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Travel back in time with the ‘Google Maps’ of Ancient Rome

Summer is now well-underway across Europe and many of us are planning our holiday escape with travel comparison websites and web mapping services.

Low-cost air carriers, fast trains, and cross-national motorways have made travelling across the Old Continent a quick and often cheap affair. But let’s imagine that cars, trains and planes haven’t been invented yet and that your options are limited to ox or mule cart and ships.

Researchers at Stanford University have used modern technology to answer by creating a web mapping version of Ancient Rome.

Their model, called ORBIS, consists of 632 sites spread across 10 million square kilometres of terrestrial and maritime space, covering most of modern Western Europe and the Mediterranean coast in North Africa and the Middle East.

The tool generates solutions for travel between any two sites depending on specific means and mode of transport and the months of the year, providing different options based on time and expense.

A journey that involved sailing across the sea or crossing a mountainous area, for example, would have been massively impacted by the weather.

ORBIS

A trip from London to Arles — in Provence, France — undertaken in the summer would have taken 24 days using the fastest route, which entails sailing down the Channel, then down to the Bay of Biscay to reach Bordeaux and then travelling by land.

The cheapest route would have required 35 days and involved sailing around the Iberian Peninsula. The shortest route in terms of kilometres, meanwhile, would also have been the lengthiest, involving 37 days to travel through France.

This probably explains why soldiers and merchants were among the few people who travelled much during the Roman Empire.

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