Early Modern Digital Itineraries
“A new itinerary of the posts of the world… most useful not just for secretaries of princes, but also clerics, and merchants as well”
-Ottavio Codogno, Nuovo itinerario delle poste (1608)
-Ottavio Codogno, Nuovo itinerario delle poste (1608)
The early modern period was an information age. Exploration of Asia and the Americas, the rise of the printing press, and widespread warfare led to a flood of information from near and far. Popular reference books helped readers navigate globalization. From 1470-1599, publishers produced over 1,600 guides for merchants providing multilingual glossaries, exchange rates, and postal routes.
The Early Modern Digital Itineraries (EmDigIt) conversion tool translates reference books into a digital platform for exploring early modern Europe. Itineraries refer to books that list cities in the forms of routes. By the sixteenth century, printed itinerary books commonly featured many other references for travelers, including conversions of international distance measures and currencies. The EmDigIt tool mimics the kinds of quick-and-dirty conversions done on the road. These guides predate national and international standards for weight and distance. The conversions provided here are necessarily approximate, intended to give a sense of relative scale rather than exact accuracy. Sources could conflict with one another, and even present internal contradictions. Exchange rates and routes circulated in print for decades, despite shifting conditions.
Early modern measures of distance remained centered on the human body. The Roman system, which consisted of 1,000 paces (passus) to the mile (mille) influenced many European systems. A league (lega) often represented the distance that could be walked in around an hour.
National postal systems established waystations at set distances for the exchange of horses by couriers and other travelers. Itineraries started to use the “post” as a measure of distance, meaning the distance between such stations, which varied by region over time. The earliest appearance was an anonymous itinerary produced in Milan, Poste diverse (1550). Postmasters and couriers had profitable knowledge of Europe’s geography and postal systems, and produced many of the itineraries used here.
The rise of cartography in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as well as the governance of vast empires drove new standardization. Some of the earlier itinerary books already show the divergence between “old” and “new” systems of measurement: sources consistently disagreed about the relation of French and English miles to continental measures, for example. For the purposes of reconciliation, the conversion tool treats the German mile as the common unit.
European commerce was increasingly interconnected in the early modern period. Since the introduction of the florin in the thirteenth century, European states employed three primary categories of metals: gold, silver, and mixed alloy. The lira, soldo (20 to the lira), and denari (12 to the soldo) was common taxonomy of silver coins inherited from Charlemagne. In England, these corresponded to the pound, the shilling, and the penny. Common gold coins included the florin (referred to as gulden or guilder in other parts of Europe), the Spanish escudo, and the French écu. Ducats, initially inherited from Venice, initially referred to coinage produced under a duke, but by the end of the sixteenth century had become the most prominent gold coinage in Italy. Billion coins were far more prolific and idiosyncratic. International exchange was often conducted using a “money of account,” meaning an abstracted currency unit. For the purposes of reconciliation, the conversion tool treats the imperial silver guilder as the common unit.
The provided conversions seem idiosyncratic for a modern reader. See the below excerpt from Richard Verstagan’s Posts of the World (1575):
Minte of Nurneberg.
2 Haller is one Peny
5 Pence is a fynffer
50 Fynffer and two Pence is a Guldin
30 Pence is a pound
8 Pound and 12 Pence is also a Guldin
252 Pence make also a guldin
7 Pence is a Grosch
36 Groshes make also a guldin
Many itinerary books repeat currency calculations that appeared in Theodor Mayerne Turquet’s Sommaire description de France, Allemagne, Italie et Espagne, avec la guide chemins & postes (Geneva: Jacob Stoer, 1592). Turquet recorded these exchanges in the course of his 1577 travels as doctor to King Henry IV of France. The translation process could introduce interesting errors: in copies of Georg Mayr’s Wegbüchlein, the itinerary creators often misunderstood the french “deux” to mean “12” instead of “2.” In Turquet’s Sommaire, a 1629 printer repeatedly flipped the 6 to a 9; an easy mistake when the text block was laid out by hand, mirrored and often upside down!
Printers experimented with formatting, using headers and brackets, but it remained a far cry from a modern conversion table. These were meant to be quick references for some of the most common transactions rather than comprehensive calculation aids.
The exchanges provided appear in itineraries printed between 1550-1650. The conversions presented here are a best effort to reconcile the original data with modern standards for mathematical accuracy. The translation of the original text into operations remains exactly that - a translation, in which a few interventions have been necessary, and in other cases, no doubt preserving original inaccuracies.
You can find the itineraries and secondary sources utilized below, as well as some suggestions for further reading on early modern measures.
If you use the conversion tool for your work, please cite it as the following:
Footnote: Rachel Midura, “Early Modern Digital Itineraries Conversion Tool,” EmDigIt (2020), accessed at emdigit.org.
Bibliography: Midura, Rachel. “Early Modern Digital Itineraries Conversion Tool.” EmDigIt. 2020. Accessed at emdigit.org.
Primary Sources Utilized
Anonymous. Poste diverse d'Italia, Alemagna, Spagna, e Francia. Milan: 1550.
Codogno, Ottavio. Nuovo itinerario delle poste per tutto il mondo. Milan: Girolamo Bordoni, 1616.
Codogno, Ottavio. Compendio delle poste. Milan: Gio. Battista Bidelli, 1623.
Gail, Jörg. Ein neüwes nützliches Raißbuechlin der fürnemesten Land und StettWerk. Augsburg: Jörg Gail, 1563.
Goltz, Gerhard von. Prodromus Germaniae. Cologne: Wilhelm Lützenkirchen, 1602.
Kranitz, Georg, Philip Engel, Delitiae Italiae. Cologne: Balthasar Clipeus, 1600.
Mayr, Georg. Wegbüchlein. Augsburg: Georg Mayr, 1625.
Meneses, Alonso. Memorial õ abecedario los mas principales caminos España. Toledo: Juan de Ayala, 1568.
Meneses, Alonso. Repertorio caminos. Alcala Henares: Juan Gracian, 1605.
Turquet, Theodore Mayerne. Sommaire description de France, Allemagne, Italie et Espagne. Rouen: Jean Petit, 1604.
Turquet, Theodore Mayerne. Sommaire description de France, Allemagne, Italie et Espagne. Rouen: Claude Villain, 1629.
Verdier, Gilbert-Saulnier du. Le voyage France. Paris: Michel Bobin, 1655.
Verstegan, Richard. The Posts of the World. London: Richard Rowlands, 1576.
Witzenberger, Daniel. Ein Naw Reyse Buechlein. Dresden: Gimel Bergen, 1595.
Many of these sources can be freely accessed via the following:
Secondary Sources Consulted
Burke, Peter. A Social History of Knowledge: From Gutenberg to Diderot. Cambridge: Polity, 2000.
Cipolla, Carlo. Money in Sixteenth-Century Florence. London: University of California Press, 1989.
Frey, Albert R. A Dictionary of Numismatic Names: Their Official and Popular Designations. New York: The American Numismatic Society, 1917.
McClusker, John J. Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600-1775. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1978.
Parrott, David. The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.