MANIFESTO: Romanists, let’s do complexity! (open access)

Our manifesto for complexity science in Roman studies is now published open access in the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Journal. It is the result of true collaboration between a big team of scholars passionate about this topic, with the generous support of the journal editors and the TRAC Edinburgh conference organisers. Thank you all!

Roman Studies is a fascinating and thriving field, but it could really do with a bit more formalisation of the many complex theories we produce. This manifesto aims to highlight this need and argues this can only be done through constructive and frequent collaboration between romanists with difference specialisms. Let’s do this together!

Read the full paper for free here.

Here an excerpt, our 10 point manifesto:

A Manifesto for Complexity Science in Roman Studies

Complexity science has proven a highly constructive addition to virtually every other discipline (Mitchell 2009; Downey 2012; Chattoe-Brown 2013; Castellani 2018). The authors of this paper are convinced there is no reason why complexity science and formal modelling methods could not make equally constructive contributions to Roman Studies. We present our arguments as a 10-point manifesto for the use of complexity science in Roman Studies and for making its associated computational tools part of our ‘tools of the trade’. The statements in our manifesto are purposefully short and to-the-point to ensure their clarity, but they should be understood as strongly rooted in and supported by the subsequent sections of this paper where we showcase their applicability to particular research topics.

  1. The study of complex systems is integral to Roman Studies.
  2. It is appropriate to conceptualise and study the Roman state, its territory and inhabitants, and their interactions with states and peoples within and across their borders at any time during its history as a complex system.
  3. It is also appropriate to conceptualise and study phenomena that are aspects of the Roman complex system as complex systems in their own right: society, politics, economy, religion, institutions, communities, military, micro-regions and others.
  4. Complexity science is a constructive and necessary contribution to existing research perspectives in Roman Studies, providing theoretical approaches and methods for studying key concepts in complex phenomena, such as emergence, self-organisation or self-organised criticality.
  5. Constructively applying complexity science requires breaking through disciplinary silos to look for similar patterns, processes and models across different scientific domains to gain a more holistic view of the system in question and to avoid reinventing the wheel.
  6. To understand the behaviour of complex systems and to propose falsifiable theories of Roman complex systems one needs to use the formal tools developed to represent and study such systems.
  7. A multiscalar approach is integral to studying complex Roman systems, to understand how local interactions of Roman individuals resulted in regional patterns and the dynamics of the whole system.
  8. The plausibility and internal coherence of any hypothesis explaining a data pattern or emergent phenomenon should be formally demonstrated.
  9. Formalism and transparency should be employed in hypothesis formation, testing and reporting as well as in data analysis and management. All research output should be reproducible.
  10. Traditional archaeological and historical methods, fieldwork, geochemical analysis, close reading, epigraphy, numismatics etc. are not in any way less crucial or informative than complexity science approaches. It is only by taking full advantage of all scientific techniques available to us – especially the confrontation of empirical data and modelling approaches – that we can make progress in understanding the Roman past.

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