We know that the Romans made maps. We know what a few of them physically look like, and we know, indirectly, the general scheme of many others, through textual descriptions. These are remarkable on their own, sharing with us the ancients’ visualization and understanding of their globe. We also have a pretty good sense from engravings, ruins, and archaeology of what some parts of the empire looked like. But we seem to be preoccupied with developing modern maps of the historical Roman Empire further, and having these available on the web. There are tons of articles, sites, and blogs devoted to the exploration of how we piece together artifacts and archaeology, and how we visualize this information. We can talk about Classics, we can blog about it, we can immerse ourselves in its words, and now we can take virtual tours of it! Of course these are not exactly like wandering the streets of ancient Rome, but they are pretty close. They allow us to be stunned by the size of the Pantheon, the height of Trajan’s column, and the sheer vastness of the empire and its connections.
There are some cool projects that explore the connectivity of societies and geographical areas. (For a modern one, check this out. I saw it on Lydia’s Facebook, but it came from NPR’s “Krulwich Wonders” series.) It is really intriguing to think about geography in terms of the actual relationships between people and places, not the arbitrary borders drawn by the ruling global powers. If you’ve ever taken a history or political science class, you should be familiar with the dilemmas presented when trying to match up the nation and the state (for example, Japan is easy, but Iraq is hard.). For this reason, maps that are more than just visualizations of arbitrary and familiar borders are much more interesting.
Considering this new form of mapping, I began to wonder about the purpose of maps. Begun as a way to travel (accurately and efficiently) and visualize vast areas of land and sea, maps were essentially a way to convey knowledge of places and their peculiarities. Maps probably, then, began as an ancient form of the World Wide Web. By that I mean that they were once the portable, accessible, understandable, and sometimes intuitive resource for passing along information and keeping track of it. There were different ways to visualize this information (Peutinger table vs. google earth), find the information itself, and organize it all. Some maps were specific; others were general. Anyone could make and use a map (depending on the scale and desired level of accuracy, of course). With arbitrary borders, maps were a way the empire, or whatever global power existed at the time, expressed this power. Intentionally inaccurate maps were ways to manipulate the populace. Just like the internet has grown in scope, complexity, and pertinence, so have maps. Modern maps now present the ancient world AND every imaginable facet of the modern world (cell phone calls, flow of currency, etc.), in all kinds of ways-3-D, super detailed, you name it. Each has evolved into a somewhat nebulous and entirely diverse collection, for which the world’s civilization is indebted. And now, all these maps are accessible through the internet!
So, here is, in essence, a collection of the sites that lead me to these thoughts. Pretty much my Top-Ten list for digital maps related to the Classical world, in no particular order, and likely with glaring omissions:
Here is the Digital Roman Forum, the Rome Reborn project (of the university of Virginia), Aquae Urbis Romae (also from Virginia), and a site devoted to Trajan’s Column (part of the STOA project for digital humanities resources, started at the University of Kentucky, but now covering and encompassing a whole lot more! If this had been my starting point for this blog, I probably would have been so fascinated by everything they compile that I never would have completed a post. The Pleiades project is also through STOA.). They are all incredible sites, and I really hope you check them out. I had to share these three because of their sheer impressive collections of knowledge. They also present some different ways of organizing and making this information searchable. The Digital Roman Forum (a project of UCLA) is searchable by geographical location, year, or keyword. Other sites use only keywords, or only years. This whole blogging project has made me think a lot about how we find, use, store, and share information with the internet as a primary tool. If you had an unlimited supply of neurons and synapses, I would wager you’d spend many of them absorbing some of this information.
This site has a very high quality set of images of the Peutinger table. I think it’s fascinating! I can’t get over it. You should look at this site, and maybe you’ll get as excited as I am. It is FANTASTIC. Maybe it’s just a novel idea to me, maybe it’s just really cool and old, maybe this is just a cool site with great resources. Check it out. I’m obviously biased towards this site and the Peutinger Table, but that doesn’t make this resource any less valid.
For similar reasons, this site with the Forma Urbis Romae fragments is interminable. I didn’t mention in the last post, but it also talks about how researchers are using computer science algorithms to determine convergence between roads and fill in the missing areas of the map. If you’ve been to Rome, I’m not sure you can fit algorithms to its roads, but they have apparently found it useful and are continuing to explore it.
The Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations has some cool layering features. I haven’t quite figured out how to utilize it fully, but it looks like a really vast valuable resource. It is put out by Harvard, and maintained by various people there, so any extreme viewpoints are likely to be quashed.
Stanford University’s ORBIS site allows you to fiddle around with itineraries and travel plans throughout the empire. You can do it based on speed, mode of travel, and cost (which was the most important). This site is super fun to mess around on and explore- and makes you feel even more like a Roman!
The Pleiades site is full of information, and presents some interesting ways of citing, categorizing, and approaching the gazetteer or atlas. It is also community built, which makes for astounding diversity in the links it presents. You can also search the site in numerous ways: by place, category, name, etc. Super neat.
I ran across this Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative, which combines numerous sources and mapping tools into one. It seems to be some kind of “deep web” search tool, where one can discover other resources. Think back to our first two Library sessions.
And, finally, there is Lacus Curtius. This post, and this blog, for that matter, would probably not be complete without what L.J. Swain, formerly of WMU’s Medieval Institute, calls “simply the dream of the web fulfilled.” I think he sums it up pretty well. I’ve gone down the deep dark hole of following the links every time I’ve looked at this site. There is just so much information here. I hope you enjoy it. Heck, you might even be able to use it in your own blog!
Pleiades and ORBIS were mentioned on Sarah Bond’s post on PhDiva, but I found them when I was researching the last post. I also found many of these sites by searching the Rogue Classicist Blog for “mapping,” “virtual ancient Rome,” and “ancient cartography.” I came across Lacus Curtius and this site through a dogpile search for “ancient cartography” or “virtual ancient map.” This also lead me to the “Rome Reborn” site, which presents a nice list of other resources, including the Digital Roman Forum, Aquae Urbis Romae, and Lacus Curtius. The site just linked had most of the other resources I found, including Orbis, the Electronic Cultural Atlas, and the Forma Urbis Romae site. Because so many of these sites were from educational institutions and linked to each other they appear fairly reliable. More searching for the names and reputations of these people and sites did not turn up anything alarming.