ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World
- Walter Scheidel (principal investigator)
- Elijah Meeks (technical lead)
- Karl Grossner (web development)
From the project webpage
ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World reconstructs the time cost and financial expense associated with a wide range of different types of travel in antiquity. The model is based on a simplified version of the giant network of cities, roads, rivers and sea lanes that framed movement across the Roman Empire. It broadly reflects conditions around 200 CE but also covers a few sites and roads created in late antiquity.
The model consists of 632 sites, most of them urban settlements but also including important promontories and mountain passes, and covers close to 10 million square kilometers (~4 million square miles) of terrestrial and maritime space. 301 sites serve as sea ports. The baseline road network encompasses 84,631 kilometers (52,587 miles) of road or desert tracks, complemented by 28,272 kilometers (17,567 miles) of navigable rivers and canals.
Spanning one-ninth of the earth's circumference across three continents, the Roman Empire ruled a quarter of humanity through complex networks of political power, military domination and economic exchange. These extensive connections were sustained by premodern transportation and communication technologies that relied on energy generated by human and animal bodies, winds, and currents. Conventional maps that represent this world as it appears from space signally fail to capture the severe environmental constraints that governed the flows of people, goods and information. Cost, rather than distance, is the principal determinant of connectivity. For the first time, ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity. Taking account of seasonal variation and accommodating a wide range of modes and means of transport, ORBIS reveals the true shape of the Roman world and provides a unique resource for our understanding of premodern history.