Roman Port Networks in the Roman Mediterranean

The Roman Port Networks Project is a collaboration between 30 European partners, examining the connections between Roman ports across the Mediterranean. The project uses analyses of the co-presence of ceramics and marble to explore changing connections between Portus, Rome and selected ports in the Mediterranean at defined chronological periods throughout the imperial period. In particular, it attempts to establish how far this kind of evidence supports the notion that there may have been networks of ports dependant in some way upon Portus, and the degree to which these may have changed through time.

While an answer to these questions would be interesting in itself, the methodologies of study are also important end results. The project proposes the consistent use of the same techniques of quantification and characterization, as a way of arriving at more statistically defensible material for inter-port comparisons. Unpublished data would be ideal for this although some published data might also be usable. Furthermore, inter-port trade flows would be modelled by developing a semantic web environment for comparison of data from different port sites, mediated to some degree by a GIS that enabled the constraints of the Mediterranean to be introduced at least at the basic level.

The Director of the Project is Simon Keay (British School of Rome and University of Southampton) and the project draws together an extensive team of individuals and institutions whose expertise spans ceramics and marble, primarily from the west Mediterranean, but also from the east, as well as computing matters and issues relating to ship cargoes.

Financial and logistical support to the project is currently being provided by the British School at Rome and the Institut Catalá d’Arqueologia Clàssica, while additional funding is being currently sought. The project is also benefiting from close institutional links with the Centre Camille Jullian (Aix-en-Provence) and the Universidad de Sevilla.

The project is using an innovative new approach to data management in order to bring together the many separate sources of information that we have about ports in the Roman Mediterranean. The Semantic Web is a way of linking data by storing it as statements rather than in tables. Because the statements are composed of the same URIs that you use in the address bar of an internet browser, they can be accessed by other computers so different datasets can be connected together more easily. It also means that we can see all the information related to a given concept, whether it’s a thing, a property or a class of objects.

We hope that by using this methodology we might soon be able to ask questions such as ‘where are all the known finds of Dressel 20 amphorae on the Mediterranean coast?’, or ‘which other towns have used the same types of marble as those employed in Tarragona?’ It is with this kind of knowledge that we can start building theoretical networks of trade and mobility.


  • Tom Brughmans
  • Graeme Earl
  • Leif Isaksen
  • Simon Keay
  • David Potts