Chiara D'Agostini

This project aims to offer a new view of Byzantine cartography and geographic knowledge between the 12th and the 13th century as well as of its later impact on the Latin West in the early 15th century. Traditionally, the (re)appearance of cartography in Byzantium is associated with the “rediscovery” of Ptolemy’s Geography and the activity of Maximus Planudes at the end of the 13th century. In a letter dated to 1295 (119, p. 203, 28-204, 2 Leone), Planudes expresses the desire of getting his hands on the works of Ptolemy. His wishes were apparently fulfilled: after 1295, he supervised a whole edition of Ptolemy’s Geography complete with a set of regional maps – a first in Byzantium, according to Planudes himself. To celebrate his enterprise, he penned five epigrams: they stress the novelty of the maps, Planudes’ enthusiasm in rediscovering Ptolemy’s work, and the interest of emperor Andronikos II in Planudes’ effort.

Scholarly attention has focused mainly on questions of textual tradition and on the issue of the “originality” of Planudes’ maps. Such narrow focus has brought about a very static picture of the Byzantine reception of the Geography, one that does not take into account the cultural, historical and sociological context in which interest for geographic knowledge and spatial representation arose and developed. This Ph.D. thesis aims to cast new light on this background, showing how geographic knowledge and cartography are functional to historically situated constructions of political space and power. My contention is that in order to understand the impact of the Ptolemaic corpus on Byzantine notions of space, we must look at the function fulfilled by the corpus within the relevant contexts of reception.

I also plan to draw a comparison between the approach to geography in Palaiologan times and the interest shown in periegetic works during the Komnenian period. The aim is to garner a better understanding of the role played by geographic knowledge in the education of elite members of the imperial administration in the second half of the 12th century. Finally, I will concentrate on the later reception of Ptolemy’s work in the West and its translation into Latin. Once again, I will look at the transfer of knowledge against the background of specific historical circumstances, in this case the council of Constance, a crucial moment in the definition of ecclesiastical geography as well as of the boundaries between east and west.

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