j. matthew thomas
The earliest maps discovered showed a flat earth, with simple details, including cities and natural features. The Babylonian Map of the World, or Imago Mundi, shows the city of Babylon carved into a clay tablet – it dates to approximately the 6th century BC.
Referencing the ‘known world’ the map is centered on the Euphrates River with the city of Babylon located along the river in the top half of the map. Other cities included are: Susa, Urartu, and Habban. These are identified by seven circles.
This area, later identified as Mesopotamia, is shown encircled by an ocean and eight regions, shown as triangles. The map itself is circular with two outer defined circles. The map is detailed with Cuneiform script, including labels such as marshes, bitter river, mountains, etc.
Currently housed at the British Museum, it was discovered an hour outside of Babylon on the Euphrates River, and translated in 1889.
While little is known about this map, like who made it, who used it, how was it used, it’s fun to imagine what was the mindset at the time. The known world, the ‘center’ of the world, the sense of control and acknowledgement of space and place. The feeling of control by mapping the locations of bodies of water, mountains. It helps to prepare, educate, plan. The map becomes objectified landscape, a representation of space that you can place in your pocket.
This map was made on clay, of the earth itself. Flattened and carved, dried and used. I imagine it was wrapped in a cloth, or soft textile. It was most likely protected and respected. It was of value, a value similar to the land itself.
Was this map used for security? Was it used for conquest? Was it used for trade? Was it used as a way of honoring the land – or defining it?