ERC advanced grant awarded to project on Roman food trade

José Remesal, professor of Ancient History at the UB, has received one of the advanced grants conferred by the European Research Council (ERC) to research leaders for the project EPNet (Production and distribution of food during the Roman Empire: economic and political dynamics).

The project links physics, particularly the study of complex networks, with history in order to research on trade dynamics during the Roman Empire. The project counts with one of the richest database for amphorae and its epigraphy, created thanks to the work developed by the Centre for the Study of Provincial Interdependence in Classical Antiquity (CEIPAC) of the UB for twenty-five years. It has 36,000 registers and an average of 15 information indicators for each register. Computer modelling and complex systems simulations will extract information from this database to formulate and confirm hypothesis about Roman political and economic mechanisms.

Concerning the complementarity of the work carried out by historians, physicians and computer experts, Remesal affirms that “for physicians the projects means a possibility to apply models to real data, whereas for historians it enables to analyse big databases”. Besides CEIPAC, project partners are: the UB research group PhysComp (headed by Albert Díaz Guilera), devoted to study complex networks from statistical physics perspective; the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre (Xavier Rubio), and the consultancy SIRIS Academic, expert on semantic models and knowledge management (Bernardo Rondelli).

Roman amphorae can be considered as the best archaeological marker of Roman Empire economic production and transactions. They are a unique indicator of social relationships and chronological dynamics, because of their distribution throughout the Empire, the precise information contained in their epigraphy (similar to modern trademarks and labels) and their diachronic persistence. Considering CEIPAC’s database on amphorae, the project EPNet proposes an interdisciplinary framework to formulate trade dynamics models and their main routes.

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The authors of the project think that other systems studied by physics have similar properties and behaviours to the ones of social sciences. It is important to remember that complex networks have already been applied to the analysis of economy and trade between companies, banks and countries; the project EPNet proposes to apply complex networks to the ancient trade of wine, oil and preserved fish. Computer simulations will act like a ‘virtual lab’ in which hypothesis about Roman economic and political mechanisms will be formulated and validated. To date, computer simulations have been mainly used to study prehistoric societies, but they have been scarcely apply to more recent time periods, such as ancient history. Moreover, experts on semantic analysis collaborate in the project; they will contribute to define the values and parameters used in computer simulations.

Roman trade system is considered the first European complex trade network. Many theories and hypothesis about its organization and relation to the Empire’s army and politics have been formulated. Some authors consider that Roman trade does not share any feature with modern economies. However, other experts think that it is a predecessor of present globalised economies and affirm that it can be explained by present economic theories. The project EPNet will provide another opinion on this issue.

The last call of ERC Advanced grants has conferred up to 3.5 million euros to 284 top researchers, selected among 2,400 candidates, who are developing research in Europe. Project submitted are focused on very different subject areas, from life in Mars, to viruses which kill cancer cells or the molecular mechanisms responsible for Alzheimer’s disease.

The EU advanced grants aim at promoting scientific excellence and creativity. They contribute to the research developed by excellent researchers on emerging fields, the so-called ‘frontier research’, and they are able to expand knowledge limits. Advanced grants pursue ground-breaking, high-risk projects that open new directions in their respective research fields, and at the same time they draw the best researchers to Europe.

Besides Professor José Remesal, UB researchers who also received an advanced grant are: Susana Narotzky, from the Department of Cultural Anthropology and the History of America and Africa, for the project Grassroots economics: meaning, project and practice in the pursuit of livelihood (GRECO); Peter Wagner, from the Department of Sociological Theory, Philosophy of Law and Methodology for Social Sciences, for the project Trajectòries de modernitat: comparació de les varietats europees i no europees (TRAMOD), and Mel Slater, from the Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment, for the project Transcendir la realitat: activar les respostes en els entorns virtuals mitjançant un enriquiment sensorial (TRAVERSE).

Header Image : Roman Amphora : WikiCommons

Contributing Source : Universidad de Barcelona

HeritageDaily : Archaeology News : Archaeology Magazine


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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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