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EPNET Report Summary

Project ID: 340828
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Spain

Mid-Term Report Summary - EPNET (Production and distribution of food during the Roman Empire: Economics and political dynamics.)

The summary should be a stand-alone description of the project and its outcomes. This text should be as concise as possible and suitable for dissemination to non-specialist audiences

Ancient History is based on an abductive reasoning, and the evolution of the discipline strongly depends on the capacity of arguing, testing and falsifying previous hypotheses. Over the last couple of centuries, several scholars have developed a variety of hypotheses to explain the organization of the Roman Empire trade system. In this context, the study of food management still represents one of the main debates among the field specialists. However, these hypotheses continue to be speculative and difficult to falsify, due to the lack of a formal framework for the analysis of the available data.

The EPNet project born exactly to overtake this boundary. The main goal of EPNet ( is the use of formal tools for falsifying existing hypotheses concerning the roman economy: understanding which products and in which periods were distributed through the different geographical regions, as well as the role that different political and economic agents could have played for controlling the products and the trade networks. In particular, a key question concerns the role of the state in the construction and control of the economic trade networks.

During the first half of the project:

● We have developed a unique example of semantic database for roman epigraphy, integrating other relevant sources worldwide. We are now building a series of tools for visually exploring and interacting with the data.
● We have improved the availability of data concerning important site such as Monte Testaccio, Xanten and Pompeii through a series of substantial data entry/cleaning and publications.
● We have tested a series of quantitative analyses in specific case studies and selected datasets. This approach was particularly successful for the study of the Testaccio dataset. We were able to identify strong signals of free market. This result was based on the selection of a power-law as the most probable market structure based on existing evidence. This is arguably the first time that this pattern (typically associated to free markets) has been discovered for the Roman Empire.
● We have participated in international and relevant events, actively contributed to the interdisciplinary community of researchers interested in studying cultural evolution through the application of formal methods and tools.

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