Ptolemy's map deciphered

Posted by Tory Historian Saturday, October 02, 2010

Tory Historian is always thrilled when a previously mysterious document, particularly if it is a map, can be deciphered. The news that the 2nd Century map of Germania by Ptolemy is being deciphered by a group of scholars of various persuasion is very exciting.

The map, inaccurate though it is in some detail shows that many German settlements are considerably older than thought before, that there was a great deal of interaction with the Romans of peaceful and not so peaceful kind and that trade routes ran through old Germania towards the Baltic and back, as one would expect.
There is an amusing account of the way attitude to the Germanic tribes has changed over the years and decades, motivated by political developments.

Archaeologists' opinions on the Germanic tribes have varied over the years. In the 19th century, Germany's early inhabitants were considered brave, wild-bearded savages. The Nazis then transformed them into great heroes, and in the process of coming to terms with its Nazi past, postwar Germany quickly demoted the early Germanic peoples to proto-fascist hicks. The Romans, it was said, had to put up a border wall between themselves and the nuisance Germans before they could finally get some peace.

More recent research proves this view to be complete invention. New excavations show that the Germanic groups were anything but isolated -- quite the contrary. Veritable hordes of Roman traders crossed the border to deal in amber, pomade, smoked fish and leather with their neighbors. Caesar mentioned that his people traded with the "Sueben," the Swabians of southwestern Germany. As far back as the first century AD, a Roman knight traveled from Carnuntum, a legion camp near Vienna, to the Baltic Sea coast to trade in amber.

Roman diplomats were also eager to intervene in their neighbors' affairs, bribing tribal princes, organizing assassinations and supporting their favorites all the way to the throne. Excavations in the state of Lower Saxony in August 2008 even uncovered a battlefield containing the remains of 3rd century weapons. Closer inspection revealed that a Roman legion equipped with catapults had advanced as far as the Harz region in central Germany in a lightning campaign probably intended to punish insubordinate tribes.

These soldiers didn't have to struggle through wastelands and swamps to get there. "We were able to locate 11 settlements along the highway that started at Moers on the Rhine and reached as far as the Sambia peninsula in present day Kaliningrad," Kleineberg explains.
It is more than probable that Ptolemy's information came from traders and, to a very great extent, military engineers.


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