Ancient Egypt – Aegyptus Antiqua…

by Abraham Ortelius


Date of first edition: 1595

Date of this map: 1601

Dimensions (not including margins): 36 x 51 cm

Dimensions (including margins): 46,5 x 55,5 cm

Condition: good. Sharp copper engraving printed on strong paper. Centre fold is as published. Old coloured. General slight browning in margins. Two repairs in bottom margin. Wide margins.

Condition rating: A

Verso: text in Latin

Map reference: Van der Krogt 3,8650H:31B; Van den Broecke 221

From: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, first published 1595, this edition 1601, Plantin, Antwerpen; Van der Krogt 3, 1:052

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Ancient Egypt by Ortelius

Ancient Egypt was a popular study object for Ortelius. Already in 1565 he published a double folio map in which he referred to Diodorius, Herodotus, Strabo and Pliny as his main sources. In the first edition of the Theatrum Orbis Terarrum in 1570 he inserted a view of the Nile delta. In his Parergon from 1584 onward Ortelius placed a new version of Old Egypt in two separate sheets. From 1595 he replaced these maps by a single folio view, which is posted.

On the coast before the city (on both the large and the small map) Ortelius drew the lighthouse of Pharos, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world: built during the reign Ptolemy II Philadelphus (280-247 BC) with an estimated height of 100 meters (see picture). This tower was finally destroyed by an earthquake in 1323. The huge lake Myris or Moeris (now called Lake Quran) is in reality much smaller and is located south of Memphis. Moreover, one notices South of Memphis three pyramids! It is unclear whether Ortelius pointed out the three well-known Giza pyramids, because they are in reality North of the historic Memphis. The pyramids of Saqqara and Dasjoer are closer to Ortelius’ localization on the map. The regional name Heptanomia refers to the so-called seven cities of Central Egypt. The city of Thebes is more or less correctly located in Aegyptus Superior.

The three cartouches are interesting. Top left Ortelius took a quote from Lucan (Lucanus, from his “De bello civili”; his work on the civil war (49-45 BC) between Julius Caesar and Pompey partly fought in Egypt]: “Old Egypt, rich in its own natural resources, sets its confidence in the Nile and has no need for trade or heavenly rain”. In the upper right corner Ortelius shows a magnified view of the coast around Alexandria.

The middle cartouche “incertae positionis loca” is remarkable as it lists exceptional non-localized places. For more information on this, he refers to his Thesaurus Geographicus, in which he also underlined the geometrical similarity between the coasts of America, Europe and Africa. Ortelius was the first / one of the first persons to propose the possibility of a continental drift as an explanation! He suggested that the Americas were “torn away from Europe and Africa … by earthquakes and floods” and went on to say: “The vestiges of the rupture reveal themselves, if someone brings forward a map of the world and considers carefully the coasts of the three continents.