Presentation at EAA tomorrow: pre-print online

Tomorrow at the EAA virtual conference I will present in session 487: A NETWORK FOR AGENT-BASED MODELLING OF SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL

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 🙂

  1. 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.
  2. Complex systems simulation is the only suitable approach for identifying emergent properties in complex systems.
  3. The Roman economy was a highly complex systemTheories describing this system are necessarily extremely complicated.
  4. Building complicated models is a step-by-step cumulative process, where simplification is key.
  5. 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.
  6. There are many different and competing views on the nature of the Roman economy. Simulation studies will enhance constructive multivocality of these theoretical debates.
  7. 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.

Present in our session at the Limes congress in Nijmegen, August 2022

Present in our computational modelling session! Submit your abstract by 1 September 2021. Session 31. More information here and below:

We draw your attention to the call for papers for the postponed 21st Limes Congress, that (we sincerely hope) will be held in Nijmegen from 21-27 August 2022 (, submission deadline 1 September). Last year, we submitted a session on computational modelling that we hope will still be of interest to you, either as a presenter, or as attendant (Session 31 – Simulating the Limes. Challenges to computational modelling in Roman Studies).

If you are interested in presenting, please contact us in advance of submitting your paper proposal, so we can try to coordinate things as much as possible. We would also be very grateful if you could spread this call in your own networks,

Looking forward to seeing many of you in Nijmegen,

With best wishes,

Philip Verhagen
Iza Romanowska
Tom Brughmans
Marek Vlach

31. Simulating the Limes. Challenges to computational modelling in Roman Studies

Philip Verhagen

Affiliation: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Session Abstract: The increasing availability of large digital data sets requires archaeologists and historians to develop or adopt new analytical tools in order to detect and understand socio-economic and cultural patterns and to compare these at wider spatial and temporal scales. Simulation and other types of computational modelling are rapidly becoming a key instruments for this type of research. They are used to bridge the gap between theoretical concepts and archaeological evidence. These models can be of an exploratory nature, or attempt to closely emulate historical dynamics, and enable us to understand the mechanisms underlying, for example, e.g. population changes or economic systems.

Despite having access to large amounts of high-quality data, Roman studies have so far been relatively slow in adopting computational modelling, and Limes studies are no exception. The Limes is a particular case since each border region has its own characteristics, environmental setting, cultural background and specific relationship with the ‘core’ but also shares common features derived from being at the ‘outskirts’ of political, economic and cultural life. The interaction between these two dimensions is highly complex. Thus, the Limes constitutes an arena where formal modelling methods have particularly high potential. However, key challenges to this approach are i) the proper integration of archaeological and historical data sets; ii) a good understanding of what proxies to use, and iii) the computational power needed for modelling at larger scales.

We invite papers that showcase examples of modelling within the broader thematic setting of the Limes, taking these challenges into account. Suggested topics of interest are the economy of the Limes, urbanisation and settlement dynamics, demography, military campaigns, and relationships between the Limes, the rest of the Roman Empire and the zones beyond the frontier. Statistical modelling, GIS, simulation (e.g., Agent-based modelling), network models and other types of formal approaches are all welcome. Comparative studies are especially welcomed.

Call for Papers 

The LIMES Congress XXV Scientific Committee is pleased to invite you to submit paper proposals that will present new discoveries and ideas in the field of Roman Frontier Studies. Paper proposals should include the following information:

  • Title of Presentation
  • Speaker information (organization/company, e-mail address)
  • Co-authors information (organization/company, e-mail address)
  • Themed session selection (Please choose general session if paper does not fit in offered session selections) 
  • Abstract of the paper (max 300 words)

Each proposed paper must be submitted online through the LIMES Congress XXV website no later than the 1st of September 2021. Paper proposals will be reviewed by the Session Organisers and the Scientific Committee. The presenter of the paper will be informed by email by mid-February 2022. The congress schedule will be announced by March 2022. Please be aware of the following:

  • To create a well-balanced and diverse congress program only one paper per person is allowed.
  • Presentation time is limited. We advise you to prepare for a ± 15 min presentation. The exact timing and time slot will be communicated once the program is complete.
  • A short Q & A with the audience will be held at the end of each presentation.
  • Session Chairs are also eligible to present one paper or poster.
  • The official congress languages are English, French, and German.
  • In case your paper was not selected for presentation you can be invited to present it in poster format.

Please find below the proposed sessions. If you have any questions please contact us at: 

Stanford lecture simulating Roman economies: register now

Want to hear how I simulate Romans? Then consider attending my lecture at Stanford’s Humanities Center, Data Scarcity Workshop. It’s at 10am pacific time, 7pm CET where I am in Europe.

You can register to attend for free via this link:

And here’s what I will talk about 🙂

Simulating Roman Economies

Computational modelling and especially agent-based modelling (ABM) has been applied in Roman Studies to explore phenomena as diverse as the structure of Roman social networks, the supply of troops on the Limes, flows on the Roman transport system, and the agricultural productivity of regions. This paper will argue that Roman Studies should add modelling approaches as tools of the trade, and will reflect on the potential and challenges of doing so.

The arguments will be illustrated through examples from studies of the Roman economy and my personal experiences as a romanist modeler. I will focus in particular on attempts at explaining the changing distribution patterns of tableware in the eastern Mediterranean. What explanatory factors might be key drivers of this change: the structuring effect of social networks on the flow of information, transport costs, differences in urban population size, the economic strategies of tableware salespeople? A set of increasingly elaborate computational models will be presented to explore the explanatory potential of these factors.

Tom Brughmans is an associate professor at the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet) and Classical Archaeology. His research interests include the study of Roman economic and urban phenomena, past social networks, and visual signalling systems. He performs much of his work by applying computational methods such as network science, agent-based simulation and geographical information systems. His research projects MERCURY and SIMREC developed educational resources and case studies to make simulation studies of the Roman economy more common (Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship and Marie-Curie Individual Fellowship). His ongoing project MINERVA aims to develop a highly detailed network model of the Roman road system, and perform simulation experiments to explore the centuries-long distribution patterns revealed by Roman tableware and amphora data.

Our new publication in JAMT: over half a million pot sherds from Jerash and simulation

Really delighted to announce that our latest paper was recently published open access online in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. It’s the result of years of collaborating between excavators, ceramics specialists and simulation experts. We analysed over half a million ceramics sherds from Jerash (ancient Gerasa, in Jordan), and identified that over 99% of the stuff was locally produced. What really excited me in this collaboration was the discrepancy between this proportion and the tendency for classical archaeologists (including myself) to always focus on imports.

Read the open access paper here.

The proportion of locally produced, regional and imported pottery for (left: ‘total’) all excavated ceramics (n = 625,063; excludes 133,584 topsoil entries), (middle) three securely dated trenches closed by the earthquake event of AD 749 (K n = 10 006; P n = 2184; V n = 10 614) and (right) three trenches consisting of ancient olive oil press installations filled in with ceramics (B n = 58 751; J n = 144 390; N n = 71 555)

Caption feature image: The Jerash Northwest Quarter excavations with trench letters (© Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project)

Why are there so many locally produced ceramics in Jerash, and so few regional and imported ones? This new publication quantitatively analyses the more than half a million sherds that were recorded by the Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project, and discusses different answers to this question. I applies innovative simulation techniques to evaluate whether personal preference for local Jerash products might have played a role. The result? The authors show that three ways of conceptualising preference for the local product might explain the ceramic data pattern, but other theories of preference are less good explanations.


The Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project revealed a robust and striking pattern of the extreme dominance (>99%) of locally produced ceramics over six centuries and across different depositional contexts (in total over half a million pottery sherds). The archaeology of Jerash points towards an exceptional degree of self-sufficiency in craft products: why? The project team implemented a full quantification approach during excavation, manually and digitally recording and counting all pottery and other classes of artefacts. This enabled a full analysis of trends in production and use of ceramics throughout the archaeologically documented history of Jerash and revealed the unexpected pattern of the extreme dominance of local pottery. Archaeologists formulated a set of hypotheses to explain this pattern, and we developed an agent-based model of simple customer preference driving product distribution to evaluate several explanatory factors and their potential interactions. Our simulation results reveal that preference for locally produced ceramics at Jerash might be a plausible theory, but only if its intrinsic value was considered rather high in comparison to other goods, or if it was preferred by a majority of the population, and there was a tendency to follow this majority preference (or a combination of these factors). Here, we present a complete research pipeline of a full quantification of ceramics, analysis and modelling applicable at any archaeological site. We argue that transparent methods are necessary at all stages of an archaeological project: not only for data collection, management and analysis but also in theory development and testing. By focusing on a common archaeological material and by leveraging a range of widely available computational tools, we are able to better understand local and intra-regional distribution patterns of craft products in Jerash and in the ancient eastern Mediterranean.

Results of different simulation experimental setups. Each boxplot represents how close the simulated proportions of local, regional and imported ceramics are to the archaeologically observed ceramics (100 repetitions; 500 time steps; 100 agents)

CFP computational simulation in archaeology

The following session on computational simulation in archaeology will be of interest to readers of this blog.

Dear Colleagues,

The Science and Technology in Archaeology and Culture Research Center (STARC; of the Cyprus Institute ( is pleased to announce the dates for the 2nd International Congress on Archaeological Sciences in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East (ICAS-EMME 2): 12-14 November 2019. Abstract submissions are due on 30th of June, with acceptance notifications in mid-June 2019. More details are here:

We would like to bring the following session to your attention:

Computational Simulations in Archaeology: simulating city network dynamics in the Mediterranean basin.

Today it is widely recognised that computational methods can be used in archaeology to help understanding the transformation of urban conditions and phenomena in time by means of emergence, as well as to help testing and assessing research theories and hypotheses, by bringing together archaeological and environmental data with social systems. These approaches build on complexity theory, social science, urban modelling and economics, urban planning and geography, and network science. This session calls for research on the use of computational methods in the study of archaeological data at the urban scale, with a special focus on Mediterranean cities and city networks and interactions in the EMME region.

This session invites papers that seek to examine Mediterranean city networks, city life, and urban structure by using computational methods, such as:

*      complexity theory and use of archaeological data in urban simulations;

*      modelling / mapping of uncertainty;

*      spatial interaction models;

*      urban modelling and space syntax;

*      urban morphology;

*      geo-spatial data and simulation;

*      agent-based modelling, cellular automata, neural networks, swarm behaviour and emergence in archaeological studies;

*      virtual environments and real-time interactive visualisation of urban/spatial data, for immersion, education and interpretation purposes.

We also welcome papers that use digital tools and data analytics to study spatial interactions, flows, urban dynamics and morphology, and interpret urban phenomena, as well as theoretical papers that discuss the prospects and challenges of the science of cities in archaeology.

Georgios Artopoulos, Eleftheria Paliou and Thilo Rehren on behalf of the Organisation Team


Workshop in Ottawa tomorrow

networks-simulation-workshop-imageIza Romanowska and I have spent the last few weeks at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, doing some awesome Roman networky boardgame “research” with Shawn Graham. You’ll hear more about this cool work soon. Tomorrow we will give a workshop on simulation and networks for the humanities. If you happen to be in the neighbourhood, swing by! If not, get in touch if you are interested and I will share the workshop tutorials with you.

Carleton University, Ottawa, Macodrum Library Discovery Centre RM 481, 11 – 2

networks-simulation-workshop-imageUnderstanding the complexity of past and present societies is a challenge across the humanities. Simulation and network science provide computational tools for confronting these problems. This workshop will provide a hands-on introduction to two popular techniques, agent based modeling and social network analysis. The workshop has been designed with humanities students in mind, so no prior computer experience required.

The workshop is led by Tom Brughmans and Iza Romanowska of University of Konstanz and the University of Southampton, two of the leading digital archaeologists. Brughmans is co-editor of the recent volume, ‘The Connected Past: Challenges to Network Studies in Archaeology and History‘ published by Oxford University Press. Romanowska edits the scholarly blog ‘Simulating Complexity‘ and is a Fellow of the Software Sustainability Institute where she promotes the use of computational methods in the humanities.

Simulating the past: submit your book proposals now

springerSimulation approaches are slowly becoming more mainstream in our discipline, rightly so! This trend will very much be supported by a new book series published by Springer: “Simulating the Past”. I would love to see some network/simulation books in the series. Have an idea for a book in this series? Get in touch with the editors! 1000229 [at] uab [dot] cat

More details here:

In collaboration with Springer Verlag, we are planning a new book series  (“Simulating the Past”) to publish relevant research on the methodological and theoretical aspects of computer simulation in archaeological and historical contexts. Our goal is to adress the theoretical,  technichal and technological aspects of social sciences explanation, in special those aspects related  with historical time, in order to promote deeper understanding and collaboration in the study of past human behavior and history. We would like to find good monographs, PhD dissertations, or ideas for edited volumes from different disciplinary backgrounds: history, ecology, archaeology, anthropology, sociology, computer science and complex systems.  Contributions are welcomed on all subjects (from Anthropology, Archaeology, Geography and Political or Economic History) using different approaches to social simulation and presenting case studies from any region of the world and any prehistoric or historic period. Theoretical aspects of social and cultural evolution are also encouraged.
The topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

• Applications of computational modeling in archaeology and history
• Social organization and change
• Cultural transmission and evolution
• Long term socio-ecology
• Human adaptation and climate change
• Cooperation and social interaction
• Trade and exchange
• Hunter-Gatherers
• Origins of State
• Origins of Agriculture
• Economic History
• History of War and Conflict
• Paleolithic, Neolithic , Ages of Metals
• Greek and Roman History
• Medieval History
• Modern History

If you have an already written text, or do you plan to write such a text in the next two years, we would like to read it and consider for publication with the imprint of Springer Verlag.

The provisional Editorial Board has the follwoing experts in the field:

Series Editor: Juan A. Barceló (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona),

Editorial Board:   Michael Barton (Arizona State University), Claudio Cioffi-Revilla (George Mason University), André Costopoulos (McGill University), Sergey Gavrilets (University of Tennessee), Marco Janssen (Arizona State University), Tim Kohler (Washington State University), Steven Shennan (University College, London), Flaminio Squazzoni (University of Brescia), William J. Turkel (Western Ontario University, Canada).

Geeky fun in Barcelona, part 1 #ssc14

This week I am in beautiful Barcelona for the Social Simulation conference. Not that I can really attest to this city’s beauty – I have never been here before and spent the first two days here almost exclusively in my hotel on campus preparing my paper. This will be a very recognisable experience for frequent conference goers. So Barcelona tourist tips will have to wait until blog posts at the end of the week.

I left my hotel room for two conference events only until now (Wednesday morning): the wine reception and the first keynote. The reception was actually a proper wine tasting, including long speeches about whatever happens in your nose as you taste each wine. It was of course not very surprising that the speaker struggled to keep the attention of the people he just served his produce to, who were struggling not to drown the drink straight away. But it was worth it, the wine was amazing. We were given four wines from a local wine producer, I can definitely recommend having a look at their products. The wine farmer is also experimenting with an archaeologically inspired wine, called Amphora. The clays on his land were used to create large ceramic containers (amphorae) which replace the oak barrels in which the wine matures. Apparently, the result is that the oak barrel taste which sometimes masks fruity and terroir flavours is reduced, and makes place for the amphora flavour (although he struggled to describe what an amphora tastes like since it’s a recent experiment and admittedly I asked a weird question). 

Today I attended the second keynote of the conference, Cesareo Hernandez talking about artificial economics. He argues ABM methods are necessary in economics, largely because his definition of economics demands it. Economics is a social science, according to Hernadez economics inherits complexity from the social part and it demands experimentation because it is a science. This is now generally accepted and experimental economics is part of mainstream economics, although this did not happen without a fight. Economic models now need to incorporate instability, change, and heterogeneous agents. Artificial economics tries to do just that, through computational modelling. These models should also not be created merely for their mathematical beauty but need to be socially relevant. This is something I very much agree with, if only because I understand social relevance far better than maths 🙂 Hernandez argues three key elements should be included in all models: Agents, environments, and institutions. By varying the implementation of these elements, different artificial economies emerge.

Stay tuned for more!


CAA workshop registration open

CAAworkshop_complexity_leafletA while ago I mentioned the workshop in complex systems simulation I will be co-chairing at CAA2013 in Perth. You can now register to attend this workshop via the CAA website. Places are limited so hurry up 🙂

Here is the abstract again, and you can download the programme by clicking on the image.

Dear all,

We would like to draw your attention to a workshop on agent-based modelling in archaeology as part of the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) conference

Ever wondered what all this complex systems talk in archaeology is about, or how to design your own sophisticated simulation model? Then this might be for you:

We will organise a workshop on complex systems and agent-based simulations models in archaeology at the CAA Conference in Perth, Australia, this March. Places are still available but Early Bird Registration to the conference ends on Thursday February 7th, so hurry up to get a discount! The workshop itself is free of charge.

The workshop will take place on Monday March 25th and will consist of a morning and an afternoon session. At the end of the day you will be able to design and program your own simulation model to help you answer your research questions in archaeology or related social sciences – guaranteed …

Registration for the conference at:

Registration to the workshop will be announced on the CAA website soon, but you can already reserve a seat by contacting Carolin at

For further information see the abstract below. A flyer with a detailed programme is attached.

Hope to see you there.

Best wishes,

Carolin, Iza, Tom and Eugene

Carolin Vegvari (Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
Iza Romanowska (Institute for Complex Systems Simulation, University of Southampton)
Tom Brughmans (Archaeological Computing Research Group, University of Southampton)
Eugene Ch’ng (IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre, University of Birmingham)


W1: Complex Systems and Agent-Based Modelling in Archaeology
Chairs: E. Ch’ng, C. Vegvari
Discussants: I. Romanowska, T. Brughmans

Modelling in various forms has always been an integral part of archaeology. In the broadest sense, archaeology is the study of human activities in the past, and a model is a simplified representation of reality. As a map is a useful abstract of the physical world that allows us to see aspects of the world we chose to, so a computational model distils reality into a few key features, leaving out unnecessary details so as to let us see connections. Human societies in their environmental context can be considered as complex systems. Complex systems are systems with many interacting parts, they are found in every hierarchy of the universe, from the molecular level to large planetary systems within which life and humanity with its cultural developments occur. Formal modelling can help archaeologists to identify the relationships between elements within a complex socio-environmental system in that particular hierarchy. Simulating large populations and non-linear interactions are computationally expensive. In recent years, however, the introduction of new mathematical techniques, rapid advances in computation, and modelling tools has greatly enhanced the potential of complex systems analysis in archaeology. Agent-Based Modelling (ABM) is one of these new methods and has become highly popular with archaeologists. In Agent-Based Modelling, human individuals in ancient societies are modelled as individual agents. The interaction of agents with each other and with their environment can give rise to emergent properties and self-organisation at the macro level – the distribution of wealth within a society, the forming of cohesive groups, population movements in climate change, the development of culture, and the evolution of landscape use are among the examples. Thus, the application of Agent-Based Models to hypothesis testing in archaeology becomes part of the question. The ability to construct various models and run hundreds of simulation in order to see the general developmental trend can provide us with new knowledge impossible in traditional approaches. Another advantage of agent-based models over other mathematical methods is that they can easily model, or capture heterogeneity within these systems, such as the different characteristics (personalities, gender, age, size, etc), preferences (coastal, in-land, food, fashion), and dynamics (microstates of position and orientation).

We would like to invite archaeologists new to complex systems and Agent-Based Modelling for an introductory workshop on Complex Systems and Agent-Based Modelling in archaeology. The workshop introduces the concept of Complexity in archaeology, drawing relationships between Information, Computation and Complexity. The practicality of the workshop leads beginners in building simple agent- based models and provides a means to build more complex simulations after. Participants knowledgeable in Complexity wishing to gain insights on real-world applications of Complexity will benefit from this workshop. Participants will get the opportunity to experiment with simple models and draw conclusions from analysis of simulations of those models. Programming experience is not required as the workshop leads beginners from the ground up in modelling tools.

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