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Finding Manuscript Maps in the United Kingdom: Ancient and Medieval Cartography

This guide provides an introduction to manuscript map holdings in national, university and local libraries, and references to published catalogues and other reference works. It provides a point of entry for locating a variety of types of manuscript maps.

Ancient Cartography

Ancient Egyptian and Babylonian cartography

British Museum, Department of the Ancient Near East
Holdings include a Babylonian world map c.600 BC and other maps on tablets; Babylonian field plans. For further information on holdings, see

The History of Cartography. Volume 1. A useful starting-point, covering Babylonian and Egyptian cartography.

Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. Late Babylonian Field Plans in the British Museum, Studia Pohl. series maior; 11 (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1982 ).

British Museum. Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets etc., in the British Museum (London, 1906 and 1960), pt.22.

Greek and Roman cartography

British Library Manuscript Collections
Includes medieval copies of Roman surveyors' treatises (by the so-called Agrimensores), medieval and later manuscript copies of Claudius Ptolemy's Geographia (1st century AD).

British Library Map Library
Access to reference works, monographs and facsimiles, e.g. Forma Urbis Romae and Piganiol's Les documents cadastraux de la colonie romaine d'Orange.

Medieval Cartography

Medieval world and regional maps

The History of Cartography, Vol. 1, 286-369. Contains lists of maps and their locations.

Destombes, Marcel (ed.). Mappemondes A.D. 1200-1500: Catalogue préparé par la Commission des Cartes Anciennes de l'Union Géographique Internationale (Amsterdam, 1964). The most comprehensive cartobibliography of medieval world maps published to date, though now in need of updating.

British Library Manuscript Collections
An outstanding collection, including such items as the Anglo-Saxon Psalter, Matthew Paris itineraries and map of Great Britain, and the Higden world maps. The main catalogues are:

  • British Library Dept. of Manuscripts online catalogue
  • Catalogue of manuscript maps, charts and plans and of the topographical drawings in the British Museum, 3 vols. (1844-1861, published 1962).
  • Campbell, Tony. Indexes to material of cartographic interest in the Department of Manuscripts and to manuscript cartographic items elsewhere in the British Library, 3 vols. (1992).
  • Index of manuscripts in the British Library, 10 vols. (Cambridge, 1985-6) (the 'Amalgamated Index').
  • The British Library. Catalogue of Additions to the Manuscripts (c.1783-1990). Multi-volumed set, often containing detailed descriptions of manuscripts.

British Library Map Library
Holds reference works, monographs and facsimiles, such as Wieder's Monumenta Cartographica Kamal's Monumenta Cartographica Africae et Aegypti. Further bibliographies are held in the Public Service Guide at the Map Library Reference Enquiry desk.

Other locations
Leading British academic, college and university libraries also have manuscript maps. The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is particularly strong in medieval maps. The Bodleian Library's holdings include the Gough map of Britain; western and Islamic world maps; and a series of slides of medieval maps with explanatory notes; manuscript images may be browsed online here.

British and European local plans

Very few are known before 1500. R. A. Skelton and P. D. A. Harvey, Local Maps and Plans from Medieval England (Oxford, 1986) locates, reproduces and describes all maps known at the time of publication.

British Library Manuscript Collections
Holds only a few plans, but holds numerous written surveys and charters relating to the history and administration of medieval England . The charters are indexed in the Index Locorum and Index Nominorum . The catalogues of charters give descriptions of their contents; some effectively contain verbal maps.

National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division
Material relating to the history and administration of the medieval Scottish kingdom can be found in the collection of cartularies of monastic houses, and in large series of royal, baronial and ecclesiastical charters.