As I mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to attend a phenomenal talk by Richard Talbert here at Berkeley. In “Reconsidering Peutinger's Map: Romans Rule the World,” he argues against many of the generally accepted scholarly theories regarding this fascinating document. He began the talk by displaying, with the help of the audience, a full size replication of the map---about 28 feet long and a foot high. This copy is, in fact, a copy our only surviving copy, made by a monk at Colmar in 1265 AD, and its truly impressive dimensions certainly helped to put into rare perspective the map, the presentation of which, as Talbert says, is one of the principal “buggerboos” of studying it. Having laid out the high level of scholarly controversy and lack of concrete knowledge, Talbert jumped right into his presentation, and though I cannot hope to do it justice here, I would like to mention some of his key points.
Talbert proposes that, in contradiction to the claims of Konrad Miller (author of Iterinaria Romana, the 1887 definitive commentary on the map), there is not a single fragment missing, but rather three, which brings the length to a total of 28 feet. He explains that Miller's reconstruction of the missing piece is infeasible; the scale adopted in that part of the map is better suited to 6 feet than 2. Furthermore, it would imply that Rome was deliberately placed at the center of the map, providing rhyme and reason for an otherwise strange choice of scale. He also suggests, as a possibility for explaining its strange dimensions, that the map was designed to illustrate only one of five κλίματα as a part of a larger map which resembled a globe, as shown right (the idea of a map only 1 ft. high is “plain ridiculous.”) More detail on this “globe” is revealed as he discusses the usage of the map.
Scholars have long argued that (as here) "the Peutinger Map was primarily drawn to show main roads, totaling some 70,000 Roman miles (104,000 km), and to depict features such as staging posts, spas, distances between stages, large rivers, and forests." Talbert claims that the roads are among the least important details on the map; they seem, in fact, to be added as a sort of “filler.” Talbert attributes previous misinterpretations to an all too common trap--- “scholars and enthusiasts looking for what they want to find.” Instead, it is likely that first to go on the map were the natural features: shores, rivers, and mountains. These were followed by the symbols for cities, towns, and spas were marked, and only then was the road network filled in. The map was not intended for use in planning military expeditions nor even inter-city journeys. Indeed, "Do not use this map to travel!" he proclaims. The map was more likely a showpiece, designed to show the expanse of Roman imperial might. The emphasis on the inclusion of many (some obscure) place names at the expense of displaying travel routes more accurately lends credence to this hypothesis. He adds further proof in his defense for his dating of the original map.
The time frame of the map is very confusing. It shows the existence of Pompeii, destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, but other labeling indicates that it cannot predate Trajan's organization in Dacia around 100AD. Talbert places the around 300 AD, earlier than many other scholars. They argue that the prominent symbolic depictions of Constantinople (only founded in the first half of the 4th century) and Antioch reflect a later period. Talbert refutes these arguments, arguing that these symbols are late additions to the map; a close inspection of the map reveals that these symbols are clumsily drawn in and disrupt the surrounding road networks, showing that they are likely emendations of later Christian scholars hoping to "improve" the map. Other signs of Christianity are conspicuously absent. He explains that the map best fits the era of Diocletian's tetrarchy. The map would "project the values and tastes of the tetrarchy," and "celebrate their firm grip on the world after the calamities of the 200s." Based on excavations of an aula, he shows that the space immediately behind the throne would be a perfect fit for the sort of "globe" to which he earlier proposed the map belonged. In addition, a 2005 discovery on the northeast slope of the Palatine turned up a wooden box with a set of ceremonial throne room items, including four small finely-wrought globes. These can probably be dated to the not-quite-tetrarch Maxentius, and support the theory of the globe coming to be a symbol of imperial power during this period.Talbert's talk, on the whole, was fascinating and very persuasive. His passion for the topic is rather enrapturing, and I found myself quickly nodding along with his points. He makes it very clear that a certain degree of mystery will likely surround the map forever; nevertheless, his estimations seem much more plausible than those proposed before him.