Understanding the centuries-long functioning of the Roman economy

The archaeology of the Roman Empire offers us a unique glimpse at how large integrated economies can evolve over centuries. However, understanding how centuries-long economic changes emerge from the day-to-day behaviour of individuals requires new methods and vast amounts of data.  

MINERVA addresses three challenges related to ceramics data, Roman roads, and centuries-long simulations.  

First, what changes are visible over periods of centuries in the distribution and consumption of Roman plates, cups, bowls, and containers? And what do they reveal about the long-term functioning of the Roman economy? MINERVA aims to quantitatively identify such patterns. 

Second, what was the structure of the Roman transport network through which such goods were distributed? Currently, a highly detained model of this network doesn’t exist, and MINERVA aims to create this. 

And third, how does one simulate aspects of a large economy over a period of centuries? This has never been done before because for other large economies, like the integrated markets of the EU or the US, data is not available for timespans of this scale.  

Role of Center for Humanities Computing

Analysis of archeological ceramic data 

Using newly available large ceramics evidence from hundreds of sites across the Roman Empire, Center for Humanities Computing experts used computational methods to clean and aggregate complex raw data (RAAD: Database of Roman amphorae from Germania provinces, and Sonata: Database of Roman amphorae from Central Italy) and made it available to the Minerva research project. 

The dataset allows for the Minerva researchers to structure the ceramics evidence and investigate further in terms of amounts of objects found at a site, object provenance (source) and what year it was from. This enables them to track changes over time and to test hypotheses on how large integrated economies can evolve over centuries. 

Developing online map 

For the project CHC has developed and online database with an interactive map as the main interface. The interactive map makes it to possible to explore, search, and export the ancient roman road network.  Registered user can furthermore modify existing roads (including geographical data) and upload new roads created in e.g. QGIS or any other GIS editor which can export to GeoJSON. 

To make the ancient roman empire come alive places from https://pleiades.stoa.org/ is automatically integrated into the map making it possible to see how the road network have connected the places of the ancient world. 

Project affiliation


Funded by a Sapere Aude research leadership grant awarded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark (DFF) for the amount of 6,191,689 DKK.

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