Peutinger Map, all roads lead to Rome… and to Caesar?

Rome, detail from Tabula Peutingeriana,

“Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam”

“Ubi  Caesar, ibi Roma”

(Old Roman proverbs)


FIGURE 1. Tabula Peutingeriana or Tabula Theodosiana, a Roman map

FIGURE 1. Tabula Peutingeriana or Tabula Theodosiana, a Roman map

All roads lead to Rome, to the centre, to the political centre. This Roman principle is well known and today present throughout the world. The centre is, and per definition must be, the focus of networks in a given polity.

Our subject today is the Tabula Peutingeriana, a Renaissance reproduction of an older Roman-time map. It shows the famous network of Roman roads around the Empire. Our central question will be the existence of three apparent centres of the Roman Empire: Rome, Constantinople and Antioch. While centring on the first two is “natural”, the presence of the third is the most challenging feature of the Tabula.


The Tabula Peutingeriana and the Roman road system

The surviving map is a maedieval-then-Renaissance copy of an older version, and named after one of its owners, Konrad Peutinger, a Holy-Roman-Empire intellectual, politician and humanist from Augusburg. Some sources name it Tabula Theodosiana as it was supposed to be a copy of a map dating back to the time of Emperor Theodosius the Great (Emperor 379-395 AD).

In 1508 Peutinger acquired the map after its discovery in a library in Worms. During the XVIIIth Century the Habsburgs bought it and kept at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. The Tabula is is a parchment scroll, 0.34 m high and 6.75 m long, and assembled from eleven segments, a maedieval reproduction of the original scroll.

The map shows the Roman road system, an essential part of the Roman cursus publicus. This service was a cornerstone in political and military affairs of Rome as Emperors and dignitaries used it to communicate and to  the political centrekeep in Rome and Constantinople “posted”. Some principal cities are represented by walled spaces, cities are represented by two big houses, towns by one, and some religious temples and sanctuaries are present. But the most eminent features are the personifications of three cities: Rome, Constantinople and Antioch, known as tychai: the “fortunes”.


Rome, Constantinople and Antioch

The three cities are represented by their metaphors: three women. Rome and Constantinople are Imperial cities, thus they are expected to be privileged on the map. But the case of Antioch is what makes us wonder about the three cities.

FIGURE . Rome, detail from Tabula Peutingeriana

FIGURE 2 . Rome, detail from Tabula Peutingeriana

Rome: [FIGURE 2] the Eternal City is seated on a throne and clothed with imperial purple, an advantage denoting privileges that the City officially has by successive Imperial decrees and laws (This status is still reflected in the Corpus Iuris Civilis of Justinian). She has a globe and a sceptre in her hands, signs of this Roma, caput Mundi, qui regis orbis frena rotundi (Rome, capital of the world, who holds the bridles of the Globe).

The Eternal City is encircled by a road ring, from which the famous viae consulares, Roman roads towards Italy and the world, emanate. To the west of Rome a temple with the indication Ad Sanctum Petrum: Saint Peter’s Tomb (under the actual Saint Peter’s Basilica).

FIGURE . Constantinople from Tabula Peutingeriana

FIGURE 3. Constantinople, detail from Tabula Peutingeriana

Constantinople: [FIGURE 3] the New Rome, Second Rome, capital of the Roman Empire since Constantine’s reign, is seated in imperial purple too, with a helmet on her head and a spear in her hand (sign of imperium?). She looks West and moves her hand towards that direction while a statue of an emperor on a column guards her entry. It is not a secret that her foundation in 330 was to serve primary Imperial military, political, religious and and security causes.

FIGURE . Antioch, detail from Tabula Peutingeriana

FIGURE 4. Antioch, detail from Tabula Peutingeriana

Antioch: [FIGURE 4] The “See of the East” is the biggest feature on the map. While it is usual to find Rome and Constantinople as eminent on a map of that time, Antioch is an exception, a case study that is not yer solved or thoroughly explained.

Antioch is seated in a set similar to her counterparts’ on the map. A naked boy is just under her left foot, symbol of the Orontes river, already used in her tychoi (FIGURE ). She also holds a spear in a similar manner to Constantinople.

Rome, Constantinople and Antioch, possible explanations

Rome and Constantinople are cities with official and statutory Imperial privileges, Old and New Romes, capita mundi, “capitals of the world” and seats of Imperial power and authority. But on the other hand Antioch, although an important city of the Empire, has not been known for “sharing the purple” with Rome and Constantinople. Milan, Ravenna and Nicomedia could pretend that honour as emperors resided here and there for some years. But not Antioch. Yet on the only surviving map of the Roman Empire the city is as central as Rome and Constantinople. We still try to understand this centrality. Hereby we can put forward some hypotheses:

1- The existence of three emperors, each in one of the three cities: one in Rome, one in Constantinople and one in Antioch. It can be relevant to say that the three cities were seats of Imperial power, thus they are represented in such an elaborate way. Ubi Caesar, ibi Roma: where Caesar is Rome is, too.

Konrad Miller, German theologian and scholar, explores this hypothesis in his book Itineraria Romana: he thinks that the map was drawn between 365 and 366 as three “emperors” were sitting in the three cities: Valentinia in Rome, usurper Procopius in Constantinople and Valens in Antioch. But his hypothesis can be inaccurate as no official map would represent a short-lived usurper in Constantinople or omit Milan, then residence city of Valentinian.

2- The three biggest cities of the Empire: This hypothesis can consider the three cities as the most important, in terms of population, by the time of the maps’ edition. Rome and Constantinople were the first two most populous cities. Antioch was the prosperous commercial centre of the Empire.

But this hypothesis cannot stand scrutiny: Alexandria is represented by its famous lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Old World. Between the Roman annexation of Egypt in 31 BCE and the Arab invasion in 640 Alexandria was the second largest then the third largest city in the Empire, second only to Rome and then to Rome and Constantinople. This fact would have been well known to the mapper, yet they chose to omit it and to focus on Antioch as a third centre in the Empire.

By the same token the eminence Christian episcopal sees follows the political status of their cities: Alexandria had been the second most important episcopal see after Rome, and after the foundation of Constantinople it became the third most important one. The map mentions Jerusalem as a secondary town: the Church Pentarchy had not come to existence, yet, by the time of the map drawing. Thus we cannot say that Antioch is very eminent because of the “Christian connection”.

3- The military factor: Is there a possible military explanation of this centrality? The Roman Empire was built on the auctoritas and the imperium in the person of the augustus imperator, political and military powers. The emperor is before all a military supreme command role. Rome is the caput Mundi, Constantinople is the New Second Rome since the time of Constatine, thus both reflect the fact that supreme military command is at the heart of their exietnce. But how to explain Antioch? We have a hypothesis, maybe incomplete, but could be possible: the representation of the three cities as most important dates back to the time of Julian (emperor 361-363 AD).

Olivia Sara Carli, and Annalina and Mario Levi have shown that the Tabula is an accumulative work that was updated on different occasions and with large intervals of time. Thus the map is constructed throughout the centuries with important revisions: Pompei is still on the map, and Constantinople too (The revised version with Constantinople is thus based on an earlier version made before Pompei’s destruction by Vesuvius in 79 AD).

The “Julian connection”

The Tabula Peutingeriana is certainly edited by the end of the Fourth or beginning of the Fifth Century AD. Yet we may date the three city personifications to the time of Emperor Julian (361-363 AD), still known as “Julian the Apostate” in Christendom.

While Emperor, Julian was known to have a special rapport with Antioch. His had a real “spiritual connection” with the city as he thought it could help him reestablish the old Graeco-Roman pre-Christian religion. But his vital connection to it was undoubtedly military.

Julian was known for his war against the Persians. After his winter 361-362 AD in Constantinople, he marched to Antioch were he prepared his big war against Persia, and were Antioch was the most vital city for his logistic lines and as a “backyard” centre from which he would command his operations and forces marching east. Thus Antioch’s role, by combination of these two factors,  became capital to Julian’s short yet energetic reign.

We can suppose that Antioch was drawn in its elaborate tyche personification under the auspices of Julian. We can also see that the important temple of Apollon in Daphne is represented on the map. In fact the temple was restaured by Julian, but Christians arsoned it to show their opposition to the Emperor: and he couldn’t build it again as he died on the Persian front some time later and the temple was never built again. But Julian’s will to restaure the temple’s importance can be explained by its clear presence on the map.

By these readings we tend to date the Antioch’s important tyche personification on the map to the time of Emperor Julian: the city became vital for the whole Empire. On one hand, its “pagan” potential (Rome was too far to overcome Christianity, and Constantinople was already staunchly Christian). On the other hand it was the centre of operations against Persians, Rome’s main enemies of that time.

Our hypothesis is not complete and can present some weaknesses. But in terms of political centre reading it is the only one that can explain the existence of three centres on the map. Ubi Caesar, ibi Roma: Rome and Constantinople are already imperial. But the presence of Julian in Antioch could have been the reason why the city “turned into a Rome” on the map: it was not a “purple” privilege city but a seat of an emperor, thus deserved to be represented with a medallion, an honour shared only with the two Imperial capitals.

The Antiochian case of the Tabula Peutingeriana is still to be clarified and explained. But the centre is where power is. And in Julian’s time there was real imperium, imperial supreme command, from Antioch. The important question for us can be related to representations of the centre: what criteria make the centre “worth to be represented” according to political power? And what representations (Pictures, images, names, metonyms and place names) raise the place’s value that it be held as centre?

The site Tabula Peutingeriana offers beautiful insights and analyses of the map.

The Bibliotheca Augustana, Augusburg Library (city of Peutinger), offers a good fac-simile of the Tabula Peutingeriana.

Another more recent copy is available on the site of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF).

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Jack Keilo ( Jacques Keilo ) (July 13, 2016). Peutinger Map, all roads lead to Rome… and to Caesar? Centrici. Retrieved July 25, 2024 from

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