thought to be from the same year) was sufficiently legible to be of much use (Pujades C 62 & 63). Instead, the Toulon-Genoa analysis was based on the other scans available to me: Pujades A 33-41 (nine atlases from the period 1463-9), the online version of the British Library's 1470 chart, the 1476 Andrea Benincasa atlas in Geneva, and the 1497 chart by his close imitator Conte di Otomanno Freducci. So, twelve works in all, from 1463-97.

The nine names listed in that Toulon-Genoa table, each with its Geographical Sort number from the 'Table of Significant Names', are those where inconsistencies were noted. The other names have been ignored. The three unique instances are clearly more significant than occasional omissions, which could have been due to carelessness or the need to avoid overcrowding. Three of the names appear to have been intentionally abandoned. However, few of the later Grazioso or Andrea Benincasa works could be consulted for corroboration.

Other areas would need to be tested in this way to see if such inconsistencies recur anywhere else in Benincasa's output. The Pujades listings for Catalonia & Valencia and the northern Adriatic (involving works up to 1465 only) show some minor variations - mostly just omissions. Alternatively, the Toulon-Genoa section may prove to have some special significance.

On Benincasa in general, see The style and content of Grazioso Benincasa's charts: imitation, innovation and repetition.

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In 1987 I had concluded that 'sixteenth- and seventeenth-century charts were toponymically static' ('Chapter' p.422, note 348). At that stage I had looked at very few charts after 1500, though that may be insufficient excuse. But the figures in the general Table 1 of The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline (tables) and more obviously in Table 1 of The addition of 'Significant Names' to the seven main regions (graphs & tables) (both Microsoft Word documents), where the totals of new and abandoned names are displayed for each period, show immediately that the second half of the 16th century was unusually active in that respect. For details, see the section below on Oliva and more particularly The disappearance of 'Significant Names' from the 31 sections of coastline (tables) (a Microsoft Word document).

My negative comment is, however, still broadly relevant for the period between 1450 and 1550. This saw a general toponymic stagnation, with the followers of Grazioso Benincasa faithfully preserving for a further century, into the 1560s, the name selection he had favoured.

First, a general caveat about the selection of post-1500 names. Only one surviving dated chart was produced outside the Mediterranean before that year: Aguiar's of 1492, made in Lisbon. Many more Portuguese portolan charts followed in the first half of the 16th century, being joined by Norman practitioners in Dieppe by the 1540s. [For a list of their productions, by Sarah Toulouse, see The History of Cartography , Vol. 3, Part 2, pp. 1563-8.] Later in that century and into the next the Dutch and English belatedly enter the picture.

Few of these Atlantic productions have been considered. To excuse the omission of most of the Dieppe and all the London charts from this toponymic analysis it is fair to say that their selections of names and the form those take is markedly different from what can be seen on the work of their Mediterranean contemporaries. However, a sample check of the 17th-century school of London chartmakers associated with the Drapers' Company and based along the River Thames demonstrates an unusually rich toponymy for the nearby French coastline. These very provisional observations, combined with the following comments about Portuguese charts, again suggest an expected affinity with what is near at hand. This generalisation seems an obvious area for future research to confirm or contradict.

Portuguese charts
The magnificent, and broadly comprehensive, volumes of the Portugaliae Monumenta Cartographica offer illustrations of every Portuguese chart, but unfortunately most are not clear enough to read the names. Portuguese works may have been largely omitted from this study but there are signs that the 16th-century Lisbon chartmakers were alert to changes along the European Atlantic coasts. This is noticeable for France's north coast (but less for its west coast) as well as Spain's west coast, but not its northern shores. This implies not just that the Portuguese were looking to other Atlantic and more distant coasts accessible from Lisbon rather than showing great interest in the Mediterranean, but also suggests that their usual trading voyages to the north would have involved sailing directly to the English Channel rather than coasting round the shores of the Bay of Biscay. The historical map of trade routes produced by Fuat Sezgin and reproduced in Pujades (2007, pp.36-7) shows such a direct route as typical for the Genoese and Venetians of the previous centuries, while the Catalans alone made regular stops at Bilbao and Bayonne.

Additional names along the Breton and Norman coastline can be observed in the work of Diego Homem and others. Among those is Le Havre. Founded by Francis 1 in 1517 as Le Havre de GrÔce, it has not been noted earlier than the British Library's Homem atlas of 1558, and - from what I have been able to see - not shown thereafter until perhaps 1630. Further research would be needed to confirm that surprising finding.

The similarity in appearance of Portuguese charts covering the traditional portolan chart regions - for example, the 1546 Freire and 1547 'Vallard' atlases and the later work of Vaz Dourado - have no doubt been mentioned by others [though I could see nothing in PMC]. The coastal outlines are simplified and the lettering large. While that inevitably reduced the number of toponyms that could be fitted in, there are signs of variation in the selection of names, implying that they were making conscious choices.

One way to overcome the restricted space for place-names was to introduce abbreviations, and instances of that were noticed on the Freire and 'Vallard' atlases of a kind not observed in non-Portuguese work. The Crimean Peninsula always presented a logistical toponymic challenge. After Caffa, the next three names are presented by Freire as zo, conost and apico, corresponding to zauida, conestaxi and ciprico (Nos 1163-5). For names around Pontevedra along Spain's north-west coast the 'Vallard Atlas' takes the process a stage further, squeezing in Pa, Po and Ra to denote Padrˇn, Pontevedra and Redondela (Nos 196-200). Freire goes to the minimalist extreme at that point with just the initial letters for the three names. These harbours would have been well known to any Portuguese sailors proceeding north from Lisbon. Since Mediterranean navigators might not have found this shorthand so helpful - otherwise, why are equivalent abbreviations not found on Italian and Spanish charts - the inescapable conclusion is that such charts were designed for the exclusive use of Portuguese sailors.

Partly contradicting the above, similar abbreviations were observed, during 2012, on the atlas produced in 1430 by Cola de Briaticho, from the small coastal town of that name in southwest Italy. For example: tolo (Toulon), sana (Savona), piub (Piombino), term (Termole), um (Umag), par (Parenso). In most of those cases, lack of space did not apply. {This paragraph added 1 October 2013}

One apparently isolated finding is that some names, first identified on the 1482 chart of the Majorcan practitioner, Jaume Bertran, were next seen in the 1546 Freire atlas. I have no explanation for this.

In the context of Portuguese charts it is worth drawing attention to the helpful 'Glossary of Portuguese words used as components for topographical features and landmarks in early Portuguese cartography' by J. Vidago, in Imago Mundi 10 (1953) pp.45-9.

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Oliva Family
The lack of a fully secure basis to any examination of charts produced after the 1469 cut-off date of the 2007 Pujades DVD, means there has to be hesitancy about conclusions drawn for the later period. However, the number of works consulted for the years 1470-1600 should certainly be sufficient to give an indication of general trends. It is unlikely that the overall picture will need to be radically changed in the light of further research, even if it proves possible to push back the first appearance of several, if not many of the names, perhaps by a few years.

The main thrust of the provisional conclusion is that almost as many names (80) appear to have been added in the second half of the 16th century as had appeared during the previous 100 years (77). The contrast between the two halves of the 16th century - just 31 new names were found for 1501-50 followed by a further 80 up to 1600 - is a surprising interruption to the preceding pattern of continuing reduction in the level of innovation. The explanation seems to lie with the members of the extended Oliva/Olives and Caloiro e Oliva dynasty. The Oliva were active in nine cities over a long period (1538-1673) and comprised fourteen individuals [see a convenient summary by Corradino Astengo in The History of Cartography, Vol.3, Part 1, p.262].

From the time that two new names were noted on a Bartolomeo Olives chart of 1538 up to an arbitrary cut-off date here of 1600, fifty-eight toponymic innovations have been attributed to the far-flung Oliva/Olives family, against a combined total of 24 for their various contemporaries during the second half of the 16th century. The Olivas were far and away the most prolific chartmakers of that period. Happily, a number of their works have been reproduced. Of the eighteen atlases and charts it was possible to examine at a distance (dating from the period 1538-1596), no fewer than thirteen proved to contain innovations. The observed Oliva works carry the following dates: 1538, 1552, 1559 (two), 1563 (two), 1566, 1568 (two), 1575, 1580, 1582, 1587, 1588, 1592 (two), 1594, 1596, as well as a some still later works (1602, 1614, 1615, 1619 & 1639). Four of the 16th-century works were helpfully reproduced in the catalogue to the Barcelona exhibition (see Rossellˇ i Verger, 1995) although not all are fully legible. Sometimes a name with the correct shape and in the right place was glimpsed on an earlier work but, because I did not record them as fresh introductions unless the reading was fairly confident, it is likely that some names could be moved earlier.

The combining of the Oliva toponymic additions in this way no doubt obscures real differences between the various individuals involved and the nature of their operations in separate cities. This phenomenon needs to be more closely examined by those specialising in this later period. I am not aware of any previous research supporting - or indeed contradicting - these conclusions. If I have missed such I hope to be informed of it.

At the other end of the story only 12 names have so far been recorded as last appearing on a work of the Oliva family. [See the detailed listing in The disappearance of 'Significant Names' from the 31 sections of coastline (tables) (a Microsoft Word document).]

Given that only a sample of charts from this period could be examined via reproduction, this late creative flowering of portolan chart toponymy, and the central role in that process claimed for a single, widespread family group, may prompt understandable scepticism. How can we be sure that one of the other chartmaking firms - Agnese, Maggiolo, Martines, Prunes, Russo, Volcio - had not been the first to include, on unexamined or non-surviving charts, some or even all those names? That is certainly possible but the following check-list may allay some fears.

For example, the even more-widely spaced works by the Maggiolo family (1512-88) produced just 20 new names, visible on three works, out of the six examined (1512, 1516, 1519, 1535, 1562, 1588). Three Prunes productions revealed seven names (from works of 1553, 1563, 1592, 1599), while four names first appear on four Agnese atlases (on the basis of the very small sampling of the many he produced and the good number that have been reproduced - 1536, 1544, 1553, 1554). Two names can be seen on a 1520 Russo chart (but not on one of 1508), and likewise on the 1570 Martines atlas (but not on works of 1567, 1586, 1587, 1591), and just one on the 1593 atlas by Volcio (but not on works of 1592 and 1607) [For details of those works,see the listing of Post-1469 charts.]

So, it is not just the quantity of the Olivan innovations that matters (58), but rather the fact that they were seen on a succession of productions yet being absent from those that preceded them. While his contemporaries adopted some of the Olivan innovations, they were usually slow to do so. Thus some names, if used with caution, could help to identify the work of the Olivas.

The only other instance of such a continuous and widespread reassessment of the toponymy that is arguably the portolan charts' most valued feature (at least on those intended for use at sea) had occurred two and a half centuries earlier with the Vescontes, during what looks to have been the first instance of organised portolan chart creation.


On the question of an extended toponymy found on some larger-scale charts produced after the mid-point of the 16th century see below Larger scale works and the quantity of names.

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The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline (tables) (a Microsoft Word document) summarises in Tables 4-6 the relative change for each of the 31 geographical sections during each of the five periods. These are expressed as percentages because the sections, which were chosen on the basis of geographic logic, varied greatly in the number of both early Vesconte 'Foundation Names' and subsequent additions. The original figures ranged from just eight for the west coast of Greece to 62 for the south coast of the Black Sea.

From the ordered lists in Table 5 it can immediately be seen that the toponymically most dynamic region was that short stretch of Greece's Adriatic coast as far south as the Gulf of Corinth. Overall, 25 names would be added to the original eight, representing a threefold increase. However, that did not necessarily mean that the name density also increased, rather that there was a wider selection of alternative names in use. The coast to the north of that, between Istria and Albania, registered the next highest overall innovation figures but, unlike the constant development for Greece, change for the rest of the eastern Adriatic was erratic.

In general, it seems likely that there are no further meaningful geographical patterns to add to those already mentioned. The eastern Mediterranean and north African coast are, as already noted, the most static overall. The fact that the west coast of France was the single least affected area in the 14th century and then, in the next period, credited with the greatest proportion of innovations (albeit due to one man, F. Beccari) is just the most extreme example of a general pattern of fluctuations.

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The 'Significant Names' analysis starts with those that Vesconte added subsequently to his earliest surviving treatment of the area concerned: in other words 1311 for the central and eastern areas, and 1313 for the western Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts. This was done out of a conviction in the early 1980s (to which I still hold) that findings would be secure only if they were based on dated or confidently datable charts. However, since publication of my Chapter in 1987 the date of the '1325/1330' Dalorto chart has been convincingly read as 1330 by Pujades, while the '1408 Pasqualini' atlas was re-designated by Falchetta as a work of 1448 and ascribed to the already known chartmaker Nicol˛ Nicolai. Falchetta also contends that the '1373' Pizzigani atlas should be considered instead as 1373-83. Add further that the 'c.1325' Vesconte-Sanudo atlas in the British Library contains a dated letter of 1330, which may or may not provide its true date [see Anonymous works and the question of their attribution to individual chartmakers or to their supposed workshops], and it can be seen that even such supposedly firm foundations can prove unreliable.

There are no certainties at all for the antecedents to the as yet unchallenged date of 1311 attached to Vesconte's earliest surviving work and the first portolan chart to declare the year it was made. Even though there is little agreement about their dating, two unsigned charts have been generally considered to pre-date Vesconte. These are the Carte Pisane and the Cortona chart, which Vera Armignacco first described in 1957. I continue to support their early dating, as described, with some detail, on the 'Attributions' page [Anonymous works and the question of their attribution to individual chartmakers or to their supposed workshops]. However, Ramon Pujades has already indicated that he intends to challenge their supposed primacy, and re-date them to later in the 14th century (2011, pp.269-72, notes 15-18).

Besides the periploi from the ancient world, and some recently identified medieval fragments [for citations of these see 'Chapter' p.382 and the supplementary notes to that: Portolan Charts from the Late Thirteenth Century to 1500: Additions, Corrections, Updates], there are at least two significant and broadly comprehensive written portolani that precede the 1311 chart. The earliest is the 'Liber de existencia riveriarum', identified by Patrick Gautier DalchÚ and published in 1995, with meticulous scholarly apparatus. Leaving aside the question of the portolan chart to which it is supposed to refer, or that may originally have accompanied it, the work's dating, to around the year 1200, is likewise being challenged. Though not proposing a major modification, Pujades considers a more probable date to be in the first decades of the 13th century (2011, pp.265-7, Notes 7-9). From a slightly later period we have the 'Compasso [Conpasso] de navegare', supposedly compiled between 1232 and 1258 (on the basis of the known construction date of certain Mediterranean ports to which it does, or does not, refer). However, this survives in a later version dated 1296, which leaves open the question of how faithful the text we have now is to the original, and whether it had been updated.

Few commentators would probably have expected to see an unbroken linear progress from the 'Liber' to the 'Compasso' and then, via the two charts that are considered to date from the end of the 13th or first years of the 14th century, to the initial Vesconte works of 1311-13. However, it may still be surprising that among the first large tranche of 'Significant' [i.e. later recurring] names that Vesconte added to his own initial listing, between 1313 and 1318, variants of over a quarter of those (29 out of 113) could have been found on the 'Compasso de navegare', apparently written some 60 or more years earlier. These are termed here 'Precursor names'. [For the details of these see Later introduction of 'precursor names' seen on selected early works (a Microsoft Word document).] The large work of comparing all the Liber's 1,100 latinized names against the 1,800 in the 'Table of Significant Names' was not attempted, but a check of the supposed early Vescontian 'innovations' showed that at least 11% of them were anticipated by the 'Liber', which perhaps dates from a century earlier.

Altogether, the 'Liber' includes at least 29 of the 771 'Significant Names' first seen on the charts after Vesconte's earliest coverage [see 'Precursor Names', Table B]. However, as only the names already identified on the three other source documents were checked, it is likely that that total would grow if a comprehensive comparison was made. The mid-13th-century 'Compasso' contains 71 of those names, representing 9% of the total. Likewise - confirming the similarities between the two unsigned charts (Pisane and Cortona), as noted in Armignacco's comparative toponymical listing - over 20% of the names found on one or both of them had likewise been omitted initially by Vesconte and added by him at some later point up to 1327.

Faced with no restrictions of space, those 13th-century texts could have included names for which there might have been no room on a chart. The totals given in 'Precursor Names', Table C 'Shared names on the four source documents' and in Table D 'Early portolano names not picked up by the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart' do show that the majority of the Liber's and Compasso's 'Precursor names' are not found on those two earliest surviving charts. 20 of the 29 Liber names were omitted by one or both chart, and 57 of the 71 Compasso names. A close examination of the two charts would be needed to determine how many of those instances might have been affected by potential toponymic overcrowding on a chart.

For the latter phase of Vescontian output in the 1320s the percentage of 'borrowing', if such it be, had almost exactly halved. Nevertheless, around one name in eight cited in the 'Compasso' anticipates the names we first see displayed by Dalorto/Dulceti in the period 1330-39, with a comparable number also visible on the Carte Pisane and Cortona chart. This process of much-delayed reinstatement continued throughout the period up to 1600, even if with an expected fall in frequency and, later, very intermittently.

In all, 112 precursor toponyms have been identified among the 'Significant names', each prefiguring what would otherwise have been considered as an entirely fresh introduction by the chartmaker concerned. Sixty-two of those had been noted as Vescontian innovations. In other words, almost one third of the names that Vesconte first learnt about (or first thought sufficiently important), after the time of his earliest surviving treatments, had appeared on much earlier portolani or on two (probably) earlier charts.

Are these findings important? Do they invite a radical reappraisal of toponymic transmission? Almost certainly not. They probably fit into the same general pattern of delayed introduction or re-introduction that is discussed under Dissemination time-lag below [see also the subsequent section on 'Historical time-lag'], as well as Rare & irregular names. Those are also dealt with in tabular form in Rare names, toponymic gaps and reintroductions (a Microsoft Word document) and above, in How did names get onto the chart?

It is quite possible that occasional details in these new findings may be misleading - failing to recognise a precursor name, or not giving due weight to areas of illegibility, for example - but the overall picture will be reliable. What it does is to underline the message that the indisputable dynamism of portolan chart toponymy is never straightforward, with separate traditions in the different production centres, and often with long delays in both the first and subsequent adoptions of a new name. But the fact that most new names, once incorporated into a specific chartmaker's canon, tend to remain there and be inherited by their familial or business successors shows us the value that practitioners placed on them. Even if that was no more than the unthinking adherence of a copyist to his model.

Such regular underlying inconsistency warns against placing weight on a single name, whether omitted or included. This is justified only when historical evidence can be found to corroborate a settlement's creation, abandonment, name change, etc. or where, for example, the silting at a river mouth rendered the port irrelevant for navigation.

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As elaborated below under the Meaning of Names we should not assume that there is necessarily any novelty attached to the first introduction of a place-name on a portolan chart. Many, possibly a majority, will refer to natural features, while the ports or harbours involved may have been established long before. Viewed in that light, toponymic innovation must nearly always have been a matter of selecting from a range of existing, sometimes common, possibilities, unless it was a previously ignored name that was now considered, at least to that chartmaker, to have sufficient relevance for navigators. Having sufficient space for any additions must often have been a factor as well.

We do not know when one single name was first placed on a chart, nor by whom. We just have varying degrees of certainty, derived from examination of scans of almost all those produced before 1470 and a more episodic picture thereafter. But we must never forget that what survives is a minute and random sample of what had been produced. Nor do we know why a name was first inserted into the existing toponymic sequence, almost certainly on some work earlier than any that has survived. Was the chartmaker told about the place or feature by a seafaring acquaintance, or did he learn about it himself when travelling? Did he take it from a written source, such as a portolano? Or, more likely, did he copy it from somebody else?

Names could have been introduced, abandoned, then re-introduced, perhaps much later and perhaps on one or more separate occasions. But if we are right in our assumption that a chartmaker would have copied the names from an existing chart exemplar or (in our view more probably) from sectioned extracts taken out of such a work so as to constitute a separate toponymic pattern [see Anonymous works and the question of their attribution to individual chartmakers or to their supposed workshops], then the apparent re-introduction of a name may reveal instead a possibly lengthy gap in what survives of that separate transmission line. An alternative interpretation would be that the person re-introducing the name had taken it from an old chart or a contemporary one produced elsewhere. The Catalans' long delay, until the mid-15th century, in repeating so many of the preceding Italian innovations may have such an explanation, although it is puzzling that the revival happened piecemeal [see Tables D & E of Second appearance of northern Adriatic names on Italian and Catalan charts respectively (up to 1469) (a Microsoft Word document).

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The general Table 1 names the individual practitioners, and from that - for the earlier period at least where most chartmaking operations were static - the place where the name first appeared can be inferred [see The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline (tables) (a Microsoft Word document)]. Table 5 of another Word document The addition of 'Significant Names' to the seven main regions (graphs & tables) summarises the place of introduction for the period up to 1500 according to seven broad geographical areas. Some detailed comments about the activities of Italian and Catalan chartmakers have already been made above but it may be permissible to repeat here an overview paragraph from the 1987 work:

"By the late fourteenth century, and on at least to 1430, the presence or absence of new names provides a pointer, therefore, to the likely place of production. That chart-makers remained largely ignorant of (or unimpressed by) the names introduced in other centers allows us with some confidence to designate the Dulcert innovations as Catalan, the Pizigani additions as Venetian, the Beccari ones as Genoese, and so on. With so few original charts extant, there must remain the strong possibility that even earlier lost works deserve the credit for introducing some of the names onto the portolan charts. In other words, our dates for a number of new names might be too late. But the consistency of the regional patterns leaves little doubt that most of the innovations have been ascribed to the correct chartmaking center. If 'Venetian' [or Genoese] names, for example, had actually been borrowed from lost Catalan charts, they would show up in later Catalan work. Yet this does not happen" ('Chapter', p.425a).

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The previous comments have referred to the time-lag in terms of the handing-on of a name from one chartmaker to another, like a relay athlete's baton. The section in the original 'Chapter', pp. 426-7a under the heading 'The significance of place-name changes' was concerned instead with the initial delay before a name reached a chart at all. This 'historical' time-lag is clearly of more general interest. However, I have been able to add nothing noteworthy to the account given in 1987 about the chartmakers' speed in responding to external reality. I reaffirm my earlier conclusion that we can say just one thing about the 'pace of toponymic absorption on the portolan charts: that it was unpredictable and erratic' ('Chapter' p.427a).

Looking to the end of the period we are considering, the second half of the 16th century, Giuseppe Caraci found that 15% of new names in the Italian peninsula were of 'ports and towns that either were newly founded or had grown during the early modern period (and, in some cases, are the names of small bays that had acquired importance due to the increase in very low-tonnage shipping' (1936, p.170, via Astengo, 2007(a) p.204b).

Another possible line of investigation would be to look in the toponymic record for reflections of the fluctuating fortunes of the Christian and Ottoman empires. The westward move of the Ottomans in the 15th century and Spanish incursion into north Africa in the early 16th are the most obvious examples of that. However, no attempt was made to carry out that detailed work. Perhaps others will take this on.

However, one refinement can be added. I had originally said (p.427a) that it was no coincidence that Livorno is 'first named on surviving charts in 1426, five years after its new overlord, Florence, acknowledged the town's superiority over Porto Pisano'. The reference was to the 1426 chart by Battista Beccari. At that time I had not appreciated the reliability as evidence of the copy of his father Francesco's chart in the Cornaro Atlas. Livorno is one of a number of names that must have been added by Francesco after he produced his sole surviving work in 1403. Nothing further is known of his activity after that date but, while the model for the Cornaro version must have been produced after 1403, it is unlikely to have been as late as 1426 or indeed the pivotal date of 1421 referred to above. That suggested interpretation should therefore be abandoned.

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The study of the way that individual names were transmitted from one portolan chartmaker to another should perhaps have its own name. If so, the term would need to be immediately sub-divided. One branch would concern itself with orthography (and local history), with the way that a particular name form was directly imitated, translated, evolved, significantly altered, or abandoned and replaced with an alternative. Only research of that type can determine if chartmaker C was likely to have received the name from predecessor A or B (or those close to them). Ramon Pujades, a multi-lingual, palaeographically-trained archivist, is carrying out ground-breaking work along those lines. With lesser skills, I have focused on the second approach to toponymic analysis, the incidence of a name: simply, was it there or not.

In earlier centuries all naming was approximate and fluid. The variant forms represent a continuum with perhaps distinct forms at either end but, if so, with no clear dividing line between them. Take for example flume turlo, seen first in the Catalan Atlas and identified as referring to the R. Dnestr. These are some of the 15 or so variants of a single toponym that Anton Gordyeyev, the expert on the Black Sea, has identified: flux turrlo, flume turla, flin tarlo, f. torlolo, torbolo f, f. turlola f. turloso, filustuio, r. curlolo. For other Black Sea names there can be up to 30 variants, some of which move still further away from any norm.

Faced with such toponymic cacophony, I elected to treat as one and the same those names which looked recognisably similar, and to consider as separate entities those that seemed quite different. The justification for this lies in the fact that the chart copyist was undoubtedly using a workshop pattern, not inventing the names as he wrote. We might appreciate that [castel de la] pescara and castiglion refer to today's Castiglione della Pescaia but how do we know that contemporaries did? Or that castri/caltresa, cristo and grixona are all considered to point to the same place (Nos 1378-80) north of Foya and Izmir? Since the variant forms have separate histories and can help to identify lineage, it makes sense to add that orthographic element to what is otherwise a strict concentration on the presence or absence of a particular name. Such variant or successive forms are indicated with a shared '}' in the Table of 'Significant Names' (a Microsoft Word document).

The emphasis, in other words, was on the appearance of a name, not what it represented to the chart copyist (or is now thought to have done) - though modern identifications are of course important and have been included. This approach is quantifiable; the orthographic one is much less so.

A careful analysis of all the names for Catalonia & Valencia and the northern Adriatic, found on each accessible chart and atlas produced before 1470, is included in Pujades (2007, pp.350-97). The question of who first introduced a particular name - at least as far as we can tell from the unrepresentative self-selection of surviving dated works - has already been discussed, in a consideration of the full range of the early charts over four centuries [for the details see The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline (tables) (a Microsoft Word document)]. The Pujades listings provide for the first time the opportunity to seek confident quantitative answers to the transmission questions: when and by whom was a name next repeated? Since it cannot be assumed that those two, well-separated coastal sections would exhibit similar patterns, they have been considered separately. [Not every name has been considered - for the reasons for omitting rare names see Rare and irregular names.]

In each case, the information, on a pair of Microsoft Word documents, is set out on five separate tables. For all five, see Second appearance of northern Adriatic names on Italian and Catalan charts respectively (up to 1469) and for the two relating just to Catalonia & Valencia, Second appearance of Catalonia & Valencia names on Italian and Catalan charts respectively (up to 1469). The five tables comprise, first (A) a full listing of the Pujades names extracted from the 'Table of Significant Names', next a summary (B) of those findings including the time-lag, then (C) a further summary of the toponymic transmission for the two areas combined, (D) a simplified comparison of the time-lag on Italian and Catalan charts for each region and finally (E) a joint table showing the first reappearance of Italian names on 15th-century Catalan charts.

Looking at the combined Table C it is immediately apparent that not only did the Vescontes provide the great majority of innovations but in precisely the same proportion for each of the two areas, about 70%. Considering just Catalonia & Valencia there was an even more striking progression thereafter, with 90% of those Vescontian (Venetian) introductions appearing next on the 1330 Dalorto chart - whether or not that was produced in Majorca this is clearly the oldest surviving chart in the Catalan tradition - and then, once more in Venice, on the works of the Pizzigani brothers. Only one of the 42 Vesconte innovations fails to appear on a later Catalan chart.

That undated works have not been considered here can lead to obvious distortions. A check was therefore made of the 39 Spanish names repeated by the Pizzigani brothers in 1367 or 1373-[83], all but one of which came from Vesconte. Might those have appeared on charts assigned to the intervening half century or so? In the great majority of cases the progression (in terms of chronology at least) proves to include the unknown Genoese chartmakers whose work Pujades has assigned to the second quarter of the 14th century. Whatever the actual transmission sequence, the Pizzigani were not responsible for reviving a dormant toponymy. The same applies to the northern Adriatic.

The size of the Adriatic sample, at 127 names, is almost twice that for Catalonia & Valencia, which gives more scope for analysis. The similarity in the Vescontian contribution for the two coasts has been mentioned, but the next stage is somewhat different. Dalorto/Dulceti (1330-9) had replicated 93% of the Catalonia & Valencia names first seen on Vesconte but the equivalent figure for the Adriatic is only 58%. Likewise, the Adriatic progression (if such it be) of Vesconte - Dulceti - Pizzigani involves only about 50% of the names here, as against the 90% for Catalonia/Valencia. This would seem to reflect the expected situation where the Majorcan chartmakers would have more knowledge of, and interest in, the nearby Spanish mainland than in the Venetian-dominated Adriatic, and vice versa for those working in La Serenissima itself.

When looking at the Catalonia & Valencia coast for post-Vescontian introductions, the contribution of Majorcan chartmakers is surprisingly modest: Dalorto/Dulceti (3), Soler, Vallseca and Roselli (1 each). The two new names found on the 1421 Venetian work of Cesanis might be less expected but the 12 introductions by the Beccaris, of which at least ten are directly attributable to Francesco in 1403 (or probably not long afterwards), fit into an interpretation based on propinquity (mentioned previously). Beccari might have been 'Italian' but, more accurately, he was Genoese (even if his sole surviving chart is signed from nearby Savona) and the spread of his toponymic innovations [see The addition of 'Significant Names' to the 31 sections of coastline (tables) (a Microsoft Word document)] shows a marked bias in favour of the western Mediterranean, with little of his input relating to the Adriatic.

Further toponymic transmission in the northern Adriatic before 1470 - insofar as the fragmentary record of surviving charts allows us clear conclusions - is considerably more complex. Following from the fact that only 58% of the Vesconte innovations were picked up in this case by Dalorto/Dulceti, the Pizzigani's become the first dated charts to repeat 69 of those names (representing 77% of the total). The brothers also introduced (or, in some cases, perhaps copied from the unknown early Genoese) a further 15 names. All of those can be found on one or more of the subsequent Venetian charts by the year 1421, or on Beccari's of 1403. By contrast the Catalans were much slower to absorb the Pizziganian additions. Two can be seen on Vallseca's first chart of 1439, the remainder (minus one) first reappear on his later work and that of Roselli on various occasions between 1447 and 1462.

While all the Dalorto/Dulceti innovations (three for Catalonia & Valencia and nine for the northern Adriatic) reappear on the Catalan Atlas of about 1375, the first Catalan appearance of names first noted on Italian charts was both long delayed and erratic. This is demonstrated on Table E of Second appearance of northern Adriatic names on Italian and Catalan charts respectively (up to 1469) (a Microsoft Word document).

The only 15th-century innovations ascribable to Catalan chartmakers are one Catalonia/Valencia name each by Vallseca (1439) and Roselli (1449). Similarly, the single Adriatic name added by Vallseca (1439) fits into the pattern of Catalan re-discovery described above. Why did it take so long - decades or even a century or more - for these names to be known to, or thought relevant by, chartmakers in Palma, Majorca? We can be sure that they did not achieve general currency until the middle years of the 15th century and, more interestingly, that they did not come at once, and to a single chartmaker, but progressively over a period of years, and on at least seven separate occasions, variously to Roselli and Vallseca - 13 for Catalonia & Valencia and 45 for the northern Adriatic. A detailed examination of the recurrence and orthography of each of the names involved might throw further light on the transmission route taken by each. But there must certainly have been multiple lineages. While it may indicate a disorganised approach to data gathering, or the borrowing of information from others, these findings are a further testament to the volatility and dynamism of the portolan charts.

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[for conclusions that still seem valid, see 'Chapter' pp.425-27a]

The section above, Toponymic transmission after 1313, and particularly the accompanying pages of Microsoft Word tables for Catalonia & Valencia (particularly Table B) and the northern Adriatic (especially Tables B & D) give specific examples of the delayed toponymic re-introduction. What general conclusions can be drawn about the dissemination time-lag?

There is no reason to suppose that a single surviving chart embodies the actual first appearance of even one of the 771 recorded toponymic innovations. Or that any chartmaker saw one of the charts that we can now study. We are dealing with a highly fragmented record and must pick our way carefully through the random survivors. In discussing toponymic time-lag we are necessarily dealing with approximations of date as well as the absence from the analysis, for that same reason, of undated charts. What the separate 'Summary' tables to the Catalonia & Valencia and northern Adriatic analysis attempt to show, with an even more generalised summary in the Adriatic's joint Table D, is the approximate delay in years between a name's first reliably dated appearance and its next inclusion, first on the work of a similarly Catalan or Italian practitioner and then on a chart made elsewhere.

The delayed introduction onto the charts of Vesconte and his successors of names that had appeared on the early portolani or on the two undated charts that apparently precede his work were discussed in the section Toponymic transmission before 1311. We are here concerned with post-Vescontian time-lag.

There are no surviving dated or confidently datable works for the middle years of the 14th century, between, for the Italians, the last dated Vesconte production of 1327 and the Pizzigani chart of 40 years later. For the Catalans, the equivalent period is that between the 1339 Dulceti chart and the Catalan Atlas of (probably) 1375. Taking into account also the part played by at least four unnamed Genoese practitioners working in the period before or during those two hiatuses, which also coincide with the Black Death, it makes sense to label as having 'no delay' any names, mostly from the Vescontes, that were repeated during the 14th century.

As conveniently summarised in Table D on the Adriatic pages, it appears that the repetition of around 70% of names, for both the study areas, occurred as soon as could have been expected. Except, that is, for the Catalan practitioners' speed of adoption of Adriatic names, which achieved a rate of no more than 50%. It is hard to extract any obvious patterns, between, say, a gap of 20, 50 or 80 years, because clusterings will usually do no more than point to a particular work which had simultaneously picked up a range of names. It is, however, worth noting the surprisingly large Catalan occurrences in the Adriatic column for those with a time-lag of a century or more. A comparable number of names did not reappear at all - at least in the period up to 1469, although comparison between the 'Catalan' columns of the Adriatic Table A and the one to their right reveals that several of the unrepeated names [marked with dashes] did indeed recur later, even if not on Catalan charts.

The foregoing does not take account of the occasional inclusions of names on undated works, assigned variously to the end of the 14th or early years of the 15th century. Notable instances are the Pinelli-Walckenaer and Corbitis atlases, other unsigned Venetian work and the Medici Atlas.

The final pair of columns in the 'Summary' table for each coastal stretch contrasts the delays within the same chartmaking centre with those when a subsequent chart was drawn elsewhere. Since it focuses on that distinction, the 'same' nationality will vary depending on where the name had been first introduced. The respective Catalan and Italian delays are better seen numerically in the Adriatic Table D. As would be expected, there was a tendency for delays to be shorter within one centre than between different ones, with non-reappearance treated here as the ultimate delay. There were just four contrary indications in each case [see the respective Table B's, where those instances are italicised].

If the preceding comments strengthen the need for caution in extrapolating from the different patterns emerging out of two carefully studied sections of coast to others that have not been examined in the same detail, so too does the frequency with which lengthy delays could occur between a name's first appearance and its repetition. Dating arguments about the presence of a name are always going to be more convincing than those that concentrate on absence.

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As was described above under Toponymic transmission after 1313, there was a clear picture of the take-up of new names in the 14th century, with a majority of Vescontian innovations reappearing on the work of Dalorto/Dulceti and then that of the Pizzigani brothers. However, the immediate, and thereafter regular copying of an introduced name by all those who followed later was far from being the norm. What is actually encountered, and quite regularly, are names that are slow to gain general acceptance and appear intermittently, names that are not repeated for several decades (sometimes more than a century), and names that remain the preserve of one production centre or an individual chartmaker. Other names were sufficiently rare or seen only on undated works and were therefore omitted from the 'Table of Significant Names'.

The five tables that comprise the Microsoft Word document, Rare names, toponymic gaps and reintroductions, provide examples, both general and specific, of delayed toponymic adoption and inconsistency. The first three tables have a column noting the time-gap in each case:

    A. Examples of long time-gaps before the apparent second appearance of Vescontian names on dated works
    B. Examples of the reintroduction of discarded names
    C. Instances of the delay in picking up Portuguese names in the Mediterranean
    D. A selection of the intermittent names between Toulon and Genoa on the work of Benincasa
    E. Numbered names listed in Pujades (2009) from the 1439 Vallseca chart, which are not included in the 'Significant Names' listing, or where our interpretations are different

The comprehensive toponymic analysis carried out by Ramon Pujades for his ground-breaking 2007 work presented the full toponymy for two regions, Catalonia & Valencia and the northern Adriatic, from the beginning up to 1469. Rare and unique names for Catalonia & Valencia and the northern Adriatic extracted from the toponymic listings in Pujades, 2007 (a Microsoft Word document) lists those names that are not included in the 'Table of Significant Names'. No area on a portolan chart can be considered to be typical and the two sample areas chosen by Pujades comprise no more than 10% of the total continental coastlines. Nevertheless, the proportion of such unusual names - 6 out of 68 (9%) for Catalonia/Valencia and 32 out of 155 (21%) for the northern Adriatic - may give some kind of indication of the number that would be need to be added to the listing of Significant Names for it to be comprehensive (at least for the period up to 1469). Since the systematic nature of the Pujades listings allowed me to incorporate a few extra names as 'Significant', which would have been missed elsewhere, 'rare' names might, for that early period, constitute perhaps as much as 20% of the whole. The suggested addition to the table's 1,800 names might therefore be somewhere in the region of a further 350. There is no basis for estimating the percentage that might need to be added for the period 1470-1600.

The two 'Rare names ...' tables provide a useful sampling and give an idea of what could be anticipated elsewhere from further comprehensive studies. For researchers particularly concerned with rare names, the fact that the toponymy of the northern Adriatic - Venice's back-yard - displays innovation only on Venetian charts, might be expected. However, the mixed picture for the coast of Catalonia & Valencia makes it difficult to anticipate which chartmakers might be responsible for such rare or 'erratic' introductions elsewhere.

Pujades's larger Adriatic sampling allows the following generalisations about rare names:

  • A few of the Vesconte names seem to have been ignored; others might be revived up to a century later (providing good examples of the intermittency that can sometimes be seen elsewhere)
  • All the instances of these 'rare' names are found in Italian productions and a sizeable proportion on anonymous Venetian works, particularly those assigned to the second quarter of the 15th century
  • Their presence in this listing is testimony to the dynamic nature of Venetian toponymy but also to the limited extent that these unknown practitioners imitated one another or their contemporaries known by name
  • The innovative nature of the Corbitis and Pinelli-Walckenaer atlases (in the same hand) is clearly demonstrated
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Toponymic confusion could take various forms. Sometimes it was in the spelling of the name, with variations occasionally drifting so far from the original that it made sense to include both forms in the 'Table of Significant Names'. Such instances are clearly paired in that table (with a }). A few are evidently substitutions of one form for a quite different one. For example, it would seem that, around 1500, Cape Minerba changed its name to Campanella (Nos 554-5).

Pairs of noticeably different names - definitely or apparently referring to the same place - are not unusual, but in two instances there seem to be three variants. The first refers to Horozgedigi limani (Candarli?), a little to the north of Ismir (Nos 1378-9), but there is some doubt about the identifications.

Of greater significance is the successive relabelling of Algeciras (Nos 283b-284b). Seen first as [g]isalcaldera in the 13th-century portolano, 'Liber de existencia...' and also on the earliest Vesconte charts, it was replaced on the two latest Vescontian works by zizera. This form was then ignored until (probably) the undated G. Soler chart and (certainly) the one produced in 1403 by F. Beccari. zizera seems to have been standard through the first half of the 15th century (though this was not thoroughly checked). It was certainly used by Benincasa until he abruptly changed in 1468 to the modern form, algešira. The precise spelling is difficult to read on the Roselli charts, because it is partly obscured under the mountain wash of the Sierra Nevada, but he had certainly added the 'al' prefix by 1449. That both Vesconte and Benincasa made definite toponymic substitutions must indicate a supply of fresh information in each case. {The two paragraphs above added 1 October 2013}

To distinguish the corruption caused by a copyist's ignorance or carelessness from differences due to language or dialect, or to any actual mutation of the name, would require specialist local knowledge. But most of the obvious corruption is not evident until around the middle of the 16th century. It is usually easier to recognize the 13th-century Liber's latinized name forms than many of those from the later centuries. As with the coastal outlines that were starting to lose their precision at roughly the same time, this is testament to the previous two and half centuries of faithful copying.

Rossellˇ i Verger gives examples of corruption for the Spanish coast north of Cartagena. He also found up to a dozen variations for a single name, involving translations (if the name had a meaning) or dialect differences introduced in the various chartmaking centres (1995, p.348a and, for the 'omnipresent toponyms', pp.349b-350b).

It might have been assumed that one of the charts' main purposes was to set down the sequence of names along a coastline. If so, this quite often failed. It is fairly common to find the usual order of names confused - though, if one of those referred to a gulf, such as the Croatian Gulf of Quarner (modern Kvarner), that is understandable.

The usual convention when listing portolan chart toponymy is to write the names in their 'proper' order, on the basis of the known place referred to, or, when this was not clear, simply to reproduce the usual sequence. All names would then be recorded in that ideal progression but with annotations - 2, 4, 3, 1, or so on - to note the order on that particular chart. This convention is followed by Pujades in his invaluable 2007 listings for the northern Adriatic and Catalonia/Valencia coastlines (pp.350-97). As was already known, the eastern Adriatic was the most confused area on the charts (which was the reason he chose to document it). Real problems were encountered in the section Parenso - Segna - Zara, and then around Sibenicho (where confusion continued into the 16th century).

Not surprisingly, the Catalan chartmakers were confident about the Spanish names, but the early Italian practitioners were equally accurate. However, for Bianco and Nicolai at least (1436 and 1448), the section between La Cantara and Denia caused unexpected difficulties.

To find a 1, 2, 3 reality expressed as 3, 2, 1 indicates either ignorance or carelessness. Lack of information seems the likely explanation for those 14th-century errors that were corrected in the 15th. However the most egregious errors I observed were on the latest work I examined, the 1677 chart by Pietro Cavallini. The jumbling up of names reached such levels as to make it hard sometimes to determine what place was intended.

Where stretches of coastline turn in on themselves, creating peninsular forms - such as southern Italy, Morea/Peloponnese or Crimea - there was often limited space to write the required names inside the coastal outline. This would seem to reduce the possibilities for innovation, with any new name requiring the removal of an existing one. That those sections tend to be among the more toponymically varied, may point to different choices rather than progressive dynamism.

It needs to be stressed that consistency in name selection was never total. All chartmakers were inconsistent to some extent. Names might be occasionally omitted, which warns against placing too much exclusive weight on a single absence. As can be seen in the work of the largely predictable Benincasa, it is possible to find a name that appears on perhaps half his works, or is intermittent, rare or maybe even unique (see above Benincasa). Lack of space at the pinch-points or just carelessness can explain such omissions, as also the occasional repetition. Or we are dealing with conscious choice. Caraci compared charts drawn in Naples in successive years (1587 & 1588) by Joan Riczo (alias Oliva) and found that, though the totals for Italy were roughly the same, about 20% of the names were different (1936, p.169 - via Astengo 207(a) p.204b, who speculates that, since this was Riczo's home region, he had more names at his disposal and could therefore choose).

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The importance we assign to toponymy - and our assumption that the contemporary makers and users did as well - should not blind us to the fact that sometimes place-names were obscured or omitted. Occasionally, the accidental relationship between the rhumb-line network and the coastal outlines means that an intersection point appears where names need to be written. Since the lines were (presumably) always present before the names, the scribe would often try to fit all or part of the toponym into the available space.

When a rhumb runs parallel to the direction of the writing they seem to have done what we would expect and placed names either side of the line rather than over it. Likewise, when appropriate, they appear to have placed the beginning or end of the word next to a line running at right-angles to the direction of writing, using the rhumb as a marginal line.

Such punctilious concern for toponymy was not universal. Indeed, it seems that the more ornate the chart, and the further it had moved from any practical purpose, the more its toponymy could be sacrificed in favour of ornament. For a note on the way that the armorial devices for Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily could displace toponymy see The presence of an armorial device within the separate countries of the British Isles, as well as within Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily (a Microsoft Word document). This process reaches its culmination in the solid gold on the Catalan Atlas and on the 1413 work by a former pupil of that same workshop, MaciÓ Viladesters, which entirely obscures the coastal names of all the larger islands. However, as I failed to note earlier, in those cases the toponymy has been carefully written in the sea, observing the usual red and black conventions {This sentence added 20 October 2013}. This contrasts with the careful way that Dulceti in 1339, when applying thick blue over the Atlas Mountains, worked the colour around the place-names at the point where they came down to the west coast so that all of them remained legible.

One of the typical features of Catalan work is the broad, largely triangular green shape of the Sierra Nevada and associated uplands in Granada. On the charts of Roselli the colour tends to have browned but even when created it must have obscured much of the toponymy between Algeciras and Cartagena, involving up to 30 names. That Roselli held the colour back from the intermittent red names shows he was trying to mitigate this problem. {This paragraph added 1 October 2013}

Particularly on charts of the 16th century or later, it was not unusual for city vignettes or flags to displace sections of the toponymy altogether. Andrea Benincasa's chart of 1508 places a plan-view of his native Ancona in such a way as to smother perhaps seven surrounding names. To cite another example, in the British Library's 1559 Olives chart [wrongly attributed to Agnese on the online scan] the large vignette of the enthroned king of Spain is positioned so as to suppress all the names for the northern coast of his kingdom, except for five that were moved out into the sea.

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In connection with the relation of scale to toponymic density, I concluded in 1987 that it was likely that the 'overriding need to accommodate the full complement of place-names imposed its own minimum limits on the scale' (p.421a). In other words, just as the number of names would not be systematically reduced overall - as opposed to localised omissions because of lack of space around peninsulas - it was equally clear that the volume of names could not be expanded unless room was made for that purpose. The obvious way to do that would be to increase the size of the chart or the scale of an atlas sheet, or to restrict coverage to a smaller area, usually a single sea, often the Adriatic or Aegean. But was that their reason for adopting a larger scale?

In 1987, I stated that there was little evidence that 'the larger-scale sheets in portolan atlases contained more names' but that 'the extra space permitted by the larger scale of detailed separate charts was occasionally used to increase the number of place-names' (p.421a). My examples were taken from the period before 1500. When Corradino Astengo considered charts from the later period he found that, 'contrary to the tendency in the medieval period, at the same time as the scale of charts became larger in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, one sees an increase in the number of town names along the coastlines' (2007a, p.205b). He cites several examples, although for Jacopo Maggiolo's nautical chart of the Tyrrhenian Sea, made in Genoa in 1567, he concluded that the cartographer 'seems to have concentrated on the coastal areas best known to him and served by a lot of Genoese shipping'. Propinquity again?

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Constraints of space did not, of course, apply to the written portolani. Compiled by and for sailors, it is natural to assume that they were not just designed for practical navigational use but were indispensable for 'all navigators who want to journey in safety' (as the colophon of the Rizo incunable portolano put it). It is therefore surprising to learn from Ramon Pujades that such volumes were found only very rarely in the inventories of sailors who had died abroad (2007, p.465a), while Piero Falchetta discovered several serious, and potentially dangerous, navigational errors in the 15th-century portolano of Michael of Rhodes (2008, pp.272-4).

However, despite those limitations, the portolani must surely provide a complementary picture of geographical and navigational knowledge to that arrayed on the charts, in particular with respect to their toponymy. And, of course, they had the great advantage that they lacked the same space restrictions. Kretschmer, in his major study of 1909, and Falchetta in his online examination of the Adriatic toponymy on Venetian charts, included a number of early portolani in their name listings. Benincasa's of the Adriatic, Aegean and surroundings is datable to 1435-45, and there are two later printed versions: one written by an anonymous 'Venetian gentleman' and published in Venice in 1490 by Bernardino Rizo, the other, also in Venice, by Matteo Pagano in 1568. Kretschmer both transcribes and includes in his toponymic listing a selection of early manuscripts, including those by Benincasa (pp.358-420 and Rizo (pp.420-552) [on which see also the facsimile of Portolano per i naviganti on the BibliothŔque nationale de France's "Gallica" site (choose TIFF or PDF format via 'TÚlÚchargement de l'ouvrage')].

The Table of 'Significant Names' (a Microsoft Word document) picks up some of the references to those two printed portolans, though they were not systematically checked. Both Kretschmer and Falchetta note several names on the 1490 printed portolan that are not observed on charts until much later. About a dozen of those instances can be retrieved by searching the Table's final column for 'Rizo'.

Pagano also issued a printed portolan chart in 1558 [see Nordenski÷ld's Periplus Pl. XXVII] but this was, it seems, a faithful copy of a woodcut first published, also in Venice, by Giovanni Andrea Vavassore in 1539. [See a high resolution illustration from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (search for 'vavassore').] Pagano's chart covers the Adriatic and Aegean seas as well as the eastern Mediterranean. Seven instances of names appearing on the Vavassore woodcut long after their apparent abandonment on the charts have been noted on the Table of 'Significant Names' (a Microsoft Word document). Four of them have the date '1470' in the Table's "Disappears after" column, one 1494, one 1505 and the last 1512. Unless Vavassore's woodcut was modelled on an old chart, this may indicate the conservative content of some Venetian charts in the period leading up to 1539.

A significant proportion of the Vavassore (hence Pagano) names are those favoured by the Benincasan succession, which, abandoned by other chartmakers, finally disappeared in the 1560s. Perhaps Vavassore was copying from a chart by the Anconitan Freducci. Even though such instances would be later than any yet seen on a hand-drawn chart, they have not been noted in that Table. Toponymic revision would have been a simple matter at the time each new manuscript chart was produced but the mechanical reproduction involved in printing favoured a laissez-fair approach and making changes to a woodcut, even at the stage of copying new blocks, would have been a more complex operation. In other words, the woodblocks in their Pagano iteration cannot be taken as mirroring contemporary seamen's knowledge.

The 16th century also saw the printing of a popular Portolano nuovo (Venice, 1544 and many later editions) and, at the century's end, various printed sea atlases, combining a portolan text with charts, emerged from the Netherlands. However, the Waghenaer atlases first omitted the Mediterranean altogether (1584) and then included just text (1592). It was thus Willem Barentsz's Caertboeck vande Midlandtsche Zee (1595) that led the way with printed charts, but not with originality. As explained by Cornelis Koeman in his introduction to the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum facsimile edition (Amsterdam: Nico Israel, 1970) the text came from a 1584 edition of the Portolano nuovo and the charts were reminiscent of Agnese's. Koeman did not discuss the toponymy but a quick glance suggests that, despite the much enlarged scale and considerable inland detail, some of the coastal variation might be caused by corruption. If the work to identify Barentsz's portolan chart source has not yet been carried out perhaps this should be done.

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What does each portolan chart toponym refer to? Many are unambiguous but in several cases the identification is obscure. 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 all three. It is equally possible that the meaning of a toponym itself changed over time, reflecting, for example, the different purposes of those who used the smaller vessels that became the norm during the 16th century (Astengo 2007a, pp.174a, 204b).

Most river estuaries will have a port near the mouth or a little way upstream. Does naming the river include the settlement information by inference? Yet sometimes the toponyms take care to distinguish the town, perhaps in red, from the nearby c[abo] de x or g[ulfo] de x, though it is noticeable that they would occasionally confuse the initial letters for headland and gulf. [Though, see below, the 'g.' might actually have stood, on Catalan charts at least, for grau or landing-stage instead.]

As the trading empires of Genoa, Venice and Catalonia waxed and waned they left some imprint on the portolan chart toponymy. One indication of this was the naming of a foreign post after the city's patron saint. St George, Genoa's saint, appears regularly, as san giorgio, san zorši, etc. Several of these instances are rare and one, at least, between Tortosa and Tarragona has a different reference, denoting a military order for whom St George's quarry were pirates rather than the dragon (Rossellˇ i Verger, 1995, p.347c). Examples of places named by Venetians in honour of San Marco are less frequent, and saints Catalina (Majorca) Sebastian (Palma, Majorca) and Eulalia (Barcelona) seem not to have been used away from their own heartlands - at least among those that recurred on other charts.

Roughly 1,800 names have been considered in the 'Significant Names Analysis', covering the continuous coastline between northern France and Morocco. That total is about 50% larger than what would be found on a single chart, since it includes names that appeared or disappeared, that were particular to one production centre, were intermittent and so on [see the Table above in the General section]. To unscramble the reliable meaning between each toponym would require a massive work of synthesis, gathering up all the best local history sources and specialist cartographic studies - or more realistically commissioning new ones. A good example of how such work might be carried out can be seen in the investigation by Rossellˇ i Verger for the Spanish coastline north from Cartagena (1995, pp.345-50 - in the English version of his trilingual text).

Instead, in an attempt to gain a tentative understanding of what toponymic information the charts offered to their users, two sample areas were selected, each of 100 names: Northern France (Dunkirk to La Rochelle) and the northern Adriatic (Ancona to Zara). The information was first divided between Human and Physical Geography and then assigned to sub-categories on the basis of what was clearly, or likely, to be referred to.

First of all, in each case 18 (i.e. also 18%) of the names for each of the two areas had to be treated as unidentifiable or, where modern equivalents have been suggested by Kretschmer (1909) and Pujades (2009), the nature of the place or feature referred to was not evident to me. The results are too impressionistic to be published in full, though they can easily be supplied to any who are interested. The figures that follow (all percentages) are provided merely to give an impression of the approximate scale.

Along the Atlantic French coast about 47% of the names seem to refer to human features, against 35% for references to physical geography. For the northern Adriatic the respective figures were 54 and 28. However, the unidentified names are more likely to refer to natural features, which would increase their proportion, perhaps to a half. Rossellˇ i Verger (1995, pp.345-6), who examined about 80 names between Cartagena and Narbonne, reached a slightly different conclusion, finding that about one-third were towns and just over half were headlands. He also makes the interesting observation that headlands would often have a fortification sited on them, which would provide a valuable sight-line for ships (and perhaps provide a joint Human and Physical reference). Rossellˇ also interpreted the prefix grau (literally 'step') to denote a landing stage. Valencia and Tortosa both have that supplementary name alongside.

Not surprisingly, in the Human category the great majority represented settlements, a group that was left undifferentiated here and could refer to a city, town, village, port or harbour [though the latter might perhaps have been uninhabited]. One separate category was created for the few inland towns up navigable rivers. Another - in each case involving a single name - seemed to refer to a 'fortification' of some kind, though such indications are of course far more frequent in the areas disputed between Christians and Muslims. For example, along the Maghreb coast there are several instances of casar, referring to the Arabic word for a fortified town or castle. Inland town and fortifications numbered no more than seven out of the 200 names considered for these two sample areas, which are not likely to be wholly typical, if there is such a thing as a norm anyway.

There was greater variety for names that referred to natural features. In the case of France the largest category was for a cape, point or headland (12 instances) followed closely by island (11). For the northern Adriatic - not surprisingly, given the need to place some names inshore, away from the crowded sea - it was the island category that came first (13), with estuary next (7). Other features noted in small numbers (1 to 3 only) were identified as channel, gulf or bay, lagoon, rock or sandbank.

Some names, popular from the later 16th century onwards and noticed particularly on the 1677 Cavallini atlas, seem to be descriptive. salina presumably refers to salt in some way (saltmarsh/saltworks?) and plage seems likely to represent either the Italian word piaggia (sea-shore or slope) or spiaggia (sands). Such instances have been noted as 'Significant Names' only where they were found repeated at least twice afterwards.

It may seem surprising that a number of islands appear in what might have been assumed was a sequence of strictly inland places or features. However, toponymic pressure could affect islands as well as settlement names. With a need to preserve the coherence of a crowded archipelago, such as that along the eastern Adriatic coast or in the Aegean Sea, some island names might be interpolated among the genuine land features. Conversely, where the coast bent back on itself round a peninsula some headlands or even settlement names might be pushed out into the sea. When that was done, the names would usually be written in the opposite direction and sometimes in red, not because of their importance but following the standard treatment for offshore names. [See, for a note on lettering in the sea, Toponymy Methodology.]

Classical references
Scattered around the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts are the ancient names of coastal towns, for example a group in north-eastern Greece ending '-opoli'. Pujades (2009, pp.152-81), in supplying the modern identifications for the names on the 1439 Vallseca chart, refers to a number of the classical names. It is not clear if that was an indication that the ancient town still flourished, and under its original name, or if that was intended as a conscious historical reference. Astengo pointed out that Altologo [Ephesus, No.1392] and Palatia [Miletus, No.1397] went into decline after the Ottoman capture in the early 15th century and became small towns. Despite that, their names remained on the chart, still picked out in red (2007a, p.205a).

Given the various separate references to ancient cities, e.g. alexandria vechia alongside the current one, we should perhaps be careful about looking for evidence of a classical education among portolan chartmakers and an equivalent historical interest among the charts' users. One unusual linguistic example can be mentioned. stellar, just south of Lesmire/Izmir (No.1385 = Kara burnu), appears to be conveyed as astria on the 1373-83 Pizzigano atlas. Both are Italian (or Latin) variants for 'star'. Residual traces of Latin originals can also be seen in the use of flu[men] for river, for example along the north-west coast of the Black Sea.

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In September 2013, the notes in this section were removed and incorporated into a separate analysis:

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

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A full listing of the survivors of what might be considered to fall within the (traditionally very broad) definition of 'portolan chart' is given in Pflederer (2009). His table on p.xxii shows production totals for each quarter century. Although there is a peak for the combined period 1650-1700 (462 productions), only a few of those will be charts of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, or in the traditional style. Another 176 are listed for the 18th century but it is almost certain that none would be relevant here.

From various sources - notably Astengo (2007) pp.238-59; the DVD accompanying Pflederer (2009), sorted by date; and Smith (1978) for the English chartmakers - it seems that production of traditional portolan charts of the original core area declined to a trickle in the 1670s, with the latest survivor by a recognised chartmaker dating from 1688. The final production noted for the Oliva family is 1673 [Astengo, ItNa6 & p.262], by Jean Roussin in Marseilles, 1680 [Astengo SvS5] and by Pietro Cavallini in Livorno, 1688 [ItPi3]. Although there may be one or two isolated late examples (for example, Tropheme Vernier, 1679, working in Bologna [Astengo ItBo7] and Gugliemo Saetone, 1682-3 [ItA1 & ItMi5 - two sets, so perhaps printed?]) it seems that the longest-lasting production centres in the Mediterranean were in Livorno and Marseilles (on which see Astengo pp. 229-35).

However, some of the London chartmakers, working along the Thames, were also producing traditional charts in the 1670s and 1680s: for example, Joel Gascoyne, John Thornton and Andrew Welch. The last traditional example surviving from that long-lived school seems to be the chart of the north Atlantic by Gascoyne dated 1686 (Smith p.98). {Previous sentence altered 19 February 2012}

The latest separate charts of the Mediterranean and Black Seas for which I can find a reference are one by Thornton of 1679 [British Library Add 5414.7] and the Roussin of 1680 in Stockholm, already mentioned [on the assumption that it covers the core area].

Also worth noting is the printed chart produced by Marco Fassoi in 1679 (now in the Huntington Library), as a close imitation of a manuscript. [For a note on earlier printed portolan charts, see above Portolani and printed charts.] Evidently ending the story, is the seven-sheet atlas [which presumably includes a Mediterranean sheet] signed by Filippo Francini (probably in Venice) in 1699 (Astengo AW9 & pp.175-7).

Astengo's observation about the ownership inscription of a Knight of San Stefano (based in Pisa) on the 1688 Cavallini atlas (p.180) is probably a fair reflection of how little then remained of the charts' original navigational function, this being 'a visually appealing work that is really a demonstration of nothing other than cartography as an exercise in style' (p.175). In 1680, as Astengo recounts, Colbert had ordered a systematic survey of the coasts of Spain, Catalonia and Provence, at about the time Michel Bremond was starting to issue published charts (p.235). For those who wanted charts for use at sea, this cheaper printed alternative, and no doubt one that was perceived to be more reliable, must have dealt the finishing blow to the traditional portolan chart.

For a listing of accessible scans, see the 'Securely dated post-1469 charts' (a Microsoft Office Word 2003 table). This includes the Huntington Library's 1677 atlas by Pietro Cavallini, the latest production for which scans have been identified.

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For the full details of the works mentioned above see the Bibliography

Toponymy Menu (listing the tables and graphs referred to here)   |  Portolan Charts Main Menu
Table of 'Significant Names' (a Microsoft Word document)           |        Toponymy Methodology

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