Minard’s Map of Port and River Tonnage

Charles Joseph Minard was a master of using simple sizes to indicate relationships.  In this map, as with his famous chart of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, Minard expertly relates the volume of tonnage shipped through European ports and on European rivers to the size of the lines and circles representing them.

Minard developed this map from data on port and river tonnage in the mid 1850s.  The numbers over each circle are the volume of products shipped in thousands of tons.  For this map, Minard includes all ports that carry over 200,000 tons of cargo per year.  For the rivers, each millimeter of thickness represents 100,000 tons of shipping.  Click here or on the picture above to see a bigger map.

The movement of commerce across the continent is presented starkly through the thickness of the rivers and the area of the ports.  Britain, a worldwide commercial leader, has Europe’s two largest ports in London and Liverpool.  Only Constantinople and Marseilles present any challenge to Britain’s remaining ports for volume of tonnage.

Britain, however, has no river shipping listed.  Northwestern Europe–the Netherlands, France, and northwestern Germany–have tremendous shipping along their rivers.  The Elbe and the Rhine account for a majority of this shipping.  With Germany still not unified but with a burgeoning manufacturing sector, all the commercial products had to travel to sea via rivers.  Even today, the Dutch port of Rotterdam handles the world’s highest annual shipping tonnage.

The Russian Empire, with its vast distances and few railroads, made good use of its navigable rivers to transports goods.  Sadly, the area on the map around the mouth of the Volga, in the Caspian Sea, is damaged.  Otherwise, we would also know the volume of goods leaving and entering Russia via Central Asia. 

The Danube, flowing with goods while in Austrian territory, ships virtually none at all through the barely-industrialized Ottoman Empire until it approaches the sea once more.   For an empire so large, the Austrian seaports of Trieste and Venice handle little cargo, representing the Austrian reliance on overland shipping from Central Europe

In France, the Seine itself does not transport a tremendous amount of cargo; but its tributary the Oise carries huge amounts of goods from the manufacturing centers in northern France to the markets of Paris.  Similarly, the Rhone carries little international shipping; most of its cargo begins and ends its journey in France.

This is the third post in our continuing “Mondays with Minard” series, exhibiting Charles Joseph Minard’s excellent cartographic handiwork.  This map was photographed specifically for use here at Cartographia from the collections of the Library of Congress.  Feel free to reproduce the map in any way you wish, but please cite us as the source. The original map is in fairly good quality, but I ran the picture through Photoshop to improve the contrast and make the colors more vibrant for the sake of clarity. 


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Cartographia is a blog about how we use maps to represent the world around us, and how people interpret maps today and throughout history. Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or recommendations directly to me at cartographia.blog@gmail.com.

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