Ever wondered how long it would take to travel from Rome to Constantinople at the peak of the Roman Empire? Or from Luna to Larissa? Or Parma to Thessalonica? This map of the Roman World created at Stanford University is awesomely realistic — all the ancient transportation lines on it actually existed 2,000 years ago.
Tell us, would you like to travel to Rome by road, river or open sea? Would you stick to the coasts or set a course through the mainland? During which month would you journey? Would you opt for the fastest route (bearing in mind that the shortest course does not always translate to the quickest passage) or the cheapest? Speaking of expenses, how much would this journey cost you, anyway? (Please give your answer in denarii.)
Confused? Overwhelmed? Fear not — ORBIS is here to help you plan your trip. ORBIS is Stanford University's geospatial network model of the Roman World. It's fully interactive (as we alluded to above, you can adjust time of travel, mode of travel, starting points and destinations, and so on); highly customizable (select from fourteen different modes of transportation — and that's just road travel); and positively bursting with information. It's a little like Oregon Trail meets Civilization, only without the dysentery and with infinitely more historical and comparative data. Yes, it is awesome, and — if you're into this sort of thing — enormously time consuming.
For the first time, ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic [featured above is a depiction of navigable sea routes in July, with coastal routes in blue and overseas routes in green], this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.
Taking account of seasonal variation and accommodating a wide range of modes and means of transport, ORBIS reveals the true shape of the Roman world and provides a unique resource for our understanding of premodern history. [Featured below: a contour map of travel time to Rome in July.]
You can learn a little more about using ORBIS in this introductory video, but we highly recommend heading over to the ORBIS website, where you'll learn more about this geospatial model's applications and its historically rich digital architecture. This is really, really impressive stuff.
Top image via Shutterstock