Behold an Incredibly Detailed, Handmade Map Of Medieval Trade Routes

Some­times I won­der if there are any true Renais­sance folks left, peo­ple who have a pas­sion for knowl­edge and don’t let the experts get in the way. But then along comes Mar­tin Jan Måns­son, a grad­u­ate stu­dent in Spa­tial Plan­ning at the Blekinge Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, Swe­den. Nei­ther a car­tog­ra­ph­er nor a his­to­ri­an, Måns­son has lov­ing­ly pro­duced this very detailed map of trad­ing routes dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages. (You can down­load the map in high res­o­lu­tion here.)

(I assume he should have been work­ing on his dis­ser­ta­tion instead, but this is much more fas­ci­nat­ing.)

“I think trade routes and topog­ra­phy explains world his­to­ry in the most con­cise way,” Måns­son explains in the very small print at the map’s low­er right cor­ner. “By sim­ply study­ing the map, one can under­stand why some areas were espe­cial­ly important–and remained suc­cess­ful even up to mod­ern times.”

The map cov­ers 200 years, span­ning both the 11th and 12th cen­turies, and “depicts the main trad­ing arter­ies of the high Mid­dle Ages, just after the decline of the Vikings and before the rise of the Mon­gols, the Hansa and well before the Por­tuguese round­ed the Cape of Good Hope.”

It also shows the com­plex routes already avail­able to Africa and Asia, and the areas where Mus­lim and Chris­t­ian traders would meet. The open-to-trade Song Dynasty ruled Chi­na, and the com­pet­i­tive king­doms in the Indone­sia region pro­vid­ed both Mus­lims and Euro­peans with spice.

Look­ing like a rail­way map, Månsson’s work shows how inter­con­nect­ed we real­ly were back in the Mid­dle Ages, from Green­land in the west to Kikai and Kagoshi­ma in the East, from Arkhangel­sk in the frozen north to Sofala in mod­ern-day Mozam­bique.

Måns­son cred­its Wikipedia for a major­i­ty of the basic work, but also lists 20 oth­er sources for this detailed work, includ­ing The Silk Road by Valerie Han­son, Across Africa and Ara­bia by Irene M. Franck and David M. Brown­stone.

There’s much to take away from the map–a print­able ver­sion would be great–but one thing that stands out to me is how many once-impor­tant trade cities have fad­ed from mem­o­ry, or impor­tance, or just lost to time, plun­der, and change. In anoth­er 1,000 what cities of our own will have come and gone?

Relat­ed Con­tent:
A Free Yale Course on Medieval His­to­ry: 700 Years in 22 Lec­tures

Why Babies in Medieval Paint­ings Look Like Mid­dle-Aged Men: An Inves­tiga­tive Video

How Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beau­ti­ful, Cen­turies-Old Craft

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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