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Babylonian Map of the World Tablet

The Babylonian map of the world, from Sippar, Mesopotamia.

World’s Oldest Usable Map

This Babylonian Map of the World is a clay tablet containing a labeled depiction of the known world, with a partially surviving description, dated to roughly the 6th century B.C.

The map is circular with two outer defined circles. The plan is centered on the Euphrates, flowing from the north to the south of the map. The city of Babylon is shown on the Euphrates, north of the center of the map.

The cuneiform script labels on locations inside the circular map, as well as a few regions outside, make this ancient tablet one of the oldest usable maps.

The mouth of the Euphrates is labeled “swamp” and “outflow.” Susa, the capital of Elam, is shown to the south. Urartu to the northeast and Habban, the capital of the Kassites, is shown to the northwest.

There are seven small interior circles at the perimeter areas within the outer ring, and they appear to represent seven cities.

The parallel lines at the bottom seem to represent the southern marshes, and a curved line coming from the north, northeast appears to represent the Zagros Mountains.

The two outer circles represent water in between and are labeled as “bitter river,” referring to the salt sea. The circular Ocean surrounds Mesopotamia, and eight “regions” are depicted as triangular sections.

The description of five of these regions has survived, and their depiction as triangles might indicate that they were symbolized as mountains.

The tablet was discovered at Sippar, some 60 km north of Babylon on the east bank of the Euphrates River. The text was first translated in 1889.

The cuneiform text describes the eight regions, and it details the strange and mythical beasts, as well as great heroes who lived there, although the text is not complete.

The hole at the center of the tablet is a “firing hole,” deliberately made by the scribe. Similar holes appear in the middle of the text above the map and at two points on the reverse.

The map is an example of ancient geography, and the places are shown in their approximately correct positions. However, the other essential purpose of the tablet was to explain the Babylonian mythological world.

Babylonian Map of the World

Babylonian Map of the World

  1. Mountain”
  2. City
  3. Urartu 
  4. Assyria 
  5. Der 
  6. Not Known
  7. Swamp
  8. Susa (capital of Elam)
  9. Canal “outflow.”
  10. Bit Yakin
  11. City
  12. Habban
  13. Babylon, divided by the Euphrates
  14. – 17. Ocean “saltwater.”

    18 – 22. outer “Regions.”
    23 – 25. No or missing description.

Babylonian Map of the World

Babylonian Map of the World

  • Title:                   Babylonian Map of the World – Imago Mundi
  • Dated:                6th century B.C.
  • Writing:              cuneiform
  • Period:                Neo-Babylonian or early Achaemenid period
  • Discovered:        Sippar, Tell Abu Habbah near Yusufiyah, Iraq
  • Materials:           Clay
  • Dimensions:       Height: 12.2 cm (4.8 in); Width: 8.2 cm (3.2 in)
  • Type:                  Ancient and Historical Maps
  • Museum:            British Museum

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“You can’t use an old map to explore a new world.”
– Albert Einstein

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Photo Credit: 1)Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0); EvgenyGenkin / Public domain; 

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