Research Projects


Ghent University

Greek History (social, economic, political)

2013-2017

A social network analysis of classical Athens (403-322 BC): a corroboration of the notion of the stateless polis?
post-doctoral project Marloes Deene
read more

2015-2021

The Demes of Attica and the Peloponnesian War: Community Resilience
PhD Project Amber Brüsewits
read more

Roman World (social, economic, political)

2016-2019

Equally different? The socialisation strategies of Roman ex-slaves and their socio-economic integration in the urban 'plebs media'.
post-doctoral project Kristof Vermote
read more

2015-2018

Money, Marriages and Manumission. The Family Business in the Roman Economy (2nd c. BC - 2nd c. AD)
post-doctoral project Wim Broekaert
read more

2014-2017

Provincial Assemblies in the Roman West. A Study of the  Socio-Economic Impact of Concilia on Gaul, Germania, and Britannia (12 B.C. – A.D. 284)
post-doctoral project Lindsey Vandevoorde
read more

2014-2017

Explaining urban vitality in times of crisis. A study into the impact of economic integration and intraregional migration on urbanism in Late Roman Africa
post-doctoral project Wouter Vanacker
read more

2017-2020

Inland Waterways in the Roman Transport Network of the Gallic and Germanic Provinces (c. 50 BC – c. AD 400)
PhD project Toon Bongers, supervisors Koen Verboven and Wim De Clercq

read more

2016-2020

The Family in Republican Italy: A Comparative Study of Family Relations in Latium, Etruria and Campania (ca. 500 - 31 BC)
PhD Project Alexis Daveloose, supervisor Koen Verboven
read more

2013-2017

Rhetoric, elites and popular power in Second Sophistic literature
PhD Project Thierry Oppeneer, supervisors A. Zuiderhoek and K. De Temmerman
read more

2012-2016

The First Jewish Revolt (66-70 A.D.): a socio-anthropological study into its causes
PhD project Marijn Vandenberge, supervisor Peter Van Nuffelen
read more

2013-2017

Elites and urban food supply in Roman Asia Minor: intervention and generosity
PhD project Nicolas Solonakis, supervisor Arjan Zuiderhoek, co-supervisor Paul Erdkamp
read more

2014-2018

The 'Craftsmen Guilds' (collegia fabrum) in the Roman West in the Imperial period
PhD project Kasey Reed, supervisor Koen Verboven
read more

private funding

The protectors of the people. The Plebeian Tribunate in Ancient Rome
PhD project Kenneth Lasoen, supervisor Koen Verboven
read more

Late Antiquity

2013-2016

Finding the Present in the Distant Past. The Cultural Meaning of Antiquarianism in Late Antiquity
PhD Project Lorenzo Focanti, Raf Praet, director Peter Van Nuffelen
read more

2013-2017

Memory of empire: the post-imperial historiography of late Antiquity
Director: P. Van Nuffelen, Collaborators: Dr. M. Conterno, Dr. L. Van Hoof, Marianna Mazzola, Panagiotis Manafis
read more

2015-2018

Writing Christian history in the language of Islam: a study on the beginnings of Christian historical writing in Arabic (mid 9th-early 11th cent.)
Post-doctoral project Maria Conterno
read more

2016-2019

The origins of European kingship (c. 400-525 CE): Towards a new model for military leadership in Late Antiquity
Post-doctoral project Jeroen Wijnendaele

read more

Cultural history

private funding

Positive Atheism in in Classical Antiquity: a literary and social analysis (500 BC - AD 100)
PhD project Alexander Meert, supervisor Peter Van Nuffelen
read more

Past projects

2006-2010

Navicularii et negotiantes: the Roman maritime economy during the empire
PhD project Wim Broekaert, supervisor Koen Verboven
read more

2007-2010

Episcopal Succession in Late Antiquity
Research Project Flanders Research Foundation, supervisors Peter Van Nuffelen & J. Leemans (KUL)
read more

2008-1012

Tituli Honorarii: monumental honorary memorials
PhD project Annelies De Bondt, supervisor Koen Verboven
read more

2010-2013

Mercatura quaestuosa. Trade and transport in the Roman Empire. A structural analysis
post-doctoral project Wim Broekaert
read more

2009-2013

Social mobility in classical Athens
PhD project Marloes Deene, supervisor Arjan Zuiderhoek
read more

2008-2014 Integration Trajectories of Nomadic Peoples in the Roman Empire
PhD project Wouter Vanacker, supervisor Koen Verboven
read more

2010-2014

Stratification and social inequality in Italy and Lugdunum
PhD project Lindsey Vandevoorde, supervisor Koen Verboven
read more

2009-2014

Ritual Communication in Late Antiquity
Research Project Ghent University, dir. Peter Van Nuffelen
read more

2010-2014

Defeating doom with history. Syriac historiography in the twelfth and thirteenth century
PhD project Andy Hilkens, supervisor Peter Van Nuffelen
read more

2012-2015

Entrepreneurial networks in the Roman business world. Kinship, trust and cooperation and the impact of empire
post-doctoral project Wim Broekaert
read more

2012-2016

Identity and stigmatization: the case of the Roman freedman. A qualitative analysis of the socialization and stratification of and the interaction between freed and freeborn Romans
PhD project Kristof Vermote, supervisor Koen Verboven
read more

2012-2016

The tribuni plebis and the end of the Roman Republic
PhD project Loonis Logghe, supervisor Arjan Zuiderhoek
read more

2012-2015

Living texts. Historiography and literature in the early Byzantine Period: The reception of the Socrates Scholasticus’Historia Ecclesiastica
PhD project Emerance Delacenserie,supervisor Peter Van Nuffelen, co-supervisor Marc De Groote
read more


Free University of Brussels

2012-2016

Textile Manufacture in Roman Egypt
PhD project Ruben Menten-Plesters, supervisor Paul Erdkamp, co-supervisor Koen Verboven
read more

private funding

The Economic Development of Roman Sardinia 
PhD project Maria Francesca Cadeddu, supervisor Paul Erdkamp
read more

private funding

Visual Impairments in the Roman World
PhD project Dorien Meulenijzer, supervisor Christian Laes
read more

private funding

Christian Families in a Changing World: Ageing and Family Structures in Rome (300-700 AD)
PhD project Thomas Goessens, supervisor Christian Laes, co-supervisor Ray Laurence (Kent)
read more

private funding

The Cultural Parameters of European Warfare in Antiquity
PhD project Theo Vijgen, supervisor Paul Erdkamp
read more

2009-2012

Religion and Childhood. Socialisation in Pre-Modern Europe from the Roman Empire to the Christian World
International rearch project Tampere (Finland), Christian Laes, Katariina Mustakallio (dir.)
read more

private funding
(2013)

Parcere personis, dicere de vitiis? Deformitas in de epigrammen van Marcus Valerius Martialis.
PhD project Bert Gevaert, supervisors  Manfred Horstmanshoff (University of Leiden) & Christian Laes
read more


Project summaries

The Demes of Attica and the Peloponnesian War: Community Resilience

PhD Project Amber Brüsewitz (assistant 2015-2021), supervisors A. Zuiderhoek, Roald Docter, Marloes Deene

How did rural communities cope with the devastations of war in the pre-modern world? The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), which pitched the maritime empire of Athens against the heavy infantry of the Spartan confederacy, is often compared to World War I due to the mass of combatant forces and the unprecedented scale of destruction. While the political context of the war has received considerable attention, this project seeks to examine the resilience of the rural communities of Attica in the face of the social and economic impact of the war. Epigraphical evidence and archaeological remains indicate that the traditional view that the countryside of Attica was depleted as a direct consequence of the war, needs to be questioned. Applying a multidisciplinary approach, this research project will investigate the long-term resilience of the countryside communities (demes) by looking into the significance of the number of residents, of adaptations in their main modes of subsistence and of factors sustaining social coherence, notably religion and political life. Analyzing the historical sources and archaeological remains of the period 450-350 BCE, this project aims at tracing the resilience of the Attic demes outside of Athens by examining how they found ways to sustain and reset their community lives.

click here for faculty-research page

A social network analysis of classical Athens (403-322 BC): a corroboration of the notion of the stateless polis?

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2013-2016, post-doctoral project Marloes Deene

This research project aims to examine the structure of social networks in classical Athens in order to test Moshe Berent’s thesis of the Greek polis as a ‘stateless society’. If ‘the’ Greek polis functioned as a stateless society, the absence of a state coercive apparatus would have had to be compensated for by non-state-based forces of integration that enabled the community to function as a political entity. In this project, we will examine to what extent social networks in a particular Greek polis, namely Athens between 403 and 322 BC, functioned as such a force of integration.

As a case study, we will examine the social connections of public officials and politicians (rhetores) active during the period under study, through a prosopographical and social network analysis. Their connections will be visualized by means of the PAJEK computer programme and analysed by making use of social network theory. The aim is to find out whether or not the specific structure of Athenian social networks supports the notion of the stateless polis.

This project is innovative because (a) it attempts to make an important contribution to a major debate in Greek political and institutional history by means of an explicitly non-institutional approach, and (b) because it is the first study ever to use social network analysis in a scholarly work on classical Athens (and ancient Greece more generally).

Social mobility in Classical Athens

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2009-2013, PhD project Marloes Deene, supervisor A. Zuiderhoek

Traditionally, social mobility has been considered a characteristic feature of modern Western meritocratic societies, whereas pre-industrial societies have been categorized as static, hierarchical and rigid. This opinion, clearly a legacy of 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century economists and sociologists, such as Smith, Marx, Weber and Durkheim, has during the last few decades been challenged by ancient, medieval and early-modern historians, who, drawing on historical data from a wide variety of sources, have been able to cast doubt on the presumption of relatively little mobility in pre-industrial societies. However, while extensive studies of social mobility exist for Sparta and Rome, only restricted (mainly economic) aspects of social mobility in ancient Athens have been considered, and then only incidentally. Thus, despite the obvious importance of this topic for our understanding of classical Athenian society, we still lack a specific study of Athenian social mobility. The aim of this project is to address this lack of study by assessing the scope for upward and downward social mobility in fifth and fourth century Athens within the citizen body, among metics, slaves, and women. It will verify to what extent citizen families were able to preserve or improve their status through time, what the possibilities were for metics to overcome their unprivileged status, what the chances were for slaves of socio-economic achievements or even freedom, and if it is meaningful to talk about social mobility for women. In sum, this project will examine to what extent Athenian society provided opportunities for people to move freely up and down the social ladder, and what the causes of these opportunities were. Following Bourdieu, it will take into account not only the aspect of wealth and property, but, on the contrary, all the different kinds of ‘capital’ that could be used as social means of power and as a whole determined one’s position in Athenian society

Money, Marriages and Manumission. The Family Business in the Roman Economy (2nd c. BC - 2nd c. AD)

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2015-2018, post-doctoral project Wim Broekaert

This project aims to write the history of Roman family businesses and thereby to contribute to historical family firm research in the long run. The purpose is to analyze the nature of Roman family firms and their potential in coping with the demands and limitations of a pre-industrial economy. The project will follow the ‘life course’ of a Roman family firm through different stages, from the establishment and training of the labor pool to the eventual demise or transfer to the next generation. Particular attention will be given to those determinants of the Roman economy that allow a specific kind of family firm to develop. First, the availability of slave and freedman labor motivated entrepreneurs to establish quite extended family firms, due to the relatively limited costs of slave holding or extending cooperation with manumitted slaves. This labor pool of slaves and freedmen offered a solution to many of the organizational problems family firms encountered (and still encounter), such as finding skilled, trustworthy agents within the family and facilitating the survival of the firm when members of the nuclear family proved unable to manage its interests. Second, the project will also take into account the Roman imperial state formation as a critical factor for family business performance. The pax Romana, the presence of Roman law and the institutional framework stimulated agency over considerable distances and encouraged large family firms to develop. 

Provincial Assemblies in the Roman West. A Study of the  Socio-Economic Impact of Concilia on Gaul, Germania,
and Britannia (12 B.C. – A.D. 284)

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO) 2014-2017, postdoctoral project Lindsey Vandevoorde

Provincial assemblies were a widespread phenomenon in both the eastern and western provinces of the Roman Empire. Their official function was tending to the provincial imperial cult. Research on the western assemblies is very limited, and so far has focused on institutional or political aspects. Their spread, elaborate organisation and the splendour of their meetings indicate that their importance reached much further.

This project aims to study the regional impact of these highly visible and prestigious assemblies using social network analysis, and thus contributes to the study of networks in pre-industrial societies. I focus on a region comprising England, Wales, France, Belgium, and parts of the Netherlands, from the reign of Augustus to that of Diocletian (14 B.C. – A.D. 284). Three elements will be studied. First, did the provincial assembly influence cooperation between the represented cities? Second, how often do we encounter individuals who can be linked to more than one member-city and did the assembly play a role in stimulating such connections? Third, what was the profile of the members of the assembly?

I hypothesize that assemblies were powerful platforms for the development of provincial networks of cities and individuals, expressed in stronger contacts between member cities of the assembly and by individuals belonging to these cities. My analysis is innovative since I focus on

Explaining urban vitality in times of crisis. A study into the impact of economic integration and intraregional migration on urbanism in Late Roman Africa.

Ghent University Research Fund (BOF), 2014-2017, Postdoctoral project Wouter Vanacker

The Late Roman ‘success story’ of urbanization in Africa Proconsularis, Byzacena, Numidia and Tripolitania has mostly been ascertained through generalizations from individual case studies. Broad studies of urban development that actually explain this exceptional development have hardly been conducted and those that have been, did not venture outside one specific time frame (the Principate, i.e. the first three centuries A.D., or the Late Roman period). This research project aims to fill this lacuna by examining the development of two determinants of urbanization. It will be highly innovative because of its diachronic approach, which will enable us to discern long term developments from the heyday of the Principate in the second century to the Late African urban bloom of the fourth century A.D.

The basis upon which the determinants of urbanization and hierarchization of cities have been selected is the shared principle of connectivity. They comprise the survey of (1) human mobility and migration, and (2) economic integration through rank-size analysis of the cities.

By addressing the issue of intra-regional differentiation in urbanization trajectories we connect with the most recent paradigms in Roman imperialism studies as well as with recent trends in Roman urbanization research. This research on the Roman world has the potential to make an important contribution to our understanding of stimulants and impediments to urbanization in pre-industrial societies generally.

Rhetoric, elites and popular power in Second Sophistic literature

Ghent University Research Fund (BOF), 2013-2017, PhD project Thierry Oppeneer
Supervisors A. Zuiderhoek and K. De Temmerman

This project will investigate ideas about 'the people' and popular political participation in the works of a number of Greek intellectuals from the Roman Empire, viz. Plutarch of Chaeronea, Dio of Prusa, Favorinus of Arelate, Publius Aelius Aristides, Lucian of Samosata and Flavius Philostratus, who all belonged to the so-called Second Sophistic (ca. 50-250 AD). Going against the current scholarly orthodoxy that popular politics in the Greek cities ceased to exist under the Roman Empire, my working hypothesis will be that the thoughts and ideas about 'the people' and popular politics expressed by these authors not only document and interact with an authentic reality of popular political participation in the Greek cities of the Roman East but were in fact active contributions to the participatory political process.

Mercatura quaestuosa. Trade and transport in the Roman Empire. A structural analysis

Ghent University Research Fund (BOF), 2010-2013, Postdoctoral project Wim Broekaert

This project aims for a structural and comparative study of Roman trade, trying to pinpoint which features are essentially Roman and which are shared with other pre-industrial societies. By confronting the organization of Roman trade with medieval and early modern parallels, we will show that many commercial strategies which made trade more efficient (agency, external financing, risk sharing etc.), were already in practice during the Roman empire. By using the rich data sets, records and archives from other pre-industrial societies, we will study both the efficiency and problems in using these commercial strategies. This way, we will be able to trace how (in)efficient Roman merchants were in coping with the difficulties that hampered all pre-industrial commerce (slow transport, the lack of information, finding trustworthy agents etc.). Therefore, we claim that economic history should not be confined to a omparison of medieval and early modern times alone, but should make use of Roman economic history as well. By highlighting the similarities in all stages in pre-industrial commercial organization, we advocate a long-term approach of economic history.

Entrepreneurial networks in the Roman business world. Kinship, trust and cooperation and the impact of empire

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2012-2015, post-doctoral project Wim Broekaert

This research project intends a structural analysis of business networks in Roman long-distance trade. While an integral part of economic history in other pre-industrial societies, the application of network theory in Roman merchant communities remains a striking lacuna. This proposal hence intends to fill this gap by studying the structure of networks Roman businessmen were relying on to organize commerce in a volatile trading world. We will focus on the business communities in Republican Delos on the one hand, and Imperial Puteoli and Ostia on the other. To visualize the networks merchants were cultivating, we first intend a closereading of inscriptions in which individual businessmen and their connections are mentioned. We will distinguish between those based on kinship (family businesses), dependency (networks involving masters, slaves, patrons and freedmen) and what can generally be styled shared experiences (loose connections of coreligionists, members of the same professional association, business partners etc.). In a next stage, the economic relevance and density of these ties will be evaluated. Finally, the results for the Republican and Imperial age will be compared in order to assess whether the unification of the Mediterranean world under Roman rule profoundly altered the business world and the nature of merchant networks. As a working hypothesis, we assume this unification to facilitate commerce, which may be reflected in the creation of larger, wide-spread and more efficient networks.

Navicularii et negotiantes: the Roman maritime economy during the empire

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2006-2010, PhD project Wim Broekaert, supervisor K. Verboven

This research project aimed at studying the Roman business world by identifying the people involved in organizing trade and transport. To this purpose, a database comprising all Roman merchants and shippers, attested in monumental epigraphy and inscriptions on instrumentum domesticum, was compiled. By analyzing the socio-economic background of each individual, various strategies have been traced, which Roman merchants relied on to cope with the intricacies of a volatile trading world. The most reliable commercial tools appear to have been setting up family businesses to find trustworthy agents and enhance the scale of commercial enterprises, and joining professional associations to construe networks of agents and partners. These constituents of the Roman business world obviously are not unique, but have been well-documented in other pre-industrial societies.

Integration Trajectories of Nomadic Peoples in the Roman Empire

PhD project Wouter Vanacker (assistant 2009-2014),  supervisor K. Verboven

There is a general tendency in modern research to defend the perception of an almost “natural” disinclination of nomadic societies to various forms of integration in (sedentary) imperial systems. The main aim of the project is to verify this image, and to determine to what extent integration trajectories of various nomadic peoples in the Roman Empire during the Principate are actually marked by differentiation. Importantly, the project reconsiders the grand narrative of Romanization while simultaneously testing the application of post-colonial assertions of plurality and negotiation. Eventually, the analysis of political, socio-cultural and economic integration trajectories will make us draw conclusions regarding integration mechanisms of this particular segment of the empire’s population, as well as the character of Roman imperial rule towards these peoples. The different analytical sections will provide valuable insights in the relationships between the urban (/Roman) world and the nomads, which may have ranged from severe opposition to harmony and symbiosis. It will be investigated (why and) to what extent the Romans tried to implement the urban ideal on nomadic societies, and (why and) to what extent nomadic segments of the imperial population were reluctant to do so.

The project will comprise at least of two regional studies. The results obtained in the first research context (the North African provinces) will be compared with the situation in at least one other region (Syria & Judaea/Syria Palestina & Arabia Petraea). Can similar patterns of coexistence and oppositions be observed in the latter context, and how can the discrepancies – if there are any – be explained?

Considering the dearth of sources on many nomadic cultures of the Roman imperial period, sociological and social anthropological studies will be fairly important to understand the social, economic and political characteristics of nomadic societies. Thus, the study aims to engender a valuable dialogue between history and these other disciplines, for instance with respect to issues considering the assessment of dependency patterns between sedentary and nomadic groups, as well as the impact of a centralized (world-)empire on the nomadic communities it included and neighboured.

Stratification and social inequality in Italy and Lugdunum. A comparative qualitative epigraphical analysis of class structure, power relations and social struggle between municipal status groups during the Principate

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2010-2014, PhD project Lindsey Vandevoorde,  supervisor K. Verboven

This project aims to resolve an inconsistency in the research on Roman local social hierarchies. The Romans minutely described their social position in inscriptions. Modern scholars, however, often only use broad categories, especially when they discuss the lower social groups. We will analyse the different so-called 'status groups' (social groups with a common lifestyle, birth, profession and level of prestige) found in local Roman municipalities and the relations between them. The analysis of incriptions from local communities of the Italian peninsula will be compared to material from Lugdunum. This was the capital city of Tres Galliae, a province comprising present-day France, Belgium and a part of Switzerland. More specific, we will analyse how power relations, competition and violence are connected to 'class' and hierarchy in general. In order to do so, we will use concepts of P. Bourdieu. On the whole, this project is a reaction against the scholarship that treats or simply neglects the humiliores as an undifferentiated and uninteresting 'class'. Both methodology and the objective of this project itself are what lend it the unique innovative strength it needs.

The First Jewish Revolt (66-70 A.D.): a socio-anthropological study into its causes

PhD Project Marijn Vandenberge
UGent-BOF 2012-2016
Supervisor: Peter Van Nuffelen

This project offers a new, integrated explanation for the Jewish Revolt of AD 66. Applying well-chosen sociological and anthropological methods, its aim is to overcome a deadlock in current research, which often relies on the implicit use of one-sided explanatory models. In particular, scholars tend not to pay sufficient attention to important shifts in the ideological and religious outlook of Judean society caused by the socio-economic changes. This ultimately led to a weakening of the ruling elite.

After a thoroughly study of Flavius Josephus as the main source for the present research, the project focuses on the understanding of the declining social order through an analytical distinction between the ethical and the political control order. This includes an investigation of two interlocking processes that played a central role in the run-up to the revolt: on the one hand, an increasing religious consciousness and, on the other hand, a tendency toward oligarchization which caused social polarization. Based on a wide range of literary, epigraphic and archaeological material, I shall argue that the traditional ruling elite failed to maintain order because of the rise of a new competing status group, which preached popular biblical ideas and used the synagogues as its operating bases. In this way, this new status group helped to shape and mobilize the opposition against the ruling elite, eventually resulting in a popular revolt against Rome.

Elites and the urban food supply in Roman Asia Minor: intervention and generosity

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2013-2016
PhD project Nicolas Solonakis
supervisor Arjan Zuiderhoek, co-supervisor Paul Erdkamp

Frequent yet unpredictable harvest failures were a notorious aspect of pre-modern agriculture, dependent as farming was on the vagaries of the climate. Cities were particularly vulnerable in such situations, as most urban inhabitants did not produce their own food. High food prices could rapidly endanger the livelihood of the urban poor. Economic malaise and social disruption was the result. Consequently, most pre-modern civic governments took measures to shield their populations from the effects of food price spikes. The Roman empire was a highly urbanised society, yet ancient historians have either mostly ignored or judged ineffective civic government and elite interventions in the urban food market in times of dearth. This project concerns an in-depth study of civic government and elite involvement in the urban food market in the cities of Roman imperial Asia Minor, where evidence is plentiful. Adopting the novel approach of studying both government market interventions and food-related elite benefactions (munificence) simultaneously, and employing important theoretical insights from the social sciences and comparative history on food markets and food distribution, we aim to move beyond the confines of old debates and present a new picture of the management of Roman urban food markets that will contribute to a better understanding of the functioning of Greco-Roman cities and pre-modern urbanism more generally.

Identity and stigmatization: the case of the Roman freedman. A qualitative analysis of the socialization and stratification of and the interaction between freed and freeborn Romans

PhD Project Kristof Vermote
Flanders Research Foundation (FWO) 2012-2016
Supervisor: prof. dr. Koen Verboven

Slavery continues to be a popular and fruitful research topic in Classical Studies. Almost every period in history has known its own variety, yet for over two centuries Roman slavery has been the standard by which scholars and intellectuals measured and compared all other forms of slavery. Much less attention, however, has been paid to a group in Roman society that was inextricably linked to the slave population: freed slaves (libertini). This project aims to fill this lacuna in historical research by applying a wide array of sociological theories concerning identity formation, socialization and stigmatization to the specific case of the Roman freedman. The objective is to find out which processes determined the interaction between the Roman elite (patrons, aristocrats) and freeborn ‘commoners’ (ingenui) on the one hand, and the ambivalent class of freedmen on the other. More specifically I intend to focus on the discrimination mechanisms that both defined and excluded the freedman class. Freedmen bore the stain of slavery for life. If we want to understand their role in Roman society, we need to understand the processes of identification and stigmatization that shaped their social identity. By focusing on the freedman who up till now has not yet received due attention in historical studies of emotion and mentality, by using unique literary sources to do so and by linking these sources to the vast sociological literature on stigmatization and identity, this study will prove an original and valuable contribution to academic knowledge.

The tribuni plebis and the end of the Roman Republic 

PhD Project Loonis Logghe
UGent-BOF 2012-2016
Supervisor: Arjan Zuiderhoek (UGent)

The tribuni plebis were the traditional proponents of the plebeian cause in the Roman Republic. For the late Republic (100 – 23 BCE), historians disagree about whose interests they truly promoted.

Recently there has been an increasing debate about the role of the people in Republican politics. In this stalemate, the tribuni plebis are often used as a stick to beat opponents with: cases where the tribunes did support the plebs are used to back up the democracy-scenario, the many instances when they did not are emphasized to argue for oligarchy. Both theories essentially claim that one group (either the plebs or the elite) dominated the political order. This project will not follow this dichotomy, but proposes a more comprehensive analysis of the plebeian tribunate and late Republican politics.

This project aims to investigate the socio-political role of the tribunes with the aid of principal-agent analysis. The benefit of this model over older methodologies is that through its application it becomes clear that the relationship between tribunes and their many principals was not fixed, but fundamentally flexible and disputed, mediated by the ‘costs’ groups in society could and were prepared to bear to secure influence. This projects will address three interrelated questions: (1) which interests of which diverse socio-political groups were advocated the tribunes, and why; (2) why did the tribunate become a central political institution in the late Republic; and (3) how did the tribunes play a part in the fall of the Republic. It will demonstrate that selectively citing particular instances of tribunal activity in support of either a democratic or an oligarchic vision of Republican politics is beside the point and only serves to muddy the waters. Another goal is to propose that the principal-agent model has the potential to allow us many new insights into the power-relations and power-struggles in late Republican Rome

The 'Craftsmen Guilds' (collegia fabrum) in the Roman West in the imperial period

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2014-2018)
PhD project Kasey Reed, supervisor Koenraad Verboven
collaborators:
Gerben Verbruggen (GIS assistant, 2015-2016)
Luka Tjampsens (Data Input, 2015-2017)

Roman cities relied on privileged guilds to function. Craftsmen guilds (collegia fabri) took pride of place but remain much debated. We study their spread, membership, organization, influence and impact on economic development. Our theoretical framework is based on social capital theory and new institutional economics. Methodologically we rely on GIS, prosopography & social network analysis, norm analyses and entitlement mapping.

click here to read more

connected to : Ghent Database of Roman Guilds

The protectors of the people. The Plebeian Tribunate in Ancient Rome

Independent PhD project Kenneth Lasoen,  supervisor K. Verboven

This study will be the first about the Roman tribunate of the plebs that spans its entire history in the Republic and Empire chronologically since Niccolini’s 1932 Il tribunato della plebe. All available sources will be analysed and the literature on the subject that appeared in various contributions since 1932 integrated into one body. Beginning with an attempt to trace the earliest antecedents of the tribunate to the time of the Roman kings, the study follows the development of the tribunate from a revolutionary agency of opposition through the gradual acceptance of its presence by the patricians and its incorporation as a state magistracy. By an investigation of the activities of the tribunes an attempt is made to trace the origins of the various powers they could claim. It will be shown how the tribunes acted as the mouthpiece of the common people by means of plebiscita and as safeguards of a just military levy in a society that was constantly going to war, and in which capacity they laid claim to extensive prerogatives concerning the regulation of military matters and foreign policy, plebeian integration, as well as an punitive authority over those generals who did not do well in the field. The powers and the authority vested in the office by the lex Hortensia, which removed the need for senatorial approval for plebiscita to become law, will be investigated to determine if the tribunes were the main legislators of mid-republican Rome, with the ability to make use of a fully developed right to veto any legislation or block any public business they deemed contrary to the interests of the people. Their judiciary powers also will be considered as they had developed into a role of state prosecutors for the tribunes, who were looked upon as watchdogs over the Roman constitution and safe keepers of the old ways of the republic. A different approach will be presented about tribunes attempting reforms in the wake of the Gracchi, who met with and resorted to violence to ensure their measures were passed, thus igniting the chain of events that had the end of the republic as its result. The study will continue to follow the trace of the tribunate after tribunician powers were conferred on Caesar, which established a precedent for his political heir, who used the tribunicia potestas as the pillar of his position at the head of the Roman Empire and the designation of his successor. The work ends with the last mention of a plebeian tribune, in the year 423 AD.

Positive Atheism in in Classical Antiquity: a literary and social analysis (500 BC - AD 100)

Idependent research project Alexander Meert, supervisor Peter Van Nuffelen

De centrale opzet van dit proefschrift bestaat erin te onderzoeken of positief atheïsme kon bestaan in de Klassieke Oudheid. Dit positief atheïsme, dat op het eerste zicht een modern en recent verschijnsel lijkt, kan men in de Klassieke Oudheid als een radicale of compromisloze afwijzing van elke vorm van godsverering interpreteren. Mijn vertrekpunt is de visie van de Deense classicus A.B. Drachmann. In diens Atheism in Pagan Antiquity (1922) wordt uitgegaan van een atheïsme dat in de Klassieke Oudheid dient opgevat te worden als het verwerpen van de populaire religie en niet het filosofisch ontkennen van het goddelijke. Het magische wereldbeeld dat de Klassieke Oudheid domineerde verhinderde namelijk een extreme en radicale vorm van godontkenning.  Ik zal trachten deze visie te herzien middels een survey die de geschiedenis van het ‘antiek’ atheïsme belicht waarin de klemtoon zal liggen op de studie van mogelijk positief atheïsme, doch ook negatief atheïsme zal hierbij aan bod komen (bv: verwerpen van populaire religie, agnosticisme). Dit tracht ik te bereiken via een uitgebreide kritische en vergelijkende analyse van literaire en ook papyrologische bronnen

Ritual Communication and the State in Late Antiquity

Ghent University Research Fund (BOF), prof. Peter Van Nuffelen

The Later Roman State (300-650 A.D.) is usually studied with an emphasis on bureaucracy, legislation, and the army. Public rituals are seen as merely representations of power and not essential for understanding how the state functioned. Drawing on insights from media studies, anthropology, and sociology, as well as medieval studies, this project argues for a more dynamic understanding of public rituals and ceremonial as forms of communication between inferior and superior individuals and groups in a hierarchical society. This implies two shifts: a) rituals are not just focused on the emperor, but omnipresent in society, wherever hierarchical relationships need to be mediated; b) they are not only occasions to affirm a consensus: they allow power to be challenged and created. Drawing on a wide range of evidence, the project will develop a new understanding of the later Roman state. It argues in particular a) that bureaucracy offered only limited mediation between state and subject and that ritual communication supplemented this; b) that we see an increased hierarchisation in Late Antiquity reflected in an extension of rituals; c) that the response of rulers and governors in public rituals was guided by an implicit moral code: the ruler had to be seen to respond well to ritual challenges.

Episcopal Succession in Late Antiquity

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2007-2010
Supervisors: Peter Van Nuffelen (UGent), B. Dehandschutter, J. Leemans (K.U.Leuven) (two scientific collaborator attached to the KULeuven

Studies Episcopal elections as turning moments  in the social, political and religious life in Late Antiquity (AD 300-600), combining sociological, legal-historical, and ideological perspectives.

Defeating doom with history. Syriac historiography in the twelfth and thirteenth century

Ghent University Research Fund (BOF), 2010-2014, PhD project Andy Hilkens,  supervisor Peter Van Nuffelen

see also : http://www.late-antique-historiography.ugent.be/projects

This research project focuses on the rich Syriac Christian historiographical tradition and more specifically on the peak of that tradition: the Syriac Renaissance of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. During this period, there is a renewed interest among the Syrian Orthodox community in their own language and the growing optimism that Syriac was equally capable in rendering scientific literature as Arabic. At that time, three monumental Syriac historiographical works were written: the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian (1116-1199), the Anonymous Chronicle to 1234 and the Chronicon Syriacum and Chronicon Ecclesiasticum of Gregory Abu ‘l-Faraj Bar ‛Ebroyo (1226-1286).

It is the goal of this research project to prepare a first thorough analysis of this Anonymous Chronicle to 1234, which has been somewhat neglected up to this point. Passages from this work have been cited in various studies, regarding the Cave of Treasures, the Book of Jubilees, or the now-lost ninth-century Chronicle of Dionysius of Tell-Mahre, a common source of Michael’s and the Anonymous Chronicler’s. However, the Anonymous Chronicle to 1234 has never been studied in its entirety. A study of this work, its sources and its relation to the other Syriac historiographical achievements of this period will provide new insights into the structure of this anonymous chronicle and the methodology and intentions of its author.

Living texts. Historiography and literature in the early Byzantine Period. The reception of Socrates Scholasticus' Historia Ecclesiastica

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2012-2015
PhD project Emerance Delacenserie
supervisor Peter Van Nuffelen, co-supervisor Marc De Groote

Socrates Scholasticus is one of the first Christian authors and historians. He is regarded as the second greatest historiographer of Christianity, following Eusebius of Caesarea. In the beginning of the fifth century, he also wrote a work entitled Historia Ecclesiastica,  a continuation of Eusebius’ eponymous work. Socrates’ opus was subject to a great reception in the Byzantine, Armenian, Latin and Syriac world. This project aims to study the reception of Socrates’ work as  “living text” in the (Byzantine) Greek historiographical tradition, especially in its Armenian versions, in Constantinus Porphyrogenitus’ Excerpta as well as in the Latin witness Historia Tripartita.  The analysis of manuscripts will reveal the evolution of the text, that is to say the changes or rewriting operations suffered over the centuries (summary, shortening, paraphrase, etc.). More widely, this study highlights the use of Socrates’ work by his successors. We will seek to understand and to determine to what extent the author’s own ideas and authority still influenced the writings of those who used his work. 

Finding the Present in the Distant Past. The Cultural Meaning of Antiquarianism in Late Antiquity

NWO/FWO, 2013-2016
PhD collaborators: Lorenzo Focanti, Raf Praet
Director: P. Van Nuffelen, Jan-Willem Drijvers

see also : http://www.late-antique-historiography.ugent.be/projects

Late ancient interest in the distant past developed under the influence of an increased awareness of the fundamental changes the world was undergoing, which increased the sensibility for the distance from the classical past. To study this phenomenon, this project will edit fragmentary antiquarian authors and situate the genre in its proper socio-literary context, namely the continued practice of rhetoric in late antique society.

Memory of empire: the post-imperial historiography of late Antiquity

European Research Council, 2013-2017
Director: P. Van Nuffelen
Collaborators: Dr. M. Conterno, Dr. L. Van Hoof, Marianna Mazzola, Panagiotis Manafis.

see also : http://www.late-antique-historiography.ugent.be/projects

The project offers the first comprehensive interpretation and reconstruction of all historiographical traditions in the Mediterranean from the 4th to the 8th c. AD, the crucial transitional period from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Including all languages and traditions (Greek, Latin, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Arabic) in a single study, it advances the hypothesis that the historiography of this period should be understood as ‘post-imperial’: the literary, cultural, and political traditions of the Roman empire remained the point of reference at a time when that empire had, by the seventh century, largely disintegrated. New realities were thus still understood and described with long-lived categories – a situation that generated both tensions and great creativity in the genre. In order to be able to test this hypothesis, the project makes new sources available, increases the accessibility of existing ones, and explores different methodologies.

Historiography is a key source for historical study of the period but research is seriously hampered by the absence of reference works and by disciplinary divides that generate discipline-specific interpretations and obstruct the exchange of methodologies. This multilingual and multidisciplinary project will remove these obstacles, establish a new paradigm for our understanding of late antique historiography, and set the study of this field on an improved methodological footing. It has three objectives:

  • A database takes stock of all histories produced in late Antiquity, including for the first time both fully preserved and fragmentary texts.
  • The second stage of the project aims at plugging gaps in scholarship, especially regarding fragmentary preserved traditions. Three clusters of detailed studies focus on early Byzantine local historiography, Syriac church history, and on fragmentary early medieval Latin historiography.
  • The third stage articulates the general hypothesis. Drawing on modern theories, three key developments are singled out: the persistence and transformation of classical rhetoric in traditional and new contexts; the increased localisation of the past in objects and places, in tension with the subsistence of the idea of empire; the continued cultural exchange between the various traditions and cultures of late Antiquity. These three elements produce tensions between a universal, imperial dimension and a local one, and between fidelity to the classical heritage and its transformation, tensions that are the hallmarks of a post-imperial literature.

Textile Manufacture in Roman Egypt

Flanders Research Foundation (2012-2015)
PhD project Ruben Menten-Plesters , supervisor Paul Erdkamp, co-supervisor Koen Verboven

The textile industry was the largest economic sector in pre-industrial society (apart from food). Early-modern textile industry has accordingly received much attention from economic and social historians. Matters are different regarding Antiquity. Prevalent models in Ancient History caused the textile industry to be underestimated, but ancient historians have now begun to realize the importance of industries in a world of increased urbanization and economic growth. Urbanization increased the demand for cheap products. The increasing prosperity benefitted also the growing ‘middle groups’, neither poor nor rich, whose total consumption was of crucial importance for the development of the economy. Textiles were a vital element of these consumption patterns. Yet we still know very little about the organizational structures of textile production and distribution. Did landowners dominate the textile industry, or did they leave it largely to the many small-scale artisans and merchants? To what extent was textile manufacture and trade a horizontally and/or vertically integrated sector? Was it a case of integration of production of raw materials, their processing and the distribution of the end products, or did these rather remain separate segments? These questions are central to this research project, dealing with textile industry in Roman Egypt, which is the best documented province of the empire.

Religion and Childhood. Socialisation in Pre-Modern Europe from the Roman Empire to the Christian World

prof. Christian Laes

Under the direction of Prof. Dr. Katariina Mustakallio (University of Tampere, Finland), this international research project (2009-2012) takes a closer look at issues concerning socialisation, mainly in the period of passages between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. As a member of this research group, which has organised several international meetings, prof. dr. Christian Laes deals with the subject of disability history and the position of disabled children in Antiquity.
www.uta.fi/laitokset/historia/childhood

Parcere personis, dicere de vitiis? Deformitas in de epigrammen van Marcus Valerius Martialis.

Ph. D. project by Bert Gevaert, supervised by prof. dr. Manfred Horstmanshoff (University of Leiden) and prof. dr. Christian Laes.
Special Phd-fellowship FWO 2012-2013

Visual Impairments in the Roman World

PhD project by Dorien Meulenijzer, supervisor Christian Laes

This project envisages a further exploration of disability studies in antiquity, a new field of interest among ancient historians. Though scholars recently have been focusing on specific subthemes, for example the study on deaf-mutes by C. Laes (2011), there is no general survey about disability in the Roman world. For ancient Greece conversely M.L. Rose (2003) examined various disabilities within a sociological perspective. There is thus an urgent need for more research on disability in Roman antiquity. An investigation regarding the live and acts of people with a visual impairment for example remains a remarkable lacuna until today. The few studies that have been focusing on the topic are slim, general and outdated. The subject needs a modern approach that takes into account new and varied sources.

First of all the proposed study gives a broad and detailed overview of specific cases of visually impaired persons. I will research who the visually disabled were and distinguish the causes and consequences of the impairment. Second, the study pursues the matter in greater depth and sheds light on the place of sight-impaired people in ancient society. Not only will there be given attention to the way in which the disabled were living in and treated by society, it also tries to look at the attitude of the visually impaired himself. Third, there is a remarkable need to connect modern sociological and anthropological visions on disability to antiquity.

click here for more information

Christian Families in a Changing World: Ageing and Family Structures in Rome (300-700 AD). A Study of the Epigraphical Evidence

PhD project by Thomas Goessens, supervisor Christian Laes, co-supervisor Ray Laurence (Kent) 

The proposed project aims to research the transformation of the Roman familia into the early Christian family in the city of Rome between 300 and 700AD. The research will rely on three different heuristic approaches./

First of all, thanks to extended archeological, topographical and demographical research, we are able to see a city transforming from the imperial capital of about one million inhabitants to a provincial town of merely 50.000. By assessing the material conditions of the city, we are able to determine the impact of Christianity and changing socio-economic conditions on the lives of Roman families. Secondly, a rich collection of literary texts, both by pagan and Christian authors, confronts us with the opinions and thoughts of the elite on family life, thus offering the philosophical and theological discourse. Finally, a collection of more than 30.000 Christian epitaphs from the city of Rome enables us to reach the lower and middle class and offers unique information on family structures and the subject of ageing./

Aim and purpose of the present are double. First, about 30.000 Latin inscriptions from the ten volumes //Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae//, to be supplemented with about 10.000 Christian inscriptions from other regions, will be read through and catalogued in a database, which will be made available on the internet as a research tool. Second, the compiled material will be the starting point of a book length study, elaborating on various aspect of Roman family history.

The Cultural Parameters of European Warfare in Antiquity

 PhD Project Theo Vijgen, supervisor Paul Erdkamp

Traditiegetrouw richt het grootste deel van het onderzoek naar de antieke krijgsvoering zich op twee zaken:  militair-technische aspecten als legerorganisatie, wapenuitrusting, tactieken en dergelijke enerzijds, en de politieke besluitvorming die aan de oorlog voorafging anderzijds.  Pas in de laatste decennia is er meer belangstelling gekomen voor culturele aspecten, maar die betreft dan meestal zeer specifieke onderwerpen binnen één thema of één periode.

Dit bredere onderzoek probeert een antwoord te geven op de onderlinge relatie van de verschillende culturele invloeden (zoals geloof, vaderlandsliefde, eerzucht, om er een paar te noemen) en de ontwikkeling van deze invloeden over een lange periode, te weten het begin van de Griekse beschaving tot en met de overgang van de Romeinse tijd naar de middeleeuwen.  De verschillende invloeden (‘discourse features’) worden vastgesteld op basis van een primair bronnenonderzoek, waarbij de contemporaine discours omtrent de oorlog gereconstrueerd wordt.  Bij de bronnen gaat het vooral om geschreven materiaal, met name historiografie, maar ook om literaire werken, en in mindere mate om niet-geschreven bronnen als epigrafie, numismatiek, en architectuur en kunst.

Aan de inventarisatie is een analyse gekoppeld die thematisch van aard is, maar tevens gerelateerd wordt aan tijd en genre, met het doel om ontwikkelingen op te sporen en onderling vergelijk mogelijk te maken.  Door de nadruk op de contemporaine krijgsdiscours is het onderzoek cultureel-historisch van aard, maar bij de analyse worden ook moderne inzichten van krijgshistorici betrokken: per slot van rekening heeft de antieke discours niet in een luchtledig plaatsgevonden.  

The economic development of Roman Sardinia (238/7 B.C. - IIIrd cent. A.D.)

PhD Projec Maria Francesca Cadeddu, supervisor Paul Erdkamp

(…) οὔτε πλεῖ τὰ πελάγη χάριν τοῦ περαιωθῆναι μόνον (Polyb., Hist, 3, 4, 10)

The economic history of Roman Sardinia is generally considered to be a continued paradigm for Roman landmanagement founded on a system of extended latifundia and a demanding taxation’s policy. In particular, Rome is thought to be simply concerned about the imposition of a rational and intensive exploitation of the Sardinian soil as a “granary” for supplying the armies engaged in the military campaign or the Roman population. In contrast, as a result of rapid progress of the archaeological studies, a less homogeneous archaeological frame of Sardinian territory is recently emerged. New archaeological evidences outline a more dynamic geography of Sardinian economy and a more adapted system of territory-organizing carried out by Rome to control and incorporate the island within the wider economy of the Mediterranean and to interact with the resistances of a population divided by deep cultural and historical differences. Given that, the main aim of the project is to carry out a quantitative and qualitative analysis of archaeological evidences, and a comparative examination of literary sources survived, in order to describe the economic development concerning the Province of Sardinia within the range of the economic activities that the physical landscape of the island proposed, i.e. agriculture, activity of shepherds, exploitations of mineral resources, fishing and manufacture, analyzed in their own performances and structures. The analysis will deepen the performances and structures of these economic sectors over several periods: from the 238/7 B.C., when Rome conquests the island’s territory, and across the early and late Republic and the Empire until to the Diocletian’s enforcement of a new fiscal regime on the Empire (A.D. 284-305). Furthermore, several indicators of the economic growth, e.g. the extent of urbanization, demography, political and economic institutions, and technology to some extent will be used, as a signal of economic performance, to describe changes over time of Sardinian economic structure and performance within the institutional frameworks of Roman economy system connected by the Western Mediterranean.

Equally different? The socialisation strategies of Roman ex-slaves and their socio-economic integration in the urban 'plebs media'.

Ghent University Research Fund (BOF), 2016-2019, post-doctoral project Kristof Vermote

This project focusses on the socialisation of, and interaction between, two non-elite groups in the Roman world: freed slaves and the freeborn members of the urban ‘middle class’. Scholarly interest in these groups continues to steadily increase, but has so far rarely considered them in conjunction. Early studies on the interaction between elites and non-elites typically defined the first category in more specific and detailed terms than the latter, thus often implicitly reproducing the discourse of ancient literary sources. But critical responses to this approach, rightly focussing on freedmen as a social group worth studying for its own sake and on its own terms, have traditionally isolated ex-slaves as an object of enquiry, and lifted them from their ‘embeddedness’ in the social stratum of society that constituted the everyday milieu for many of them: the urban ‘middle class’. This project sets out to apply social theory (esp. Social Representation Theory) to a corpus of epigraphic sources (esp. columbaria and metric epitaphs) that reveal ties and relations between freedmen and non-elite freeborn. Specific attention will be paid to discursive strategies of (self-)representation. The main question it will try to elucidate is if and how legal status influenced or determined the outcome of the interaction between these two ‘groups’, and to which extent elite patterns of socialisation and stratification extended ‘downward’ as a template for this interaction.

The Family in Republican Italy: A Comparative Study of Family Relations in Latium, Etruria and Campania (ca. 500 - 31 BC)

Ghent University Research Fund (BOF), 2016-2020, PhD project Alexis Daveloose

This project aims to study family relations in Latium, Etruria and Campania during the Republican period (ca. 500 – 31 BC). Our knowledge of the Roman Republican family is very fragmented and relies too heavily on textual evidence and sources from the Imperial period. For other Italic peoples, barely any attention has been given to this subject. A new analysis is therefore necessary and given the strong connections and interactions between the Italic regions in this period, it should be considered from an interregional perspective. This project will study what family relations looked like in these regions, how they evolved, how these regions compare to each other and how family relations were affected by the Roman integration of Italy. To answer these questions, this project will focus on how family relations were conceptualised and created through interaction. A wide range of evidence – literary and legal texts, votive objects, houses and funerary material – will be used to fully grasp this process. A coherent analysis will be made for each region, using three case studies per region, after which these regions will be compared by analysing them using identical questions. This project will contribute to our knowledge of these regions and Roman Italy as a whole, by being original for this subject in terms of the selected regions and period, the combination of so many types of evidence and the theoretical framework based on anthropology, archaeology and social history.

The origins of European kingship (c. 400-525 CE): Towards a new model for military leadership in Late Antiquity.

Post-doctoral project Jeroen Wijnendaele (FWO), 2016-2019
Modern scholarship has seen early medieval concepts of kingship primarily as the result of processes of ethnic solidarity, or as the self-explanatory outcome of the institutional disintegration of the western Roman empire. By contrast, my research project will argue that the fifth-century emergence of new forms of kingship was the result of a crisis of leadership structures within the imperial Roman army. A chronological analysis of individuals claiming the title of rex ('king') in Western Europe reveals that they have something hitherto unnoticed in common: the specific structure of their military careers. Approaching the problem through the lens of career profiles and allegiance networks will both fill a significant lacuna in our understanding of the fifth century, and contribute to our wider understanding of what causes or impedes military integration inside failed states.

Inland Waterways in the Roman Transport Network of the Gallic and Germanic Provinces (c. 50 BC – c. AD 400)

Flanders Research Foundation (FWO), 2017-2020)
PhD project Toon Bongers, supervisors Koen Verboven and Wim De Clercq

click here for the project's webpage

Scholars agree that transport by rivers and lakes greatly stimulated the development of trade in the Roman empire. Waterways, however, are as much man-made as roads are. They require investment, regulation and control. Without tow-paths, canals, locks, connecting roads, ports and warehouses rivers offer only a marginal contribution to trade. Yet, the contribution of rivers and lakes to Roman transport networks is usually treated in a matter of fact way.

This project will study the institutional conditions governing navigation on rivers and lakes, and the resource requirements for and effects of Roman interventions. Our approach is inspired by complexity economics, which analyses economics systems as dynamic networks of autonomous agents. We combine a social network analysis and a spatial network analysis to study the institu-tions, agents and spatial structures in the Rhone/Saone river basin and in the river basins of Scheldt and Meuse. Both areas differed institutionally and ecologically, but were interconnected via the Rhine and were part of a larger transport network linking the Mediterranean to the North Sea area.