Talk given by Frédéric Durand
Talk given by Frédéric Durand
Paper presented at the MedAsia Symposium
Archives on Asia in Southern Europe
Barcelonia, 14-15 September 2006
Department of Geography
Université Toulouse II-Le Mirail
Maps no doubt represent an inadequately exploited aspect for analyzing methods adopted by the first travelers and conquerors of Southern Europe, the Italians and especially the Portuguese and the Spaniards in exploring South-East Asia. Except with the researchers specialized in cartography, like Armando Cortesão, Monique Pelletier, Alfredo Pinheiro Marques or Thomas Suárez (Cf. bibliography), maps rarely attract attention that measure up to what they could contribute to historical studies1. However the capacity for mapping a region and locating ports or kingdoms in it proves to be a particularly interesting way to analyze the extent and effectiveness of the “discoveries”. In this context, the maps are very unusual archives insofar as the old versions were often destroyed as and when they were updated, unlike a lot of written documents. Furthermore, we often don't know the author, nor the nationality of the ones that remain, and they are rarely dated accurately. Moreover, the two big cartographer nations of the XVIth century, Spain and Portugal, had created specialized institutions entrusted with updating the world map, and jealously guarding the secret. Whether in Casa da Índia at Lisbon or at Casa de Contratación founded in 1503 at Seville, the reference world map or “padrón real” was of a very controlled access and the circulation of information attracted death penalty.
The maps that have survived are scattered in the big libraries of the planet, but unlike most of the textual archives, they were often reproduced, either in the general-interest travel publications, or in the summary works like Portugaliae Monumenta Cartographica. In order to put the knowledge and geo-cartographic uncertainties of the time to better use, rather than using original representations, we have chosen to retrace the contours of some Asian regions' maps dating back to XVth, XVIth and XVIIth centuries, in order to homogenize their graphical rendering, make reading of the toponymy easier and not be influenced by the distinctive characteristics of their decors or illumination. 2
1 – The pioneer cartography
The slightly detailed first South-East Asian map owes its existence to the Italian Fra Mauro in 1459 (figure 1). Based on Marco Polo's tale and especially the merchant Nicolò de' Conti's account, who had traveled these regions from 1414 to 1439, this map preserved at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, at Venice, reveals that several decades before the takeover of Malacca by Afonso de Albuquerque in August 1511, the Europeans were capable of placing several business centers like Pegu, Malacca, Siam, Champa, Trapobana (Sumatra), Java or Banda on a plane surface. The layout was however relatively confused and the locations at times fanciful. Thus the sultanate of Aceh corresponded to an island off Sumatra, while Cipangu (Japan?) was drawn in a jumble of islands including Java (Minor), Banda and Sunda.
This cartography was no doubt partly derived from the Arabs', and particularly from the Al Idrisi's world map whose first preserved copies date back to the XIIth century, and which shows the same, a little confusing insular profusion. The instructions of the Muslim pilots, who followed the sea route from the Middle East to China for centuries, were however more accurate than their maps. The information of the pilot Sulaimān al-Mahrī in 1511, the year of the takeover of Malacca by the Portuguese, gives the summary account of the Arab knowledge of the era. The descriptions of navigation and the stellar orientations help in reconstructing a map revealing their effective knowledge (figure 2). The toponyms for the Malaysian peninsula and the island of Sumatra are detailed in it, with around fifteen names for the island of Sumatra and about forty names in the Malaysian peninsula. The rest of the region is clearly not so well known. Only five ports were mentioned in Java while the rest of the archipelago was only just identified by some names of islands: Borneo, Macassar (Celebes), the Moluccas and a group of about ten islands included under the generic term “Timor”. 3
2 – The discovery of Asia by the Iberians from 1492 to 1512
The year 1492 is especially known as the date of discovery of America. At the time, Asia seemed to be a land known since antiquity. However 1492 also marked the end of the Arab presence in the Iberian Peninsula, which led to the beginning of a real boom in the Far-East exploration by the Europeans. Thus, we can be surprised by the uncertainties on this region depicted by the first western world globe, for example, realized at Lisbon by the German Martin Behaim in 1492 and preserved at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, at Nuremberg. Likewise the planisphere of Juan de la Cosa in 1500 or Cantino in 1502 indicates an ignorance of Asia just as great as that of America. In fact, one had to wait for the year 1498, i.e. six years after Christopher Colombus crossed the Atlantic, for the Portuguese to reach India by sea route for the first time via the Cape of Good Hope. Their objective at the time was to supplant the Muslim merchants in the spice trade. After a series of alliances and conquests, it is especially the takeover of the port of Malacca by Afonso de Albuquerque in 1511, which opened the doors of Eastern Asia for them. From 1512, Albuquerque decided to send three ships with the mission of discovering the Spice Islands. The cartographer Francisco Rodrigues was part of the expedition. He left behind a book containing directions for sailing towards China and, particularly, a series of twenty six maps ranging from Europe till China, of which eleven belonging to South-East Asia and the Chinese coast, and sixty-nine sketches or drawings of coasts, which are preserved at the Bibliothèque de la Chambre des Députés at Paris. 4
The Rodrigues' maps representing Europe are clearly copies of portolanos of the time, but those concerning Asia are originals and have no equivalent (figure 3). We can even put forth the hypothesis that they were partially drawn from local maps, maybe executed by Arab or Javanese pilots, or at least based on directions from local navigators. 5 Two elements enable to corroborate this hypothesis.
Firstly Albuquerque, in a courier to King Manuel 1st of Portugal in April 1512, indicates that he is sending him a big map drawn by a Javanese pilot in which the Cape of Good Hope, Portugal, Brazil, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Spice Islands and a route till China figure. This map was lost in a shipwreck, but it proves that, at that time, the eastern cartographers had knowledge of the world extending from South America to Asia. This is confirmed through a few Ottoman maps of the beginning of the XVIth century and especially that of the Turkish Admiral Pirî Reis, dating back to 1513 and preserved at the Topkapi palace in Istanbul.
Secondly the reconstruction of Francisco Rodrigues' journey shows that he just went along the Coasts of Sumatra, Java and some small Sunda islands, before continuing towards the Moluccas. He practically took the same route on his way back, which did not allow him to draw up a general projection of the entire region based on his personal observations alone. His sketch of South-East Asia however shows that it was made based on reliable information. (figure 3). The global shape and the location of the islands are even surprisingly accurate, i.e. Sumatra, the Malaysian peninsula, Java or the small Sunda islands from Bali (Blaram) to Timor. The only notable confusion is the union of Borneo (Borney) and Celebes (Macaçer) into a single island.
From the cartographic point of view, the Atlas Miller's artwork on Asia, preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, dated 1519 and attributed to the Portuguese cartographers Lopo Homem and the Reinels6, presents characteristics similar to those of Francisco Rodrigues' cartography. In this period when the European navigation was still in its infancy in the zone, it is probable that this map had also been partly influenced by non-western sources. Even if the orientation of the islands shows an abnormal inclination, their location corresponds to an approximation absolutely worthy for the time. It certainly involves a compromise between the local sources and more specifically Portuguese surveys as the map attributed to Pedro Reinel can illustrate, preserved at the Army Bibliothek de Munich and dated 1517 (figure 4).
In the beginning of the XVIth century, the cartography of the region was essentially Portuguese. In fact, since the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, Portugal had obtained exclusive rights for land explorations starting from Brazil to Asia and the knowledge was hardly shared. The European sovereigns knew the strategic role of cartography and the cartographers incurred death penalty if they divulged the slightest information that could be used by rival nations.
3 – The rupture of Magellan's expedition in 1522
This monopoly situation was modified in 1522 during the return journey of the around-the-world expedition sponsored by the Crown of Castile and led by Ferdinand Magellan. Thanks to this feat, the Spanish were able to have original data on the region. We could record this evolution through some original maps brought back by the Italian Antonio Pigafetta preserved among others at the University of Yale and at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris (figure 6). The effect of this was, above all, the beginning of an original cartography that the map of Nuño García de Toreno, the head cartographer of the Spanish Crown, illustrates well in 1522 and preserved at the Biblioteca Real de Turin. It is relatively comprehensive for the era and details the Philippine islands better than the maps of their Portuguese competitors (figure 7). Beyond the will to discover new lands, the main pre-occupation of the Spaniards was to locate the rich spice Moluccas accurately, and particularly Banda, Ambon and Ternate, where one found cloves and nutmeg. Indeed, if the Atlantic limit of the Treaty of Tordesillas to the East of a line passing at 370 leagues to the west of the Azores, i.e. 46.30° to the west of the current Greenwich meridian was easy to trace, the symmetrical limit of this domain in Asia-Pacific was never estimated before Magellan's journey. Charles Quint, of the Holy Roman Empire and Spanish sovereign, wished to have the possibility of claiming these Spice Islands whose location remained uncertain. Moreover, several more or less secretive expeditions would have been led in the 1520s towards these regions7, before Charles Quint finally gave up his claims, hardly legitimate by the way, and accepts to ‘sell' this renunciation to the Portuguese, in the context of the Treaty of Zaragoza, and move the line of demarcation to the eastern end of the New Guinea island in 1529. At the time this left them however the entire Pacific Ocean.
That year, the map drawn by the Portuguese Diogo Ribeiro, and preserved at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, surprisingly shows more uncertainties nevertheless than his Spanish competitors (figure 8). However it also reveals a concern for accuracy never happened before in sofar as only the parts of the islands that were recognized are drawn. Thus, the coasts of Java, Borneo, Timor or Gilolo (Halmahera) are traced only partially. This means that the Iberian cartographers felt henceforth sufficiently at ease to free themselves from the knowledge of Arab and Asian seafarers, or that they considered the latter's knowledge insufficiently accurate for the development of their activities. Therefore from then onwards, they tried to make maps based on their surveys alone. Things being what they were one would indicate that the Portuguese cartographer Diogo Ribeiro had worked for the Spanish sovereign Charles Quint, and he was able to sidestep some surveys in order to support the demands of his master for the Spice Islands. 8
After the Treaty of Zaragoza, we can put forward the hypothesis that a number of Spanish maps of Asia, from then on considered useless by Madrid, could have been scattered or sold to other sovereigns. This could contribute to explain the development of the European cartography, especially Italian and French in the 1540s-1550s.
4 – A cartographical diversification starting from the 1540s
The Portuguese, having found the exclusive rights for exploration in 1529, continued with a more systematic cartographic survey. This appears in the cartographer Gaspar Viegas' layout preserved at the Biblioteca Ricardiana de Florence and dated around 1537. Like that of Diogo Ribeiro eight years earlier, it only represents the parts of the islands actually recognized (figure 9). The Southern coasts of Java, Sumbawa (Bimma), Flores are consequently left unfinished, just as the entire South-East Borneo and the island of Celebes with the exception of the far north.
Other cartographers did not have this exactness, or at least did not have any coastal surveys allowing them to sort out between real observations and more or less fanciful fabrications or speculations. It is especially the case with the French maps of the Dieppe school such as those of Jean Rotz in 1542, of the British Library, or of Guillaume Le Testu in 1566, preserved in the Foreign Affairs archives at Paris (figures 10 and 11). However their works were often unjustifiably discredited. Of course several peculiar ways are to be indicated, like the incorporation of what should be the island of Sumbawa into a big Terre d'Offir in the South. However, if we disregard these anomalies and the Europeanized scenes that have often been added to decorate the islands, their layout turns out to be absolutely interesting. The existence of a big Southern land in the South of Timor could even be the result of explorations or at least secret surveys of the Australian coasts conducted by the Spanish during the first decades of the XVIst century. 9
At the end of the 1560s, Fernão Vaz Dourado's maps confirm the progress made by the Portuguese in acquiring knowledge on South-East Asia, even if vast portions of the coasts of the islands of Java, Borneo, Celebes or New Guinea remained indeterminable, like we can see on the map dated 1568 and preserved at the Biblioteca Nacional de Lisbonne (figure 12).
Spain, for its part, began to get interested in the region once again when Philippe II ascended the throne in 1556. The new sovereign hardly felt constrained by the Treaty of Zaragoza signed by his father Charles Quint in 1529, and revived exploration missions towards Asia. At the time, Flanders had not yet become Netherlands and still depended on the Crown of Castile. Apart from his innovations in projection, the renowned Flemish cartographer Gerard Mercator, who had already made a planisphere similar to the French works belonging to the Dieppe school in 1538, edited a new world map in 1569 that is preserved at the Maritime Museum Prins Hendrik at Rotterdam (figure 13). In its South-East Asian part, this map shows both a real progress in toponymy, with an explosion of names of islands and ports, and a surprising archaism, particularly in the shape of islands like Borneo or Celebes, but also through its great Southern continent next to which was drawn a Java Minor with kingdoms like Ferlech, Fansur, Lambri, or Dragoian directly originating from Marco Polo's tale, though close to being three centuries old.
As a matter of fact, the Spanish had no doubt lost one part of the information they had collected before 1529, and did not know how to use those that remained due to a paucity of marine surveys. They were obliged to create new explorations, knowing that they also had to discover several Pacific islands on which the Crown of Castile had more legitimacy. To this was added the fact that the Spanish ships had less chances of being inspected by their Portuguese rivals leaving America through the Pacific and by exploring North-East Asia and the Philippines. The map of Spain López de Velasco of 1570, illustrates this phenomenon well with quite a simplified Insulindia in the part stretching from Sumatra to the Maluccas, but on the other hand with more numerous details for the Salomon islands, China or the Philippines (figure 14).
5 – The paradoxes of Christian Sgrooten's polar projection
In this context of revival of the Spanish cartographic activity in Asia, Madrid's control over Lisbon from 1580 has paradoxically created some confusion. The pooling in of the two rivals' maps, till then secret and with relatively disconnected data, in effect reintroduced a new documentary heterogeneity, like that which reigned in the 1510s between the Oriental and European cartographies. This appears clearly in the representations of the Sunda islands by the Manuel Godinho de Erédia crossbreed in the beginning of the XVIIst century. 10 It is also obvious in the polar projection part on South-East Asia of the Fleming Christian Sgrooten's atlas. Two versions of this atlas are known, one dated 1573, preserved at the Bibliothèque Royale de Bruxelles, the other one dated 1588 and preserved at the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid. 11 Only the second one contains a map of the Southern hemisphere representing South-East Asia. Given the year of creation, it is probable that Christian Sgrooten was able to have the Spanish and Portuguese cartographic archives simultaneously. But, while the part on the American continent is quite accurate, the representation of South-East Asia denotes an absolutely surprising archaism with a seedbed of agglomerated islands where Sumatra, Java Minor, Timor, Gilola (Halmahera), Banda, Borneo and several more or less forgotton toponyms come close, particularly originating from Marco Polo's tale, though dating back to three centuries earlier (figure 15). From the point of view of the layout, at first glance, we have the impression that it involves a regression to the pre-European explorations cartography, such as that of Fra Mauro in 1459. However what could be only a weakness linked to the use of an obsolete documentation reveals some stunning details. “Giava Maior”, Marco Polo's Java Major, turns out to be no doubt a representation of the island of Sumbawa. A little closer to the east, an island presents some surprising similarities with the geography of Timor. The island of Silola corresponds to an unrivalled representation of New Guinea at the time. A big Southern land presents some characteristics of the Northern coast of Australia. More to the North, China and Japan are even better represented than with most of the cartographers of the end of the XVIth century, even of the first half of the XVIIth century. This confusing mix of archaisms and innovations could be the result of the author's difficulties to decide between the apparently accurate Spanish data, even though some no doubt date back to before 1529, and the more classical Portuguese surveys at the time, founded on an empirical but still fragmentary knowledge of the region and not extending till the South of the Sunda islands.
6 – The decline of the Iberians and the development of the Dutch cartography
These problems could have been outdated with time since Portugal has remained under the control of Spain for sixty years till 1640. After this initial delicate pooling in of their documentation, the two nations could have worked together and dominated the seas of the globe. But it was without banking on two major events that have radically modified the situation.
In 1588, the year of finalizing Christian Sgrooten's atlas, a large part of the two Iberian powers' fleet, brought together into an “Invincible Armada”, was destroyed by a tempest off the coast of England. A marked reduction of business activities like explorations and then the capacity for creating maps resulted from this.
The Flemish, for their part, who were fighting to free themselves from Spain, knew how to take advantage of this weakness, especially as they were able to see right through the secrets of the Portuguese navigation. Indeed, the Fleming Jan Huyghen van Linschoten had succeeded in getting himself recruited as Secretary of the archbishop of Goa in 1583. In the very catholic Portuguese India, his job gave him access to a lot of information, including nautical maps that he reproduced without the knowledge of the Portuguese. After the death of the archbishop, he returned to Amsterdam where he published the story of his travels with nautical indications and maps in 1595 (figure 16). The year before, in 1594, the Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius had for his part succeeded in getting a Portuguese map of Asia, no doubt drawn by Bartolomeu Lasso, of which he published an engraving.
These representations enabled the Dutch to make up for the delay of having been behind the Portuguese. Linschoten's and Plancius' cartography still clearly reveals a Portuguese influence, but the fact of engraving and printing the maps and not reproducing them manually and secretly has totally modified perspectives of cartographic policy. Having become aware of the importance of geographical knowledge especially in the fragmented combination of the Insulindia archipelago, the Dutch in turn embarked on the creation of an original cartography. In 1617 their East India Company, the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) recruited the cartographer Hessel Gerritsz and founded a cartographic agency systematically listing all the discoveries carried out by the ships of this company. 12 The map of the first big atlas published by the Dutch Willem Blaeu in 1617 still gets a lot of inspiration from its Iberian models and does not present any determining progress compared to Linschotten's map in 1595 (figure 17). On the other hand, one of Hessel Gerritsz's maps, created in 1628, reveals how the Dutch had known to get a head start over their Iberian rivals ten years later (figure 18). The other nations were henceforth going to mainly depend on VOC cartographers except the particular case of the Timor Island for which the Portuguese kept a certain control, and in the Philippines on which the Dutch abandoned any claim, in exchange for a similar commitment of the Spanish towards the Dutch Indies.
1There are of course striking exceptions in the studies conducted on South-East Asia, especially in the works of Pierre-Yves Manguin, Jacques Népote or Luís Filipe Thomaz (Cf. bibliography).
2This process was already used in 1995 by the Portuguese Historian Luís Filipe Thomaz in an excellent article on Portuguese cartography of the XVIth and XVIIth century Insulindia archipelago.
3Tibbetts (G.R.), 1979, p.253 ; Durand (F.), 2006, p.40.
4Pires (T.) et Rodrigues (F.), 1990.
5Cortesão (A.), in Pires (T.), 1990, vol.1, p.xciv.
6Pinheiro Marques (A.), 1994, p.54.
7Hervé (R.), 1982, p. 12.
8Thomaz (L.F.), 1995, p.89.
9Durand (F.), 2006, p.59.
10Durand (F.), 2006, p.73.
11Biblioteca Nacional de España (Ed.), 2001, p. 63.
12Zandvliet (K.), 1998, p.91.
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