ribbons emblems compass roses royal seals and banners assets, wonderdraft

What purpose do the decorative elements of fantasy...

Maps have always been essential tools for navigation, exploration, and storytelling. Over the centuries, they have evolved from simple navigational aids to works of art that captivate our imagination. In both fantasy and ancient maps, various decorative elements have played a significant role in conveying information and adding aesthetic appeal. In this article, we delve into the historical significance of ribbons, compass roses, heraldic shields, medieval and fantasy emblems, banners, royal seals, crown symbols, and unfurled parchment scrolls.

You can take a look at my decorative map elements bundle here (click on the image):


Ribbons have held significant historical and practical importance throughout the ages. In ancient cartography, they served as more than just ornamental features; they were vital symbols representing essential regions, illustrious kingdoms, or crucial trade routes. These ribbons, often intricately designed and varying in width, provided cartographers with a versatile tool to convey critical information while simultaneously captivating viewers with their aesthetic appeal.

Historically, ribbons were intricately woven into the fabric of maps to denote various geopolitical entities. For instance, in medieval European maps, ribbons were frequently used to delineate borders between kingdoms, principalities, or city-states. The width and design of these ribbons could signify the relative importance or power of a particular region, with wider ribbons often reserved for prominent territories or trade routes of great economic significance.

Moreover, ribbons were not solely confined to terrestrial maps; they also found their way onto nautical charts, where they served as navigational aids for sailors. On these maps, ribbons might represent maritime trade routes, coastal boundaries, or currents, offering seafarers crucial guidance in their voyages across the seas.

In the realm of fantasy maps, the significance of ribbons transcends their historical function. Here, they take on a mystical quality, becoming more than just decorative elements. In fantasy worlds, ribbons might serve as enchanted pathways, leading adventurers to hidden realms or sacred sites. Alternatively, they could denote boundaries between realms of power, such as the domains of rival wizards or the territories of ancient mythical creatures.

Overall, whether in ancient maps or fantasy realms, ribbons have played a multifaceted role, combining practical utility with aesthetic allure to enrich the cartographic experience.

Compass Roses

Compass roses have played a crucial role in navigation and cartography throughout history. Originating from simple directional indicators, they have evolved into intricate designs that not only provide orientation but also serve as decorative elements on maps.

Historically, compass roses trace back to ancient civilizations such as the Chinese, who were among the first to develop compasses for navigation around the 11th century. Initially, these compass roses were basic, typically featuring only the cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) and perhaps intermediary points like northeast and southwest.

As cartography advanced, particularly during the Age of Exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries, compass roses became more elaborate. European cartographers began incorporating decorative motifs and symbols into their maps, often using compass roses as focal points. These designs not only enhanced the aesthetic appeal of the maps but also provided additional navigational aids.

During the Renaissance, compass roses reached their pinnacle of complexity and artistry. Cartographers like Gerardus Mercator and Abraham Ortelius created beautifully embellished compass roses adorned with intricate patterns, mythical creatures, and ornate typography. These designs not only facilitated navigation but also reflected the cultural and artistic trends of the time.

In terms of usage, compass roses served both practical and symbolic functions. Practically, they provided a reliable reference point for sailors and explorers, helping them determine directions and plot courses accurately. Symbolically, compass roses represented the spirit of exploration and discovery, embodying the adventurous ethos of the Age of Exploration.

Even in modern cartography, compass roses remain prevalent, although their prominence has diminished with the advent of digital mapping technologies. Nevertheless, they continue to adorn maps as nostalgic reminders of centuries past, preserving a rich tradition of navigation and exploration.

Heraldic Shields

Heraldic shields have a long and storied history that spans centuries, originating in medieval Europe. Initially, heraldic shields served as a means of identification on the battlefield, allowing knights and warriors to distinguish friend from foe amidst the chaos of combat. These shields were adorned with unique designs, known as coats of arms, which typically incorporated symbols, animals, colors, and patterns that held significance to the individual or family they represented.

As feudal societies evolved, heraldic shields became not only symbols of martial identity but also markers of social status and lineage. Noble houses and ruling dynasties adopted distinctive coats of arms to assert their power and lineage, with each design carefully crafted to convey a family’s history, values, and achievements. These symbols were displayed prominently on banners, flags, seals, and of course, shields, serving as visual emblems of authority and prestige.

In the context of fantasy maps, heraldic shields play a similar role in conveying the rich tapestry of fictional worlds. They are often used to denote the territories of different kingdoms, noble houses, or factions within the setting. Just as in history, these shields are imbued with meaning and symbolism, reflecting the diverse cultures, histories, and allegiances of the fantasy realm.

In fantasy cartography, heraldic shields are meticulously depicted alongside geographical features to provide context and depth to the map. They serve as visual cues for readers, helping them navigate the intricate web of political alliances, rivalries, and power struggles that shape the fictional world. Whether depicting the proud lion of a noble house, the fearsome dragon of a legendary kingdom, or the mystical sigil of an enigmatic faction, heraldic shields add a layer of authenticity and immersion to fantasy maps, bringing to life the rich heritage and intricate politics of the imagined realm.

Medieval & Fantasy Emblems

Emblems hold immense significance in fantasy worlds, representing magical schools, guilds, mythical creatures, or mystical artifacts. In ancient maps, similar emblems were employed to depict important kingdoms, landmarks, historical events, or religious symbols.

Banners and Royal Seals

Banners and royal seals have been employed throughout history to signify authority, ownership, or allegiance. In fantasy maps, they serve a similar purpose, representing the dominion of kings, queens, or influential factions.

Crown Symbols

Crown symbols have long been associated with royalty, nobility, and rulership. In ancient maps, crowns were often used to designate the capital city or the seat of power. In fantasy realms, crown symbols are employed to mark the locations of important castles, strongholds, or realms ruled by powerful monarchs.

Unfurled Parchment Scrolls

Unfurled parchment scrolls add an authentic touch to maps, reminiscent of ancient cartographic techniques. These scrolls provide space for text, legends, or additional information about the depicted lands, enhancing the map’s educational and storytelling potential.

Evolution of Decorative Map Elements

Throughout history, the design and use of decorative elements in maps have evolved significantly. Ancient maps were often intricate and hand-drawn, with limited color palettes and simplistic embellishments. Ribbons, compass roses, and heraldic shields served practical purposes and were less ornate compared to their fantasy counterparts.

With the rise of fantasy literature and role-playing games, maps became not just navigational tools but gateways to immersive worlds. Decorative elements took on new dimensions, becoming intricate works of art. Medieval and fantasy emblems became more elaborate, incorporating magical symbols and fantastical creatures, reflecting the diverse realms and cultures within these fictional landscapes.


Decorative elements such as ribbons, compass roses, heraldic shields, medieval and fantasy emblems, banners, royal seals, crown symbols, and unfurled parchment scrolls have played crucial roles in both fantasy and ancient maps. They not only add visual appeal but also convey important information about territories, landmarks, and the cultural fabric of the depicted worlds.

Now that you know all this, by combining these decorative elements, you’ll be able to create sublime maps that are more lifelike than ever before!

Happy mapping!

Leave a Reply