Spanning one-ninth of the earth’s circumference across three continents, the Roman Empire ruled a quarter of humanity through complex networks of political power, military domination and economic exchange. These extensive connections were sustained by premodern transportation and communication technologies that relied on energy generated by human and animal bodies, winds, and currents. Conventional maps that represent this world as it appears from space signally fail to capture the severe environmental constraints that governed the flows of people, goods and information. Cost, rather than distance, is the principal determinant of connectivity. For the first time, ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.
This is pretty much the coolest thing ever.
One thing I want to use this to do is to map out the approximate cost of the many journeys of Paul of Tarsus. There is a great deal of handwringing about what he did for a living, how much he relied on wealthy patrons, and more generally how the financial logistics of the early church could have supported his ministry. We’ve got a pretty solid idea of where he traveled, a pretty good idea of how he did it, and a decent idea of when when. So in a few weeks I’ll go ahead and try to calculate it.