Workshop Titles & Abstracts


Colin Adams (Univ. Liverpool) “Trade and Transport in Roman Egypt”


Pascal Arnaud (Univ. Lyon 2) – “Roman Sea transport”


Cèsar Carreras (UAB) “Measuring cost and time in Roman transport” 


Toon Bonger (Ghent Univ.) “Selecting Past Navigable Rivers: Process, Problems and Pathways”

Archaeological sources have made it impossible to deny that rivers served as pathways in the past. The process of identifying past navigable rivers however, is not an unambiguous process. Furthermore,  this process deserves academic attention since it functions as the foundation for numerous historical and archaeological studies on trade and transportation. The selection of past navigable rivers is an exercise which entails a distantiation from the ideal situation, in which we possess data on Roman riverine transport ships (i.e. width, depth, draught, load capacity and especially movement capabilities) and data on (past) rivers (i.e. depth, width, flow pattern, flow regime, bedding, embankments and seasonality). Instead historians and archaeologists are forced to focus on what is at hand. Straightforward attestations of navigable rivers in Roman times are either geographically limited or virtually nonexistent. Working computational models have yet to be developed. We therefore work with proxy data: i.e. past shipping practices (often from the 17th century onward), a scarce amount of ancient sources, and other written and archaeological sources. We then use these proxies to categorise rivers as having an ‘attested navigability’, ‘assumed (seasonal) navigability’ or no navigable sections at all. The challenge thus not only lies in the scarcity of (unambiguous) sources, but also in the dissimilarity between current and past riverine conditions.

Philip Verhagen (VU Amsterdam) “Reconstructing local transport networks in the Dutch Roman limes using least-cost paths and network analysis techniques”

In this paper, I will discuss methodological, theoretical and practical issues of applying network reconstruction and analysis techniques for the understanding of local transport networks in the Dutch part of the Roman limes zone. Research into transport and movement in the area has mostly focused on the military roads and fluvial system. The secondary road systems, however, which connected the rural settlements to the military and urban centres, have mostly escaped attention. Network construction techniques based on least-cost paths were applied to reconstruct the most plausible transport network in the area. The analysis of this network then allowed us to address questions about the position of local rural settlements with regard to the military centres and its implications for the development of a system of local provisioning of the forts. 

Scott Arcenas (Univ. Stanford) – “Modelling Transportation in the Roman Empire”

In this talk, I use ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World to explore the advantages and disadvantages of a modeling approach to the study of premodern transportation. The talk comprises four parts. In Part 1, I introduce ORBIS: a web-based tool that allows users to calculate both the economic and the time cost of terrestrial, maritime, and fluvial travel among 751 constituent nodes of the second century CE Roman transportation network. In Part 2, I discuss the data and the interpretive decisions that support the ORBIS model. In Part 3, I provide a more detailed examination of the way in which ORBIS models maritime transportation, in particular. In Part 4, I conclude by emphasizing three significant payoffs of a modeling approach to the study of historical phenomena, such as maritime transportation in the premodern world, that involved high degrees of both uncertainty and variation.

Xavier Rubio-Campillo (School of History, Classics and Archaeology – University of Edinburgh) “A data science framework to infer long-range trade routes”

The last years have seen an improvement on the availability of evidence as a growing amount of datasets is collected and published. However, the availability of new datasets also means that we need to deal with the challenges posed by this evidence, including the presence of biases and high levels of uncertainty. Moreover, data does not equal knowledge and the methods used to analyse this evidence has not advanced at the same pace.

We present here a new framework designed to identify large-scale connectivity through the use of similarity indices. The amphora stamps collected over more than a thousand sites across the Roman Empire have been analysed using quantitative measures of similarity. The patterns that emerge from the analysis highlight the intense connectivity derived from factors such as the spatial closeness, presence of military units and the relevance of the Atlantic sea as a main shipping route. We believe that these findings will not only help understand these dynamics but the suggested approach will highlight the need for statistical hypothesis testing in the study of past economies.

Pau de Soto (Univ. Nova de Lisboa) “Roman transportation Networks in the Iberian Peninsula”

This talk will show the last results and conclusions about the Roman part of the Mercator-e Project. After two years of research, a brand new Roman transport network has been digitised joining road, river and sea connections. Using these detailed networks some calculations have been made like the connectivity degree or the travel time costs and expenses. With all these results, we have obtained very interesting information about the territorial configuration of the Iberian Peninsula in Roman Times.