The core of the Museum Collection cartographic corpus includes engraved and lithographed maps of the Caucasus territory, dating back to the end of the 18th – beginning of the 20th centuries, reflecting the history of the region's integration into Russia. This process actively started in the second half of the 18th century and ended in 1864 with subjugation of the Western Caucasus.

Various in their content - common geographical maps (defined in the terminology of its time as "military-topographic", political-administrative maps, maps of communication lines, topographic maps, maps of special territories and ethnic areas – all these maps let us track the history of the Caucasus not in the textual but in the graphical dimension. They were developed mostly by the military department, which played a key role in cartography and maps' publication of the country. Military-topographic services, the emergence of which in the course of the long Caucasus war was accompanied by intense topographic and geodesic surveying, were engaged in developing the overview maps of the Caucasus and its areas. Their objective was to visualize the new status of border territories and land acquisitions of the Russian Empire in the south, illustrate the region's integration into the Russian Empire's space, show its administrative and territorial transformations, provide insight into the political environment of the Northern Caucasus in the context of ethnic and religious peculiarities in terms of their numbers and attitude to Russia (subjugated or not). Therefore, cartographic materials are the valuable source of information for studying the history of the Caucasus and its peoples, illustrating the process of the region's integration into the Russian state with transformation of political, administrative borders and borders of ethnic territories.


Antique perception of the region between the Caspian, the Black and the Azov seas (i.e. territories of present-day south of Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran) is demonstrated by the maps of European cartographers, engravers and publishing houses of the 17th – 18th centuries. They include the maps of "Sarmatia" (European part of Russia), "Tartaria" (collective name for modern southern and Siberian borders of Russia), "Asia" (the Caucasus), "the Póntos Éuxenos Sea" (the Black Sea) "Maris Caspii" (the Caspian Sea). The maps developed basing on Claudius Ptolemy's "Geography" are of special interest. In the middle of the 2nd century astronomer and geographer, Claudius Ptolemy from Alexandria compiled "Geography" in eight volumes with the attached list of cities and rivers, indication of their geographic longitude and latitude, having supplemented the text with maps that did not survive. In the 13th century Byzantine monk and enthusiast amateur of old manuscripts Maximus Planudes managed to find the Ptolemy's "Geography", but without maps. Guided by Ptolemy's text, he decided to draw them. That is how the first known to us Ptolemy's maps were created. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Greeks that fled from the Turks brought many Byzantine manuscripts to Italy; among them was "Geography". In 1466, Benedictine monk German artisan Nicholas restored the maps using the Latin translation of the text, having drawn them in a new trapezoidal projection. Engraved in 1477, they were included in the Bologna edition of "Geography" (500 copies) - the first print of Ptolemy. The Ptolemy's maps changed the perspective of the depicted world.

According to the theological explanation of the universe, which was the only admissible one for the medieval man, three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa were distributed among the three sons of Noah and arranged crosswise with Jerusalem at their crossing (because the medieval concept of the world had the Holy Sepulcher at its center). This concept was replaced by the worldview of the modern man, who saw the world from above, as it looks like from a birds-eye-view.

Despite the significant inaccuracies, Ptolemy's maps gained a wide recognition among Europeans and served as the main source of geography information until the Age of Discovery. His “Guideline on Geography” was one of the first geographical reference guides used by many famous mapmakers, for example, by Sebastian Münster (1489-1552), whose edition of "Cosmographia universalis" for the first time included the map of the European part of Russia. Another map-maker inspired by Ptolemy’s heritage is Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594), the continents on his maps became shaped in the way which is familiar to us, and the atlas got its name for the first time (so customary nowadays) as he put the figure of ancient hero Atlas bearing the earth globe on his shoulders on the title page of the map collection "Atlas sive cosmographicae meditations de fabrica mundi et fabricate figura".

While studying the maps of the 17th – 18th centuries it is necessary to point out a close link between science and artistic creation. Scientific images of the earth surface were supplemented with various geographical elements (for example, mythological or allegoric characters) or cartouche – an ornamental frame covered with swags made of flowers, leaves, fruit, war trophies or genre scenes that often have a meaning and a text inside the frame.

A bright example of such alliance of science and art is “Russian Atlas consisting of forty-three maps, dividing the Empire into forty-one governorates” dated 1800 that the museum has got it its collection; each map is decorated with a narrative cartouche characterizing the depicted territory in economic, political and historic aspects. According to the researchers’ opinion, the author of these cartouches content could be the person who wrote the Atlas - Russian mathematician, geographer and mapmaker A.M. Wilbrecht (1757-1823), and Historical Pictorial Art Professor in Saint Petersburg Academy I.P. Tupilev (1758-1821), was the author of the images.

Atlas compilation works were initiated by Peter the Great, who organized field surveying of the so-called “Peter’s land-surveyors” that started systematic mapping of the country as the means for studying natural resources and economic peculiarities of the territory. The surveying of the country performed in 1720 - 1750 years resulted in the emerging of the first mass cartographic records that contained uniform general geographic information on quite vast regions. The first attempt of publishing the atlas was made in 1731, when in V.O. Kipriyanov’s printing house the so-called Kirilov’s atlas was issued; only several copies of it were published.

“Russian Atlas” published in large circulation by the Academy of Science in 1745 and receiving printed additions all along the 18th century became the first official atlas of the state.

During the reign of Empress Ekaterina II, (1762-1796) financing of scientific exploration of the country territory was increased in order to improve its understanding from the ethnographic, social and economic points of view. The amplitude of information on the geography of Russia received as a result of numerous expeditions, made it possible to issue a new national atlas, and Ekaterina II personally controlled its compilation in 1786. It took seven years to complete “Russian Atlas consisting of forty-four maps, dividing the Empire into forty-two governorates” and it was published in Saint Petersburg at the School of Mines in 1792.

Later in 1793-1795 due to the abundance of geographic information received as a result of the expansion of the Russian Empire to the West and creating new governorates on the former Turkish and Polish lands, the Atlas dated 1792 was published with additional maps of new provinces.

The Atlas published in 1792 became the basis for creating of “Russian Atlas” in 1800, half of its maps were printed from copper plates which were used to print the same maps of 1792, but with introduction of either significant , or small amendments. The new Atlas edition was destined not only to reflect the changes introduced in the administrative-territorial structure of the Empire by Emperor Paul I (1796-1801) after his enthronement in 1796, but also to glorify him as the defender of justice and order, emphasizing the grandeur of the Russian Empire.

Thus, the maps feature historical facts and political interests, the level of scientific knowledge and the concept of the universe. Engraved by well-known masters and published by famous printing houses they can narrate a lot about the old time and the way it was perceived. Welcome to the world of maps!

N.A. Borisovskaya. Ancient engraved pictures and plans of the 15th – 18th centuries". М., 1992.
V.E. Bulatov. Russian Atlas consisting of forty-three maps and dividing the Empire into forty-one governorate (1800). Nauchny Apparat. М., 2008.
М.М. Kartoyev. Source maps on the history of the North Caucasian region in the Military Scientific Archive (Russian State Military Historical Archive) (second half of the 18th – 60s of the 19th century) // RSUH Bulletin. No. 4/08. М., 2008. Pages171-190.
М.М. Kartoyev. Russian maps of the Caucasus of the 18th-19th centuries: regional history in the context of the Imperial politics (historical and geographical aspect) // Historical geography: human’s space vs human in the space: materials of the 23rd International Scientific Conference, January 27-29, 2011, М.,: RSUH, 2011. Pages 270-272.
К.А. Salischev. Map Science. М., 1990
S.I. Sotnikova. Source studies of Russian maps of the 17th –beginning of the 20th century: Extended Abstract of Dissertation. М., 1990.
А.А. Tsutsiev. Atlas of Ethnopolitical History of the Caucasus. М., 2007.