Leen Helmink Antique Maps

Antique map of Asia and the Indian Ocean by Solinus / Münster

Stock number: 18956

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Gaius Julius Solinus (biography)
Sebastian Münster (biography)



First Published

Basle, 1538

This Edition

First 1538 edition


24.5 x 33 cms




This Item is Sold


First edition of 1538. A second edition of the work would appear in 1543, with different signatures for the maps. A pristine offprint of the woodblock. Excellent collector's condition.
It is Sebastian Münster's earliest map of Asia, predating his Asia map of 1540. The Münster-Solinus map is of utmost relevance to the mapping of Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and Northwest America. The map is famous for the dramatic woodcut decorations of ships being attacked by sea monsters and mermaids.

The map is an amalgamation of Ptolemaic geography, of Marco Polo's account and of the latest explorations by the Portuguese, who had discovered that the Indian Ocean was not landlocked but connected to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Bartolomeu Dias had passed the Cape of Good Hope (Caput bon.e spei) during a major storm in 1488. Above it is Regnum Melli, the Mali Empire. The sources of the Nile are in Ptolemaic fashion, and east Africe has Ptolemy's Troglodytes (Cave dwellers). The Red Sea has the port of Berenice, an important port in classical antiquity for the maritime trade between India, Ceylon, Arabia and Upper Egypt.

The Middle East is Ptolemaic, and based on the conquests and resulting discoveries of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. Interestingly, the legendary pillars and altars of Alexander are depicted at the Tanais River and in India, refering to the monuments that Alexander ordered to be constructed to thank the gods for having led him so far as a conqueror and as a memorial for his own accomplishments.

India follows the old Ptolemy model, between the Indus and Ganges rivers. Southern India has Bettigo mountain (Pothigay Hills). Ceylon is also modeled after Ptolemy, but is confused with Sumatra Taprobana que est Sumatra, as was often the case in early European maps. Calicuth (Kozhikode, the major trading point of Indian spices in classical antiquity and the Middle Ages) is incorrectly shown west of the Indus. The spice trade had been in the hands of the Arab and Genoese-Venetian traders. When Vasco da Gama reached it by sea via the Cape route in 1498, the Portuguese completely took over the lucrative spice trade, leading to economic disaster for the Ottomans and the Italians.

Southeast Asia has the typical Dragon's Tail, a peninsula that was first introduced in c.1490 by Martellus to replace the Ptolemy model of the region. The southern end of the peninsula has Regnum Malacha, the Sultanate of Malacca, which the Portuguese had learned of in India. They first reached Malacca in 1509 and captured it in 1511. East of the peninsula is Ciamba provincia, the Champa on the central and southern costs of modern day Vietnam.

Marco Polo's China is labeled as Regnum Cathay, the Empire of Cathay. The ancient Ptolemaic references to China are also given, namely Sinarum Regio and Seres (the Land of the Silk). North of it is Tartaria magna (Greater Tartaria). Northern Asia has the Anthropophagi (Man eaters).

Asia has a north coast, as reported by Marco Polo. A northwest passage is shown, but labeled as Mare congelatum (Frozen sea). Septentrionales regiones (Scandinavia) is grossly oversized. The Baltic and Gulf of Bothnia are very crude and inaccurate.

This Solinus edition was published in 1538 by Heinrich Petri, foremost printing-house in Basle. The text was edited and corrected by Sebastian Münster, professor in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. He also produced the maps. When teaching at the University of Heidelberg, Münster had also worked as press-corrector for Heinrich's father Adam Petri.

In 1529 Münster accepted a position at the University of Basle. In 1529, soon after his move to Basel, he left the Franciscan Order and adhered to Lutheranism; and in the following year he married Adam Petri's widow, thus gaining for himself a measure of financial security and the services of the substantial printing-house of his stepson Heinrich Petri, who was to produce most of his later works.

The Mapping of North America

In terms of cartographical detail this woodcut map is poor. Despite being of ASIA MAIOR, the top right corner depicts a north-west orientated coastline labelled Terra incognita. This is the earliest representation of the north-west coast of America on a printed map, showing only a few trees, hills and a small bay. Its existence has caused much debate, not even the cartographer is known for sure, although it is most often thought to be the work of Sebastian Münster who compiled the text of the book. The text opposite the map, on page 150, refers to this coast, 'In our days it has been explored by men', however, no such voyage is known to us today. Wagner suggests that it might be a representation of Japan, if so then this would be five years before the earliest recorded visit by a European. It also shows one of the first delineations of a strait between Asia and America some 200 years before Vitus Bering's voyage to this area. At this time there was a period of debate about a possible land mass connection to the American continent. There was a second edition of the Polyhistor in Basel, 1543. No other issues from the woodblock are known, and there is only one way to differentiate between the two issues of the map:

1538 Signature lower right, t 4
1543 No signature

(Philip Burden map 11)

Gaius Julius Solinus (3rd century A.D.)

GAIUS JULIUS SOLINUS, Latin grammarian and compiler, probably flourished during the first half of the 3rd century A.D. He was the author of Collectanea rerum memorabilium, a description of curiosities in a chorographical framework. Adventus, to whom it is dedicated, is identified with Oclatinius Adventus, consul A.D. 218. It contains a short description of the ancient world, with remarks on historical, social, religious and natural history questions. The greater part is taken from Pliny's Natural History and the geography of Pomponius Mela. According to Mommsen, Solinus also used a chronicle (possibly by Cornelius Bocchus) and a Chorographia pliniana, an epitome of Pliny's work with additions made about the time of Hadrian. Schanz, however, suggests the Roma and Pratum of Suetonius. The Collectanea was revised in the 6th century under the title of Polyhistor (subsequently taken for the author's name). It was popular in the middle ages, hexameter abridgments being current under the names of Theodericus and Petrus Diaconus.

The commentary by Saumaise in his Plinianae exercitationes (1689) is indispensable; best edition by Mommsen (1895), with valuable introduction on the MSS., the authorities used by Solinus, and subsequent compilers. See also Teuffel, Hist. of Roman Literature (Eng. trans., 1900), 389; and Schanz, Geschichte der romischen Litteratur (1904), iv. 1. There is an old English translation by A. Golding (1587).

(Encyclopedia Britannica).

"Caius Julius Solinus was a Roman who lived in the third or fourth century AD, possibly worked as a grammarian, and is most widely recognized for his work, the Polyhistor. Possibly written sometime in the middle of the third century, the Polyhistor, alternatively known as the Collectanea rerum memorabilium and De situ orbis, relied heavily on Pliny's Natural History as well as Pomponius Mela's De situ orbis. The work touches on the natural history and geography of the regions known to the Roman Empire, as well as religious and social matters. Solinus's Polyhistor remained popular through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, particularly for its geographical content. The Polyhistor was first translated into English in 1587 by Arthur Golding."

(Clements Library)

Sebastian Münster (1489-1552)

Following the various editions of Waldseemüller's maps, the names of three cartographers dominate the sixteenth century: Mercator, Ortelius and Münster, and of these three Münster probably had the widest influence in spreading geographical knowledge throughout Europe in the middle years of the century.

His Cosmographia, issued in 1544, contained not only the latest maps and views of many well-known cities, but included an encyclopaedic amount of detail about the known - and unknown - world and undoubtedly must have been one of the most widely read books of its time, going through nearly forty editions in six languages.

An eminent German mathematician and linguist, Münster became Professor of Hebrew at Heidelberg and later at Basle, where he settled in 1529. In 1528, following his first mapping of Germany, he appealed to German scholars to send him "descriptions, so that all Germany with its villages, towns, trades, etc. may be seen as in a mirror", even going so far as to give instructions on how they should "map" their own localities. The response was far greater than expected and such information was sent by foreigners as well as Germans so that, eventually, he was able to include many up-to-date, if not very accurate, maps in his atlases.

He was the first to provide a separate map of each of the four known Continents and the first separately printed map of England. His maps, printed from woodblocks, are now greatly valued by collectors. His two major works, the Geographia and the Cosmographia were published in Basle by his step-son, Henri Petri, who continued to issue many editions after Münster's death of the plague in 1552.

(Moreland & Bannister).

The remaining modern maps, [...], are all drawn on a plane projection, undergraduated, without scales, and variously oriented with north, south, east or west at the top, "without the excuse of topographical necessity", as Nordenskjöld severely remarks. In spite of these and other cartographic defects, they constitute an important corpus of geographical knowledge and interpretation; Münster was the first atlas-maker to furnish separate maps of the four continents then known; and for England, Scandinavia and southern Germany, eastern Europe and America he brought recent and significant representations into general currency.


The Cosmographia of Sebastian Münster must rank as the greatest geographical compendium of the period - an immensely detailed work illustrated with woodcut portraits, scenes, town plans and panoramas, and maps. Born in 1488, Münster was a Fransiscan who became Professor of Hebrew at Heidelberg and later at Basle, where he taught Hebrew and, amongst other works, published the first German translation of the Bible from Hebrew. In 1540 his edition of Ptolemy's Geographia was published, followed in 1544 by the Cosmographia Universalis. Together these ran to over 35 editions published mostly in Basle in Latin, German, French and Italian versions. Münster's particular cartographic importance lies in the number of 'new' maps he introduced and, above all, in the innovative, separate mapping of each of the four continents. The map of the Americas is not only the first map to show the Western Hemisphere separately, but is also the first to show North and South America joined together.

(Potter p38).

Sebastian Münster was raised as a Franciscan monk, converted to Lutheranism, taught Hebrew at Heidelberg and Basle, and was proficient in Greek and some Asian tongues. He died of the plague in 1552. First published in 1540, his atlas was the first to contain separate maps of each of the four continents.


In 1540 Sebastian Münster, who was to become one of the most influential cartographers in the sixteenth century, published his edition of Ptolemy's Geographia with a further section of modern, more up-to-date maps. He included for the first time a set of continental maps, the America was the earliest of any note. Münster studied Hebrew at Heidelberg and was a scholar of geography, writing amongst other works the Polyhistor.

He was one of the first to create space in the woodblock for the insertion of place-names in metal type. The map's inclusion in Münster's Cosmography, first published in 1544, sealed the fate of "America" as the name for the New World. The book proved to be very popular, there being nearly forty editions during the following 100 years.