Background on Ortelius Maps


Index by Title

Index by Area

Index by (van den Broecke) Ort Numbers


Introduction to the texts on the backside of each Ortelius map
Structure and characteristics of the texts
Typographical conventions and approach used in the modernisation of the texts
Publications on Ortelius by Marcel van den Broecke
Access to background information per map


This part of our website tries to give you concise but in-depth information on Ortelius' Atlas Maps. Some of this information has also appeared in book format in my books "Ortelius Atlas Maps", 312 pp., with 250 illustrations, HeS Publishers, 1996, ISBN 90 6194 308 6, and in "Ortelius and the First Atlas" edited together with P.C.J. van der Krogt & P.H. Meurer, 430 pp., HeS Publishers, 1998, ISBN 90 6194 388 4, but most of it is new and appearing here for the first time. Note that, like all translations, the translations of Latin texts on the maps themselves and on their backsides are copyrighted. Feel free to use them and print them. However, if you are an auction house, I insist that my name be mentioned. If you are a map dealer, you can only use translations in your catalogues or websites if you mention my name AND my website, so that your prices can be compared with mine, which gives the prospective buyer a choice, We encourage price comparisons.

If you want to obtain a factual description of any Ortelius atlas map, you will find it here. Each map description typically starts with a picture of the map. This is followed by the title of the map, usually in Latin, often with a translation), scale, size of the plate (horizontal by vertical plate dimensions in millimeters), occurrence in the various Theatrum editions and page number, cartographical sources, bibliographical references, and any remarks that may be of relevance to the reader, followed by a translation of the text, in some cases with an indication from which edition a piece of text stems, and a list of bibliographical sources, about which more below.

Note that occurrence of a map in various editions of Ortelius' Theatrum is presented in an abbreviated form in the following manner. First, the date of the edition is given, e.g. 1575. Then a capital letter is appended indicating the language of the edition:
L=Latin, D=Dutch, G=German, F=French, E=English, I=Italian, S=Spanish. A Roman number from I to V which may follow indicates an Additamentum (=supplement) edition (1 through 5). Then follows the page number of the map in that edition. Thus, 1575L22 means: this map occurs in the 1575 Latin edition and has the page number 22 in that edition. For those editions which appeared in various versions, the year of publication is first followed by and A, B etc. Thus, the second version of the first 1570L edition is called 1570BL. Four different versions are distinguished for the 1570 Latin edition, viz. 1570AL, 1570BL, 1570 CL and 1570DL; three versions are distinguished for the 1573L edition, viz. 1573AL, 1573BL and 1573CL.
This part of the background information provided for each map resembles the map descriptions provided in my book "Ortelius Atlas Maps". The Ort-numbers for each Ortelius map provided in that book have been used here as well. The descriptions as they occur in the book have undergone extensive error correction and updating on the basis of information which I collected or which was provided to me since the appearance of this book by its readers. Finally, as mentioned above, I have added a modernised English version of the text, prima- rily based on texts as they appear in the 1606 English edition of the "Theatrum", but also from other editions. Which edition(s) have been used for the translation is indicated by opening curly brackets with the edition identification, then the text, then closing curly brackets of that edition. An example : {1573L{ piece of text first occurring in the 1573L edition }1573L}.
All texts have been divided into paragraphs in a rather arbitrary fashion. This has been done to allow reference to a specific piece of text which would otherwise be hard to locate, particularly in the case of long texts. Such texts are particularly found on the Parergon maps, in some cases necessitating an extra text leaf in the atlas, because the two folio sides on the back of the map were too small to print all the text Ortelius wrote in spite of the very small font used in such cases. This paragraph numbering system is also used for indicating the location of bibliographical sources (see further below) mentioned in the texts. Map descriptions without the accompanying texts still occur on this website for some of the less important maps, but we intend to fill these holes in the course of time.

Each map description ends after the translated text with an alphabetical list of bibliographical sources and the paragraph in which they occur. If not only an author is mentioned, but his book as well, this book is indicated in the concluding list. Only those names from the text which refer to authors of written material that Ortelius used to write his text are listed. Historical figures who did not provide bibliographical input for Ortelius are not listed. I intend to merge the bibliographical list of each map into an overall list to obtain an insight into the total number of different sources and the frequency of use of each of these sources, arguably representing the books which found their way into Ortelius library in the course of time. That his library was very large is confirmed by eye witnesses who called his house, (and he regularly moved to bigger ones in Antwerp) a veritable museum.

Users of the information presented here may consider buying the book "Ortelius Atlas Maps" (for Euro 56,75 plus postage) from the publisher: URL, e-mail or from me, in case you want an autographed copy: Email, or from Mercator's World: URL (for US $ 75 plus postage). This may be preferable to downloading and printing what soon becomes an unmanageable pile of paper of more than 1500 pages. However, the book does not contain any map texts except the one for the Hollandiae Catthorum map.

Introduction to the texts on the backside of each Ortelius map

It is surprising that so little attention has been paid so far to the texts which accompany each atlas map of Ortelius. This may have to do with the fact that most editions of Ortelius' "Theatrum" appeared in Latin, a language little known today, having lost its prominent position as the "Lingua Franca" of the scientific and cultured community that it occupied during the Renaissance. These texts were certainly all written by Ortelius himself if introduced into his atlas before his death in 1598. Texts appearing on maps introduced after Ortelius' death were written by Vrients and later by the Plantin-Moretus family. The texts of maps introduced by Ortelius do no longer grow in length with each edition and clearly lack the driving force for updating information which was so typical of Ortelius. Incidentally, Octavo ( has recently published a CD-ROM facsimile of Mercators Atlas of 1595 which includes a translation of all Latin text occurring in this edition, altogether a hefty file of 416 text pages. Part of these texts are concerned with Mercators philosophy on the history and present state of the world, another part consists of translations of all the texts on the backside of the maps. These texts show clear correspondences between Mercators texts and those written by Ortelius, and constitute an intriguing research subject by themselves.

The texts contain a wealth of information about the area depicted on the map to which they are attached and sometimes also information about the map itself, to which they may refer explicitly. Further, texts will contain economic, cultural and social characteristics of the region depicted and its inhabitants, its history as it has been described by classical and "modern", that is contemporary 16th century authors, and a listing of the variety of names that have been given to the area, its cities and its inhabitants in the course of time. See further below. For additional information on geographical names, Ortelius often refers to his book "Thesaurus", or Treasury, which is fully devoted to the subject of geographical nomenclature, but which contains no maps.
All in all, the texts provide very useful background information on the areas depicted providing a better insight into the salient features of the map to which they refer.

Structure and characteristics of the texts

The texts vary in length between about 200 and 12,000 words, and, as said, tend to grow in length with each new edition of the "Theatrum". Generally, the Parergon maps have longer texts than the "modern" ones, exemplifying Ortelius' close attachment to these reconstructed Roman maps, representing "the eye of history" as Ortelius explains on the Parergon title page. Languages used for the various editions of this atlas are Latin, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, Italian and English. Even native speakers of these languages (excluding Latin, no longer spoken by anyone) have difficulty understanding their own language as it was written 400 years ago, due to irregular spelling, change of the meaning of words, archaic expressions, exotic fonts (including Gothic) and so on. Therefore, I have taken the English texts as far as they occur in the (only) English edition of 1606 as my starting point for providing translations into Modern English. With 166 maps, this edition covers a large part of the 228 maps which were used over the entire series of editions of Ortelius' atlas, which span the period between 1570 and 1624 (for some maps even to 1641). These texts have been modernised so as to make them accessible for anyone who understands present day English. For maps not occurring in the 1606 English edition, texts have been translated from other languages of other editions, usually Latin, French, German or Dutch, because of my greater familiarity with these languages as compared to Italian and Spanish. Ultimately, it is my intention to provide for each map a complete text history on this website, indicating which passages were added (and which were deleted) at which particular point in time over the period 1570-1624. Most texts presented on this web site do not (yet) show this history, but we thought it helpful to provide this intermediate information, rather than to wait with their publication until all text-histories of each of the 228 maps had been compiled in a definitive form, which may take another couple of years. In other words, these texts represent work in progress, and should be considered as such. I express the hope that others will become aware of the significance of maps texts which were introduced as a standard atlas feature by Ortelius, continued to be provided in atlases after Ortelius' example until about 1700, and then began to disappear from the back sides of atlas maps, giving way to specific text sections, no longer linked to maps.

On the whole, the contents of the map texts follow a regular pattern. First a discussion is presented on the various names of the area and its inhabitants, often providing linguistic data from classical and modern authors, mostly called "historiographers" by Ortelius. Then, there may be a short discussion on possible changes in the size and borders of the country or area under discussion, the characteristics of its most prominent cities, their products and salient features, the history of the inhabitants, their religion, and any miracles that may be connected to the area. Texts were written as 16th century tourist folders, extolling all the eminent characteristics of the region, which are invariably "goodly", that is, "excellent". Exceptions to this positive approach occur only rarely. An example is the text belonging to the map of Great Britain, which says: in Great Britain, it is always winter. Incidentally, this remark is also made about Germany.

However, Ortelius has a critical attitude towards his sources, which stands in contrast with the positive promotional attitude towards the region under discussion that we just mentioned. He may devote an inordinate amount of text to a discussion of differences between authors in their reports on the region. He warns which authors are unreliable and "of dubious credit", who "have been dreaming" and praises authors that he admires for their credibility (Strabo and Pliny in particular). Whenever he obtains first hand information about an area, he will mention the name of his source, often identifying this source as one of his personal friends or acquaintances. (For more information on Ortelius' text sources, see Brandmayer). Sometimes, he is wordy to the point of loquaciousness and circumlocution, to use Charles Dickens' term. Sometimes, when sources disagree, Ortelius takes sides and tells why, sometimes he professes his ignorance in the matter and leaves it to the reader himself, usually called student of geography, to choose what he likes best. As a true Renaissance humanist, Ortelius is fascinated by information from classical sources, but he maintains a critical attitude towards these sources, as appears from the following extract from the text on Ort 19, Angliae Regnum, paragraph 21-23:

"21. ... Cardane says That Historians and Writers of those times (between four hundred and five hundred years ago) were so delighted with fables and lies that they competed who could lie fastest and win the whetstone. It was, as you see, the fault of the time and age in which he lived, not the man.

22. The learned Orator Tully, in the second book of his Offices, as I remember, thus describes the virtues of the true Historiographer:

"Ne quid falsi scribere audeat; Ne quid veri non audeat; Ne quam in scribendo suspitionem gratiae; Ne quam simultatis ostendat". <that is:>

A good Historian may not dare to write anything that is false; He may not be afraid to write anything that is true; He must not show any partiality or favour in writing; He ought to be void of all affection and malice.

Learned Antiquaries follow this good advice of the grave philosopher. Sell us no more rubbish for pure metal. Refine what you read and write. Not every tale that is told is true. Some authors lack judgement, others honesty. Let no man be believed for being ancient.

23. For you know what Meander says: <in Greek lettering:>Ouk ai piches poiusin ai loukai phronein, <that is:>"Grey hairs are not always a sign of wisdom and deep understanding."

Old men sometimes doze, and will lie as well as others. One says "Nescio quo casu illud evenit, ut falsa potius quam vera animum nostrum captant", <that is:> "I cannot tell how it comes to pass but it is surely true that we are more easily carried away by lies and fables than by truth". And how hard it is to remove an opinion, once it has settled however false and absurd, anyone with experience knows."

So far Ortelius on his bibliographical sources. One wonders how this attitude can be reconciled with Ortelius' predilection to report wonders. There is hardly any map text which does not contain the description of a miracle of one kind or another, often concluded by a remark of the sort: "if you believe one half of it, I will believe the other half". I think the answer to this question is mundane: in spite of the fact that Ortelius invariably addresses his reader as being "studious in geography", he knew that many of the readers and buyers of his atlas were not so much interested in geographical truth, but rather in exciting, exotic wonders and miracles. This phenomenon can be seen as early as the Nurnberg Chronicle of 1493, the world map of which features all kinds of weird humanoids with two heads etc., supposedly inhabiting exotic, distant and dangerous lands. Such information provided amusement and thrills. Readers in Ortelius' time were no different, and Ortelius knew it. His habitual inclusion of miracles in his map texts caters for this kind of reader (and buyer) of his atlas.

Whatever the case may be, the texts provide additional insights into the map under discussion as well as about the author of these texts, Ortelius himself.

Typographical conventions and approach used in the modernisation of the texts

The typography of the originals has been followed as closely as possible, taking the 1606 English edition typography as a model wherever I could. In some texts, the default font is italic, with proper names and place names in non-italic. But more often, typography is used in a reverse manner: proper names and place names are then in italic or capitals, the rest in non-italic. I have tried to retain the archaic flavour of the texts rather than attempting to modernise the texts to the extent that they truly read like having been written today. Where this led to texts which are difficult to understand, explanatory or additional words or word groups have been added between angled brackets <like this>. Gothic fonts have been represented in capitals whereas Greek lettering has been transcribed into Roman lettering accompanied by an indication that transcription from Greek has taked place. Arabic lettering has not been reproduced in any way due to both my ignorance of this language and to my inability to represent it on my computer, let alone on the web. Incidentally, in the English edition of the "Theatrum" there are mostly open spaces where Arabic should have appeared. This is probably due to the similar incapacity of the publisher of the English edition, John Norton (this in contrast to Plantin, producer of most "Theatrum" editions), to typeset Arabic. Where texts have retained Latin in the English (or other living language) editions, I try to provide translations into modern English. As indicated above, a text is opened by an edition identifyer between opening curly brackets and closed by that edition identifyer with closing curly brackets showing from which edition a text originates. Example: {1584{ text }1584} indicates that the text between the sets of curly brackets was introduced for the first time in the 1584 Latin edition.

Publications on Ortelius by Marcel van den Broecke

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, (1986) How rare is a map and the atlas it comes from? Facts and speculations on production and survival of Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum and its maps The Map Collector 36: 2-15

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, (1994) Variaties binnen edities van oude atlassen, geïllustreerd aan Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Caert Thresoor 13 (4): 103-110

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, (1995a) Unstable editions of Ortelius' atlas The Map Collector 70: 2-8

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, (1995b) Ortelius zag de continenten al drijven Caert-Thresoor 14: 9-10

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, (1996a) Ortelius Atlas Maps: an illustrated guide 't Goy-Houten, HES Publishers

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, (1996b) Platen en staten in Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, in: Capita Selecta uit de geschiedenis van de kartografie, ed. P. van der Krogt. NVK publikatiereeks nr. 18, Amersfoort, Nederlandse Vereniging voor Kartografie, 39-42

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, (1997) Abraham Ortelius Mercators World 2(3): 18-24

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, (1998a) Introduction to the Life and Works of Abraham Ortelius, in: Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas, (M.P.R. van den Broecke, P. van der Krogt & P.H. Meurer, eds.) 't Goy-Houten, HES Publishers, pp. 29-54

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, (1998b) The Plates of Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, in: Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas, (M.P.R. van den Broecke, P. van der Krogt & P.H. Meurer, eds.) 't Goy-Houten, HES Publishers, pp. 383-390

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, (1998c) Unmasking a Forgery Mercators World 3(3): 46-49

Broecke, M.P.R. van den, & D. Günzburger (1998) The Wanderings of patriarch Abraham, in: Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas, (M.P.R. van den Broecke, P. van der Krogt & P.H. Meurer, eds.) 't Goy-Houten, HES Publishers, pp. 319-330

Broecke, M.P.R, P. van der Krogt & P.H. Meurer (1998), (eds.) Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas, 't Goy-Houten, HES Publishers, 425 pp.

Broecke, M.P.R. van den (1998d) Abraham Ortelius, grondlegger van de moderne kartografie, in Kartografisch Tijdschrift 24: 4-8

Broecke, M.P.R. van den (1999) Ortelius as a Scientist, Collector and Merchant, Journal of the International Map Collector’s Society 77: 21-31, based on a presentation given at the Meeting of the Brussels International Map Collectors Circle on December 12, 1998

Broecke, M.P.R. van den (2002) Historical Maps in the First Modern Atlas by Abraham Ortelius – Their Justification and Purpose, exemplified by their texts, Brussels International Map Collector Society (BIMCS), February 2002

Broecke, M.P.R. van den (2003a) Historische kaarten en hun teksten in de eerste moderne atlas van Abraham Ortelius, Caert-Thresoor 22(2): 29-39, with an English summary.

Broecke, M.P.R. van den (2003b) Correcties op het boek Ortelius Atlas Maps , Caert-Thresoor 22(2): 60-61.

Broecke, Marcel van den (2004a) De eerste staat van Vrients’/Philip Galle’s Inferioris Germaniae kaart gevonden, Caert-Thresoor 23(1): 1-4, with an English summary.

Broecke, Marcel van den  (2004b) De Utopia kaart van Ortelius, Caert-Thresoor 23(4): 89-93, with an English summary and a facsimile of Ortelius’Utopia map.

Broecke, Marcel van den & F. Ormeling (2005a) 1596 Ortelius’map of Utopia; What’s in a name? in Peter Barber (editor) The Map Book, p. 132-133, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London.

Broecke, Marcel van den (2005b)  Has the fourth Ortelius Americas plate ever been used? Map Forum 7:28-32

Broecke, Marcel van den (2005c) Ortelius’s map texts and oceanography International Journal for the history of oceanography Issue 17, p. 4 – 7,

Broecke, Marcel van den (2006) Unmasking another Ortelius atlas map forgery: Iceland, IMCOS Journal (2006) issue 106, pp. 7-9.

Broecke, Marcel van den (2007) Ortelius Zeeland kaart revisited. Caert-Thresoor 26:16.

Broecke, Marcel van den (2008) The Significance of Language: The Texts on the Verso of the Maps in Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Imago Mundi 60(2):192-200

Broecke, Marcel van den (2009) Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570-1641), characteristics and development of a sample of on verso map texts. Netherlands Geographical Studies 380, KNAG The Hague, ISBN 978-90-6809-423-7.

Broecke, Marcel van den (2011a)  Ortelius’ Epitomes? Caert-Thresoor 30:47-51.

Broecke, Marcel van den (2011b) Ortelius Atlas Maps An illustrated guide. Second, revised edition. ISBN 978 90 6194 380 8. HES & DE GRAAF, Houten, the Netherlands, 708 pp.

Broecke, Marcel van den (2013a) Ortelius’ Brittenburg, Caert-Thresoor 32(2) p. 42-46.

Broecke, Marcel van den (2013b) Ortelius’ engravers and engravings. How many engravers did Ortelius employ for his maps, and can they be identified? Imcos Journal No. 134, Autumn 2012, p. 29-37.

Broecke, Marcel van den (2014) Ortelius’s Library Reconstructed. Imago Mundi 66.1 p. 25-50.




I have prepared a selective bibliography on Ortelius.

Access to background information per map

There are various ways to locate and open the individual map descriptions including their texts:

  1. In our stocklist of maps for sale, all Ortelius maps will have a links to its image, a description of the physical characteristics of the copy of the specific map at issue, and a link to the background information of the map called background. Conversely, each background description for each of the 228 Ortelius atlas maps contains links to copies of this map for sale.

2.      The link "background" on our home page leads to the present page, which includes three indexes:

an index of all map titles, alphabetically ordered,

an index by area, both covering the entire set of Ortelius map from Ort1 to Ort234, and

an index by (van den Broecke) Ort numbers.

  1. At each individual map background description, it is possible to jump to the previous or the next map in terms of Ort-number.

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