Tomorrow at the EAA virtual conference I will present in session 487: A NETWORK FOR AGENT-BASED MODELLING OF SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS IN ARCHAEOLOGY (NASA).
I will be presenting seven claims about why we should simulate Roman economies. And if you’re not into Romans, that’s OK: the claims are very generalisable to all of archaeology 🙂
The presentation will be based on a paper that is in print, in an entire volume dedicated to simulating Roman economies. Check out the preprint of the paper on Academia.
And if you can’t wait, here’s the seven claims already 🙂
Formal modelling and computational simulation are necessary techniques for explicitly representing our complicated theories (or aspects of them), and for testing them against historical and archaeological evidence.
Complex systems simulation is the only suitable approach for identifying emergent properties in complex systems.
The Roman economy was a highly complex system. Theories describing this system are necessarily extremely complicated.
Building complicated models is a step-by-step cumulative process, where simplification is key.
Simulation should be integrated as one of our tools of the trade. This is an addition to and enrichment of current practice; it is not in conflict with current practice.
There are many different and competing views on the nature of the Roman economy. Simulation studies will enhance constructive multivocality of these theoretical debates.
Good simulation studies of the Roman economy necessarily rely on collaboration across specialisms (where simulation is a specialism in the same way as ceramology or osteology). Encouraging this means integrating the basics of simulation approaches into education in classical studies.
The Romans built an expansive road network. Thousands of kilometres of very well-designed roads connected regions as far apart as present-day Britain, Morocco, Egypt and Turkey. This network shaped and structured European transport systems in ways that are clearly visible today. In the centuries that followed the Roman Empire, people and goods still very much followed Roman routes, and subsequent kingdoms and empires gradually elaborated and modified the Roman core of the transport system. But even today, many of the key transport routes throughout Europe still follow the ancient Roman transport system.
Many research topics in Roman Studies are dependent on a good knowledge of the Roman road system. How did the Roman military march from one frontier to another, and how were they supplied with the necessary subsistence goods? What routes did inland distribution of grain and oil follow to supply for the needs of urban populations? A good understanding of the Roman road system is even crucial for studies of movements of people and goods in later periods, because this system was so foundational for European infrastructure.
So Roman roads are important. Sadly, this importance is not reflected in the available resources needed for exploring these research topics. To be clear, Roman roads have received vast amounts of research attention, their tracks are very well documented for most parts of the Empire, as are associated objects like Roman milestones and waystations. The issue lies in the aggregation of this evidence and research. Detailed information derived from excavations of parts of Roman roads is often not systematically used to update regional road maps, if such regional aggregations even exist. This has led to a very patchy overall picture: for some regions which have seen a lot of research attention we have a pretty good and detailed picture of the Roman road system, such as Italy, France or Britain; but for other regions there has been very little aggregation of Roman road evidence. Few of these regional aggregations have been digitised and even fewer are openly accessible online.
A highly detailed digital version of the entire Empire that aggregates all known evidence of Roman roads simply does not exist. I find this incredible, given the importance of such a resource for Roman Studies and the sheer amount of attention Roman roads have received.
A few digital models for the entire empire do exist, but these are nowhere near representative of what we actually already know about Roman roads (nor do they claim to be). The roads of the Iberian Peninsula in figure 1 offer a striking example for comparing existing digital models. At the top of figure 1 we have theORBIS model, a very useful network representation of the Roman transport system. It was purposefully kept very abstract and low detail because it serves as a tool to study the overall shape of movement through the Roman world. In the middle of figure 1 we can see the much more detailed spatial tracks of Roman roads captured in the Empire-wide road network available from the Ancient World Mapping Centre. This is currently the most detailed empire-wide digital representation of Roman roads. These are digitisations of the canonical atlas of the ancient world (the Barrington Atlas), which maps the roads throughout the entire empire in what seems like very high detail. However, the discrepancy between this source and the amount of detail we get when aggregating published evidence of roads becomes clear from the bottom of figure 1. Not only do we see far more roads (most of them are minor roads), but we also notice that the actual spatial tracks of these roads are far more detailed.
This example at the bottom of figure 1 is the result Dr Pau de Soto’s work in his project MERCATOR-E, where he aggregated available evidence for the Iberian Peninsula. But this kind of work is possible for the entire Roman Empire. The challenge is not to perform the foundational research, it is to digitise and aggregate what is already known.
To support this process, Pau de Soto and I teamed up to develop project Itiner-e (supported by a grant from Pelagios). This is the first gazetteer of ancient roads: a framework where parts of roads can be digitally documented in full detail and uniquely cited, such that this data can be linked with other linked open data.
The work of developing a highly detailed model for the entire empire is underway. In the meantime, we can already road-test some of our research questions with the useful resources from ORBIS or the Ancient World Mapping Centre. For example: it is often said all roads lead to Rome, but which roads get you there faster?
In figure 2, I have used the ORBIS model to explore this question. Every dot is a city in the Roman Empire, and the lines indicate the ability to move from one city to another over Roman transport links. Grey lines are roads, green lines are navigable rivers, and red lines are sea connections.
The size and colour of the dots represents how close each city is to Rome over the transport system; the larger and darker, the further away from Rome. This is achieved by calculating the fastest route over this network from every city to Rome: a GPS or Google Maps function for the Roman route map.
This geographical representation of the transport network reveals some interesting features. We can see an obvious general trend that the closeness to Rome decreases with as-the-crow-flies distance, even though we used network distance to calculate these results. We notice that much of present-day Tunisia, the region of ancient Carthage, is relatively close to Rome thanks to efficient maritime links. We can also see that the farthest western cities on the British Isles are still closer in network distance than the farthest cities along the Nile, the Black Sea and in Mesopotamia.
Figure 3 represents this same network in a different way: we have thrown away all geographical locations and the map, and just positioned each dot based on how it is connected to all other dots (a so-called network topological layout). This alternative visualisation highlights different things. Notice how almost all lines at the centre of the picture are sea routes: this network representation reveals that the maritime connections draw all regions’ road networks together, and that they facilitate fast movement throughout the entire transport system.
This is just an abstract example, which highlights the kinds of general insights about Roman transport we can gain thanks to an Empire-wide model such as ORBIS. A more detailed model would allow us not only to derive such results with more accuracy, but also to better understand the role of particular regions’ road structures in giving rise to the Empire-wide patterns. Creating such a high-detail digital model involves a lot of work aggregating existing sources, but it is an entirely doable task. And clearly, such a valuable resource is worth pursuing, which I aim to do over the coming years at UrbNet.
Carreras, C. & P. De Soto. 2013. The roman transport network: A precedent for the integration of the European mobility Historical Methods 46: 117–33.
From abacus to calculus. Computational approaches to Roman Economy
The study of the Ancient economy is an interdisciplinary endeavour on the intersection of archaeology, classics and historical economy, that tries to reconcile evidence from written and material sources across a wide range of regions, with different degrees of data availability and diverse traditions of studying these sources. The ‘Roman economy’ is a concept that has many possible interpretations, and accommodates a wide range of case studies from estimating production capacities and local trade networks to Empire-wide investigations on demography, wealth distribution and trade volumes.
With the advent of ever-growing and better accessible digital datasets, increasing computer power and more sophisticated computer science approaches to data mining and modelling, the analysis of the Roman economy is now entering a new stage. We can now start to meaningfully connect disparate data sets and use formal computational modelling to explore their potential, e.g., to elucidate the mechanisms that led to the different economic trajectories in the various parts of the Empire, or to reconstruct the social and political networks that enabled economic growth.
In this session, we invite speakers to present studies of the Roman economy that have used computational modelling as a tool to bridge the gap between fragmented, disconnected data sets and interpretive frameworks. This can include but is not limited to:
– statistical modelling,
– data mining,
– agent-based modelling and simulation,
– network analysis,
– spatial modelling
– machine learning,
– or a combination of approaches.
These can be applied to any topic relevant to Roman Economy: demography, land use, trade networks, craft production, finance, administration and others. We are also welcoming more theoretically oriented papers on the role of computational modelling in historical economic studies of the Roman Empire and comparative case studies from other periods.
Don’t know what to buy family and friends for Christmas? Get our board game! The perfect combo of awesome ancient history empire building and new academic perspectives. It makes you think AND happy at the same time, imagine that!
If you order now the game should arrive on time for Christmas (see unboxing video below for contents). No profits are made on the game. A note on shipping: our online shop is based in the US and international shipping is expensive. However, up to 5 games fit into a single shipping box, so we recommend you combine your orders to split the shipping costs. For international purchases we also recommend you select priority shipping, because it will allow you to track your package in the likely case customs apply in the delivery country.
This is a board game by archaeologists for everyone. It was made by Iza Romanowska, Shawn Graham and myself. We wanted to do a fun public outreach activity that highlights key aspects of our research: how can we simulate the Roman economy? We find that simulation is very much like playing a board game. The only difference being that a simulation is played by a computer hundreds or thousands of times rather than by you and your family fighting over the rules during the Christmas break. The disagreements and discussions that arise over playing a board game we actually find very similar to the process we go through when making a computer simulation. Why is this rule the way it is? Is it really the best representation of the Roman world? Why don’t we change it and see what happens? This is why we thoughts a board game is the ideal format to share this part of our research.
Mod your game and let us know what you think! Disagree with us, simulate your own Roman economy, publish your findings!
In our original work we argued that computational modelling should become more commonly used in the study of the Roman economy, because it holds the potential of overcoming the current deadlock in Roman macroeconomic debates by formally expressing and comparing the many interesting conflicting descriptive models, simulating their predicted behaviour (in terms of distributions of goods and prices) and comparing these simulations with archaeological data such as distributions of ceramics.
Astrid Van Oyen wrote an elaborate discussion piece, reviewing the beneficial and challenging aspects of this kind of work. She usefully and correctly places the potential of this method within current Roman economic debates, arguing for the timeliness of the approach. However, most of Van Oyen’s piece is concerned with problematising three aspects of the approach, asking whether these pose problems, and constructively thinking through possible alternatives:
Can formalist modelling yield primitivist results?
Do the big archaeological datasets of ceramics necessarily have to be interpreted in light of the flow of commodities?
Is it possible to consider heterogeneity in agent behaviour?
In our reply, we answer the first question with a firm “yes”. We find the link commonly drawn between primitivist theories and substantivist methods on the one hand, and modernist theories and formalist methods on the other, an unhelpful and unnecessary byproduct of common practice in Roman economy studies. We argue we have shown in our own work that primitivist ideas can be formally explored (agents with limited information, the effects of social network structures), and that much more of this kind of work is necessary.
We find this debate hugely important and constructive, because we have argued that Roman economy studies is stuck in a deadlock due to a number of issues:
Many models use different and sometimes ill-defined concepts to describe the complexities of the Roman economy, making them difficult to compare.
The concepts used often lack specifications as to how they may be explored using data, i.e. what sort of patterns would be expected as the outcome of hypothetical processes.
Consequently, the development of these conceptual models has not gone hand in hand with the development of approaches to represent, compare and (where possible) validate them formally.
The role of archaeological data in testing conceptual models, although increasingly recognised, deserves greater attention, as it is the only source of information on the functioning and performance of the Roman economy that can be used for quantitative validation of complex computational and conceptual models.
Brughmans and Poblome 2016. Antiquity.
We sincerely hope that together we can position computational modelling in its rightful place in Roman studies to constructively contribute to ongoing substantive debates. We have argued that in order for this to happen, a few things are necessary:
authors of conceptual models should:
(a) clearly define the concepts used and discuss exactly how these differ from the concepts used by others,
(b) make explicit how these concepts can be represented as data,
(c) describe the expected behaviour of the system using the defined concepts,
(d) describe the expected data patterns resulting from this behaviour, and
(e) define how (if at all) archaeological and historical sources can be used as reflections or proxies of these expected data patterns.
Brughmans and Poblome 2016 http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/19/1/3.html 5.6
Want to know more? Have a look at discussion through the links below:
We invite papers for a session on complexity science/advanced data analysis/formal modelling at the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC, Edinburgh, 12-14 April 2018). Please find the abstract below. This is a double session, the first part ‘Exploring Complex Systems’ will focus on finding patters, defining relationships and exploring past complexity, while the second part ‘Understanding Change’ will showcase applications of formal methods to understand social and economic processes and change.
If you would like to discuss your paper before submitting, please feel free to contact us (see cc).
Tom Brughmans, John W. Hanson, Matthew J. Mandich, Iza Romanowska, Xavier Rubio-Campillo
Call for papers, session at Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Edinburgh 12-14 April 2018:
Formal Approaches to Complexity in Roman Archaeology: Exploring Complex Systems and Understanding Change
Part 1: Exploring Complex Systems
Part 2: Understanding Change
Session Organisers: Tom Brughmans (University of Oxford) – John W. Hanson (University of Colorado) – Matthew J. Mandich (University of Leicester) – Iza Romanowska (Barcelona Supercomputing Center) – Xavier Rubio-Campillo (University of Edinburgh)
In recent years archaeologists have increasingly employed innovative approaches used for the study of complex systems to better interpret and model the social, political, and economic structures and interactions of past societies. However, for the majority of Roman archaeologists these approaches remain elusive as a comprehensive review and evaluation is lacking, especially regarding their application in Roman archaeology.
In brief, a complex system is made up of many interacting parts (‘components’ or ‘agents’) which form a whole that is more than the sum of its parts – i.e. the interactions of these parts lead to emergent behaviors or outcomes that cannot be (easily) predicted by examining the parts individually. While such systems are characterized by their unpredictable, adaptive, and/or non-linear nature, they are (often) self-organising and governed by observable rules that can be analysed via various methods. For example, many past phenomena, such as urbanism or the functioning of the Roman economy, are complex systems composed of multiple interacting elements and driven by the diverse processes acting upon individuals inhabiting the ancient world. Thus, they can be explored using the approaches and methods of complexity science.
The study of complex systems has primarily been undertaken in contemporary settings, in disciplines such as physics, ecology, medicine, and economics. Yet, as the complex nature of ancient civilizations and their similarity to present-day systems is being steadily realized through ongoing analysis, survey, and excavation, archaeologists have now begun to use methods such as scaling studies (e.g. settlement scaling theory), agent-based modeling, and network analyses to approach this complexity. Since these methodologies are designed to examine the interactions and feedback between components within complex systems empirically, they can provide new ways of looking at old data and old problems to supply novel conclusions. However, such methods have only been applied sporadically in ancient settings, and even less so in a Roman context or using Roman archaeological data.
Thus, in this two part session we aim to bring these methods, and the Roman archaeologists using them, together by offering a critical review of the theoretical and empirical developments within the study of past complex systems and their interplay with existing ideas, before investigating how we might capitalize on the new opportunities afforded by them in the future. Part I of this session, ‘exploring complex systems’, is concerned with examining and unraveling the underlying structures present in the archaeological record using the formal tools provided by the complex systems framework. Part II, ‘understanding change’, will focus on applications exploring the dynamics of change that generated the patterns observed in existing evidence. In particular, we invite contributions using formal methods including computational modelling and simulation, GIS, and network analyses, as well as diverse theoretical approaches to better understand ancient complex systems.
Is network science useful for Roman studies? What’s so great about it, and what’s not? In January I gave a keynote talk on the topic at ‘Finding the limits of the Limes’. The talk was caught on film, so you can judge my arguments for yourself. It starts a bit negative but ends on a hopeful note (spoiler alert: I LOVE networks). Talk abstract below the video.
Roman studies are all over network science! In particular the team behind the ‘Finding the limits of the Limes’ project at the VU Amsterdam. They’ve been doing some really cool network analyses of Roman socio-economic and transport networks. Next month they will be hosting a major conference. The program is available on the project website, and it includes a whole session on networks. A few seats are still available so don’t hesitate to sign up and attend.
Welcome and opening lectures
Nico Roymans (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): Setting the scene: characterising Batavian society at the edge of empire in the Dutch river area
Philip Verhagen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): Modelling the cultural landscape of the Dutch Roman Limes: approach, results and prospects
Session 1: Modelling subsistence economy
Session keynote: Wim Jongman (University of Groningen): What did the Romans ever do for us?
Jamie Joyce (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): Simulating the Roman farm
Tilman Baum (University of Basel): Models of Land-use in the Neolithic Pile-Dwellings of the Northwestern Pre-Alpine Forelands (4400-2400 BC)
Antoni Martín i OIiveras (University of Barcelona): The economy of Roman wine. Productive landscapes, archaeological data, quantification and modelling. Case Study Research: “Regio Laeetana-Hispania Citerior Tarraconensis” (1st century BC-3th century AD)
Tyler Franconi (University of Oxford): Cultivating change: Roman agricultural production and soil erosion in the Thames River basin
Maurice de Kleijn (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam):Simulating land-use for the Lower Rhine-Meuse delta in the Roman period Eli Weaverdyck (University of California, Berkeley): Farmers and Forts in Moesia Inferior: Modelling agricultural strategies on the Lower Danubian Frontier
Session 2: Modelling demography
Session keynote: Isabelle Séguy (Institut National des Études Démographiques, Paris)
Philip Verhagen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): From population dynamics to settlement patterns. Linking archaeological data to demographic models of the Dutch limes.
Wim De Clercq (University of Ghent): The Disastrous Effects of the Roman Occupation!? Population dynamics and rural development on the fringes of the Roman Empire: theories and models.
Chris Green (University of Oxford): Modelling evidence densities: past population variation or modern structuring affordances? The case of England from the Iron Age to the early medieval period. Antonin Nüsslein (École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris): A different vision of ancient settlement dynamics: creation and application of a model of evolution of theAntique habitat of the Plateau Lorrain
Friday 27 Jan 2017 09:30 – 17:30
Session 3: Modelling transport
Session keynote: Dimitrij Mlekuž (University of Ljubljana): The archaeology of movement
Mark Groenhuijzen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): Diverse movement in a dynamic environment: modelling local transport in the Dutch part of the Roman limes
Rowin van Lanen (University of Utrecht/Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands):Shopping for wood during the first millennium AD: modelling Roman and early-medieval long-distance transport routes in the Netherlands using a multi-proxy approach
César Parcero-Oubiña (INCIPIT, Santiago de Compostela): Postdicting Roman Roads in the NW Iberian Peninsula Katherine Crawford (University of Southampton): Walking Between Gods and Mortals: reconsidering the movement of Roman religious processions
Session 4: Modelling socio-economic networks
Session keynote: Tom Brughmans (University of Konstanz): Network science in Roman studies: the potential and challenges
Mark Groenhuijzen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam): Possibilities and challenges in the use of networks to study socio-economic relations in the Dutch part of the Roman limes
Pau de Soto (Universidade Nova de Lisboa): Network analysis to model and analyse Roman transport and mobility
Angelo Castrorao Barba (University of Palermo), Stefano Bertoldi (University of Pisa), Gabriele Castiglia (Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology): Multi-scalar approach to long-term dynamics, spatial relations and economic networks of the Roman secondary settlements in Italy: towards a model?
This position might be of interest to those with some strong computer science skills. The roman EPnet project is fantastic and allows you to work with some great network scientists to study the Roman economy. And Barcelona is not a bad place to live either 🙂
BSC-CNS (Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación) is the National Supercomputing Facility in Spain and manages MareNostrum, one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe. The mission of BSC-CNS is to investigate, develop and manage information technology in order to facilitate scientific progress. With this aim, special dedication has been taken to areas such as Computer Sciences, Life Sciences, Earth Sciences and Computational Applications in Science and Engineering
The Social Simulation group from the Computer Applications & Engineering Department at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center is offering a postdoc position on Computer Science available in the ERC-project “EPNet. Production and Distribution of Food during the Roman Empire: Economic and Political Dynamics” (http://www.roman-ep.net/). The project involves an exciting opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary project aimed to explore the use of computer simulation in the study of human behavior.
The candidate would contribute to the creation of new social simulation paradigms through research and development of Pandora, a new open-source Agent-Based Modelling framework, currently being developed at BSC: http://www.bsc.es/computer-applications/pandora-hpc-agent-based-modelling-framework Also, have to be interested in the use of mathematical techniques in social sciences. Specifically in the use of statistical modeling, artificial intelligence and game theory to model social phenomena.
Integration in the development team that is creating and maintaining the Pandora framework.
Full responsibility on statistical analysis of archaeological data.
Development of computer simulations designed to explore trade dynamics and cultural evolution.
Supervision of PhD Students
PhD in Applied Mathematics or Computer Science
Knowledge and professional experience
C/C++ and Python programming languages
Experience with agent based models and Bayesian statistics
Experience in the use of simulation applied to archeological research and cultural modeling will be highly valuated. Especially if it is applied to archeological sites of the Roman empire
In order to be successful in this role the candidate should have:
Excellent written and verbal communication skills in English
Able to have a conversation in Spanish
Ability to work in a professional environment within a multidisciplinary and international team
Knowledge of design principals to improve visual communication of data. Knowledge of design software (e.g. Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign) will be valued
The position will be located at BSC within the CASE department in collaboration with the specific program coordinator
A competitive salary will be provided, matched to the cost of living in Barcelona, depending on the value of the candidate
Duration of the contract: temporary
Starting date: asap
All applications must be done through the BSC website including:
Motivation letter and a statement of interest, including two recommendation letters or contacts
A full CV including contact details
Diversity and Equal Opportunity Employment
BSC-CNS is an equal opportunity employer committed to diversity and inclusion. We are pleased to consider all qualified applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, disability or any other basis protected by applicable state or local law