While maps can show us the territorial extent of the Roman Empire, the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, newly launched on the ORBIS website, brings the time and cost of moving people and goods between ancient cities sharply into modern view.
The ORBIS model simulates transportation around the giant network of cities, roads, rivers and sea lanes of the Roman Empire, in the conditions that existed around 200 AD. It is a magnificent intellectual undertaking which maps 4 million square miles of land and sea, 751 settlements, including 268 sea ports, 52,587 miles of road or desert tracks, and 17,567 miles of navigable rivers and canals; 900 sea routes around the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Atlantic coast take account of monthly wind conditions, currents and wave height. The model allows for sea travel at 2 sailing speeds, reflecting the likely range of Roman navigational capabilities, plus 14 different modes of road travel, including on foot, by ox cart, mule, camel caravan, horse with rider and army on the march.
The model’s data is based on documented historical sources and estimated seasonal weather conditions. The result is a Google Maps style application which produces the journey time, distance and cost of moving people and goods between 2 ancient locations.
So a trip in the month of May from Eburacum (York, England) to Rome by the fastest route would take 30.4 days, covering 3,276 kilometers (2,036 miles). The cost per passenger in a private carriage and faster sailing ship would be 1063.6 Roman denarii, which in today’s money would be around £13,300, or US $21,300. The fascinating map of the route, which highlights the importance of sea travel in the ancient world, looks like this:
Try it yourself by clicking on the Mapping tab on the ORBIS site.