A Crowd-sourced Translation for a Mysterious Map Rug

A Middle-Eastern copy of the famous 'serio-comic' map of Europe, with the female figures more modestly dressed

This rug would really tie any map-lover's room together. It is the product of two venerable map-making traditions, one eastern, the other western. 

Since at least the time of the Soviet occupation (1979-'89), Afghanistan is the source of so-called 'war rugs': carpets depicting the instruments of modern warfare rather than ancient geometric patterns (see #395).

This particular rug fits into that tradition – except that it appears to be much, much older. The image it copies is one of the iterations of the famous 'serio-comic' maps that were popularised by Fred W. Rose and translated across Europe in the decades preceding World War I (See #521).

These maps showed animate versions of European nations, variously trampling, shoving and strangling each other. This rug is an almost identical copy of the Fred W. Rose map. Its main feature is Russia as an octopus, stretching out its tentacles towards Central Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East. 

Spain and Portugal are recognisably cast in the same awkward position across the Iberian peninsula. France is represented by a female form rather than the moustachioed gentleman in the Rose map, but this version of Marianne seems to be wearing a Muslim headscarf rather than a Phrygian cap. The maiden representing the Austro-Hungarian Empire is no longer bare-chested, and also more modestly dressed. 

This map appeared here on Reddit's Mapporn section, without further indication of source or context. Who can offer a translation for the words on the rug in Arabic script – and/or offer an indication of its provenance, age and motivation?


UPDATE (16 December 2017) – Below some more information on the content of the map/rug. Thanks all contributors!

Tom R., of Iranian descent, says the writing on the map is Persian as used before the 1950s, and suspects the map dates from 1920s Iran. “The writing in the box at the bottom corner says: Map of Europe before the war of 1914. (=1322 in the Islamic lunar calendar)”. Some other observations by Tom: 


  • “Although there are at least two words in Arabic on the map (بحر = sea and سنه = year)  rather than their Persian equivalents (دریا  and سال), I'm 100% sure the language is Persian. A large number of Arabic words were used regularly in Persian, and many still are. These two words are among those that were replaced in both spoken and written Persian by an Academy appointed by Reza Shah”. Reza Shah Pahlavi was the Shah of Iran from 1925 to 1941.
  • “Two specific points that prove the language is not Arabic. One is the word نقشه  (map) in the box, which is not Arabic. Second, and this can be missed easily: the Persian word for 'Norway' comes from its french pronunciation as نروژ which has as its last letter ژ which is one of four letters that do not exist in Arabic”.
  • “I think the source for this map was another one than the one you've put in the post, because aside from the changes in the figures that you pointed out, the writings are not exactly equivalent either. For example: the carpet specifies the body of water between France and Britain as the 'Sea of Manche'”. The English Channel is called 'La Manche' in French – pointing to a French version of this map as the probable source for this one. 



Jordan Toy concurs that the writing is in Persian, adding that “it looks like water features are in black and countries are in red”. Some translations: 


  • “Between France and Spain, you have Bay of Biscay (خلیج بیسکی), which looks just like it on the rug”.
  • “The octopus is Russia (روسیه), which you can see in red text”.
  • “The Baltic Sea is shown as بالتیک, the Adriatic Sea is shown tilted (almost upside down) as آدریاتیک”.
  • “Germany is shown as آلمان”.
  • “The big black script on the bottom (مدیترانه ای) means the Mediterranean”.



Philippe L. also tried his hand at translating the main elements of the map, and produced this annotated version.

He agrees that the map is in Farsi (Persian), and offers the following observations:


  • “Most of the names are translations of the countries or seas. There are some capitals (London, for instance and not England)”.
  • “The name for the Mediterranean derives from 'mediterranean', whereas in Egyptian Arabic it would be called the 'White Sea'”.
  • “The label for Caspian Sea, the first word (بحر = bahr) means sea, while the second word looks like "خزر" (khazar). According to Arabic wikipedia, this was its name in the Middle Ages. And according to English wikipedia, it's its Turkish name as well”.
  • “Spain is labelled by the name of its inhabitants ('Spanish') rather than the country name”. 
  • “Austria is written as 'Autrich', after the French version of the country name (Autriche), while in Arabic its name is 'Nemsa' – derived from Russian”.  



Got more? Send your input to: strangemaps@gmail.com.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.