I love historical atlases. Online historical atlases are even better. At Stanford, Classics professor Walter Scheidel and digital humanities developer Elijah Meeks, with geographer/Web developer Karl Grossner and Noemi Alvarez have produced a geospatial networking system called ORBIS, which is like a Google Maps of the Roman Empire.
The map allows users to explore the empire via the Romans' famous road system and sea routes, with embedded contemporary travel costs in denarii. The latter aspect was included to provide a historical understanding of how easy or difficult it was to get around and ship food between destinations: "This application facilitates simulation of the structural properties of the network, which are of particular value for our understanding of the historical significance of cost in mediating connectivity within the Roman Empire." The more far-flung the destination, the more expensive it was to get there.
Introductory videos below the jump show how the system works, and reveal that optimal shipping and travel routes changed at different times of year. Land travel offers different modes of transportation, such as rapid military march, horseback, donkey, camel, ox cart, fast carriage or horse relay.
The concern for communications and the cost of networks, while very true to the Roman mentality, of course reflects a Millennial focus as well. The deep integration of historical data into a Google Maps-type online tool for the Roman Empire isn't quite an anachronism, but it is an interesting example of how today's concerns and modes of configuring and analyzing information cause us to revisit history in new ways. I'm not sure how a system like this, with the historical information technically pre-digested and deeply embedded, could be verified by other Classicists as being historically accurate.
This type of online project hints at a coming revolution in tertiary humanities education. It won't be long before the humanities are taught in interactive virtual environments. I have blogged before about ground-breaking online historical teaching environments, such as this one, on the Golden Age of the Dutch Empire.
"A cost distribution map, with the geography of the Mediterranean world maintained but the sites colored by the cost (via all modes) of shipping grain from that site to Rome." Image Source: ORBIS.
Video Source: Youtube.
Video Source: Youtube.