Imago Mundi: The Oldest Known Map

Margie Jones
23/09/2023

Imago Mundi: The Oldest Known Map

The Imago Mundi, a Babylonian map of the world, is the earliest globe that has been discovered. The fifth century BC is when this map was created. This map, which was discovered in the city of Sippar in southern Iraq, depicts a small portion of the world as it was known to the ancient Babylonians. This clay tablet, made into a map, was discovered on the hospitable Euphrates River’s east bank, north of the ancient city of Babylon.

Babylonian Map of the World - Wikipedia

This map places the city of Babylon in the middle and depicts the world and the skies from the perspective of the Babylonians themselves. As other civilizations had done with Athens or Jerusalem, Babylon was placed in the center because it was the center of life for the thousands of people who lived there. Without the aid of contemporary technologies like satellites, map-making tools, and dependable long-distance transportation, this was the only perspective they had. Though it may be imperfect, this little tablet provides a glimpse into their worldview and ideals.

Carl L. Thunberg on Twitter: "The oldest known world map, the Babylonian  Imago Mundi, c. 9th-6th century BC. Clay tablet, written in Akkadian,  excavated by Hormuzd Rassam in Sippar, Iraq. Shows the

In the map, two circles show bodies of water that may have been close to Babylon at the time, and seven cities and seven islands encircle the metropolis of Babylon. The water parameters on the map are identified as a salt sea and a river of bitter water in the cuneiform text at the tablet’s top, which also labels each place.

This map depicts the world and the skies from the perspective of the Babylonians themselves. As other civilizations had done with Athens or Jerusalem, Babylon was placed in the center because it was the center of life for the thousands of people who lived there. Without the aid of contemporary technologies like satellites, map-making tools, and dependable long-distance transportation, this was the only perspective they had. Though it may be imperfect, this little tablet provides a glimpse into their worldview and ideals.

In the map, two circles show bodies of water that may have been close to Babylon at the time, and seven cities and seven islands encircle the metropolis of Babylon. The water parameters on the map are identified as a salt sea and a river of bitter water in the cuneiform text at the tablet’s top, which also labels each place.

Mountains, a swamp, a canal, three nameless cities, Urartu, Assyria, Der, Elam, Bit Yakin, Habban, Babylon, and an unnamed place are all marked on the map. The southern marshes of modern-day Iraq are supposed to be represented by parallel lines below the indicated city of Babylon, and a curving line is supposed to show the Zagros Mountain, which would have been seen nearby.tablet | British Museum

The fact that the map in the cuneiform inscription is a duplicate of an even older map of the area that has been lost to memory and time is another characteristic of the map. Even though it is a replica of an earlier design, the map’s distinctive viewpoint reveals how the Babylonians perceived both the physical earth and the legendary heavenly realm.

The known regions and the islands encircling Babylon are believed to be mythical representations of the relationship between the earth and the heavens; they do not actually exist in the physical world. The tablet’s reverse side features a representation of the night sky with familiar constellations that correlate to our current understanding of the zodiac.

Imago Mundi: The Oldest Known Map

The Babylonians produced the oldest map that is still in use today as a result of the merger of the sky and the earth, the realities of life in their surroundings, and the precise charting of the universe above them.

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