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What has the Ancient World Mapping Center Done for Us?

Lindsay Holman

UNC Chapel Hill

       Since its establishment at UNC Chapel Hill in 2000, the Ancient World Mapping Center ( has played increasingly wide and active roles.  The paper reviews these, and evaluates their present importance and future potential.

       The transfer of some production for Barrington Atlas maps from film-based methods to digital ones during the mid-1990s brought the realization that what had been envisaged as just a fixed, print tool could be made a far more flexible and versatile resource with the use of digital technology.  Thereby the Atlas would gain longer-lasting value and benefit a greater number of users than ever.  Since no comparable institution already existed, the decision was taken (with APA’s endorsement) to establish a Center for the purpose, with a mission to promote cartography, geographic information science and historical geography as essential disciplines within ancient studies.  So far as possible, moreover, the Center would always endeavor to share its work and materials free of charge.  

       From the outset, it has remained a fundamental goal to provide a high-quality geodatabase of physical features across the entire Greek and Roman world.  Painstaking, ongoing work has been required, aided during recent years by incorporation of material from OpenStreetMap.  The result is provision of Ancient World Map Tiles, which in turn forms the basis for Antiquity-A-La-Carte, a web-based GIS interface and interactive digital atlas.  Its users can frame, populate and export maps according to their own design, both selecting data from the Center’s database and adding their own content, including linework and shading. 

       These tools have enabled the Center to create maps in different formats for varying levels of engagement.  For example, the 1:750,000 presentation of Asia Minor in the Second Century CE is designed for specialist users primarily, as is the growing Maps for Texts series, which includes Ptolemy, Table of Important Cities and Hierocles, Synekdemos.  By contrast, Wallmaps for the Ancient World (Routledge) are designed more for instructional purposes, as are the many maps made for textbooks such as Wheelock’s Latin and M. Boatwright et al., The Romans from Village to Empire (also available through the Center’s Free Maps).  Further, the tools form the base of initiatives such as ORBIS: Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, and the seamless map made by the Center to accompany Duane Roller’s translation (2014) and commentary (2018) on Strabo, Geography.  A similar map for the geographical books (2-6) of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History is in preparation.

       No less important is the web-based collaborative system,, now at New York University, after initial conception and launch at the Center, which continues as its partner.  The aim is to provide online access to all information about Greek and Roman geography gathered for the Barrington Atlas, enabling collaboration to refine, update, and diversify this dataset; hence its current expansion in space and time to the Middle and Far East, and to the Late Antique and medieval periods.  Pleiades maintains an open-content approach, with rigorous editorial review.   

       The Center is committed to fulfilling mapping commissions across a vast range.  Its cartography may be found in the online Oxford Classical Dictionary and Encyclopedia of Ancient History (Wiley-Blackwell), for example, as well as in numerous Companions, Handbooks, atlases, monographs and articles.  For Rome’s World: The Peutinger Map Reconsidered the Center re-joined the eleven segments of this map into a 22 ft-long strip.  Some work is inter-disciplinary, as in the Dictionary of Continental Celtic Place-Names (Aberystwyth, 2010), and the Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (2011).  Maps are made, too, for museum exhibitions, games and theater productions.    

       New recent activity includes engagement with the U.S. Committee for the Blue Shield (protecting cultural heritage).  The Center is poised to expand its range further, and thereby to enhance the training and experience it gives to students at both undergraduate and graduate levels.  

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Mapping the Classical World since 1869: Past and Future Directions

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