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Cartographica Helvetica


Kai Brodersen:

A Carolingian town plan of Rome?

Cartographica Helvetica 14 (1996) 35–41


The image of the city of Rome, which adorned a lost silver table in Charlemagne's inheritance, has so far been interpreted as an engraved Carolingian map of the city, an 'ichnographia'. To support this view scholars have reconstructed parallels for such a map and postulated a missing link between the classical Forma Urbis and the high medieval city maps preserved in codices.

However, there is no evidence at all that the image was engraved or had an ichnographic quality. In addition, the supposed 'parallels' proved to be modern constructions, and there is no direct line from the Forma Urbis, representing an addition of individual ground plans of buildings, to the medieval manuscript maps, presenting extremely schematic elevations of buildings; hence no missing link should be postulated.

The only evidence for the Carolingian image on the silver table, namely the texts dealing with Charlemagne's inheritance, points towards a personification or a city ideogram: a schematic, oblique bird's-eye view of a walled city with representations of some of the monuments – not necessarily correctly located – within the walls. There is abundant evidence for this type of city image in classical as well as medieval times.

Thus, a Carolingian map of the city of Rome is neither directly nor even indirectly attested – and not even probable.

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