Beyond ports: Movement and connectivity in the Roman Mediterranean

Project: Research

Project Details


'Beyond ports' will explore the mobility across land and water in coastal regions in the Mediterranean to understand the structure and organisation of territories in the Roman Empire and how communities used and shaped their surroundings to connect with others.
This project will use quantitative and analytical methods, specifically archaeological analysis, topographic modelling, spatial and network analyses within Geographic Information Systems. These tools and approaches will make possible to create digital models of entire regions, helping us understand how they have changed since Antiquity.
This project will develop during 4 years at the University of Lund and will count with the collaboration of several specialised researchers from different European universities and research institutions, materialised in three secondments at the University of Bonn (Germany), the University of Cádiz (Spain) and the Swedish Institute of Classical Studies in Rome (Italy).
Beyond ports will provide a holistic interpretation of movement in coastal areas in Antiquity that would bridge the gap between Maritime Archaeology and Classical Archaeology, leading to a renewed understanding of how people used their surroundings to connect with others in the past. It will also improve the detection of potential unknown archaeological sites in the coast, and promote the collaboration between heritage management institutions and academic research to influence policy regarding the preservation of archaeological heritage in areas at risk caused by human developments and climate change.

Layman's description

Along History, movement (together with vision) has allowed people to interact with others nearby, to explore entire landscapes and to connect with people in regions far away. In this context, certain places (like ports) have been key to movement and connection ever since, by linking different regions and environments, like land and water. Looking back to the geography of the Roman Empire, it becomes clear the fundamental role that ports played in connecting different regions by navigating the Mediterranean and the great rivers (the Rhine, Nile or Rhone). In this sense, ports were key in the development and growth of both the Empire and the communities integrated in it. However, changes in the coastlines and their topography, amongst other factors, have erased many of their traces, which hinders our understanding of these communities and their interactions with others.
The project ‘Beyond ports: Movement and connectivity in the Roman Mediterranean’ seeks to explore the mobility and connection of these Roman communities to answer two main questions: firstly, how successful were these communities in exploiting the potential for movement their surroundings offered?; and secondly, considering the vast works of road and port infrastructures that characterise the Roman Empire, how successful were in reality these infrastructures to facilitate movement and connection between provinces (taking into account cases like the failed intervention in the port of Lepcis Magna)? The exploration of three Mediterranean regions (the southern coast of Spain, the central Tyrrhenian coast of Italy, and the western coast of Turkey) also adds an additional element of analysis, stated in the question: how did different communities maximise their connection with the rest of the Empire (by contrasting the movement in natural conditions and after the Roman interventions in the landscapes in each region)?. For this purpose, a combination of different types of evidence and of different techniques of analysis, computing, modelling and simulation in a digital environment will be used:
- Regarding the evidence, the analysis of information about the known archaeological sites describes how the different regions were occupied, whereas the study of geoarchaeological data (informing about patterns of sedimentation in alluvial and coastal areas) and historic maps shows the transformation of landscapes since Antiquity.
- Regarding the techniques, they make possible to (re)create topographic models of these Mediterranean regions as they might have looked in the past by combining these known transformations in the physical environments with digital models of the current topography. Beyond their visual aspects, these models allow to estimate how difficult or easy movement was in these regions, helping to identify potential port locations based on which locations in the coast connected larger areas across land and sea.
But these models can tell us much more about the past: by comparing the location of potential ports against the location of known Roman ports, it is possible to understand not only the influence of geographic factors in the structure of movement and connectivity in the Roman period, but also of the level of intervention and success of the local communities to improve their chances of connecting with others. The utility of these insights goes beyond their mere interpretative potential of the past to also embrace the preservation of this specific archaeological heritage in the present, since they could help to identify the potential location of undiscovered ports and to provide extra precautions in these areas against urban developments or the impact of climate change.
Short titleBeyond ports
Effective start/end date2021/12/012025/11/30

Collaborative partners

  • Lund University (lead)
  • University of Cádiz (Project partner)
  • University of Bonn (Project partner)


  • Swedish Research Council

UKÄ subject classification

  • Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

Free keywords

  • Roman Empire
  • Movement
  • Maritime port
  • Geographic Information System (GIS)
  • Digital modelling
  • Spatial analysis