History – The Wittenberg World Map – Daniel’s Dream Map

1529 – 1661

The Beginning – The first version

The Wittenberg World Map, more commonly known in English as Daniel’s Dream Map, is probably the most mystical world map of all time.

At the time of its first publication as the sixty-first world map to go into print, it was, on the one hand, a depiction of the Old World, based on the Ptolemaic world view but including a number of recent Spanish and Portuguese discoveries, but on the other, a visualisation of the prophet Daniel’s apocalyptic dream of the four kingdoms.

As only little systematic knowledge concerning Daniel’s Dream Map is available, this article has two primary goals: first, to describe the various versions and printing blocks and place them in the historical context of the time of their creation, and second, to attempt to systematise them, taking into account the year of publication, the author, the publisher, the artist and the various printing blocks.

The first mention of Daniel’s Dream Map is made in a commentary on the prophet Daniel by Justus Jonas and Philipp Melanchthon in December 1529 and immediately afterwards in January 1530 in an interpretation of the book of the prophet Daniel by Martin Luther, both published by Hans Lufft in Wittenberg. This version is referred to in the following as the original version. From this time on, the map appears in a number of Lutheran, German or German-influenced bibles and theological books of the 16th up to the mid.18th century, and in a book on the history of the Jews by Flavius Josephus. These later variants partially copy the original, whereby some of the artists, contrary to the wish of the time for geographical accuracy, increasingly alter the outlines of the continents, with visionary aspects taking precedence over correct cartographic depiction. The only variant to occur in a Latin bible is a schematic, abstract map by Tobias Stimmer.

The original version of the map shows a simplified depiction of the three continents, which are designated on the map as Europa, Affrica and Asia. The northern section is evidently based on Waldseemüller’s modern world map contained in the Strasbourg Ptolemy edition of 1513, and the southern section on Apian’s heart-shaped world map of 1530. In light of this, Wilhelm Bonacker and Hans Volz surmise that the map was probably initiated by Philipp Melanchthon, who had an interest in cartography and was a friend of Peter Bienewitz (Apian) of Ingolstadt.

In Europe, the Pyrenees can be seen in the west, the Alps in the middle, and the river Don in the far north. Scandinavia and Britain are missing. Africa is separated from Europe by a broadened Mediterranean, with four islands which cannot be precisely identified. In the northern part of Africa, the Atlas Mountains are depicted, while in the south, the Moon Mountains are shown as the two sources of the Nile. On the way northwards, each of the two arms first flows through a lake, before joining in a great basin, from where the Nile then flows to the Mediterranean. In Asia, the Himalayas can be seen, with the river Indus arising in one direction and the Ganges in the other. The island of Taprobana ( Ceylon) is depicted as a peninsula, connected with the mainland by Adam´s Bridge.

The continents are surrounded by a great sea on which, in some later variants, a ship is disappearing off the side horizon. The map is framed by four winds, with human heads blowing wind and clouds onto the earth.

In the continents stand four fabulous beasts: a lion – in this first version, contrary to the biblical description, still without eagle’s wings; a bear; a leopard with four heads and four bird’s wings; and a goat with iron teeth, seven large horns and one small horn with a human head. In the west of Asia, but east of the Caucasus, a mounted army with people wearing turbans and carrying banners can be seen.

In the depiction of the four animals and their geographical attribution, the artist largely follows the text of the seventh chapter of the book of the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament of the bible. The Turkish army, on the other hand, derives from the interpretation of the three authors. And it also indicates the reason for the creation of the map, namely, in a striking pictorial depiction, to convey to the Christian world, and especially the illiterate masses, the visionary message of the bible in the light of the threat to the Western world from an imminent Turkish invasion.

The historical background

In 1529, the Turks had conquered large areas of the Occident, and in October of the same year were outside the gates of Vienna. Europe’s rulers, especially the Emperor Charles V, King Francis I and the Pope, were planning a new crusade with the aim of reconquering occupied territory, and indeed also the Holy Land. In this time of political uncertainty and frightening change, large sections of the Christian population sought advice and guidance in their faith.

As legitimisation for a war against the Turks, the Protestants Philipp Melanchthon, Justus Jonas and their friend Martin Luther drew on the prophet Daniel, and especially his dream of the four kingdoms. Thus, they interpreted the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel as an eschatological prophecy of a victory of Christianity over the Turks, who were viewed as the embodiment of Antichrist.

The first kingdom in the dream of the prophet Daniel, symbolised by the lion, is Babylon or Assyria; the bear corresponds to Persia, while the leopard stands for the kingdom of Alexander the Great of Greece. The “fourth kingdom” prophesied by Daniel is seen as referring to the West Roman Empire. The German Empire is regarded as one of the ten successor kingdoms created out of the Roman Empire, because the seventh chapter of Daniel speaks of ten horns growing out of the goat-like beast. The “small horn with the head” that subsequently destroys three other horns stands for the Mohammedan Empire. Beginning with the Saracens and continuing under the Ottomans, this has conquered and destroyed parts of the old Empire.

Unlike the three other powers of world historical importance, the Ottoman Empire is not a power positively ordained by God, but an apocalyptic catastrophe sent by God who will, after this final secular war, sit in judgement on Antichrist on Judgement Day.

The original and most common historical interpretation dates the creation of the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel to the year 548 BC, when Daniel, a Jew held in captivity in Babylon under King Belshazzar, has a dream of divine revelation. In his dream, he sees four winds sent by God, which are directly connected with the Creation and at the same time represent the four directions of the heaven and the earth.

The sea is the symbol for the sea of nations i.e., the whole of mankind, from which the four beasts arise in sequence, symbolising great kingdoms or empires.

The first beast, like a lion with eagle’s wings, refers to the successor of the Babylonian Medo-Persians. Medo-Persia is followed by the Greek empire of Alexander the Great which, symbolised by the second animal, a bear with three ribs between its teeth, tears the wings off the lion. In this context, Flavius Josephus, the historian, reports that on entering Jerusalem, Alexander was shown the prophecy of the four beasts by Jewish scholars; he interpreted this as referring to himself and acknowledged himself as king of Greece.

The empire of Alexander is followed by the Roman Empire, symbolised by the third beast, a four-headed leopard with four wings. The fourth beast is described in the prophecy as being totally different from the others. It is powerful and terrible and destroys everything that is cultivated, holy and human until God himself passes judgement on it, kills it and gives Christianity dominion for all time. This fourth beast, depicted as a goat, represents King Antiochus IV of Syria, who symbolises Antichrist.

Later versions of Daniel´s Dream Map

Within only a short time after its publication, Daniel’s Dream Map gained great popularity, with the result that it was reproduced by other printers or, with artistic changes, used right up to the mid.18th century.

On the basis of my research, there are fourteen different versions of Daniel’s Dream Map, with twenty-one printing blocks. All the versions are produced in woodcut technique.

Closing words

From a geographical standpoint, Daniel’s Dream Map is only of little significance as it only rudimentarily reproduces the knowledge of the earth which already existed at that time.

From a world political, theological and social point of view, however, it can be seen as unique. For over a hundred years, it was repeatedly reworked by some of the most important artists of the time, and published in what is still the most widely disseminated book today.

Over the centuries and right up to the present its vision of Judgment Day has been interpreted in the apocalyptic literature with reference to the major historical events.


  • Eine Wittenberger Weltkarte aus dem Jahr 1529, W. Bonacker und H. Volz, 1956
  • Maps in Bibles 1500 – 1600
  • C. Delano Smith and E.M. Ingram, 1991
  • Der Prophet Daniel, G. Maier, 1982
  • The Mapping of the World, R. Shirley, 1983
  • Kaarten in Bijbels, W.C. Poortman and J. Augusteijn, 1995
  • Holy Bibel, New Revised Standard Version, Oxford 1989
  • Martin Luthers Meinungs- und Wissensbildung zur Türkenfrage auf dem Hintergrund der osmanischen Expansion und im Kontext der reformatorischen Bewegung, M. Klein, 2004
  • Der Prophet Daniel, M. Luther, 1530
  • In Danielem prophetam commentarius, P. Melanchthon, 1543
  • H. Zimmermann, Beiträge zur Bibelillustration des 16. Jahrhunderts, Baden-Baden 1973
  • Versuch einer Historie der gedruckten niedersächsischen Bibeln, J. M. Goeze, Halle 1775
  • Luther und die Bibel, A. Schramm, Leipzig 1923
  • Beiträge zur Geschichte des sächsischen Holzschnittes, H. Röttinger, Strassburg 1921

Thanks to

my wife Stefanie, to my best man Dr. Volker Oshege, Mr. Timothy Nuttall for translation, Mr. Rodney Shirley, Mr. Donald Mcguirk and Mr. Richard Casten for proof-reading, Hannes Rademacher for web design and the staff of the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel,
they all helped me to get this work through!

Ernst Gallner