on September 8, 2007
The sole reason not to regard this atlas a disappointment is comparison with Palgrave's historical atlases in general. Compared to the series they output, this one has some merits. Even that is in question though. Given this atlas's much higher price than that of the - also overpriced - rest, one might have felt justified expecting something classes better than the other mostly truly sloppy, pitiful, uninformative, not just unreliable but often positively misleading, superficial non-quality. (Though the WWII history atlas can be regarded as an exception, and to be fair, there may be more, as I have not seen as yet one or two of the series, only the bulk of it). It is not classes better, however, only a little better than those.
One would have been justified to expect for the audaciously inflated price an atlas at par with publications such as Hewsen's Historical Atlas of Armenia, the Brill historical atlases (that with all their shortcomings are at least presented to a high standard), or even Schwartzberg's Historical Atlas of South Asia. Not so. This atlas is a poor two colour output where the main improvement vis-à-vis other Palgrave atlases is the this time (at least in the main) decently drawn geographical base. This is not to say that cartography as a whole is of a good standard. The handling of annotation in particular is often poor.
The atlas also comes short of other, perhaps more substantial expectations that one can have from an academic work of the pretended kind that it is. Time and again the specific maps are not original creations merely adaptations of others published elsewhere. At times this is acknowledged, at times it is not. Map 5.3. e.g. is a mostly unchanged redrawing of map 40. of Toynbee's Historical Atlas (V. XI of A Study of History). There is no reference to this fact. At least some of the few changes that were made are for the worse, the result being utterly wrong. Such is the depiction of Sirmion Theme as it was done.
This touches on what is the main problem. There are shocking errors. At times the results of just seriously careless cartography, but that's no excuse. I am not at home with some highly specialised data such as whereabouts of mints at specific periods, details of trade or defence, so the mapping of these and comparable issues just might be correct, but I have my doubts. This is because perusing the content of maps where I am not without background information I identified regularly careless inaccuracies of almost incredible kind and quantity. This discredits the trust one can have towards the reliability of the entire atlas.
A few instances.
1. The word `Slavs' on this map dealing with issues of C5-C6 is deposited in modern Slovakia i.e. totally outside the area where Slavs then lived, or at best at its border. The area where Slavs really did live was meanwhile left empty.
2. The key suggests Slav presence on the Western Balkans/Pannonia in 535-550. In reality Slavs entered this parts only after the appearance of the Avars in the Carpathian basin, i.e. 567.
3. It is wholly inappropriate how and where the word `Burgundians' is placed on the map. Any reader not at home with the releavant facts as they really were can not but be substantially misled by this. Those at home with the facts let their jaw drop.
4. The name of the "East Roman Empire" (at other parts of the atlas "Eastern Roman Empire") itself is also quite ill located, partly inside - partly outside the area concerned though there was plenty of room to place it to the middle of it that was left empty.
1. The state name `Bornu-Kanem' is featured on the map of "Imperial neighbours" that deals with the subject in about 600. In reality the notion appeared only quite a few centuries later. Similar objection can be made to the presence of the name `Darfur' whilst the then existing important state of Ethiopia or Abyssinia, or Axum (as a state) is entirely absent.
It is absurd to locate the `Avars' east of the Carpathians in 600. By then the Avars already spent decades in the area where this map shows `Slav groups'
Themes (units of administration) are located at the northwest of the Empire rather ludicrously. Their frontiers are wholly misplaced, their entire location is completely wrong. Theme Arentanoi was in reality roughly where Terbounia is shown, yet the map locates the former so far north that finds room to (ill) place another theme (Zachloumoi) in between them. One theme (in modern Bulgaria) that is separated by frontiers from others, is left unnamed. It's not that its name was left out. One of the frontier lines separating the area from a seemingly other theme (Makedonia) is superfluous. This, and more (vast areas of both the Holy Roman Empire and Hungary are assigned totally without any justification to a highly inflated sized Croatia; Bosnia is named incongruously) create a feeling that the map as a whole is unreliable, its data is not to be trusted. Indeed the depiction of eastern part of the Empire is no less distorted. Ani, for instance that was over 100 miles N-NE to Lake Van is shown NW to the lake, and much closer. Vaspurakan that was really around Lake Van at every direction except for the west, is placed entirely wrongly to the west of it without even touching the lake. This degree of sloppiness amounts to cynical contempt of the reader.
1. It is wrong to replace the correct term `Khaganate' by `Khanate', be it Avar, Khazar, or Western Turk.
2. Toledo is completely ill located. It is in reality far without the map frame, so it should not feature at all.
1. The word `Transylvania' dominates the area in the Carpathian basin between the Danube and the Carpathians (part of which is ill termed). This in 1025, when the concept as Transylvania as a political or administrative entity was as yet unknown for centuries to come. Even when it appeared it applied to an area far smaller than indicated in this atlas. The term `Kingdom of Hungary', which alone should feature for the area is delegated at its northern edge, in part without it.
2. Any concept of `Slovenia' is wholly out of place this date, yet it is depicted nearly 900 years earlier than the concept was coined.
3. No publication, but especially not a supposedly scholarly work should in any way use the the term `Russia' as this map does for what was to be named `Rus'.
There was no `Slovakia' at the time of Charlemagne. The very concept did not exist for over a millennium to come. Yet it was being placed firmly in the map. Such things amount to raving ignorance. In case it was that of the cartographer only, as one hopes, the question is what were the author and the editors doing when they were, as one expects, checking the result? In fact what made the cartographer to put concepts on the map that the author was not asking for? One fears that the author may not be wholly innocent.
This ought to be enough for illustration. There are numerous other, possibly worse offenders, among them is the showing of the states of Moldavia and Walachia in 1320 when none yet existed. (Walachia was born soon after, but its extent was even then far smaller than shown.) This on Map 11.2c where also other problems abound such as the uninformed ill-location of Slavonia that is placed where it is as from post C18 only, and the naming of `Dobrudhza' that is about as anachronistic as would be the naming of an airport J.F.K. in the 1920's. I `d better stop.
It is a great pity that such a deserving subject as the history of the Byzantine state was not dealt with when approached at long last in an atlas format properly. The result - as far at least as the maps, i.e. the essence of any atlas work go, is woefully inadequate.