The publication of the first Armenian printed world map

Exactly 320 years ago, in 1695, an event occurred in the Armenian printing house of Amsterdam, marking the beginning of the new Armenian printed cartography and giving a strong impetus to the development of Armenian geographical thought.

The first Armenian printed world map was published, its title echoing the famous work of Anania Shirakatsi from the 7th century – “Amatarats Ashkharatsuyts”, or “Universal Indicator of the World”.

The appearance of the map was preceded and facilitated by numerous events and historical intersections – both in Armenian and global realities. The rise of scientific thought in the ancient world was replaced by centuries of decline, religious obscurantism, and the fanatical church-biblical philosophy of Catholicism.

The ideas and works of outstanding ancient thinkers and scientists were forgotten and lost, among whom one cannot fail to mention Anania Shirakatsi, Mkhitar Gosh, Movses Khorenatsi, and many other illustrious representatives of Armenian science.

The history of Armenia itself also entered a prolonged dark period of losing independence and statehood, dominated by incoming nomadic tribes, most of which were at a primitive level of development.

There’s no stronger tool to suppress free thought and normal development than the coarse primitive force holding power… That was the state of Armenia, which, with the fall of the Cilician Armenian kingdom in the 14th-15th centuries, lost the last bastion of its statehood.

However, the Armenian nation did not disappear – this unique conglomerate of vitality, creativity, and genius thought…

Thus, centuries-long domination by conquerors in their homeland and the lack of conditions for the development of science, forced emigration (including forced resettlement), the creation of Armenian enclaves across the Old World, and, as a result, the development of scientific thought, the birth of masterpieces of thought everywhere but Armenia.

The enterprising and creative spirit embedded in Armenian blood, the unique ability to develop in a non-national environment, to integrate without assimilation, provided fertile ground for significant achievements in all areas of human activity, science, and culture, monopolizing global trade, particularly maritime, across the vast space from Persia to Southeast Asia, material-architectural and intellectual take-offs in the centers of the Old World – from Shanghai and Kolkata to Amsterdam and Marseille.

These are the broad outlines of the prerequisites for the publication of the first Armenian printed map. Add to this the significant expansion of Armenian trade geography – both land and sea – requiring precise and current maps.

And it’s no coincidence that Amsterdam was the location for the publication of this first map. The main city of the Netherlands, the “Northern Venice” – this major European port of the time was the epicenter of trade-industrial, scientific, and cultural life.

Here lived and created Rembrandt and Rubens, cartographer Mercator (who was a thousand years ahead of Shirakatsi), and many craftsmen, among whom were master engravers, and printers who assisted in creating maps for both Armenians and Russians… But let’s take things one step at a time.

Among those violently relocated to Persia by Shah Abbas, there were numerous Armenians originally from Nakhichevan, particularly from the province of Gokhtn, already famous for the activities of Mesrop Mashtots.

The trading flair of the Armenians of Goghtn (Aghulis, Jugha, Vanand, Vordavar, and other flourishing cities of the Nakhichevan region) became the main component of their activity after resettlement.

The center became New Jugha, built by Armenians specifically for Armenians – a suburb of the then capital of Iran, Spahan (this is how the city is called in Farsi and Armenian, known in Europe under the distorted name Isfahan – derived from the ancient Armenian-Persian “aspakan” – hunter).

From here, numerous Armenian trade caravans set off to all ends of Asia and Europe by land, and Armenian trading ships were equipped in the ports of Persia. And it was from here, after long journeys, that natives of Nakhichevan’s Vanand, Matevos Ovannisyan, his cousin Bishop Tovmas Nuridzhanyan, and nephews Gukas and Mikael, reached Amsterdam.

Here, in the 1660s of the 17th century, they founded the Armenian Vanandetsi printing house, publishing the first Armenian printed world map in 1695. The author of the map is Gukas Vanandetsi (Nuridzhanyan), who was honored for this work with the title of Master of Oxford University and membership in the English Royal Geographical Society.

The engravers-printers (who in those times played almost a primary role in publishing, unlike today’s faceless flow) were the brothers Adrianos and Peter Schonebek (Schonbek), whom we will remember again later.

The first Armenian printed world map “Amatarats Ashkharatsuits” became a phenomenon in the geographical thought of its time. It was written about by Leo, G.Levonyan, O.Stepanyan, the magazine “Andes Amsorea” of the Mkhitarist Congregation, and many others.

Copies of the map are kept in the National Library of the RA and the Geographical Society of Armenia. And its copy is placed on the endpapers of the first Armenian “World Atlas” in modern history (the author of which is yours truly, and the publisher is “Collage” LLC).

According to the historian of Cartography O.Stepanyan, “the first Armenian printed map, “Amatarats Ashkharatsuits,” does honor to Armenian science and the Armenian nation, especially considering the difficult situation Armenia was in at that time.”

Moreover, the map “Amatarats Ashkharatsuits” was one of the first scientifically summarized works on the translation of numerous toponyms of the world into Armenian, most of which are unchanged and used to this day.

But that’s the topic for a separate article. For now, we’ll focus on the purely geographical or cosmogonic features of the map. The fact is that, during that period, in times of long and distant voyages, any world map inevitably became, in terms of usage and users, a maritime, navigational map.

And the Armenian world map was no exception. The first printed map can justly be called the first Armenian maritime map – a precursor to the unique 4-volume Marine Atlas of the World, published in Soviet times under the chief editorship of Fleet Admiral Ovanes Isakov.

“Amatarats Ashkharatsuits” is equipped with a whole collection of navigation elements, without which determining coordinates and calculating the path of ships would be challenging. There is an inset map of the hemispheres of the starry sky, schemes of world order systems – geocentric (with Earth as the center of the universe) and Copernicus’ heliocentric (with the Sun at the center), the so-called ecliptic line – the curve of the Sun’s apparent motion in the constellations of the Zodiac, which belts the equator and reaches the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and the most modern geographical coordinate grid for that time with the prime meridian from the island of Ferro in the Canary Islands group, adopted by most European countries. There’s even an inset map of the Earth’s polar regions with the known areas of North America at the time and without the still undiscovered Antarctica…

The monotonous listing of somewhat esoteric geographical terms is brightened by the images of sailing ships found on busy sea routes – a tribute to the fading landscape cartography, which made medieval maps true works of art.

But alongside this, there’s clear and as accurate as possible reproduction of the outlines of land and water, in accordance with the latest discoveries and achievements, without any unwarranted additions that many authors of that time allowed themselves, showing non-existent lands and seas and richly illustrating them with fictional images. To the credit of Armenian cartographers, they did not suffer from such an overactive imagination.

In conclusion, let’s provide an example of how the achievements of Armenian thought are used by the “powers that be” without mentioning the source. At the end of the 17th century, the Russian Tsar Peter the First (the future Great) arrived in Amsterdam to familiarize himself with and adopt the skills and methods of shipbuilding and navigation, as well as with the aim of creating the first Russian printed world map.

Whether by irony of fate or by higher instruction, for this task Peter the First turned to the same master engravers who had prepared the Armenian map for publication a few years earlier – Adrianos and Peter Schonebek. And not by chance – the latter was considered the best engravers in Amsterdam, and “Amatarats Ashkharatsuits” with its author, Gukas Vanandetsi, made a real splash in scientific and commercial circles.

And the first Russian world map essentially became a direct translation of the very first Armenian world map. Evidence of this, apart from the identity of the engravers, is the fact that the word “mile” on the Russian map was not translated and remained printed in Armenian – “mgon”…

by Grigor Beglaryan.

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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