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Travel in the Roman Empire

August 1, 2012

Science News reports this week on the work of Elijah Meeks, a digital humanities specialist at Stanford, in creating

A new interactive map of the Roman Empire that includes roads, rivers and hundreds of sea routes [that] allows users to calculate the travel time and costs for traversing the ancient empire.

(Geeky admission: My first thought was “what a terrific tool for understanding how Christians and their letters moved around!” My second thought was “what a terrific tool for developing a role-playing game set in the Roman Empire!” 😉 )

The project includes travel by road (on foot or otherwise) or sea, including the seasonal effects of wind and currents.

The researchers also incorporated travel costs, based on prices stipulated by an edict issued by the Emperor Diocletian in 301 that imposed price caps on more than 1,000 products and the charges for delivering them, whether by ship, donkey, camel or wagon. As is true today, the preferred route can vastly differ if time is the priority rather than expense.

The project is called ORBIS, and there’s plenty of information about it at the project website about how it was built, how to use it (including both instructions you can read and a video tutorial), and how to cite it in your research. A new interface, ORBIS|via, is a “situated perspective” of the network, is also available to play with, to get an interactive, traveller’s eye view of journeying through the Empire.

The developers note on the home page that

ORBIS is work in progress and your comments are invaluable in helping us improve our site. Feedback is welcome at

So head on over & check it out!

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