Thursday, May 24, 2012

Travel Like a Citizen of Ancient Rome (if you have the time)

If you're traveling to Europe, North Africa or the Middle East and really want to get a feel for the history of the region, check out a new tool from the geniuses at Stanford University. It's called Orbis [], and it lets you find routes, costs and travel time between destinations popular during the Roman Empire. That's right -- the Roman Empire. Between this fascinating new tool and vacation rentals along the way, you’ll have the historical trip of a lifetime.

Not only will you find locations important to the ancient Romans, you'll understand the travel difficulties they encountered. For example, a trip from Rome to Verona, Italy, takes a little over 4 hours today. A citizen of Rome traveling by horse relay would need nearly 3 days to make the same trip. Rome to London (Londinium) would take just over 9 days by horse relay. If you used a fast carriage, you'd need 22.5 days. Today, the trip takes about 19 hours by car. Both were calculated for travel in July, the best month for travel in the ancient world. In January, add a couple days for the trip to London. The trip to Verona stays about the same. (The weather in Italy is nicer in January, after all.)

The tool provides travel costs in denarii, the currency used in ancient Rome, and gives you various alternate routes that would have been used, such as sailing ship and river routes.

Formally called “The Stanford Geospastial Network Model of the Roman World,” it’s based on historical knowledge of the network of cities, roads, river routes and sea lanes used by the Romans. It reflects conditions that existed at about 200 CE. Orbis encompasses 751 sites and covers 4 million square miles and takes into account 14 different types of transportation (ox cart, horse relay, fully loaded mule, etc.).

A true history buff could plan an entire vacation around this remarkable and fascinating tool. It shows the location of long-forgotten Roman centers of commerce and industry. Or, you could use it for just part of your trip. Vacation rentals would be the perfect places to stay since you'd get a real feel for local customs and could immerse yourself in the history of the region.

With Orbis, you'll find hidden gems, new and interesting locations, and have a greater appreciation for both our modern world and the achievements of the ancient Romans.