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Historical Maps Were Created to Facilitate the Tithe System of Taxation

Updated on August 7, 2015

We can investigate our past without digging simply by studying old maps. Accurate mapping was born out of the navigation in the great age of exploration from the 15th century. Prior to that, surviving maps were created to facilitate the tithe system of taxation. Attempts to map the landscape in detail were mainly due to military needs arising from wars.

Most of the maps that survive in records offices from before the 18th century are to do with land tenure and taxation. In Europe, the Church was a major landowner, and it derived much of its wealth from the tithe system, whereby landowners obeyed the Biblical instruction to pay to the Church a tithe (or one-tenth) of their income. Later laws enabled the Church to convert tithes paid in kind into financial tax, where the landowners could donate a piece of land to the church as to perpetuity to free themselves from the annual charge.

As a result, some of the earliest maps to survive show details as land boundaries, field names and the names of landowners and tenants, take the form of tithe maps. They provide a detailed picture at the time they were surveyed.

Where can you find historic maps online?

Thanks to digitization, more maps are available on the internet. Libraries such as the Perry-Castaneda Library Collection at the University of Texas in Austin that not only provide access to their own collections, but also provide links to tens of thousands of historic maps from all over the world. The link to the university's website is

Old historical maps provide a unique look into our past as a people. The older the map is the greater that peek into the past is. Many artifacts are found and debated as to whose they were, what they were used for, why they were made and how were they made. Yet maps visually feature undisputed surveys of rivers, roads, canals, railways, settlements, cities, kingdoms, woods, fields and boundaries. Maps are a great human treasure handed down from the ages. The true historical story is theirs to tell.


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    • Deborah M Jones profile image

      Deborah M Jones 5 years ago from Illinois

      Your wealth was measured by how much land you owned. Then the taxman cometh!

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      That's interesting about what maps were mostly used for before the 18th century. I'd never thought about other uses back then, besides those from explorers.