Babylonian Map of the World

The Babylonian map of the world sheds light on ancient perspectives

(Read the article on one page)

A damaged clay tablet discovered in the late 1800s in Sippar, Iraq is said to be the oldest map of the world. It was discovered on the banks of the Euphrates River, and published in 1899. Now housed at the British Museum, the damaged clay tablet dates back to 600 BC, and depicts an early interpretation of the layout of the world. At 122 x 82 mm, the small map gives us a glimpse into how the Babylonians viewed the world around them, both physically and spiritually.

The tablet contains a map of the Mesopotamian world, with Babylon in the center. It contains carefully etched images and cuneiform writing. Babylon is surrounded by two concentric circles that represent the ocean, named “bitter water” or the “salt sea.” It is labeled with Babylon, Assyria, and Elam. Eight triangular areas labeled as “Regions” or “Islands” surround the Salt Sea, and are labeled with distances, descriptions of the regions, and descriptions of great heroes and mythical beasts that lived in each region. The southern marshes are indicated at the bottom of the map by two parallel lines, and a curved line near the top shows the Zagros Mountains. The Euphrates River is shown running from the mountains above, through Babylon, to the marshes below. Within the center of the map are seven labelled areas that appear to represent cities. Due to damage of the tablet, it appears that three islands are missing from the lower corner.

Three of the islands are labeled as:

  • “place of the rising sun”
  • “the sun is hidden and nothing can be seen”
  • “beyond the flight of birds”

The below sketch shows a detailed outlined of the map and a key is provided showing the labels of each element.

Sketch of the Babylonian map of the World

1."Mountain" (Akkadian: šá-du-ú)
2. "City" (Akkadian: uru)
3. Urartu (Akkadian: ú-ra-áš-tu)
4. Assyria (Akkadian: kuraš+šurki)
5. Der (Akkadian: dēr)
6. Unknown
7. Swamp (Akkadian: ap-pa-ru)
8. Elam (Akkadian: šuša)
9. Canal (Akkadian: bit-qu)
10. Bit Yakin (Akkadian: bῑt-ia-᾿-ki-nu)
11. "City" (Akkadian: uru)
12. Habban (Akkadian: ha-ab-ban)
13. Babylon (Akkadian: tin.tirki), divided by Euphrates
14 - 17 . Ocean (salt water, Akkadian: idmar-ra-tum)
18- 22 . Mythological objects

It is believed that the map was intended to convey the entire contents of the world. It is unique in its inclusion of the islands beyond the ocean.  All other maps produced during the same period were localized to the area in which they were created, did not include land beyond the ocean, because the ocean was considered the end of all lands.

The actual meaning behind the content of the map has been disputed. While many of the places are shown in their correct location, some have said that the map is intended to show the Babylonian view of the mythological world. The 18 mythological beasts mentioned in the writing on the map allude to the Babylonian Epic of Creation where the new world was created after the mythological animals were expelled to the “Heavenly Ocean.” Others say that the Babylonians engaged in cartography to assist in their exporting of agricultural surpluses. While the Babylonians were well-aware of other peoples, such as the Persians and Egyptians, the map creators specifically excluded those peoples from the map. The location of Babylon on the map shows that the Babylonians believed themselves to be the center of the world.

Artist’s depiction of the Babylonian Map of the World

Artist’s depiction of the Babylonian Map of the World. Image source: Cartography-images

The discovery of artifacts such as the Babylonian Map of the World can answer many questions about ancient peoples, the way they lived, and the way they viewed the world, while also opening up new questions. What was their purpose in creating this map? Was it intended to be a literal interpretation of the geological world around them, or a representation of the mythological world they believed in? Questions such as these may never be answered. 

Featured image: The Babylonian Map of the World. Credit: The British Museum

Sources:

Map of the World – The British Museum

The oldest map of the world in existence – The Basement Geographer

Cartography – Ancient Wisdom

Coming of Age in the Cartography Evolution – Amusing Planet

The Babylonian World – Cartographic Images

By M R Reese

Comments

Actually Urartu is the ancient region or kingdom known as Urartu Ararat. Its a stand in for Armenia, because in the 19th century when this map was discovered. Archaeologists discovered that "Urartu" was the Babylonian term for Armenia. When this map was discovered historians put it all together. This map was one of the greatest discoveries in modern times.

NEAT! But this statement really gets my goat, "The location of Babylon on the map shows that the Babylonians believed themselves to be the center of the world." Or ... maybe it's just really convenient to center yourself in your own map. I mean, Google maps always centers itself on where I am, but I don't think I'm the center of the world. Nice assumption, Mr. Scholar. Way to presume how the Babylonians think. The truth is, they probably put themselves in the center because they were mapping their _surroundings_, the lands that surrounded them. This is not evidence of what they believed.

It looks too anachronistic to be of 600 BC. It looks seriously more ancient. And if it's a map, where is Anatolia, Greece and of course EGYPT, which was the main neighbour power of Babylon.

aprilholloway's picture

Sure, if it's just quotes that's absolutely fine.  If you'd like to include more than just quotes, then you can view terms of publication here: http://www.ancient-origins.net/terms-publication 

Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your
blog? My website is in the very same area of
interest as yours and my users would truly benefit from some of
the information you present here. Please let me know if this alright with you.
Regards!

Pages

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

Edgar Cayce (Credit: Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment, Author provided)
For nearly 30 years I have returned to the famous “Sleeping Prophet” Edgar Cayce’s readings as a road map to try and piece together the complex origins of civilization and the creation of Homo sapiens. Cayce (March 18, 1877 – January 3, 1945) was an American Christian mystic born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky who answered questions on subjects as varied as healing, reincarnation, wars, Atlantis, and future events while in a trance state.

Human Origins

Edgar Cayce (Credit: Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment, Author provided)
For nearly 30 years I have returned to the famous “Sleeping Prophet” Edgar Cayce’s readings as a road map to try and piece together the complex origins of civilization and the creation of Homo sapiens. Cayce (March 18, 1877 – January 3, 1945) was an American Christian mystic born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky who answered questions on subjects as varied as healing, reincarnation, wars, Atlantis, and future events while in a trance state.

Ancient Technology

Detail of a star chart dating to the Middle Kingdom.
The calendar is one of mankind’s most important inventions. Calendars allowed societies to organize time for religious, social, economic, and administrative purposes. The calendar, or rather, two sets of calendars, were invented by the ancient Egyptians. One of these was a lunar calendar, which was used mainly for the organization of religious festivals.

Ancient Places

Healing Temple of Aesculapius (Asklepios) by Robert Thom
In the ancient world, many cultures built elaborate temple complexes dedicated to their healer gods - Imhotep in Egypt and Asklepios in Greece for example. These gods were recognized as having the power to cure supplicants from a variety of ailments within sleep and sacred dreams. Those who desired healing might travel many hundreds of miles to reach such a temple

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article