Roman studies does simulation now! Finding the limits of the limes

To say simulation is not a big thing in Roman studies is an understatement. Although the approach has become more popular in archaeology as a whole, the uptake in classical archaeology has been minimal. I’ve recently started collecting Roman formal modelling and simulation studies in an open Zotero bibliography, and could only find about 15.

All of this has changed now with the final open access publication of the project ‘Finding the limits of the Limes‘, edited by Philip Verhagen, Jamie Joyce and Mark Groenhuijzen. The 15 chapters in this book precisely double the number of Roman simulation studies! (in fact, quite a few of the original 15 were also by the hands of the editors)

Finding the limits of the limes was a pioneering project for Roman Studies. It used a tiny part of the Roman Empire, the Dutch Roman border region, as a testbed for a wealth of formal modelling and simulation approaches. The project bombarded the archaeology of the region with demographic models, network science, least-cost path modelling, predictive modelling, agricultural modelling, foraging models and much more formal goodness. The results are twofold: tested and refined hypotheses for a wide range of past social-natural phenomena in the study area, and examples of how modelling approaches that are commonly used in other disciplines can make constructive contributions to a wide range of phenomena in Roman Studies as well.

I am hopeful that this open access publication will reveal to students and early career researchers in Roman Studies that simulation is just one of those things they do now, alongside text criticism and ceramic analysis. I hope it will inspire them to explore other useful applications of the approaches showcased in this book. Roman Studies is blessed with a wealth of data that allows us to ask highly complex and important questions about the centuries-long history of a world power. Simulation and formal modelling has an important role to play in this. It allows us to specify our theories, to explore how well they are supported by data, to develop new theories and to focus our limited research resources on those theories that are most promising. I look forward to reading the contributions in this book more closely.

Access the entire book here for free.

This open access book demonstrates the application of simulation modelling and network analysis techniques in the field of Roman studies. It summarizes and discusses the results of a 5-year research project carried out by the editors that aimed to apply spatial dynamical modelling to reconstruct and understand the socio-economic development of the Dutch part of the Roman frontier (limes) zone, in particular the agrarian economy and the related development of settlement patterns and transport networks in the area. The project papers are accompanied by invited chapters presenting case studies and reflections from other parts of the Roman Empire focusing on the themes of subsistence economy, demography, transport and mobility, and socio-economic networks in the Roman period.

The book shows the added value of state-of-the-art computer modelling techniques and bridges computational and conventional approaches. Topics that will be of particular interest to archaeologists are the question of (forced) surplus production, the demographic and economic effects of the Roman occupation on the local population, and the structuring of transport networks and settlement patterns. For modellers, issues of sensitivity analysis and validation of modelling results are specifically addressed. This book will appeal to students and researchers working in the computational humanities and social sciences, in particular, archaeology and ancient history.

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