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Simulating Roman Economies. Studying the Roman Economy through computational network modelling and archaeological big data

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SIMREC (Simulating Roman Economies. Studying the Roman Economy through computational network modelling and archaeological big data)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-04-30

SIMREC (Simulating Roman Economies) explores the most hotly debated questions about the Roman economy: was the Roman Imperial trade market equally integrated as nowadays? Did Roman traders in all parts of the Empire have access to reliable commercial information from distant parts of the empire, such as the price of grain in Egypt or of oil in southern Spain? How important were social networks for structuring the flow of this information?

Answering such questions will allow us to better understand how massive integrated economies functioned over huge timescales. In fact, the Roman Empire offers one of the few historical cases where information about the functioning and performance of the economy can be traced for centuries. This is thanks to well-studied material artefacts archaeologists have uncovered in their millions around the Mediterranean, most notably Roman ceramics but also stone, shipwrecks, glass, metals and much more. In combination with texts written by ancient authors and ancient inscriptions, these artefacts allow us to explore big trends in the Roman economy. Identifying such centuries-long trends is something we simply cannot do for present-day huge integrated economies such as the EU or the US, for the simple reason that they have not existed for long enough in their strongly integrated form. The study of the Roman economy therefore offers us some unique glimpses of how large integrated market economies might work over centuries-long timescales.

But archaeologists and historians struggle to obtain such insights due to a number of methodological issues. The overall objective of project SIMREC is to help overcome two of these issues: the limited use of archaeological big data in Roman economy studies and the lack of quantitative comparisons of complex hypotheses. In doing so, SIMREC will significantly add to the accumulated knowledge on the Roman economy and will enable for the first time essential quantitative comparisons between the centuries-long Roman record and modern-day economies.
The initial phase of the project focused on establishing the collaborations, training and resources necessary to successfully achieve its aims.

- The ER followed intensive training in Spanish at B1 level at the University of Barcelona, to facilitate collaboration with colleagues in his host institution.
- The ER has been integrated in the ClabB and UBICS research groups of the host institution, with the support of the supervisor and staff at the host department.
- Twitter and website presences were established to help communicate the progress and findings of the project.
- A collaboration was established with the CEIPAC team of the University of Barcelona, who are experts in the study of Roman Amphorae. Training was received in critically using the amphorae data in their database and the aims of our collaborative research were established. This data is being prepared for analysis.
- A collaboration was established with the Palmyra Portrait Project led by Prof. Rubina Raja (Aarhus University). The names and portraits studied by this project reveal unique glimpses of ancient social network structure, some of which shows potential of being linked to the trade activities of this important caravan city. Given it is a key aim of SIMREC to explore the social network structures that structured the flow of trade information, a collaboration with on this topic will prove highly insightful. The research aims of our collaboration have been established and the data is being prepared for analysis.
- A literature review of Roman economic integration is being prepared. Access to the necessary literature has been obtained.
- A sensitivity analysis of a previously published computational model of trade in Roman tableware has been prepared in collaboration with Joris Kanters and Dr Iza Romanowska.
- An analysis of the structure of the Roman Imperial road network has been prepared in collaboration with Laura Paredes-Fortuny and Dr Luce Prignano.
- A data collection strategy and data management system is being prepared for high detail tracks of Roman roads as linked open data, in collaboration with Dr Pau de Soto and Dr Rainer Simon.
The collaborations focused on the Roman road infrastructure and its impact on Roman economic integration are expected to significantly improve the amount and detail of openly available Roman road data. It is expected to result in the first linked open data gazetteer of ancient routes.
The collaboration on Roman amphora data will result in new insights about the academic context of Roman amphora studies. An initial analysis was performed of the citations of amphorae stamps by archaeologists and historians, revealing new insights into the historiography of Roman amphora stamp research.
Genealogies derived from epigraphy and portraits from Palmyra will be represented as networks and studied using network science techniques for studying kinship networks. This is expected to offer glimpses of the network structure of Palmyrene social networks, providing a social context for some of the traders known from written sources.
Preliminary results of Roman amphora network analysis, showing amphorae (blue) cited by publications