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Stanford University created a tool to map and travel Ancient Rome
Posted on 28/07/2019 , Modified on 29/07/2019


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Stanford University have created a map to help you understand how hard and complex travel was for people living in the Roman era. Here's how it works...

What is ORBIS?

What is ORBIS?

ORBIS (Latin for "world") is the name of the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. This incredible tool created by students and their professors allows users to navigate their way around the Roman World, as the Romans would have done in around 200CE. The interactive map takes into account the distance, time and cost of every possible way to get from A to B in the times of the Roman Empire. The modes of transport include ships, travelling either by open sea or coastal sea, donkey or ox driven carts, on foot or riverboats. The purpose of the map is to show users how, in Roman times, travel was not necessarily about getting from one place to the other in the simplest, quickest way. In fact, quite often, travellers would choose the longest route because of the lower cost, taking days to travel somewhere that today is accessible in just a few hours by plane.

So, how does it work?

So, how does it work?
Peter Hermes Furian/123RF

Using the map, you can work out different ways to get from one of its 632 settlements to another, whether that be by land or sea, or a combination of the two. The system will then give you all the possible options; the shortest in distance, the shortest in time, and the cheapest. The model also shows you all of the other Roman settlements you would pass through on your long and arduous journey. The website is truly intriguing; you could spend hours marvelling at how complicated and difficult it was to get anywhere in Roman times, and it'll certainly make you feel thankful that cars, planes and trains were invented!

Has it been a success?

Has it been a success?
Viacheslav Lopatin/123RF

Yes! Thousands of people have used the website, with some undergraduate university students even using the data to write their thesis. However, the creators of ORBIS warn that the data is not necessarily completely accurate. They were able to calculate the details of land journeys pretty accurately from old Roman travel accounts (itineraria), but the sea routes had to be meticulously planned without any real accounts, using data from weather patterns and average sea currents. Nevertheless, ORBIS is certainly a groundbreaking tool that has been incredibly helpful to educators at countless schools and universities in bringing the Roman World into the 21st century.

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