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RUSSO-TURKISH WARS / FINE OTTOMAN CALLIGRAPHY: “Map of the Ottoman Boundaries…” [Approximate Translation from Ottoman Turkish]. Zoom

RUSSO-TURKISH WARS / FINE OTTOMAN CALLIGRAPHY: “Map of the Ottoman Boundaries…” [Approximate Translation from Ottoman Turkish].


A masterpiece of cartography and Islamic calligraphy made for the Ottoman Imperial Court, showcasing the theatre of the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774, featuring Ottoman script exquisitely rendered in a brilliant red ink in the manner exclusive to the Sultan’s patronage.

Place and Year: Map template Printed in Paris, Manuscript Elements executed in Istanbul, circa 1770.
Code: 66134

Copper engraved map template overlaid with manuscript calligraphy in red ink, with original outline colour, on thick laid, watermarked paper (Good, resplendent original calligraphy, several old professionally repaired tears but with no loss), 60 x 140 cm (23.5 x 55 inches).


This extraordinary map was made for the Court of the Ottoman Sultan Mustafa III during the early part of the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774, a decisive showdown that saw Catherine the Great’s Russia gain permanent control over the Southern Ukraine and parts of the Caucuses following centuries of Ottoman rule.  The map depicts the entire theatre of the conflict, and while focussed on the Southern Ukraine, extends from the Mouths of the Danube, in the west, over to the Caspian Sea, past Astrakhan, in the east; and extends from the 43rd parallel, in the south, up to the 50th parallel, in the north.

The skeleton of the map is engraved; however, all nomenclature is written in brilliant red calligraphy executed by one of the Sultan’s official scribes.  The title roughly translates, “Map of the Ottoman Boundaries…”, while the names of all regions and major settlements likewise appear in Ottoman red letter. The Russo-Ottoman boundary, as it existed between 1739 and 1774, is clearly delineated, with the Ottoman lands outlined in green, the Russian territories outlined in yellow; while the Polish territories, in the northwest, are outlined in pink.  The map shows that up the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774, the Ottomans controlled all of Crimea and the Southern Ukraine, as well as almost all the Caucuses, although the Russians possessed a small window to the Black Sea, being the bastion of Azov.

The technical composition of them map is extraordinary.  The map is built upon an engraved template printed in Paris, that showcases topographic features and the locations of key cities and fortifications, but omits all text, including place names.  The quality of the engraving is high, and the upper right corner features a fine inset plan of the famous city of Kamieniec Podolski, as well as an ovoid title cartouche, both bordered by Neo-Classical-pseudo-Ottoman designs.  Cartographically, the map template showcases a rendering of the region that prevailed for some decades until a good part of the area in question was surveyed in the 1770s by Admiral Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen, a Dutchman in Russian service.  

As the Ottoman Empire then lacked publishing capabilities, the Ottoman Court often relied upon their ancient ally, France, to supply them with custom printed materials, which were conveyed to the Topkapi Palace via the French Embassy in Istanbul’s Pera neighbourhood.  The Ottoman Court duly ordered blank cartographic templates from Paris, upon which their scribes could add their own text and information (such as boundary lines) in Turkish script and styles. 


Most importantly, the present map has the template overlaid with magnificent manuscript additions executed by a calligrapher working exclusively for the Imperial Court at the Topkapi Palace.  Notably, the title and all place names are executed in an elegant Ottoman script in the most brilliant red ink, the very hue that was reserved for the Sultan’s patronage.  This form of calligraphy was of the highest echelon and would have been executed by an imperial calligrapher who specialized in only this genre.  The quality of the calligraphy is epitomized by the perfectly straight projection of the elongated letters in the large-case place names, displaying a complete mastery of penmanship in thick, luxurious ink.  This rich red ink was the most expensive of all hues and such red letter calligraphy was usually reserved for sacred and high-level legal documents, and was only very seldom applied to cartography, indicating that the present map would have been held in particular esteem by the Imperial Court.  The special significance of such red ink calligraphy at the Ottoman Court is widely known, popularized by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red (1998).  

Additionally, the margins of the map feature manuscript numbers for the lines of latitude and longitude in proper Arabic numbers, in black ink.

The present map was seemingly commissioned by the Ottoman court during the early days of the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774 to showcase the theatre of the conflict and the established international boundaries.  The laid paper on which the map is composed features a watermark like that found on paper within the Hubbard Bachiene atlas of 1768. 

We are aware of only a single other example of the map with the Topkapi calligrapher’s manuscript work, executed in a similar fashion, held by the Biblioteca Nacional de España (Inventory: MR/42/415), which catalogues it under the provisional title ‘Mapa de las fronteras entre Moscú y el estado Otomano’, please see link:


It was natural that the Sultan’s calligraphers would prepare a small number of examples of the map, some of which may have been used as high-level diplomatic gifts.  The fact that one of the examples ended up in Madrid makes good sense considering the contemporary context.  During this period, Spain was then closely allied in the ‘Bourbon Family Compact’ with France and with Versailles’s assistance was trying to improve its diplomatic and trading links with the Ottoman Empire.  Such a map could have been given by the court of Sultan Mustafa III as a splendid mark of friendship and respect to the court of King Carlos III.

Additionally, we have been able to trace a single blank example of the printed template used to create the map, held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Inventory: CPL GE DD-2987 (3089 B)), referred to as the ‘Carte des confins de la Russie européenne avec la Turquie, des bouches du Danube au Caucase’, please see link:


The BnF’s example of the blank template was formerly in the collection of the famous cartographer and map collector Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon D’Anville, who was known to have had privileged access to maps created for France’s diplomatic corps. 

The Decisive Showdown: The Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774

Russia and the Ottoman Empire were historical arch-nemeses, and throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries the Turks possessed the upper-hand over their northern neighbours.  They, along with their Tatar brethren, controlled all the Black Sea littoral and much of the Caucuses, blocking Russia’s access to ice-free ports and lucrative southern trading routes.

Peter the Great’s campaigns against the Turks yielded some notable gains, and pursuant to the Treaty of Constantinople (1700), Russia acquired the fortified bastion of Azov with conditional access to the Black Sea.  However, these gains were rolled back by the Ottomans in 1711, once again blocking Russia’s southern ambitions.  During the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739, the Russians initially gained sweeping victories and looked as if they would drive the Turks out of Crimea and Southern Ukraine.  However, they failed to consolidate their gains, and were eventually left with only Azov, while Ottoman-Tatar dominance over the region prevailed.  The Russo-Ottoman border as defined on the present map reflects that which was ordained by the Treaty of Niš (1739).

Czarina Catherine the Great (reigned, 1762-96) was determined to conquer the Southern Ukraine and Crimea once and for all, preparing a potent military force that could only be described as a juggernaut.  Stung by the wasted opportunity of the 1730s, Russia was prepared to leave nothing to chance and everything on the field.  On the other side, the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Mustafa III (reigned, 1757-73), was then suffering severe economic and political problems and was ill-prepared to weather such a challenge.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774, the Russians easily prevailed, completely routing the Turks.  At the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (July 21, 1774), which ended the conflict, the Ottomans lost control over almost all their territories on the northern side of the Black Sea, as well as parts of their domains the Caucuses.  The Turks ceded Southern Yedistan (the Ochakiv region of the Ukraine) and the Kabarda region of the North Caucuses to Russia.  A vast expanse that included most of the Southern Ukraine, the Sea of Azov region and Crimea was designated as the Crimean Khanate, a Russian puppet state.  Additionally, Russia was made the official ‘Protector of Orthodox Christians’ in the Ottoman Empire, a role which she would use as a pretext to wage future wars against Turkey.  Notably, Russia annexed the entire territories of the Crimean Khanate in 1783.

The Russo-Ottoman War of 1768 to 1774 was a watershed event, as it ensured that Russia would become the dominant player in the Black Sea and Caucasus regions, keeping the Ottomans on the back foot, a state of play that would persist until the Crimean War (1853-6).

References: Biblioteca Nacional de España: MR/42/415; Elena Santiago Páez, La Historia en los mapas manuscritos de la Biblioteca Nacional (Madrid: Biblioteca Nacional, 1984), no. 336 (p. 266).