Terra Pericolosa and Terra Incognita

Caitlin Dempsey

Updated:

Terra pericolosa is an Italian phrase meaning “dangerous land”.  It was used in cartography to indicate areas on maps that might be dangerous to travelers.  

A commonly held but false belief is that dangerous areas on maps were marked with the Latin phrase for here be dragonsHIC SVNT DRACONES.  In fact, only two documented examples of the use of that phrase on a map have been found (More: The Map Myth of Here Be Dragons).

 The most well known example is the Hunt-Lenox Globe (c. 1503–07) which incorporates the phrase near the east coast of Asia.

The Lenox Globe. As illustrated in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition, Volume X, 1874, Fig.2.
The Lenox Globe. As illustrated in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition, Volume X, 1874, Fig.2.

Using Creatures in Cartography

Stylistically, cartographers did incorporate fantastical beasts to indicate areas they felt were dangerous or uncharted.  Ancient Roman and Medieval cartographers, however, did use the term HIC SVNT LEONES (Here are lions) to indicated unknown areas.


Free weekly newsletter

Fill out your e-mail address to receive our newsletter!
Email:  

Terra Incognita on Maps

A similar term, Terra incognita (Latin for “unknown land” was used to mark areas on the maps that had not yet been documented.  

Map of North America first published by Paolo Forlani in 1565.
Map of North America first published by Paolo Forlani in 1565 is labeled with both “Terra In Cognita” and “Mare In Cognito”. Source: The Barry Lawrence Ruderman Map Collection, Stanford University.

The term was first believed to have been used in Ptolemy’s Geography around 150 CE.  

The rediscovery of his work in the 15th century also resulted in the reintroduction of the phrase.

Photo of author
About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.