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December 3, 2015

Bored at work? Here’s a Google-style digital map of the Roman Empire to play with

By Jonn Elledge

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have spent many years fretting over a single vexed question: What’s the best route from Camulodunum to Korinion? Should you take the direct route via Verlamium? Or the more southerly one, through Londinium? It’s a tricky one.

Well worry no longer – for the Roman Empire has finally joined the 21st century. This map is a sort of Google Maps of antiquity. It’s fully searchable, and comes with multiple zoom levels.

You can see the entire sweep of the empire, with its provinces marked out (you can click to expand the map):

Or you can zoom right in to see its heartland, complete with cemeteries (the tomb stones), villas (semi-circles) and temples (stars):

You can even search for specific places:

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Sadly, it doesn’t go down to street map level – though that’s probably more a reflection of the limits of the data than the limits of the cartographer’s ambition.


The map is the work of Johan Åhlfeldt, a researcher at Sweden’s Lund University, who built it using sources including the  Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World and the Pleides dataset. In all it has eight different zoom levels, with a ninth covering the regions (Italy, Greece and points east) where data is richest.

The Roman Empire, of course, was around for a while: there were emperors in the west for half a millennium, and the Roman Republic had been conquering territory well beyond Italy for a couple of centuries even before Augustus got his hands on power. Maps tend to change rather a lot over that many centuries.

But as Åhlfeldt explains here, his map doesn’t reflect a particular point in history:

“In a departure from the original Barrington Atlas and the Pleiades dataset, our digital map does not try to implement time periods when places are attested, nor does it speculate on the certainty (or otherwise) of locations: only precise locations from the Pleiades dataset can be rendered on the map. Nevertheless, since many places lacked precise coordinates and/or feature data, a good deal of effort has been made to improve the data.”

That said, the names and borders of Roman provices changed rather a lot of over time – best we can tell, the ones shown on Åhlfeldt’s map date from the early 2nd century CE.

Oh, and my quandary about getting from Camulodunum (Colchester) to Korinion (Cirencester)?

It’s a longer route if you head south, but the roads are better quality.

Next time you’re in Roman Britain, you can thank me.

You can see the whole map here. Check it out.

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