Babylonian Map of the World

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Babylonian Map of the World
The Babylonian map of the world, from Sippar, Mesopotamia..JPG
SizeHeight: 12.2 cm (4.8 in)
Width: 8.2 cm (3.2 in)
Created~6th century BC
/ early Achaemenid period
Present locationBritish Museum, (BM 92687)

The Babylonian Map of the World (or Imago Mundi) is a Babylonian clay tablet written in Akkadian containing a labeled depiction of the known world, with a short and partially lost description, dated to roughly the 6th century BC (Neo-Babylonian or early Achaemenid period).

The map is centered on the Euphoriens, flowing from the north (top) to the south (bottom). The city of Babylon is shown on the Euphrates, in the northern half of the map. The mouth of the Euphrates is labelled "swamp" and "outflow". Susa, the capital of Elam, is shown to the south, Urartu to the northeast, and Habban, the capital of the Kassites is shown (incorrectly) to the northwest. Mesopotamia is surrounded by a circular "bitter river" or Ocean, and eight "regions", depicted as triangular sections, are shown as lying beyond the Ocean. It has been suggested that the depiction of these "regions" as triangles might indicate that they were imagined as mountains.[1]

The tablet was discovered at Sippar, Baghdad Vilayet, some 60 km north of Babylon on the east bank of the Euphrates River. The text was first translated in 1889.[2] The clay tablet resides at the British Museum (BM 92687).[3]

Description of the mapped areas[edit]

Babylonian Map of the World, 700-500 BC

The map is circular with two outer defined circles. Cuneiform script labels all locations inside the circular map, as well as a few regions outside. The two outer circles represent water in between and is labelled as idmaratum "bitter river", the salt sea. Babylon north of center of the map; parallel lines at the bottom seem to represent the southern marshes, and a curved line coming from the north, northeast appear to represent the Zagros Mountains.[4]

Drawing by B. Meissner in Babylonien und Assyrien, 1925.

There are seven small interior circles at the perimeter areas within the circle, and they appear to represent seven cities. Eight triangular sections on the external circle (water perimeter) represent named "regions" (nagu). The description of five of them has survived.[3]

Objects on the Babylonian map of the world[4]
1. "Mountain" (Akkadian: šá-du-ú)
2. "City" (Akkadian: uru)
3. Urartu (Akkadian: ú-ra-áš-tu)
4. Assyria (Akkadian: kuraš+šurki)
5. Der (Akkadian: dēr)
6. ?
7. Swamp (Akkadian: ap-pa-ru)
8. Susa (capital of Elam) (Akkadian: šuša)
9. Canal/"outflow" (Akkadian: bit-qu)
10. Bit Yakin (Akkadian: bῑt-ia-᾿-ki-nu)
11. "City" (Akkadian: uru)
12. Habban (Akkadian: ha-ab-ban)
13. Babylon (Akkadian: tin.tirki), divided by Euphrates

14 – 17. Ocean (salt water, Akkadian: idmar-ra-tum)

18 – 22. outer "regions" (nagu)

23 – 25. No description.

Carlo Zaccagnini has argued that the design of the Babylonian map of the world may have lived on in the T and O maps of the European Middle Ages.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lewy H., Lewy J., "The Origin of the Week and the Oldest West Asiatic Calendar", The Hebrew Union College Annual 17 (1943), 1—146.
  2. ^ F. E. Peiser ZA 4 (1889) 361-370. First publication of a photographic reproduction: C. Ball, Light from The East (1899), p. 23.
  3. ^ a b British Museum Inv. No.92687.
  4. ^ a b Edition of the text: Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography ch. 2 (1998) [=Iraq 50 (1988), 147-165]. Older editions: F.E. Peier ZA 4 (1889), R.C. Thompson, Cuneiform texts from Babylonian tablets 22 48 (1906), E. Weidner, BoSt 6 (1922) 85-93, E. Unger, Babylon (1931), 254-258.
  5. ^ Carlo Zaccagnini, ‘Maps of the World’, in Giovanni B. Lanfranchi et al., Leggo! Studies Presented to Frederick Mario Fales on the occasion of his 65th birthday, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, 2012, pp. 865-874.
  • Kerrigan, 2009. The Ancients in Their Own Words, Michael Kerrigan, Fall River Press, Amber Books Ltd, c 2009. (hardcover. ISBN 978-1-4351-0724-3)
  • Kurt A. Raaflaub & Richard J. A. Talbert (2009), Geography and Ethnography: Perceptions of the World in Pre-Modern Societies, John Wiley & Sons, p. 147, ISBN 1-4051-9146-5

External links[edit]