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MINERVA: Understanding the centuries-long functioning of the Roman economy

Project: Research

  • University of Oxford
  • The Catalan Institute of Classical Archaeology (ICAC)
  • Brown Univ.
  • George Washington University
See relations at Aarhus University

Description

The archaeology of the Roman Empire offers us a unique glimpse at how large integrated economies can evolve over centuries. However, understanding how centuries-long economic changes emerge from the day-to-day behaviour of individuals requires new methods and vast amounts of data. This project will combine for the first time state-of-the art computer simulation techniques from complexity economics, the integration of newly available large ceramics evidence from hundreds of sites across the Empire needed to test hypotheses, and the first highly detailed model of the Roman road network offering the medium for flows of goods and information.

Funded by a Sapere Aude research leadership grant awarded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark (DFF) for the amount of 6,191,689 DKK.

Layman's description

At its peak, the Roman Empire covered an area similar in size to the European Union, uniting almost 100 million inhabitants. But similarities do not end here: the different peoples, languages and religions within the Empire were united under a single political system with the Roman Emperor at its head, they used the same money, followed the same trade regulations, and were subject to the same legal system. Archaeologists uncover evidence that show the ups and downs of this bustling economy. Amphora containers, for example, were used for centuries to move vast quantities of necessities such as grain from Egypt or olive oil from Spain to the capital of Rome and everywhere else in the Empire. For centuries, the flow of goods and traders along the first European transport network went virtually uninterrupted, despite limited means of communication, and transport technology and infrastructure making sea and road voyages slow and dangerous.

The material remains they left behind offer us a unique glimpse at how huge integrated economies can change and evolve over centuries. But understanding how these complex economic processes emerge from everyday behaviour of individual Romans is not a mean feat. To make this possible, this project combines state-of-the-art computer simulations, archaeological ceramics evidence, and a detailed model of the Roman road network for the first time.

MINERVA addresses three challenges related to ceramics data, Roman roads and centuries-long simulations. First, what changes are visible over periods of centuries in the distribution and consumption of Roman plates, cups, bowls and containers? And what do they reveal about the long-term functioning of the Roman economy? MINERVA aims to quantitatively identify such patterns. Second, what was the structure of the Roman transport network through which such goods were distributed? We currently do not have a highly detained model of this network, and MINERVA aims to create this. And third, How does one simulate aspects of a large economy over a period of centuries? This has never been done before because for other large economies, like the integrated markets of the EU or the US, we simply do not have data for such long timespans. This will be an exciting challenge to explore that will benefit from collaboration with economic historians.
StatusActive
Effective start/end date01/01/202131/12/2024

    Research areas

  • Archaeology, Complexity economics, Economic history, Ceramics, Classical archaeology

Activities

Research outputs

ID: 201375655