A New Description of Asia


The Flemish geographer and scholar Abraham Ortelius (1527‒98) published the first edition of his Theatrum orbis terrarum (Theater of the world) in 1570. It contained 53 maps, each with a detailed commentary. It was the first true atlas in the modern sense: a bound book of map plates and accompanying text specifically produced to give a uniform, complete presentation. More than 7,300 copies of the atlas appeared in 31 editions between 1570 and 1612 in various languages, including French, Dutch, English, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. Ortelius began to produce his own maps from about 1560, and the map presented here derives from his own 1567 wall map of Asia. It is widely considered more accurate and complete than earlier maps of Asia, as it was informed by the travels of Marco Polo, in particular the account of these travels that appeared in Giovanni Battista Ramusio’s Navigationi et Viaggi (Travels and voyages), published in 1550‒59. This map depicts all of Asia and was the standard map of the continent for at least 40 years. Nevertheless, Asia is still shown extending farther to the east than it should, the shape of Japan is distorted, and Luzon is missing from the Philippines. New Guinea is enlarged, and a putative Australia is indicated in the bottom right-hand corner. The Red Sea is given the alternative name of Arabian Gulf, and the Gulf is given the alternative name of Mar Mesendin (Sea of Mesendin), derived from present-day Musandam, the northernmost governorate of Oman.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Asiae nova descriptio

Additional Subjects

Type of Item

Physical Description

1 map ; 37 x 48 centimeters


  • This is a new plate of the 1570 map, meticulously copied. In the Arabian Peninsula the name Ara, a city at the mouth of the Red Sea, has been omitted, while Medina Tallnabi becomes Medina, the word Tallnabi being moved to the left to cover a formerly nameless town south of Ianbut (present-day Yanbu‘).
  • Map scale approximately 1:28,000,000

Last updated: January 3, 2018