Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Most Beautiful 19th Century Arabic Maps of Syria and Palestine

Edward Aiken (ed.) Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)
Today we're delighted to have another guest post from Zachary Foster

Beginning in 1818, American missionaries set sail for the Middle East with the aim to convert the region's inhabitants to Protestantism.  Soon enough they realized that the locals preferred education to proselytization.  And to educate the region's Arabic speakers, the Americans needed Arabic language books -- and maps.  So a group of missionaries opened up a printing press in Malta in the 1830s in which they published a number of history and geography books as well as an atlas (the Ottoman Sultan initially forbade them from importing a printing press into imperial lands).  Their 1835 atlas of the world included a dozen some maps of North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.  The map above appeared in the second edition of this missionary atlas, printed much later by Edward Aiken in the 1880s or 1890s, as Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)

The Americans were either unaware of the Ottoman administrative order or unbothered by it, but probably both.  For they labeled the Ottoman Empire with names they brought from English, culled from classical Greek geography, including Caria, Pisidia, Cappadocia, Lycia, Cilicia, Phrygia Palestine, Syria, and much more.  See the following 1907 map, published in Samuel Butler's The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography, if you had as much trouble as I did in trying to figure out modern English orthography for the ancient Greek divisions of the region printed in the Arabic script by American missionaries:

Samuel Butler, The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography (
Now have a look at the next map.  It is fascinating in comparison because, although printed in the same undated late 19th century atlas, it reflects not ancient Greek administrative nomenclature, nor Ottoman political geography, but terms actually in vogue among Levantine Arabs at that time, including the following: The Land of Rum, the Land of the Armenians, Karaman, Kurdistan, the Land of Anatolia, the Land of Sham, al-Jazira, Arab Iraq and the Land of the Arabs.

Edward Aiken (ed.) Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)

These maps were printed with a movable iron press, but parts of them seem to have been hand-drawn.  Compare the next two maps against one another, both titled "A Map of the Land of Sham": The first appeared in our late 19th century atlas, the second in Simeon Calhoun's Kitab Murshid al-Talibin ila al-Kitab al-Muqaddas al-Thamin, a seven hundred page analytical survey of the Bible, New and Old Testaments, published in Beirut in 1869 by the American Press.  

Edward Aiken (ed.) Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)

Look carefully at the two maps.  A movable iron press generated the outlines to mark rivers, borders, seas and mountains, since these are the same. But human hands were behind the names of the places and color traces, which appear slightly differently in each map.

Simeon Calhoun, Kitab Murshid al-Talibin ila al-Kitab al-Muqaddas al-Thamin, (Beirut: n.p., 1869), after text

Now, a brief word about Calhoun's magnum opus, Kitab Murshid al-Talibin. He seems to have written the book in Arabic himself, for by the time he published it, he had already spent a quarter of a century in Lebanon teaching the gospels to Arab pupils (in Arabic).  He was also plenty adept at learning languages, for he spent seven years preaching the gospel in Greek to Ottoman Greeks in Istanbul and Izmir, and he also managed to learn Turkish along the way, assisting the American Dr. Goodell in his translation of the Bible into (Ottoman) Turkish.