Digital Tools for Ancient Historians

Organised by Koenraad Verboven ()

with support by the Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities

Date: 8 december 2017
Location: Room 1.3 'Fernand Rogiers' (click here for details)
Campus Tweekerken, Hoveniersberg (UGent)
Hoveniersberg 24


Feedback, advice, and reflection: Pieter-Jan De Potter (GCDH)


Trismegistos: an identification and research tool for Ancient World texts

Tom Gheldof, Catholic University of Leuven (KUL)

Trismegistos [; abbreviated as TM], is an interdisciplinary portal for Ancient World texts (between 800 BC - AD 800). Since 2006, TM has been constantly expanding: from covering only papyrological texts from Ptolemaic Egypt it now also includes other (such as epigraphic) texts from outside Egypt. The metadata database (or better: the whole of interlinked TM databases) currently contains information about provenance, dating and the archival context of these texts and it includes geographic and prosopographical attestations in these texts and references to both classical authors and modern editors. All of this information (and more) is openly accessible (and exportable) for researchers via the different (advanced) search functionalities on the TM website.

In this workshop participants will get an overview of the different established and newly developed tools TM has to offer. Scholars of the ancient world can consult and search the website to receive a dataset that can enable them to answer their research question. On the technical side, the TM team has also been working on the development of new tools such as (social) network analysis, graphs and other visualizations that –hopefully- will also lead to new research questions and innovative
approaches and methods to help solving these questions.

Atlas patrimonii Caesaris. Building a digital database for the study of the geography and the economy of the imperial properties in the Roman world

Alberto Dalla Rosa (Université Bordeaux Montaigne - ERC project PATRIMONIVM)

The ERC project PATRIMONIVM aims at conducting a general study of the history of the properties of Roman emperors from Augustus to Diocletian using a complete documentary base. All relevant textual sources (literary, epigraphic, papyrological) will be reunited in a single database, freely accessible online and named Atlas patrimonii Caesaris. The database will feature a prosopography of all the persons linked to the imperial properties (administrators, tenants, farmers, contractors etc) and different kinds of geographical visualization of the data. The Atlas patrimonii is currently at an early stage of development and we are trying to figure out what feature to implement first and how. This presentation will focus on two aspects: firstly I will present the particular character of the prosopography of the Atlas patrimonii and how we intend to use the standard SNAP to deal with it; secondly I will focus on the geographical analysis and particularly on how to put our data in relation with those of other project (for example the Stanford project ORBIS).

Ghent Database of Roman Guilds and Occupation Based Communities

Koenraad Verboven, Ghent University

Voluntary private associations are a salient feature of Greco-Roman urban societies. They were founded on very different principles: common cults, shared neighbourhoods, shared ethic background, profession etc… During the early Roman empire associations based on shared professions become increasingly important and it seems increasingly well-to-do. They have accordingly enjoyed considerable scholarly attention since the nineteenth century. The past decades, economic historians inspired by New Institutional Economics have explored the effects of professional associations on economic success. Most, however, have tended to ignore major differences between various associations and lump together data from very different contexts and different associations. This approach not only tends to obscure the very real differences between associations, it also tends to ascribe features that are typical of formally organised collectives (such as statutes and internal offices) to non-organised or only loosely organised groups. Setting up formal groups, such as collegia, is costly both in terms of material resources and time. It betrays perceived needs that could not be fulfilled through informal social networks or public institutions.

The Ghent Database of Roman Guilds and Occupation Based Communities (GDRG) consists of a relational database linked to GIS-applications. It has a double proximate aim.  Firstly, to provide a heuristic device allowing scholars to find information on non-family collectives based on shared profession, ranging from informal communities (for instance foreign mercantile communities such as the cives Romani qui negotiantur) to highly formalised associations (for instance the corpora naviculariorum assisting/working for the annona). Secondly, to provide an analytical tool allowing scholars to study relation between the characteristics (attributes) of these collective; for instance to study the relation between patronage over collegia by persons from the imperial elite, location and assets controlled by occupational groups.

Data selection is determined in principle by only two criteria: the groups must be private, not part of public administration; they must be based on shared or complementary professions.

The ultimate aim is to study the institutions and resources for collective action available to co-ordinate cooperation in non-family based private collectives. The institutions we envisage range from social norms (informal institutions) and relations (social capital) to formal statutes (the leges collegiorum) and material assets.

We assume that these institutions were compatible with the perceived professional interests of the members given the shared professional identity we use as a data-selection criterion. However, there is no a priori assumption that they naturally inclined (in the case of informal collectives) or had been consciously designed (in the case of formal collectives) to promote or defend professional interests. Neither is there assumption that the intended cooperation would have been of a professional nature.

Connected Contests: an online database and a network approach to ancient festivals

Onno Van Nijf & Cristina Willemen (RUGroningen)

Modern sport has become a global phenomenon that entangles politics, economics, mass media, and social networks. A similar globalising development can be seen in the case of sport in the ancient world with games at Olympia and elsewhere uniting the wider (Greek) world. In the Hellenistic and Roman eras (c.300 BC-300 AD) the number of festivals with global catchment areas rose, producing increasingly integrated festival networks that were a major factor in the cultural and political integration of the Mediterranean world.

Athletes and other performers were critical agents and are the focus of this project, which aims to

  • compile a detailed database of individual athletes;
  • prepare this data for use in network and spatial analyses;
  • make this database accessible via internet.

The data is largely drawn from recondite documentary texts, available mainly to specialists. The aim of this project is to turn a wide set of specialist data into an accessible and public tool for further studies and network analyses of athletes and their role in connecting the Mediterranean.

We have received a one year grant from the Digital Humanities Initiative at the University of Groningen for a pilot. In collaboration with data scientists we are developing a robust yet flexible core database that allows for remote entering of the data, as well as an attractive an user-friendly web interface that allows users to retrieve prosopographical and geographical information about athletes and festivals. The database should be compatible with online prosopographical and geo-databases in the field of classical studies. 

By the end of this phase we were hoping to have a working, but evolving database on-line, to be hosted on a RUG server, which can be kept up-to-date with relatively little input by the main applicants. We have made considerable progress, but we are stuil, experiencing problems with the way we enter data, and with the design of the User Interface.

Yields, Seasonality and Labor Force in Roman Agriculture

Kai Ruffing (Kassel)

Though seasonality as a constraint for the Roman economy  recently has gained some attention in modern research, the question of how seasonality influenced the economic life in the Roman Empire remains a desideratum of contemporary research.

The development of the digital tool is connected to more traditional research, which aims to develop an agricultural calendar for the Roman Empire. This calendar will be the background for an analysis of the impact of the seasonality on economic structures in the Roman world. On the one hand, it gives a hint at what time different agricultural products in the different regions of the Empire are harvested, which bears implications for the demand  for labour force at different regions at different points of time. On the  other hand it will provide an insight in the rhythms of transportation and thus in the rhythms of the Roman trade.

A second crucial point for the performance of the economy of the Roman Empire as well as every premodern economy are yields. The agricultural returns are the result of different factors. among which climate and climatic changes or irregularities are of particular importance. Our digital tool aims to bring these issues into a relationship by means of developing a dynamic model which allows to operate with different proxies.

Clavis Historicorum Tardae Antiquitatis. The Database of the ERC-project "Memory of Empire"

Maria Conterno, Ghent University

I will be presenting the database built by the team of Peter Van Nuffelen’s ERC-project “Memory of Empire: the Post-Imperial Historiography of Late Antiquity” (Ghent University). The database contains approximately 850 entries, which provide information and basic bibliographical references for every historiographical work produced during Late Antiquity (ca. 300-850), be they preserved, fragmentary, lost, or hypothetical. It is fully searchable (by author, title,  language, period, genre,...) and linked to other relevant portals/websites/ditigal humanities projects. After illustrating its structure and contents more in detail, I will present briefly the story of the creation of the database and discuss the main challenges the team had to meet.

Ancient Letters & Social Network Analysis

Lieve Van Hoof, Ghent University

Letter collections have been amongst the most fruitful sources used to carry out historical network analysis (e.g. McLean 2007). Yet barring few exceptions (e.g. Alexander & Danowski 1990, Schor 2007), most ancient collections still await exploration from this point of view. This paper reflects on the potential and challenges involved in applying social network analysis to ancient letter collections. In order to do so, it uses the letters of Libanius of Antioch (A.D. 314-393) as a case study.

How to get there

click here for floor plans of the building

Via the entrance in the Tweekerkenstraat: 

  • take the stairs or elevator (immediately on your left at the open air entrance) one floor down (note : this is 'Floor 0')
  • turn left if you come out of the elevator/stairs
  • follow the corridor through the double glass doors
  • continue through the second double glass doors
  • continue dowh the corridor to the second corridor on the right
  • the stairs/elevator is behind the green door immediately to your left in this corridor
  • go up to floor +1
  • take the (green) door left
  • the auditorium Fernand Rogiers is just in front of you

Via the entrance Hoveniersberg:

Hoveniersberg is a small side-alley of Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat, to your leftif you come from the Boekentoren campus, to your right if you come from the Sint-Pietersplein (click here for a map)

  • go the end of the Hoveniersberg alley
  • there on you right, a few steps dow, is the entrance to the Economics Faculty 
  • go inside, continue through the corridor to the elevator/stairs
  • go up to floor +1
  • take the (green) door left
  • the auditorium Fernand Rogiers is just in front of you