Annotating the Landscape

Zoom into this manuscript map of Bavaria from the 19th century

Manuscript Map of Bavaria (c. 1813) by Georg Ludwig von MaurerHarvard Library

This annotated map from around 1813 covers a region in southeastern Germany known as Bavaria.

The turn of the nineteenth century was a pivotal moment in German history, because Bavaria's political and economic power greatly expanded during this time. The Holy Roman Empire dissolved six years before this map was created, and the Napoleonic Wars would end within the next two years.

Bavaria itself transformed into a kingdom for the first time during this period. In the midst of such rapid social and political reorganization, new maps were always in demand. Scholar and statesman Georg Ludwig von Maurer held this map among hundreds in his library until it was acquired for Harvard by Archibald Coolidge in 1904.

Although this map of Bavaria seems cluttered and nearly unintelligible today, there is no reason to believe it was not created as a functional item in the second decade of the nineteenth century.
The original place names and topographical features were inscribed on the paper just as deliberately as the copious annotations we now see on the map.

The scale on this map is obscured under annotations in the bottom left corner. Unlike contemporary maps, which scale size according to abstract measurements such as miles, maps of this region in this period were scaled according to Reisestunden, or journey hours. Reisestunden refers to the distance a person can travel by foot within a certain number of hours.

This map was acquired for the Harvard Map Collection by Archibald Coolidge. It had previously been part of the library of Georg Ludwig von Maurer and his son Konrad. However, an entirely unconnected name appears within the border of the map: “Beuther.” Beuther could refer to the historian Michael Beuther (1522–1587), whose son was active in the Palatinate lands of the Wittelsbach dynasty, or it might point to the theatrical painter Friedrich Christian Beuther (1777–1856).

Quite a bit of Latin appears in this German map. “AD CASTRA MEDIANA” is just one example, which translates into English as “towards the middle forts.” Frequently used Latin words include de (meaning from or of), miles (meaning soldier or knight), and predium/predio [praedium] (meaning farm or estate). Latin was the lingua franca among European intellectuals and rulers throughout the medieval and early modern periods.

Manuscripts are made to order, so we might assume that the person who commissioned this map had more power over its creation than someone who purchased a pre-printed map. Nevertheless, a number of mistakes were made that were later corrected in brown ink over the original black marks. Here we see the original spelling “Kramstetterhof” transformed into “Gramstetterhöfe” (modern spelling Gramstetterhof) by changing and adding letters.

Another recurring type of annotation is a system of three numbers, which might refer to property values or taxes paid against secular and religious structures.


Many of the places identified in the map are now small villages and towns without landmarks to match their historical appearance. Castles, on the other hand, remain as beacons of eras past in which a fortress and guards were signs of power over local residents and loyalty to aristocratic superiors.

For example, the castle at Alerheim has been an important military and political structure in the region for centuries. It was the site of the Battle of Nordlingen in 1645, in which French forces defeated the Holy Roman Empire in Bavaria.

Today, the ruins of the castle still feature prominently against the flat farmland which surrounds it.

Manuscript Map of Bavaria (c. 1813) by Georg Ludwig von MaurerHarvard Library

"t." annotations

The abbreviation “t.” can be seen throughout the map. The abbreviation stands for “testis,” the Latin word for witness. Such annotations point to early documentation of settlements through people known to be present at the time. 

Given the von Maurers’ interest in the legal history of German-speaking lands, these names and dates were likely found in royal, monastic, and cathedral documents concerning diplomatic relations, institutional histories, and personal biographies.

At least one inscription is verifiable. An Ulrich of Kerkingen did, in fact, live in a castle in this location starting in 1272.

Criss-crossed annotations

The annotations in this map are packed in tight and very difficult to read, yet nearly all of them are written in the same direction with many in the same brown ink. 

This spot is an exception: one vertical annotation with four lines of text about an event in the year 1327 crosses over several other entries. One rushed decision has damaged the legibility of this area of the map.

Please continue to explore the von Maurer map of Bavaria on your own!

Zoom in, zoom out, and move around this digital version of the von Maurer map to check out the incredible extent of the additional annotations and the underlying cartography.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps