Early Mapping of Wales

The earliest extant maps showing Wales are general maps of the British Isles or Europe. Often the detail of Wales is limited; often few if any place-names are shown and the coastline is highly inaccurate.

The oldest surviving geographical record of Wales comes from Ptolemy’s Geography. This work by a Greek author was written in the 2nd century. No original copies of the work survive, it is only known from later versions, both manuscript (13th-14th century) and printed (15th-16th century).

Ptolemy does not provide much information on Wales, listing only 3 settlements, 2 peninsulas and 5 rivers.

There are some early manuscript maps of the British Isles that show more detail for Wales. The outstanding examples are Matthew Paris’ map of Great Britain (held at the British Library) and the Gough Map (held at the Bodleian in Oxford). The Library has modern facsimiles of these maps.

The earliest recorded map specifically of Wales was a manuscript map by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) produced in ca. 1205 and titled “Totius Kambriae Mappa”. This map is referred to in a letter of Gerald’s and several 17th century sources state that it was at Westminster Abbey. The map is said to have shown no less than 43 towns and villages in Wales. By 1780 the map’s whereabouts were unknown and it was probably destroyed in a fire at the Abbey’s Library in 1695.