Typvs Vniversalis


Dublin Core


Typvs Vniversalis


World Maps


The Typvs Vniversalis map was created by Sebastian Munster no earlier than 1540 and published in Switzerland. Munster was born in Germany in 1489, and is one of history’s most prominent renaissance cartographers. He created the Cosmographia, one of the largest collections of maps at that time and an important resource for geographical and scientific information in the 16th century. This map was included in the later editions of the Cosmographia. Typvs Vniversalis is a depiction of the world based on the geographic knowledge of that time. It most accurately depicts the shape of the African and European continents as well as the southern coasts of India and Asia. However, half of North America is missing on the map, with the sections that appear largely exaggerated in scale. Neither Australia nor Russia are depicted. The map was hand coloured after its publication, with the more accurate regions coloured in yellow and the least accurate coloured in green. Whether this was purposeful or not, or who coloured in the map regions, is unclear. This map is an important resource to show what was known about the world in the mid-16th century.


Munster, Sebastian


Basel, Switzerland


1540 or later


Victoria Radauskas


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License


Full-sized digital item can be found in McMaster's Digital Archive at: http://digitalarchive.mcmaster.ca/islandora/object/macrepo%3A25554


Paper map








World map

Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

Paper map

Physical Dimensions

26 x 35 cm., on sheet 32 x 41 cm

Contributor's Research

The information presented in Sebastian Munster’s Typvs Vniversalis map is important in understanding the geographic and historical information known about the world in the 16th century. By determining which countries and continents are represented on the Typvs Vniversalis map through the translation of the Latin titles, and comparing the shape and size of those countries to modern world maps, one can determine which countries and continents were considered important in that time period by mapmakers, and particularly by Munster.
Although Munster was born in Germany, his maps have Latin titles instead of German. Latin was a more universal language than German was, meaning that a map written with Latin titles would be more accessible than one with German titles. This implies that the map was to be used for informational and educational purposes, and potentially for propaganda. Most of the titles on the map do not require translation or only require minimal translation from Latin to English. The African continent is clearly labelled, along with Europa (Europe), Asia Minor, India, and India Superior. The most accurately shaped continents are hand coloured in yellow, while the less accurately shaped continents are hand coloured in green. Whether there is a reason behind this is unclear. Another interesting aspect is the detail given to the African continent. For a continent that was not well explored by European powers until much later in history, its place on the map is very prominent and the shape is relatively accurate compared to our modern understanding of the continent’s geography. This might suggest that Munster was attempting to place emphasis on the African continent. Europa is also central on the map, though not as geographically correct as the African continent. It appears to be larger than modern geographical knowledge of the continent would support, and its coastlines are not accurate. Additionally, the continent of Europe is not divided into countries. This fact would seem to suggest that the map was not used for propaganda, as the country who commissioned the map would want to be depicted. This supports the theory of this map serving as an educational tool rather than a political one.
The eastern section has similar qualities to the central region. China, known at that time and denoted on the map as Cathay regio, is located beneath India Superior. The southern coastline of Asia and India is relatively accurate to our modern understanding of the geographical location, implying that the region had been extensively explored by 1540. However, large known geographic features of Asia are also missing. India Superior is the furthest north on the Asian continent before reaching a body of water denoted as Oceanus Hyperboleus. Russia, the largest country in the world by landmass, is not present on the map. This could be due to one of two reasons. The first and more likely explanation could be that the European countries were not yet aware of the existence of Russia at the time of the map’s publishing. Later maps created by Munster include Russia in their illustrations (Munster, 1550). The alternate reason could be that Munster made the choice not to include Russia on the world map, although the reasons for why he might have done this is unclear. This makes a lack of knowledge about the Russian landmass the more likely theory.
The western side of the map is the most difficult section to interpret. Very few of the land and water titles are in English or easily translatable Latin, making country identification problematic. The landmasses are also extremely distorted when compared to our modern cartographic knowledge, with only a small fraction of the eastern coast of modern North America appearing on the map. Florida, labelled as “Terre florida” on the map, appears much larger than in actuality (similar in size to the map’s northern Africa) and at approximately the same longitude as Europe. The island of Cuba is located below Florida, just like in reality. A landmass labelled as “francisca” is attached to Terre florida. This landmass could potentially be what was then known as New France (or what is now the Gaspé Peninsula in New Brunswick), first discovered and explored in the early 1530s (Axelrod, 2011, pp. 50-51). This would seem to indicate that cartographers and explorers at that time believed that the New France region and Florida were directly connected, even though in reality the two regions are more than 4000km apart. Another landmass, the Terra nova sive de Bacalhos, appears in the extreme north of the map. While it appears to have a similar shape to Iceland or Greenland, is suggested by Elliott to be the modern Newfoundland (Modern Language Notes, 1888, pp. 334-335). South America appears to be fairly accurate to current knowledge, although there is a landmass below the main continent that is unlabelled.
The above analysis allows for some conclusions to be made about the geographic and historical information known about the world in the 16th century, as well as information about which countries and continents were considered important in that time period. The central position of the map is occupied by the European and African continents, and a fair amount of detail is dedicated to the coastlines and geographic shape of the continents. This suggests that more is known about the European and African continents at the time of this map’s publication, and that they are the most important regions. While the detail given to Europe was not surprising, the accuracy of Africa is not anticipated, given that it was not well explored till much later. Asia and India are also detailed and relatively accurate, even though Russia is missing, implying that the trade routes to these regions were important at that time. North and South America are the least detailed and accurate, most likely due to the minimal exploration of that region, and it had yet to become a prominent region in the world.

Axelrod, A. (2011). A Savage Empire: Trappers, Traders, Tribes, and the Wars That Made America. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Elliott, A. M. (1888). Modern Language Notes. Baltimore: The Editors.

Munster, S. (1550). Landtafel des Ungerlands/ Polands / Reuffen / Littaw / Walachei / Burgarei. Comsographia. Balse: https://www.raremaps.com/gallery/detail/40997/Landtafel_des_Ungerlands_Polands_Reuffen_Littaw_Walachei_Burgarei/Munster.html."


Munster, Sebastian, “Typvs Vniversalis,” Omeka Testbed, accessed July 21, 2018, http://mapexhibit.mcmaster.ca/items/show/24.