Archaic Cartography as Art and Gaming Realia

I have a certain fondness for maps. Not the modern, precise guaranteed-to-be-accurate-to-within-a-meter maps. No, I speak of the ancient maps that guided Roman legions or spice traders from the far east. Maps that are as much art as tool.

Clearly, these ancient maps qualify as art and are worthy of owning for that alone. For a gamer, they offer another benefit: realia.

Realia, in the language of teachers, is any item that makes a lesson more concrete and memorable to your students. For example, chemistry teachers always trot out some exciting exothermic reaction to make chemistry “cool.” Students forget formulas, but an explosion permanently etches into their memories.  Clearly it works, since I remembered “exothermic” twenty-five years after the explosion.

Gamers use realia too.  Miniatures are the classic example, but maps, coded letters and  other tokens all help the cause. Realia adds a third dimension to what is often a very abstract experience. Maps have the added value of becoming the focus of a game. It guides the PCs to the next great adventure. More importantly,it places a tangible representation of the campaign in their hand.  It makes the world more “real.”

A note for DMs. Laminate maps that you give out to players if you want it to last more than one game. Soda is corrosive.

In my endless curiosity and boredom, I found myself surfing for websites with these ancient maps. I found quite a few. Some have free downloads, others sell their wares, but have nice shots of the (sometimes expensive) antiques.  I am sure there are more than these on the web and I would love for  other sites to be posted in the comments section.

Village Atlas

An English company that sells some 19th century maps of the ancient world. Reasonably priced at about $10.00 each. I am quite fond of their  “Numidia” map.

Archival Maps

These maps date from about the 16th century onward, but they are quite detailed. The American Civil War maps impressed me the most. Be warned, can be very expensive. The maps come printed on canvas and framed. I created a $300.oo order on a single map before I noticed the price!

The Art of the Print

This site sells the real deal, actual maps that are centuries old. Too expensive for gaming, but the free previews are worth a look.


There is a map of the Roman Empire I would die to have. It is 210×183 cm! (That is large for non-metric users.) Sadly, after I ordered it I would die. My wife would kill me for spending $339.00 on a map.


American Civil War era maps, reprinted for $10.00 each.  Gamers who play in the 19th century might make use of them.

Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World

I hesitated to include this item because of the price, but I could not leave it out. The level of detail in this book is awe inspiring.

Check out the description:

In 99 full-color maps spread over 175 pages, the Barrington Atlas recreates the entire world of the Greeks and Romans from the British Isles to the Indian subcontinent and deep into North Africa. It spans the territory of more than 75 modern countries. Its large format (13 x 19 ins or 33 x 48 cm) has been custom-designed by the leading cartographic supplier, Inc., and is unrivalled for range, clarity and detail. Over 70 experts, aided by an equal number of consultants, have worked from satellite-generated aeronautical charts to return the modern landscape to its ancient appearance, and to mark ancient names and features in accordance with the most up-to-date historical scholarship and archaeological discoveries.

There is also a CDROM with all of the maps digitized.

Total price:$600.00

Cartographic Associates

Maps from the 16th-19th century.  Highlight for me were the full-color maps of the Middle East.


Seller of modern (post American Civil War) maps. The post World War 1 period is the majority of their historical inventory.  The World War 1 trench maps are of interest to the hardcore wargamer.

They also sell the coolest maps I found: Silk Pilot Escape and Evasion Maps

These were carried by pilots because they would not rot and opened silently. Here is a picture of one.

Cheap at only $20.00

Well, that ends my little adventure into cartography.  If you have any other sources for cartographic supplements for games, please drop a comment.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

One thought on “Archaic Cartography as Art and Gaming Realia

  • March 17, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    This is an awesome collection of links. Great for RPGs, writers, historians, etc. Thanks for providing this!

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