History Mapping Used for Non-Historical Purposes
It often happens that historical mapping is used contemporarily for political, tourist, social or psychological purposes. Below are some obvious cases of such distortions. 
Click on the minimaps for an explanation

Euratlas logo
Historical Atlas
Atlas historique
Physical Atlas


I - Promised Land
The chosen country is shown as a timeless and ideal entity, as "it should be" or as "it should have been" without scientific relation to its historical evolution. Generally, in such maps, the boundaries are based on actual historical borders carefully chosen across the centuries in order to fit an ideal area.

A relatively common variant of the "Promised Land" map consists of showing the boundaries existing at the date of the map creation overlaid by an historical map.
Starajitnaia Rusi y XIII stahoddzi - The Ancient Rus c.13th cent.,
from Histariitsnii Atlas Belarusi, Minsk 2004
Territorial changes of the Polish state in the course of its history, from The Historical Atlas of Poland, Wroclaw 1981 Poland

II - Paradise Lost
An author takes the liberty of drawing an imaginary country, or the "great & perfect" outline of an ancient entity, with all the appearances of scientific truth. There are several ways to reach such an aim. It is possible, for instance, to consider various little known tribes as a single group, or to treat an area where one cultural fact, such as industry, language or religion, dominates as a single entity, or to carefully select out of 2000 years those 3 to 5 years during which the controlled territory was particularly wide.

Generally, such political entities never existed or existed for such a short period of time that the map literally becomes a hoax.

Celtic Territory from the 5th Century B.C. until the Roman Conquest, from bbc.co.uk/wales website
Origin and territory of the Germans in Central Europe, from D.T.V. Atlas zur Weltgeschichte, Münich 1964
The Roman Empire at its Greatest Extent about 117AD,
Matthew-Northrup Co
Roman Empire 117

III- My Neighbour's House
A map shows a modern country, or an entity beloved by the author, as an isolated and independent whole with little consideration for the adjacent areas or for the course of its historical evolution.
In such maps, the neighbouring countries are drawn like "terrae incognita" (unknown lands) and the drawer does not hesitate to graphically "annex" large portions of their territory.

Of course, some of these maps are flanked by commentary in which it is stated that the drawing does not represent reality or that it represents only an ancient reality but, in any case, the drawing can still make a mark in the minds of its readers.

The Swiss Confederation 1291-1797, from Putzger Historischer Atlas zur Welt- und Schweizer Geschichte, Berlin 1981, p.III
Switzerland 1798
Greater Armenia as described in the beginning of 7th century, from Moutafian & van Lauwe, Atlas historique de l'Arménie, Paris 2001

Greater Armenia
The Kurds, a people divided, from Le Monde Diplomatique, map presented on the magazine's website:
The Kurds

IV - DNA Lots in the Steppe
While most historical maps show factual elements such as countries, cities, and roads , there are still some maps, often inherited from 19th century mapping, in which the author tries to introduce biological factors. Some human entities, theoretically related by their DNA, are mentioned under the name "races" or "ethnic groups". In such maps, the colours or graphics are chosen in such a way that the reader is lead to believe that various small tribes had a feeling of belonging to a higher entity, sometimes called a "nation".

Except for language, religion, or technical skills, it is particularly difficult to prove indubitably the existence of such higher entities. In fact, these tribes were fighting each other and their evolution was dependent upon a continuously changing alliance game in which language or religion was not always the main factor.

Europe and Mediterranean c. 750, Maldaque et al. Nouvel Atlas d'Histoire. Bruxelles 2003, p. 48-49
europe 750
English Conquest from 450 to the End of 6th cent., Hammond Historical Atlas of the World, Maplewood N.J. 1976, p. H-10


V - Marks and Sparks
Sometimes an author or a commentator gives in to the temptation to increase the influence of a map by adding various symbols like strokes, circles, arrows, sparks, etc. Of course, his aim is to explain the sequence of some historical events but, in doing so, he transforms a descriptive image into a graphic explanation of his own theory about a particular moment in history. In most cases, the reader who sees such a map is not able to discriminate between facts and hypotheses.

Deportation of the Jews out of Central Europe, from D.T.V. Atlas zur Weltgeschichte, Münich 1964
The Diffusion of the Reformation in 16th cent., from Duby, Atlas historique Larousse, Paris 1978, p. 60

When reading a historical map, one should be careful to mentally correct the kinds of distortions listed above.

Despite the claims or ideas implied by their authors, such historical charts by no means constitute the scientific confirmation of a theory. Ultimately, their utility lies only in the illustration of a current of thought of which author is the spokesman.

Christos Nussli