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ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World

A research project led by Walter Scheidel has launched a website using data-rich modeling and dynamic online tools to reconstruct the time cost and financial expense associated with a wide range of different types of travel and trade in antiquity. The model is based on a simplified version of the giant network of cities, roads, rivers and sea lanes that framed movement across the Roman Empire. ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World provides users with dynamic mapping tools encompassing 751 sites, most of them urban settlements but also including important promontories and mountain passes, and covers close to 10 million square kilometers (~4 million square miles) of terrestrial and maritime space. 268 sites serve as sea ports. The road network encompasses 84,631 kilometers (52,587 miles) of road or desert tracks, complemented by 28,272 kilometers (17,567 miles) of navigable rivers and canals. The model's maritime network consists of 900 sea routes (linking 450 pairs of sites in both directions), many of them documented in historical sources and supplemented by coastal short-range connections between all ports and a few mid-range routes that fill gaps in ancient coverage. Their total length, which varies monthly, averages 180,033 kilometers (111,864 miles). 

ORBIS is the result of collaboration between historians and information technology specialists at Stanford University. The project was designed by Walter Scheidel, a Roman historian in the Classics and History Departments at Stanford. Its implementation was made possible by a Stanford Digital Humanities grant that provided Scheidel with the support of three IT experts. The technology team was led by Elijah Meeks and included geographer/web developer Karl Grossner and Noemi Alvarez. A team including several graduate students in Stanford Classics contributed important content to the project.

Stories about the project have appeared online at The Atlantic, The Economist, the Daily Mail, Mashable and the Stanford Report. The project's website had over 100,000 visitors within three weeks of launching.