Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Oct 2015; revised late August 2023

he Peutinger Map & Naples
I Don't Know if these are Maps

There is academic hair-splitting going on as what to call these things. If a map is a graphic display of the terrain indicating the relation of one place to another, then maybe they are maps. On the other hand, they might be highly stylized and very distorted displays that give you straight-line indications of how to get from one place to another. That is, the one directly above shows the number 1 Metro line in Naples. It tells you that if you start at Piscinola (on the left), you will go through the indicated stations to get to the last station, Garibaldi, the main train station in downtown Naples. The display makes no attempt to describe the surface terrain; that is, that first station, in physical reality, is at 300 meters above sea level way up beyond the airport; more realistically, view it as 12 on a clock face. The entire stretch through the remaining 17 stations will wiggle and wind around and run counter-clockwise all the way around the clock face, down through 9 and 6 and come back up to about 3 o'clock at Garibaldi and sea-level. Such "maps" have been called "schematic line drawings." They help you get from one place to another.

Icon for Rome on the Peutinger map

The best-known of these whatchamacallits is the image at the top of this page, a small reproduction of the famous Peuntinger map (alias the Tabula Peutingeriana, Peutinger's Tabula and the Peutinger Table). It's a medieval map made by a monk in the 1200's in Colmar (in the Alsace region in north-eastern France) and is a copy of an ancient Roman map, a cursus publicum, a display of the road network of the Roman empire. The map represents the empire’s network of roads and cities, with marked distances and landscape features such as mountains, rivers and sea, as well as icons of buildings to provide guidance to travelers, showing stops along the way. It is a parchment scroll, 6.75 meters long by 34 cm high (approximately 22 feet by 13 inches), assembled from 11 separate sections. It was copied in the Middle Ages from an original Roman scroll (no longer in existence). It is called the "Peutinger" map after Konrad Peutinger, who came into possession of the document in 1508 after it was discovered a few years earlier in a library in Worms.

The map is now conserved in the
Habsburg Imperial Court Library (Hofbibliothek) of the Austrian National Library in Vienna. It has been copied and published a number of times since the Middle Ages. In 1898 a twelfth sheet was reconstructed and added to show the presumed missing sections of England and Spain (it is the first section on the left, shown in white, in the top image, above). The original Roman scroll upon which the medieval copy is based probably dated to the 4th or 5th century and was itself based on a map prepared by Agrippa (64-12 BC) during the reign of the first emperor, Caesar Augustus. And that map was engraved into marble and set up in the Porticus Vipsania along the Via Flaminia. That structure has not survived, but it and the "World map" are mentioned by Pliny the Elder (23-79) in his Natural History. The map was apparently kept up to date, at least until the Western Roman Empire collapsed, since it includes the later Roman conquests of Britain, Dacia, and Mesopotamia, but some anachronisms remain, such as the presence of Herculaneum and Pompeii, both of which were destroyed (and not rebuilt) in 79 AD by the eruption of Vesuvius (though they might have been left in the map as noteworthy landmarks).

As it exists now, the map shows Spain on the far left (the reconstructed page) and India on the far right. As with the modern metro map, the terrain is extremely distorted; all of Europe and North Africa are squeezed onto a narrow left-right axis, which you might call, for convenience, west-east (except that once you start moving in from the left, directions are so skewed as to be meaningless). In other words, although Spain looks approximately right at the beginning, the British Isles then have been flattened down to conform to the totally left-right configuration of the map. Then, Italy (about halfway along the scroll has been angled up to run left to right, as well. What looks like a very long river running through the map at the bottom is actually the elongated Mediterranean Sea. The bits of land sticking up at the bottom of the larger image in this paragraph are North Africa. The detail is amazing: the map indicates 555 cites or towns and contains 3500 other place names. Icons such as towers and buildings are abundant to indicate what kind of town you, the traveler, might be passing or stopping at. The map indicates distances between towns, showing seas, rivers, forests, mountain ranges, and 200,000 kilometers of roads.

In the section shown (above, right), I was trying to find my house. Bad Agrippa! Bad! Sloppy map-making! Yet Naples is there (lower center). Herculaneum, Oplontis, Pompeii and other familiar names are also visible. The Sorrentine peninsula is on the far right. The unnamed island out there has to be Capri, but I'm not sure. (I don't think it's Hawaii.) Small, isolated Roman numerals along the roads are distance markers so you know you only have V or VI more whatevers to go (probably Roman miles). The island of Ischia is missing. Puteoli (Pozzuoli) is there, as is Lake Averno. The bottom-most road coming in from the left at the bottom is the Appian Way. It bridges the Volturno river, which then angles up and over to the mountains, the Apennines, running the length of this section of the map. The large red letters N and I are part of the word CAMPANIA that you would see in a wider view. It was a helpful road map. If you want to get from Naples to Benevento, go through Atella to Capua, hang a right and you will be on the road to Benevento. That is still pretty good advice. The icons are tough. The one just to the left of Naples (Neapoli)
—the golden half-head sticking up might be the Flavian amphitheater in nearby Pozzuoli or...or...the catacombs of Naples...? or...half of a golden head? Send me suggestions.
There is a very well-done and scrollable version of the entire Peutinger map on Wikipedia at this link. It's at the bottom of their page.

All images (except the Naples metro map) are from that Wikipedia page.

===================added late August 2023==============================

Great Empires Make Great Roads
     or Great Roads Make Great Postal Service
        (Emperors make good mailmen is a non sequitur, sorry)
          or The Royal Roads to and in Naples

The concept of "Royal Road" has long been well-known.

  • Euclid told King Ptolemy's  that "there is no Royal Road to geometry";
  • Charles Sanders Peirce, in How to Make Our Ideas Clear (1878), says, "There is no royal road to logic;"
  • Freud described dreams as the "royal road to the unconscious" ("Via regia zur Kenntnis des Unbewußten");
  • Karl Marx wrote in the Preface to the French Edition of Das Kapital, "There is no royal road to science";

The Roman Empire at its greatest empanse          
My high-school Spanish book in California was called El Camino Real, often translated as The King's Highway). It referred to the 600-mile (965-km) commemorative route connecting the 21 Spanish missions in California (formerly the region Alta California in the Spanish Empire). It terminated in Mexico City, as the former capital of New Spain and the seat of royal power for Las Californias. The message in all of this is clear — if you want an empire, you need a way to communicate within it.

Roman Roads

The Romans weren't the first see that great roads and great empires go together. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote, "There is nothing in the world that travels faster than these Persian couriers" (around 600 BC). Herodotus' praise for these messengers—"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"— was inscribed on the James Farley Post Office in New York and is sometimes thought of as the United States Postal Service creed. The phrase derives from a passage in George Herbert Palmer's translation of Herodotus' Histories, referring to the courier service of the ancient Persian Empire, in which he cites that phrase as a translation by A. D. Godley, 1924. (I was a mailman, so I know all this.)

How good were Roman roads? Pretty damned good. At the peak of Rome's development, no fewer than 29 great military highways spoked out from the capital, and the Roman Empire's 113 provinces were interconnected by 372 great roads. There were more than 400,000 km of roads (250,000 miles), of which over 80,500 km (50,000 mi) were stone-paved. The courses (and sometimes even the physical surfaces) of many Roman roads survived for millennia; some are even today overlaid by modern roads. The best-known one in southern Italy is the via Appia. It is kept as a tourist draw, as well as a good reason not to use the main north-south motor-way (lovingly called a "dual-carriageway by Brits and more modestly a "divided highway" by me. The via Appia runs through the length from NW to SE of the old Kingdom of Naples, from Rome all the way to the tip of the Italian big toe at Brindisi before you get wet. (If you or Italy have Morton's Toe, your mileage may differ, and you are left with the agonizing question, "Then whose toe does Morton have?")

So, there used to be a Roman Empire. When it started doesn't matter for this discussion, but the adoption of Christianity as the state church in 380 and the fall of the Western Roman Empire conventionally mark the end of classical antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

"Rome Wasn't Built in a Day"

That adage means it takes time to create great things. It is the usual English translation of a medieval French phrase
published around 1190. Queen Elizabeth I used it in Latin in an address at Cambridge in 1563 when she said:
 "Haec tamen vulgaris sententia me aliquantulum recreavit, quae etsi non auferre, tamen minuere possit dolorem meum, quae quidem sententia haec est, 'Romam uno die non fuisse conditam.'", saying roughly she felt better and was cheered up by the fact the Rome wasn't built in a day.

Post offices and services

Two postal services were available under the Roman empire, one public and one private. The cursus publicus, founded by Augustus, carried the mail of officials by relay throughout the Roman road system. The vehicle for carrying mail was a cisium (an open, two-wheeled carriage that carried two passengers and a box of dispatches), but for special delivery, a horse and rider was faster. On average, a relay of horses could carry a letter 80 km (50 mi) in a day. The postal service was a dangerous occupation, as postmen were a target for bandits and enemies of Rome.

And it Didn't Fall Apart in a Day, Either

The Appian Way (Latin and Italian: Via Appia) is one of the earliest and strategically most important Roman roads of
the ancient republic and then empire. It connected Rome to Brindisi, in southeast Italy. Its importance is indicated by its common name, recorded by Statius, of "Appia longarum... regina viarum" ["the Appian Way, queen of the long roads"]. The road is named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman engineer who began and completed the first section as a military road to the south in 312 BC.

In 337 A.D. Constantine the Great's three sons declared themselves gods and divided their father's empire into three parts. That is as good a place as any to recall that the mighty Roman empire was never a particularly peacefulplace. Some historians praise the very first emperor, Augustus Caesar, as pretty good. Point taken, but the time between him and the fall of the Western Roman Empire
almost 500 years was a slow-motion process of Empire crumbling. The vast Roman Empire had outrun its ability to communicate with itself. It was violent. Local tribes throughout the provinces were always in revolt. Northern tribes with famous names Vandals, Goths, Huns were getting very close to home. From the south, the swift expansion of Islam in the 600s finished off the illusion that the entire Mediterranean was "Mare Nostrum" ("our sea"). Not any more. Islam split "our sea" in half.

My Fantastical Royal Road to Naples

Is any of all this connected to Naples? Yes, all of it. An easier question is When does the idea of Northern and Southern Italy begin? That is from the Middle Ages, and the late Middle Ages, at that.

The Risorgimento
            This is ridiculous                                           
The seal of the Kingdom of Naples on a Confederate flag!

Risorgimento (Resurgence), refers to the 19th-century political and social movement that consolidated different states of the Italian Peninsula into a single nation in 1861. That process was precipitated by the revolutions of 1848, and was completed in 1871 after the capture of Rome, when that city becane the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. None of this is about restoring or resurrecting the Roman Empire. Most people, even (ahem) "scholars" had pretty much figured out that was a lost cause. I mention it only because simplistic views of the Risorgimento have phrased it in terms of North vs. South, as if this were the U.S. Civil War. It is not. You can see Confederate flags on streets of Naples! What the means to the person who posted it is, "I am from the South and proud of it." Pitting the North against the South in this manner has had a horrible effect on the modern Italian psyche, producing a north-south dichotomy — "the problem of two Italies" that shouldn't exist It was not the result of some inevitable historical process.


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