Gibbon’s Maps (Kitchin) & Other Resources

Western Empire

Eastern Empire


(California State Library, Sutro Library, San Francisco)

Beginning with the fourth edition of Volume 1, published in 1781 along with the first edition of Volumes 2 and 3, the Decline and Fall included three original fold out maps. The larger ones, a matched pair, both measuring about 17X19″, were titled, respectively, “A Map of the Eastern Part of the Roman Empire” and “A Map of the Western Part of the Roman Empire.” Both were drawn by Thomas Kitchin (1718-1784); were dated January 1781; and carry the name of the Decline and Fall publisher,  Strahan and Cadell. There is considerable overlap in coverage. The smaller of the three maps is 8X10″ and was likewise labeled under the title “A Map of the Parts of Europe and Asia adjacent to Constantinople.” These maps were clearly customized for the Decline and Fall; they do not appear in Kitchin’s General Atlas or World Atlas. The maps together with the 1781 text bridge the fall of the Western Empire and the rise of the Eastern Empire; the text of Volume 2 begins with an extended description of Constantinople; the corresponding map was inserted at page 22.

Numerous places on the maps are designated with both ancient and 18th century names. The basic place name font is italic. Boldface, block letters, initial caps, all caps, indicate ranks of political, ecclesiastic, or economic importance. Serving a comparable function, the cartographic place signs or symbols with settlement names are a basic circle plus –for select localities– various combinations of underlines, vertical strikes on either or both sides of the circle, boxes to the sides or top, and vertical stems atop. (Some of these tiny elements are difficult to differentiate even on original engravings of the maps under magnifier.) The names of modern capitals appear as points of reference, bold, italicized, underlined, and with an asterisk on a stem. The more elements in combination, the more important the place; otherwise, their precise meaning is unclear; the maps lack a key (“Notarum Explicatio”) nor were there generally accepted cartographic symbol conventions at the time; usage varied by cartographer, publisher, and country. Although the maps were customized, numerous place names on the maps do not appear in the Decline and Fall text, and numerous place names in the text do not appear on the maps. (The vast majority of both appear somewhere in d’Anville’s corpus, the most relevant of which are below.) There is no explicit mention of the maps in the text, the Prefaces or the Advertisement. The maps were omitted from most or all subsequent editions of the Decline and Fall, including the standard 20th century editions by Bury and Womersley

A Heritage & P Geelan, Edward Gibbon’s Atlas of the World  (1991) is a companion to the Folio Society edition of the Decline and Fall. It includes fine images of period maps by Cellarius, de l’Isle, Moll, and others cited by Gibbon, but none by Kitchin and only a couple by d’Anville. The Atlas also includes modern maps and a simple gazetteer of all places named in the Decline and Fall. “The present Atlas has been compiled in response to requests from members of the Folio Society, who felt the need of detailed maps to accompany the Society’s edition of the Decline and Fall. Its purpose is twofold: first, to present a panorama of Gibbon’s canvas of the world, as he pictured it to himself; secondly, to enable readers of the Decline and Fall to locate the places he names.” (p 15) Same here, with a more detailed gazetteer that aims to excerpt everything Gibbon had to say in the text about the places named.

Using the maps together with the Gazetteer (below), my objective likewise is to see what Gibbon saw, not to identify the actual locations of the places named, the deep complexities of which are demonstrated in the Ancient World Mapping Center.

Some place names used by Gibbon but now archaic may appear in Hazlitt, The Classical Gazetteer (1851) and Butler, The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography (1907).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s