The Roman Map of Britain  

My background has absolutely nothing to do with place-names or anything else of the sort that one might expect of someone involved in such a project. Exactly what possessed me to tackle the Ravenna Cosmography, I cannot say. I vaguely remember a family history project, a trip to the library, and somehow a copy of Insulae Britannicae* ended up in my hand. That was in 1994. My brother is doing a very nice job with the family history.
    This site will probably take several (hah! say I, ten year later) additional years of additions and modifications before I am entirely comfortable with the content and structure. Please bear with me. It is my intent to update the site on at least a monthly basis, with additions appearing the first of each month (entirely random, but I work on this quite regularly). All constructive criticisms will be gratefully received.

Tom Ikins
10459 Torrington Drive
Powell Ohio 43065 USA

email: first initial and last name at

Ten years later
    My interest in the Cosmography  remains constant and unabated. My reference library continues to grow. My goal for 2004 is to familiarize myself with some recently acquired and quite promising mapping software. The recent availability of a nationwide search of archaeological records has done much to ease my path.

The cosmographer's method
Historically, there is a tendency to place the unattested civitates of the Ravenna Cosmography proximate to preceding or following entries. Much of this derives from the long held, but unjustified conviction that an itinerary from a Roman road book or map was related. That conviction has lead too many to overlook the most basic aspects of the cosmographer's method.
I chose to first examine the cosmographer's methodology. His own words indicated his source was a map. His choices and their order in the manuscript were certainly influenced by his source and its presentation. Once his method was characterized it could be used to qualify past and future assignments. In absolutely known circumstances, what did he do? Was he repetitive? What elements were common to his choices? What was the geographical relationship between the choices?
    To characterize the methodology, the reliability of historical place name assignments must first be judged. Some are quite absolute, confirmed by a variety of archaeological, linguistic and literary remains. Some lack critical elements in their proofs, but can be roughly located in relation to other recognized sites or areas. The remainder must be set aside for further consideration. The most certain assignments, once categorized, can be plotted and their geographical relationships ascertained. Jones and Mattingly
* Map 2:14 illustrates the absurd path taken by the Rivet & Smith* assignments. (See their accompanying text and criticisms on page 33.)
    The first observation was a simple one. All of the known sites listed prior to Nauione Brough-on-Noe (R&C 106) are south of the latitude [~53 20' 27"N] of  Aquis Arnemeza Buxton (R&C 107), those that follow are north. Next was the stunning realization that the area south of the Buxton line could be divided into fairly uniform rectangular areas that contained discrete sequences of the text. (This was thoroughly unexpected, a chance observation while considering Quadrant 8.) These areas are something less than two standard degrees in breadth and one degree in depth, but significantly greater than the degree of Posidonius employed by Ptolemy. The area north from the Buxton line to Hadrian's Wall is also divisible, east from west, into two discrete sequences twice the depth of the southern areas.
    Outlines of latitude and longitude? Demarcation of sectional maps? Cadastration? Any remains to be proven, though I am heavily inclined toward the first and believe the second to be correct, also. Far from the finish, there appears to be one more level of division in the sequences. I believe that the areas, henceforth 'quadrants', can be further divided into four 'quarters' of the same proportions - NE, NW, SE and SW. This is not so readily demonstrated, but nevertheless is a component of my working hypothesis.
    Can we expect an absolutely definable and predictable methodology? I don't believe it is prudent to expect anything more than to identify the cosmographer's habits. Short of recognizing his pattern of inventory in another situation, we must presume that his method was an adaptation suitable to the problem at hand. 
Anyone that believes the cosmographer was erratic in his listings should pick up a 500 year-old road-map (the Gough Map will suffice) and inventory a wide-ranging sample of place-names with the expectation that your method of choice and the order of presentation will be perfectly understood more than a thousand years later, and that you will not be criticized for being unpredictable in the sequence of your record.

Observations and presumptions applying to areas with a Roman road system

    At the level of the Quarter the cosmographer
(1) may list a single site. 92-3, 94
(2) may list two sites, and these will be connected by a Roman road. 52/53, 90/91
(3) may list three sites, and these will be connected in sequence by Roman roads.
(4) may list four sites which will be in sequence on Roman roads, or may exist non-sequentially as separate pairs and trios, etc., though on the same road (example: A-B-D-C). 70/71/72/73
(5) may list five sites, or more, and the observations (2), (3), and (4) will apply in various combinations.
(6) It appears that the cosmographer is marking a place on the map with his finger and selecting two or three sites connected by road. Occasionally entries from adjacent quarters share the same road, or can be connected sequentially to give the appearance of an itinerary (92-93/94/95/96/97/98/99).

    At the level of the Quadrant the cosmographer
(1) randomly chooses the first quarter to inventory.
(2) does not necessarily inventory all potential quarters
(3) makes amendments to previously visited quadrants at the transition to a new, previously unvisited quadrant. 66/67/68 through quadrants 5,3, and 6; and 94/95/96 through quadrants 8, 5, and 9; perhaps 74/75/76/77/78/79 through quadrants 6, 5, and 7; and perhaps 155/156/157/158/159 through quadrants W, 11, and 13. 

    At the level of the map the cosmographer
(1) moves from south to north in a generally east-west-east-west fan-fold progression.
(2) moves from east to west along linear fortifications.
(3) does not necessarily inventory all potential quadrants.

overview of the cosmography

last updated Monday, September 26, 2011