A world (map) of coat of arms: Richental’s mappamundi

The Aulendorf copy of Richental’s chronicle, today preserved in New York, is rightly famous as an important textual witness not only of the chronicle but also the armorial transmitted with the latter (see https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/2854 on the manuscript and the coats of arms it contains).


Figure 1: T-O map in the first printed edition of the Etymologies (1472). Source: Wikimedia.

Today, I would like to draw attention to a slightly hidden feature of the Aulendorf manuscript, namely the mappamundi it contains – a so-called ‘T-O map’, familiar to any medievalist and indeed many non-medievalists for example from the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (Fig. 1). It is the most common, and also the most abstract form of a medieval world map, showing Asia, Africa and Europe as the three parts of the world; conventionally, these maps are oriented, that is, with the East (and hence Asia and, if shown, earthly Paradise) on top.

Richentals Weltkarte

Figure 2: Aulendorf manuscript, p. 473 (detail). Image taken from the 1881 facsimile, available online at http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/richental1881; public domain.

Where is the mappamundi in Richental? At first sight, all we have (Fig. 2) are five columns with toponyms – mostly names of countries (e.g. ‘India, Tartaria, Ethiopia’ in the middle column), a few cities (e.g. Constantinople, Athens, Rome) and the three continents, the latter being highlighted by somewhat larger initial letters (‘Asia’ at the top of the second column, ‘Affrica’ and ‘Europa’ in the fourth column).

This already hints at a mappamundi. In fact, the three colums in the middle are nothing but a T-O map, only lacking the circle and internal division that would make it immediately recognisable. This lack, however, is not that unusual; while we may perceive mappaemundi mainly as images, they in fact often were transmitted in forms of lists. Everyone knew how to draw the relevant map (fair enough – it is a simple scheme), and all the difference was in the texts that would fill this scheme. This could range from simply giving ‘Asia, Africa, Europa’ to long lists of countries and cities, or additional information like the three sons of Noah (as in Fig. 1), wonders of the world and so on (for a recent overview on ‘written’ maps, see Bettina Schöller, Wissen speichern, Wissen ordnen, Wissen übertragen. Schriftliche und bildliche Aufzeichnungen der Welt im Umfeld der Londoner Psalterkarte, Zurich 2015.).

Richentals Weltkarte 2

Figure 3: The missing lines added.

Now in the production of a medieval manuscript, writing and drawing were two separate steps, and what seems to have happened in the making of the Aulendorf copy was that the second step was forgotten. Similar phenomena are not rare; for example, the Ettenheim copy of Richental’s chronicle lacks some of the drawings and all the water colour paintings that were evidently meant to be there (see  https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/3165). Yet it is not difficult to add what is missing, either in one’s imagination or in a digital image (Figure 3).

Richental A 473 Heb ich an.jpg

Figure 4: ‘Wan die welt in dry tail getailt ist Asia Affrica und Europa So heb ich an des Ersten an dem großern tail Asia’

So we have a mappamundi, but what does this all have to do with heraldy? Well, I think the map belongs to a number of elements that indicate that the Richental armorial originally was arranged according to the ‘geographical’ scheme of Asia, Africa and Europe. This arrangement is in fact not preserved in the Aulendorf copy; here, instead, the armorial is divided into a section containing the coat of arms of the clergy, and another with those of the laity. The latter arms are at least partly arranged ‘geographically’ in the sense that the Western arms are presented first, followed by a number of Asian arms (beginning with those of Prester John), a small number of arms from ‘Africa’, and finally another section of Western arms. It is easy to sketch the most general principles of this arrangement, but for details I have to refer to my recent article: ‘Die Richental-Chronik als Wappenbuch’, in: Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 71 (2015), 57−103.

But let’s not bother with this problem for the moment, and stick with the lovely map. Interestingly, it is found immediately before the Asian coat of arms, and the text on the same page (basically explaining the map) ends with a slightly odd note (fig. 4):

As the world is divided in three parts, Asia, Africa and Eruope, I will begin with Asia, the larger part [of the world].

The very next items indeed are ‘Asian’ coats of arms, namely those of Prester John and his vassals, but what is odd is that Richental seems to say that these are his first coats of arms (‘I will begin with Asia’), and this is not the case.

Or at least not in the Aulendorf copy: in the Konstanz copy, the armorial indeed begins with Prester John and ‘Asian’ coats of arms, continues with Africa, and only then presents European arms. (On this issue, see my post here: https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/3082.)

Therefore, I assume that the Konstanz order is the original order, but that the world map and the text found in the Aulendorf copy (not found in any other Richental manuscript) are also part of the original version of the armorial and not a later addition. These materials of the Aulendorf copy would have made much more sense at the beginning of an armorial that indeed ‘begins with Asia’, as in the Konstanz copy of Richental.

In itself, this argument does not solve the perennial question what the lost original version of Richental looked like. There are good reasons to be very careful before any claims on this issue can be accepted. Richental scholars have learned this lesson the hard way, and after more than a century of debate are currently very reluctant to make any claims concerning the supposed original – if indeed they still accept that there was one.

As a historian, I like to think of myself as a happy sceptic; yet scepticism is a productive way of thinking that should never lead to despair but new discoveries. In the case of Richental, even the hard-boiled sceptic is happy to see that new arguments and indeed new evidence is available – if one turns away from the looking only at the text of the chronicle, and takes into account other elements, namely coat of arms and also mappaemundi.


Primary sources


New York, Spencer Collection, Ms. 32; not online, see www.handschriftencensus.de/


Concilium ze Costenz 1414–1418: Fac-similirte Ausgabe nach der im Besitze des Grafen Gustav zu Königsegg in Aulendorf befindlichen Urschrift, ed. H. Sevin (Karlsruhe, 1881). http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/richental1881

Secondary literature

C. Rolker, ‘Die Richental-Chronik als Wappenbuch’, in Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 71 (2015), 57−103.

B. Schöller, Wissen speichern, Wissen ordnen, Wissen übertragen: Schriftliche und bildliche Aufzeichnungen der Welt im Umfeld der Londoner Psalterkarte (Medienwandel – Medienwechsel – Medienwissen 32,  Zurich, 2012).

Cite this blog post
Christof Rolker (2017, March 22). A world (map) of coat of arms: Richental’s mappamundi. Heraldica Nova. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/pi0m

Christof Rolker

Christof Rolker is a historian interested in the Middle Ages, esp. canon law, kinship, family, sex and gender, and the use of symbolic goods (names, coats of arms etc).

4 Responses

  1. This observation is very interesting – Grünenberg, who borrowed much from Richental, organized his armorial (or at least the imaginary arms in it) on a similar geographical principle – rather like an imitation of a tour of the world.

    • Absolutely. CLearly Grünenberg also used other sources which to my knowledge are still largely unchartered; Jehan de Mandeville and Marco Polo come to mind.

  2. Mordechay Lewy says:

    Enjoyed very much reading your piece.

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