The Austrian Hapsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire carried on one of the greatest geo-political rivalries in the world for almost four centuries. They fought numerous wars for the domination of Central and mid-Eastern Europe, conflicts which monopolized attention at both the courts in Vienna and Istanbul. While the Ottomans had the upper hand through most of the 16th and 17th centuries, posing a mortal threat to Austria (besieging Vienna twice), from the 1680s the Austrians gained the advantage, taking vast territories from the Turks, before the contest settled into something of stalemate in the mid-18th century. The line of control between the two powers ran along the northern border of Bosnia, then through Northern Serbia, with the Austrians possessing the Banat and Transylvania. This left all southeastern Europe, from Belgrade southwards under Ottoman control.
During the stalemate period, from the 1740s to the 1780s, the Austro-Ottoman relationship became quite complex. While the powers remained rivals, they also found ways to interact in a cordial, mutually beneficial way. As it was, the two empires were naturally compatible trading partners; Austria was able to supply items such as manufactured European (mechanical parts, accessories, fabrics, metalware, etc.), while in turn the Ottomans could provide leather goods, carpets, gems and Mediterranean and tropical produce. While a thriving black market between Austria and the Ottomans had always thrived (even during times of war) both Vienna and Istanbul sought ways to conduct legitimate trade, while diplomatic dialogue was valued, for the Habsburgs could serve as a backchannel for Istanbul to Russia, a bellicose power that was Austria’s sometimes ally.
The desire for Austro-Ottoman dialogue and trade was heightened in the wake of the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-73, whereby Catherine the Great’s forces throttled the Sultan’s men, taking control of Crimea. Istanbul was eager to reach out to Vienna, both to increase commerce and to prevent an active Russo-Austrian alliance that could spell doom for their empire.
The Danube River, which is navigable for small vessels from Regensburg (Germany) down to the Black Sea, and for larger boats from Belgrade downward, had since Roman times been the natural nexus of trade between Central Europe and the Near East and the Mediterranean world. However, the Austro-Ottoman rivalry had ensured that this route, at least along its lower course, was closed to most European trade. Reopening the shipping route from the Austrian river ports to Istanbul would be the lifeline for any Austro-Ottoman trading relationship.
While the upper parts of the Danube, form Regensburg to Belgrade, were both well-known and exactingly charted by Europeans, the stretch of the river under Ottoman control, from Belgrade to the Black Sea (where the river was often so wide as to be like a moving lake), had never been charted to any degree of accuracy. Indeed, the Ottomans were naturally weary of allowing Europeans to survey their stretch of the Danube and had generally refrained from formally charting the river themselves, instead relying upon the guidance of skilled local river pilots.
The Danube was a very complex and dangerous river to navigate, having an awesome current and being full of shoals, rocks and narrows. The Austrians were not willing to trust their valuable cargoes to Ottoman pilots and were adamant that they needed to possess a good working knowledge of the lower Danube in their own right.
In the late 1770s, the Austrian crown resolved to send a diplomatic mission to the Ottoman Empire, travelling down to Danube. This embassy would have a dual purpose, in that it would seek to reconnoiter, if not chart, the Danube as best as possible, before engaging senior Ottoman officials in hammering out the rules and scope of their new trading relationship, while hopefully agreeing to keep the entire Danube open as commercial corridor.
Freiherr (Baron) Herbert von Rathkeal was appointed as the emperor’s Internunzius (special envoy) to the Ottomans for carrying out the mission. He was accompanied by Freiherr Captain Ignaz von Lauterer, the chief ‘Pontonier’ (designer of pontoon bridges) for the Austrian Army, and an accomplished engineer and master cartographer, who would make the first ever serious attempt to chart the entire length of the lower Danube.
In the summer of 1779, the Rathkeal mission departed Zemun (a town near Belgrade that was the last major Austrian-controlled port on the Danube) by boasts down the river towards Ruse (German: Ruszug; Ottoman: Rusçuk), a great river port in Bulgaria, where it was to treat with the Ottoman delegation. The mission made its way at a relatively leisurely pace so that Lauterer could survey the river, even though he did not have all the time that he wanted, for they would have had to rely upon the tolerance of the suspicious local Ottoman officials.
Apparently, while Rathkeal’s main party went no further than Ruse, Lauterer was able to continue all the way down the Danube to the Black Sea, measuring the rest of its course to the terminus of its only navigable deltaic mouth at Sulina (Romania).
Upon returning to Austria, in Klosterneuburg, near Vienna, Lauterer drafted a spectacular, astoundingly-long 21-sheet manuscript map of the Danube from Zemun to the Black Sea,
“Plan des Donau-Stroms von Zemlin bis Ruszug…Plan des Donau-Stroms Ruszug bis Sulina an dem Schwarzen Meere“ (1779). This incredible manuscript had the distinction of being the first serious, broadly accurate chart of the lower Danube; today it is held by the Hungarian Institute and Museum of Military History (Budapest), please see this link:
However, while overall pleased with his work, Lauterer knew that, due to a lack of time, he had to take some short cuts, leaving some stretches and places not as well mapped as he would have ideally liked.
In the spring-summer of 1782, Lauterer joined another diplomatic-commercial mission to descend the Danube all the way to Sulina. The mission traveled in a convoy led by the ship Patriot, carrying 700 tons of trading goods. While Lauterer was able to improve his coverage of the river in many areas, he was not able to execute all the surveys and reconnaissance he had ideally wished to perform.
The commercial treaty negotiations with the Ottomans met with some success, as for a time, Austrian vessels were able to trade down the Danube, leading to lucrative revenues.
A few years later, the Austrians decided to mount their first formal full-fledged commercial mission from Croatia down the Danube through the Black Sea and Bosporus to Istanbul. Accompanying the mission was the military engineer Siegfried von Tauferer. A friend of Laurterer, he had access to his colleague’s mapping and notes from both his 1779 and 1782 missions, and he resolved to complete the endeavor, by surveying the places where Laurterer had to cut some corners.
Tauferer did an admirable job finishing the work, creating his own manuscript map. His revisions and additions to Lauterer’s findings ensured that ship captains could now safely rely upon his map and directions to take then all the way down the Danube. Thus, the entire Danube River was now charted to a high degree of accuracy from its headwaters in Wurttemberg, Germany, all the way do to its delta on the Black Sea.
In a related note, the Austrian diplomat and intelligence operative Wenzel von Brognard charted the coast of the Black Sea and from the delta of the Danube to Istanbul, so giving his countrymen a complete and accurate knowledge of the entire sailing route from the Austrian lands to the Ottoman capital.
Tauferer presented his complete manuscript to the boutique Vienna publisher and bookseller, Joseph von Kurzböck, the proprietor of the Kurtzbekischen Buchhandlung, who issued the present work in 1789. Intended for a very select audience of Austrian boat captains, merchants and military officers, it would have been issued in only a very small print. While the map could have been trimmed and connected into a colossal map, it would generally have been issued in folio atlas form (as here) due to its unwieldy size. The British Library possesses what is said to be a variant edition, but we have not been able to verify the nature that example.
Ironically, while the present map was issued to aid peacetime Austro-Ottoman commercial trade, it was published during the Austro-Turkish War of 1788-91, although everyone knew that this conflict would not last so long, such that commodious trade would soon resume. In the immediate term, the map would have been applied to military use, as examples were surely consulted by Austrian generals as they strategized over the war theatre between Belgrade and the great gorge of the Iron Gate. As it turned out, the three-year conflict changed the general situation only very slightly, as the Austrians, while technically winning the conflict, gained only the Danube port town of Orșova (Romania), in the Banat (located on the present map, Plate II).
The present map remained the authoritative map of the lower Danube for many years. Owing to the Napoleonic Wars, neither the Austrians nor the Ottomans were able, or inclinned, to conduct further surveys. The details of the map were eventually integrated into other publications, gaining Lauterer and Tauferer’s work a wide and enduring influence; it was until the mid-19th century that the present map was fully superseded.
Today, while the original map is very rare, it is well known in select academic circles and has been prominently featured in books and showcased in conference presentations.
The Map in Focus
The present map charts a roughly 1,400 km long stretch of the Danube, from Zemen (Serbia), then the last major river port in Austrian territory, located just above Belgrade, all the way down to the river’s terminus at Sulina, the only navigable branch of the Danube Delta.
The work is beautifully engraved and hand coloured, with the 8 maps displayed on 7 folio plates, that if joined would form a map of irregular dimensions following course approximately 420 cm (almost 14 feet) long! The elaborate title cartouche appears on Plate I, while the ‘Beschreibung des Laufes der Donau von Belgrade bis des Schwarzes Meer’ starts on Plate II and provides the reader with a plate-by-plate textual description of the itinerary.
The engraved plates clearly closely follow the style and detail of Tauferer’s original manuscript, as they conform to the strict cartographic code of style and colouring followed by that Austrian military engineers. First, the map charts only the practically navigable sections of the river (so omitting the multiple brackish deltaic channels), with the detail intentionally hugging the river (so eliminating visual clutter). The map very carefully shows prominent topography on either side and details the Danube’s tributaries and canals that enter, or run besides, the river, with the tributaries and the banks of the Danube colored in an aquamarine wash, while the marches that often line the riverbanks are striped in the same hue. All cities, towns and villages are marked and coloured in red, as are the numerous forts, castles, monasteries, and major edifices. The larger towns and facilities are carefully detailed in outline (ex. Belgrade with its layers of walls is exactingly formed). All islands and navigational hazards are marked, and sandbanks are coloured in a tan wash. Short notes describe certain interesting places, while the width of river is given at many points.
Importantly, the recommended navigable channel of the Danube is shown by a pricked line, shown weaving around numerous bends and hazards. The large scale and sharp design of the map, combined with the textual descriptions, provides a stellar guide that should have given any boat captain a great deal of confidence as they negotiated the awesomely powerful river.
A Note on Rarity
The atlas is rare, which is not surprising, as it was likely issued on only a very small print run, being an expensive, ‘boutiquey’ specialist work, while the survival rate of large nautical atlases intended for practical use is very low.
We can trace 10 institutional examples, held by 8 libraries worldwide, including the
Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek (2 examples); Bayerische Staatsbibliothek; British Library (2 examples, one of which is cited as a variant edition); Library of the Czech Academy of Sciences; Universität Bern; Biblioteca Nacional de España; Harvard University Library; and the University of Cincinnati (Langsam Library). The only sales record we can trace for the work is of an incomplete example that appeared at a British auction in 2009.
It must be said, that while the present example has some condition issues (it was clearly used by boat captains on the Danube!), the fact that it survives at all is rather remarkable (it is perhaps worth noting that the example held by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek is likewise stained).
References: Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek – (2 examples): ALB Port 247,3 KAR MAG and FKB AA.13,1 KAR MAG; Bayerische Staatsbibliothek: Mapp. XVII,110; British Library: Cartographic Items Maps *27000.(20.) and (re: variant edition:) Cartographic Items Maps C.24.c.11.; Knihovna Akademie věd České republiky (Library of the Czech Academy of Sciences): S-P 30; Universität Bern: Europa orientalis III Falz 32-38; Biblioteca Nacional de España: MR/7/II SERIE 6/65 (1-7); Harvard University Library: MAP-LC TC466.D2 N3 1789 f*; University of Cincinnati – Langsam Library: TC466.D2 N3 1789; OCLC: 3177151, 557019749; Johannes DÖRFLINGER, Die österreichische Kartographie im 18. und zu Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts (Vienna, 1984), p.100; Constantin IORDACHI and Kristof VAN ASSCHE, The Bio-Politics of the Danube Delta: Nature, History, Policies (Lanham, Md., 2014), pp. 168-9; Livieratos EVANGELOS and Angeliki TSORLINI et al., ‘On the Digital Revival of Historic Cartography: Treating Two 18th century maps of the Danube in association with Google-provided Imagery’, Conference Paper, 24th International Cartographic Conference (ICA), Santiago, Chile (November 2009).