Abraham Ortelius

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Hand-colored print from 1579

Abraham Ortelius (also Ortels, Orthellius, Wortels ; born April 4 or 14, 1527 in Antwerp ; † June 28, 1598 there ) was a Flemish geographer and cartographer .


Abraham Ortelius came from a family who immigrated from Augsburg to the southern Netherlands. He studied first with his uncle Jakob van Meteren and then on his own initiative Greek , Latin and mathematics in Antwerp. Ortelius joined the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke at the age of 20 , initially colored maps, then became a map and bookseller and trained as a cartographer.

According to John Vermeulen , Ortelius worked with his contemporary Gerhard Mercator .


Map of Iceland by Abraham Ortelius
Periplus map from the Theatrum orbis terrarum by Abraham Ortelius, 1597

On May 20, 1570 his first edition of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum , the first collection of maps in book form, was published, financed and edited by Gillis Hooftman , an Antwerp merchant, banker and shipowner. Atlases didn't have this name back then. This collection was published between 1570 and 1612 in 42 editions and in 7 languages: Latin , German , Dutch , French , Spanish , English and Italian . Unlike his professional colleagues, he clearly referenced the sources of his maps and texts. Among other things, the work contains an illustration of the world known until 1492 and was thus already looking back at the time the map was created.

A map by Ortelius with Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa and Arabia in focus, dating from the year 1601 (other estimate: 1603 to 1612), is also more frequently referenced. It is titled Geographia sacra (sacred geography) and also contains a scaled down, embedded world map. The detailed entries were made primarily for the Levant and Mesopotamia , i.e. with the places mentioned in the Bible up to the attempt to fix places from the biblical description of paradise. Even the representation of the rivers in Mesopotamia is rather imprecise. The work exists in several versions with changing text fields and has often been colored. Among other things, it was included in the historical atlas by Johannes Janssonius (1652 or 1662), although experts believe that these are typically manual copies of the original.

Furthermore, a map of the world in sheet format from 1612 under the title Typus Orbis Terrarum (original Latin Typvs Orbis Terrarvm , was sheet 1 of the Theatrum) has been preserved by the cartographer in moderate numbers.

Another notable work is his Thesaurus Geographicus place name collection .

Significance for tectonics

Today Ortelius is also considered to be the first to suspect, based on the matching outlines, that the continents once stuck together and later broke up due to "earthquakes and floods", so that America, Africa and Europe were once created. The thesis only fills a short passage of his work "Thesaurus Geographicus" and is regarded by experts as the first written evidence of the foundations of the theories on continental drift and the resulting plate tectonics , which in fact only became established in the 20th century.

See also

List of works

  • Graecia, Sophiani / Ex conatibus Abrahami Ortelii Antuerpiensis. Antwerp, approx. 1580. Digitized edition of the University and State Library Düsseldorf
  • Nova & accurata Tusciae Antiquae Descriptio . Map from 1741 ( digitized )
  • Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Printed at Nuermberg by Johann Koler Anno MDLXXII (1572). Newly published with an introduction and explanations by Ute Schneider. 2nd edition Darmstadt, Scientific Book Society, 2007.


To individual works:

  • Marcel van den Broecke: Ortelius atlas maps: an illustrated guide. HES Publishers, 't Goy 1996. ISBN 90-6194-308-6 (English).
  • Marcel van den Broecke: Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570-1641): characteristics and development of a sample of "on verso" map texts. Koninklijk Nederlands Aardrijkskundig Genootschap, Utrecht 2009. ( Netherlands geographical studies Volume 380). ISBN 978-90-6809-423-7 (English).
  • Markus Heinz, Cornelia Reiter: “Asiae descriptio” and Last Judgment - example of the second use of a copper plate by Ortelius. In: Cartographica Helvetica Heft 17 (1998) pp. 25–31 ( full text ).
  • Peter H. Meurer : Fontes cartographici Orteliani: the "Theatrum orbis terrarum" by Abraham Ortelius and his map sources. Diss. Weinheim VCH, 1991, ISBN 3-527-17727-2 .

Web links

Commons : Abraham Ortelius  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual cards and collections:

Individual evidence

  1. Abraham Ortelius. In: Catholic Encyclopedia . 1911.
  2. Abraham Ortelius. In: Encyclopædia Britannica .
  3. Gillis Hooftman: Businessman and Patron (English)