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Title: The Maltese toponomy in three ancient Italian portulans (1296–1490)
Authors: Cassola, Arnold
Keywords: Malta -- Description and travel -- 14th century
Malta -- Description and travel -- 15th century
Mediterranean Sea -- Navigation -- 14th century
Toponymy -- Malta -- History
Issue Date: 1992
Publisher: The Society for the Medieval Mediterranean
Citation: Cassola, A. (1992). The Maltese toponomy in three ancient Italian portulans (1296–1490). Al-Masaq: journal of the Medieval Mediterranean, 5(1), 47-64.
Abstract: The earliest known detailed description of the Maltese Islands is Johannes Quintinus Haeduus' Insulae Melitae Descriptio published in Lyons in 1536. "Although several Classical authors and a few medieval writers and travellers had already referred to Malta in their works and journeys. Quintinus remains the first one who wrote purposely and solely on Malta as he saw it and from sources which he read".2 Another source of information on Malta, prior to Quintinus' description, are the portulans which were produced in the Middle Ages. Portulans were books of sailing directions. which were meant to be of help to navigators. Italy was particularly renowned for the production of these portulans. During the Middle Ages, portulans were necessarily hand-written documents. The oldest known Italian portulan of the Mediterranean Basin is Lo Compasso de Navegare, which dates back to 1296 and is to be found in the manuscript classified as "Hamilton 396", now in the possession of a Berlin library) The Compasso de Navegare describes the Maltese archipelago at ff. 86r-87r. Certain terms used in the description of the Maltese islands, such as "gala" for "cala" and "estier, estieri" (except), are not normally employed in the rest of the Compasso. Thus Motzo concludes that the author of this thirteenth century portulan probably had access to earlier descriptions of Malta: "( ... ) abbiamo motivo di arguime ch'egli trovasse questi termini adoperati nella fonte portolanica che usava per la descrizione del gruppo di Malta" (Motzo 1947: xxxv).
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