4 What Has the Ancient World Mapping Center Done for Us?, Lindsay Holman

What Has the Ancient World Mapping Center Done for Us?

Lindsay Holman, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Center Director)


It all started with the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, published in 2000 by Princeton University Press. The Ancient World Mapping Center was founded that year to continue the cartographic and geographic mission of the APA’s Classical Atlas Project. With the transition from film-based cartography to digital, the Center has worked to create digital cartographic tools, maps and resources without custom software and, whenever possible, available free to students and scholars of the ancient world. Not only does the Center provide these tools and resources, but as part of its emphasis on outreach it has also created educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. There is good physical space for basic GIS training at UNC-Chapel Hill. The Center has offered webinars for students, and its Directors have co-taught GIS seminars. The Center has also sponsored two conferences for discussion of ethical, practical, digital cartography and GIS applications for the study of the ancient world.

After the publication of Barrington, the Center worked to digitize data from it and to develop tools for researchers. During the earliest years of the Center’s work, efforts were made to continue the work of the Classical Atlas Project by digitizing Barrington itself. However, Barrington’s maps were not georeferenced, so they would not fit together seamlessly and they were in any case at two different principal scales. Therefore, the digitization project was deemed unviable. At least Barrington has since been made available as an App for I-pad, which is more affordable and certainly lighter than the hardcover edition.

After full digitization of Barrington was abandoned, efforts turned towards extracting the data from it and making it freely accessible in a format both manipulable and seamless. Closely linked to these efforts was the idea of the Center’s first director, Tom Elliott, the Pleiades Project. Pleiades was originally conceived as a gazetteer to improve, update and expand the Barrington Atlas Directory. Since its creation the Pleiades Project has expanded its geographic and chronological scope, and developed into an online, open-access, open-source gazetteer of places and physical features in an expanded period running from the Ancient Near East to medieval Europe. After launching the Pleiades Project, the Center turned its attention to the creation of Map Tiles by former Director Ryan Horne. These Map Tiles restore the landscape to its ancient aspect, in particular its coastline. The Tiles form the base of all maps that the Center has produced since their creation. Not only does the Center use these Map Tiles, but so now do many others worldwide. In fact the Map Tiles receive nearly one million views a year and are the basis of other scholarly projects, notably the Orbis Project developed at Stanford.

The efforts of digitizing the geographic information in Barrington also led to the development of an interactive mapping application. This “Antiquity-A-la-Carte” enables users to create maps of their own design, with the Map Tiles as a base and drawing on Pleiades Project data and the Center’s database of cultural and physical features to populate the map. Users of Antiquity-A-la-Carte can thus produce and export maps fully tailored to their own needs.

One of the earliest initiatives of the Center, named Maps for Students, was an initiative to make digital maps of the ancient world available for course use through its website. In this way, the Center offered maps produced originally for textbooks, in particular The Romans from Village to Empire and Wheelock’s Latin. Of the Center’s freely available maps, these are the ones most heavily used.

Towards the end of its first decade the Center made Wall Maps of the Ancient World, because there some demand for them persists.  Published by Routledge in 2011, this set of seven was designed with students and instructors primarily in mind, thus to include settlements and features that would be encountered in introductory level high-school and university courses. The maps range in geographic coverage from Near Eastern Empires, Egypt and the Aegean to the Roman Empire, and in thematic coverage from Alexander the Great’s campaigns to Paul’s Journeys. The Wall Maps have since gone out of print and are now offered digitally for free. They can be printed at full-size or reduced.

The Center has also collaborated with scholars to produce cartography for educational atlases. In 2016, the Center worked with Trevor Bryce and Jessie Birkett-Rees to produce 130 maps, city plans and battle plans for their Routledge Atlas of the Ancient Near East: From Prehistoric Times to the Roman Imperial Period. Since 2017, the Center has been actively working with Benet Salway and Hans Van Wees, the editors of the revised edition of Richard Talbert’s Atlas of Classical History. This new edition seeks to improve on the maps and city plans made for the first edition published (Croom Helm, 1985) in grayscale using a film-based process. In the revised edition all the maps will be in color, as the maps are in the Bryce and Birkett-Rees Atlas of the Ancient Near East.

Striking improvements can be seen in the maps for the revised edition, as in the two (seen here) for the Bosporan Realm and Greek Colonization. The 1985 Bosporan Realm map filled its entire frame with most of the Black Sea, even though the majority of places marked are clustered around the Cimmerian Bosporus. The 2017 draft, using ArcGIS software and Map Tiles, re-conceptualizes the Bosporan Realm by dedicating the main map to the Bosporus, while having just an inset of the entire Black Sea region in order to show the remaining settlements beyond the Bosporus itself. The use of color has substantially clarified the relationship between each metropolis and its colonies for the Greek Colonization map. Under the constraints of frame size and grayscale, the 1985 map used only numbers to demonstrate that relationship on the map. The revised map introduces colored symbols to show which colonies were founded by which metropolis, and reserves numbers to distinguish colonies which founded further colonies. The insets have been increased in size to enable students to more easily study the geographic areas with the highest concentrations of colonization.

As part of its mission, the Center has an active research agenda to produce maps for specialists. Three notable projects are the companion website which accompanies Richard Talbert’s Rome’s World: The Peutinger Map Reconsidered (published by Cambridge University Press), the Wall Map of Asia Minor in the Second Century CE, and the Maps for Texts Series. One of the Center’s most demanding projects was to make a seamless map of all eleven segments of the Peutinger Map, which is 22 feet long. The viewer for it has been generously hosted online since 2010 by the Institute for Study of the Ancient World at New York University. This viewer is an interactive application which allows users to pan the full length of the map smoothly; users can also add on layers for study of geographical and cultural features.

The Wall Map of Asia Minor is at a scale of 1:750,000 showing the major settlements, roads, and Roman provinces as they were in the second century CE. This map draws on the Map Tiles and the relevant shapefiles produced by the Center based on data from the Barrington Atlas. The scale is midway between the 1:500,000 in Barrington for the west of Asia Minor, and 1:1,000,000 for the East. The work was spread over several years, with adjustments being made following guidance from Timothy Mitford and Stephen Mitchell. The map was released digitally in 2017 and can be printed at any size; full size is 80 by 50 inches.

The Center’s Maps for Texts series emerged from the work on the Wall Map of Asia Minor. The series is freely available under the creative commons license for educational purposes. It encompasses our research projects that compile maps for ancient Greek and Latin texts which would specially benefit from this type of illustration. So far as is known, these texts were not accompanied by maps in antiquity. In some cases, the Center seeks to update maps which were made to accompany a text in the 20th century. At present, the Maps for Texts series includes maps for six texts, with a seventh project currently under way. I will highlight some of these now. However, if you care to learn more today, some of these maps are displayed in the Center’s AIA Poster Session which follows immediately after this session.

So far, the series includes two interactive maps and four static maps. Those texts with a large number of locatable political, geographic and cultural features are better suited to an interactive digital format. An interactive mapping application allows for the seamless display of all features. Former Director Ryan Horne has played a key role in the Center’s development of the two interactive maps in the series. The first is an interactive web application of Strabo’s Geography to accompany Duane Roller’s 2014 translation published by Cambridge University Press. The map includes all locatable geographic and cultural features in the text. Not only can users of the map see the scope of the Geography, but they can also zoom in to further investigate areas of interest. Readers of the translation in e-book format can click on links within the text to the map. Second, the Center followed up this mapping for Strabo with an interactive map of Hierokles’ Synekdemos. This map and accompanying Directory are available online; the Center has also made Ernest Honigmann’s 1939 edition of the text available via Dropbox. The Center’s map is intended to improve on the four printed outline maps which accompany Honigmann’s edition. At present, the Center is working on an interactive map of the geographical books of Pliny’s Natural History to accompany the translation being prepared by Brian Turner and Richard Talbert.

For the other four projects in the series, the Center has produced single static maps to accompany the texts. In one instance we have produced two static maps for a single text – namely, for Ptolemy’s Kanon of Important Cities the Center produced one static map of the cities on a Ptolemy projection and another on a modern projection. The map plotted on Ptolemy’s projection uses the base as drawn for Alfred Stückelberger’s edition of the Geography (kindly shared with us) and adopts Ptolemy’s coordinates for the sites. The modern projection uses the modern coordinates (drawn from the Barrington Atlas and Pleiades data) for the cities Ptolemy names. For the remaining three static maps in the Maps for Text Series, we have created digital maps available for download of Arrian’s description of the Black Sea in his Periplous (again at 1:750,000, and with an accompanying directory of places); Theophanes’ journeys between Hermopolis and Antioch as preserved in Rylands Papyri; and Dionysius’ Anaplous of the Bosporus.

The Center has welcomed some opportunities for collaborating on interdisciplinary projects which may extend beyond its regular geographic or temporal scope. In 2003, the Center produced maps for the Ancient Celtic Placenames of Europe project directed by Professor Patrick Sims-Williams based in Wales. The Center also accepted a commission to produce color maps for the Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage published in 2012. In 2018, the Center gladly produced maps for Jamie Kreiner’s monograph focused on Early Medieval Europe, including Scandinavia and Iceland.

As part of its mission the Center has sought to create hands-on educational opportunities for students as well as to reach out through lectures, conferences and webinars. Above all, the Center is an interdisciplinary research hub which provides basic training in cartographic research and GIS software for UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate and graduate students. The Center’s cartographic research assistants reflect a variety of educational backgrounds – from undergraduates majoring in Classics, History, Geography and other disciplines, to graduate students in History and Information and Library Science. The Center has organized two conferences on digital cartography and GIS applications for the ancient world, the first in April 2016, and the second recently (last November) in partnership with two departments at Duke University. At both, the emphasis was on offering graduate students and junior faculty the opportunity to present their work and their approaches to integrating cartography into the classroom; participants came from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

For the future, on the one hand we at the Center believe that our efforts are worthwhile endeavors and that we should remain committed to these kinds of activity in the future. So we mean to continue to produce commissioned print cartography, working with many scholars to produce maps of all kinds to accompany their monographs and articles. We also remain committed to produce freely available digital maps, both static and interactive, as part of our Maps for Texts series. The Center remains committed, too, to producing resources for students. So far, most of the maps we have produced for them are geographically focused on the Roman world. We are working to redress this imbalance, a goal which will partially be accomplished with the revised edition of the Atlas of Classical History, since it has extensive geographic and temporal coverage of the Greek world.

On the other hand, we are looking to branch out. One project that has been considered is an outgrowth of one of our Maps for Texts projects. After the success of the Ptolemy Kanon map, the Center has grappled with the possibility of producing a seamless map for Ptolemy’s entire Geography on a base of Ptolemy’s projection. With the help of experts in UNC’s School of Information and Library Science, the Center has tested the viability of the project, but at present is pausing to reflect before proceeding further with such an ambitious undertaking. Another new avenue is the Center’s collaborative role in work on the Marble Plan of Rome, which Elizabeth Wolfram Thill will speak about next. The Center is also interested to consider areas of cartography where it has yet to venture, such as Ground Penetrating Radar and Remote Sensing. Given the Center’s small size, it must rely on partnerships with other disciplines with specialized expertise. We are especially grateful for the partnerships we maintain with UNC’s School of Information and Library Science, and with ISAW for Pleiades. We welcome the opportunity to develop partnerships within UNC-Chapel Hill and elsewhere in order to expand our work.

To conclude, almost twenty years on, we hope that the Center can be regarded as having done a lot in various ways for the field. It means to continue doing more, and different, work. Altogether, it seems fair to say that the Center has been a remarkably productive and unexpected successor to the Classical Atlas Project which the APA initiated.


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