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Accessing Economic, Material, and Social Networks in Antiquity Through GIS and Linked Data

Ryan Horne

University of Pittsburgh

The interplay of wealth, power, and identity has a profound impact on current political and social movements. Social and political groups, including the self-proclaimed “resistance” against Donald Trump and the alt-right, have created extensive social and political networks which have coalesced around issues relating to social norms, shared material culture, and wealth distribution. A combination of social network analysis (SNA) and geographic information systems (GIS) is increasingly deployed to examine these communities and the influence of geography on their development. Beyond use in a contemporary setting, SNA can be used by scholars of the premodern era to study cultural interactions, economic exchange, and the social context of thoroughly documented individuals (Alexander & Danowski, 1990; Berman, 2005; Brughmans, 2012. Staal, Baltenweck, Waithaka, DeWolff, & Njoroge, 2002; Vlassopoulos, 2007). GIS techniques are increasingly used in ancient studies (Notably the NEH-funded Pleiades project ( ) and Mellon-funded Pelagios Commons (, and some scholars of numismatics have embraced GIS and linked data, notably within the context of cataloging and locating ancient coin hoards (Meadows & Gruber, 2014).

This paper shows how my project, Economic, Material, and Social Networks in Antiquity: Aeolian Alexanders, uses SNA and GIS to analyze the understudied human networks in region of ancient Aeolis by re-imagining traditional die studies, transforming them into digital publications which illustrate economic and social networks in geographic space. Die studies facilitate analysis of a critical class of historical evidence, especially when the survival of other source material is limited. Despite the critical importance of die studies, this foundational work has so far been notably absent from the digital turn in numismatics. Die study publications are subject to the limitations of a print medium, where only a select sampling of potentially thousands of coin images can be displayed. Die studies have yet to incorporate new insights offered by related digital projects, and do not take advantage of advances in GIS, SNA, and linked-data projects.

Aeolian Alexanders will be the first “born-digital” die study using modern techniques, with the results to be published as a publicly accessible web-application. In my paper, I show how a scholar can use linked data projects, notably Pleiades, Pelagios, Nomisma, Pella, the Hellenistic Royal Coinages (HRC) project and the Big Ancient Mediterranean (BAM) platform (;;,, to integrate SNA, GIS, and textual data in order to reveal new insights into the ancient world, visualize the results, and produce a compelling digital presentation. I show how new tools can be used to expand traditional techniques by highlighting how die linkages, coin circulation patterns, and hoard data can be viewed as networks of material and social interaction, which are geographically contextualized through the use of GIS tools.

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Geospatial Classics: Teaching and Research Applications of GIS Technology

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