ORBIS: Google Maps for the Roman Empire

I’m sure many of you have often felt frustrated at the inability of Google Maps to accurately represent journey times within the ancient Roman Empire. Happily, a new online resource has been created for just such a purpose.

ORBIS, the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, will calculate the fastest, shortest, or cheapest route between any two major cities across the empire, based on a range of factors such as time of year, whether you are a member of the military or merely a civilian, and your chosen mode(s) of transport (options range from “rapid military march” to “horse relay” by way of “ox cart”, “fully loaded mule”, “private travel (routine, vehicular)” and a host of others. It even tells you the price (in denarii) per kilogram of wheat transported via your chosen route.

For instance, the fastest mode of transport from Londinium to Athenae in May would be by fast horse relay, taking just 14.6 days – less than half the time it would take a Roman army legion to make this journey. Unfortunately, speed costs: this trip would set you back around 100 denarii per kilogram of wheat transported. For the budget traveller, the cheapest option is a journey by ship and donkey, costing just 4 denarii per kilogram of wheat transported – but be warned, this will take you 42 days:

Londinium to Athenae: the budget option

Happy journey planning!


6 thoughts on “ORBIS: Google Maps for the Roman Empire

  1. I do find it interesting how completely useless most land travel is compared to the sea travel, especially if you disclude rivers. I tend to think of Roman messengers operating by horse and foot, at least across mainland Europe – and while I suppose you would have to a little bit inland, that’s mostly got to be completely wrong.

    I am a bit miffed it won’t let me plan my trip from Londinium to Baiae, though.

    • Well, the fastest option did seem to be the horse relay – which is how I’ve always thought of Roman messengers, too! But agreed, even that goes at least half the distance by ship. It looks like it’s going out into the Atlantic and around to the Channel that adds the time via ship…

      Surely Puteoli would do?

      • Also, yes, I never realised how important river traffic must have been! Somehow canal barges don’t quite fit in my image of the Roman Empire…

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