ORBIS: your route planner for the ancient world

Ancient mystery authors rejoice!  Stanford University has produced an online trip planner: one for getting you around the ancient Roman Empire.  It comes complete with route planning, schedule estimates and fare costs.  

My only complaint is all the fares are calculated in denarii rather than drachmae.  But then, the hyper-inflation of the post-Alexander period throws out the costs for me anyway.  

I instantly tested the system on a route for which I knew the answer.  Those of you who've read The Ionia Sanction will recognize this map:

This is the route Nico and Asia took from Athens to Ephesus, aboard Salaminia, the fastest trireme ever built.

Like any ancient author dealing with travel, I worked it out with a map, a ruler, and by knowing the average speed of an African swallow the top speed and average speed of a trireme.  (In the process I learned a lot about trireme dynamics.)

I figured that Salaminia could do it with only a single overnight stop and two very long days. Orbis produced 2.4 days for a standard boat on its quickest route, or 4.5 days if I restricted it to coastal waters and only daylight travel, which would be your average trader.  I did notice you have to be careful with the options.  If I left road travel turned on, the boat stopped on one side of an island, people got off, crossed the island by horse or donkey, then got back on another boat.  Which is obviously unrealistic, but since I did allow it in my choices it's fair enough.

With a little common sense, and by modifying the result with any specific knowledge, it's guaranteed to save you piles of time.  I think this thing is just awesome.  This is what historical research should be in the modern world.


Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

This is fascinating! Thanks for posting about it. My daughter is studying Ancient Greece and Rome in history class, and she'll have fun playing with this neat tool, as well! Thanks!

Meg said...

As someone working out the dynamics of travel in the ancient world for a story (and as someone really bad at math), this is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have seen all year. I would like to hug the creator of this. And give them cake.

Gary Corby said...

Give them some cake for me too.

Laura, I reckon your daughter could learn piles of history just by playing around with this. You could do something like build a route for the emperor Hadrian to walk around the empire (which he did) and work out his fastest path.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I was in Israel in March, and I’m just back from England, so I thought I’d calculate the fastest journey from York to Jerusalem in May: 51.8 days -- a long journey, but think of all the frequent-donkey miles!
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Gary Corby said...

But you're such a light guy, Peter, I think the donkey should get a turbo-boost, and you'd make it in 45.

Peter Rozovsky said...

How do you say "Lying so-and-so" in Attic Greek?

Gary Corby said...

We'll have to do a weigh-in test the next time we meet, but I'd guess you're a whole lot lighter than I am.

So there are only two possibilities. Either the donkey gets a turbo-boost when you ride it, or else the donkey expires of a heart attack before the first mile post when I ride it. I'd rather go with option 1.

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

You must be thinking of my anorexic dwarf companion. But I'd be all right as long as I didn't travel RyanAss. They make you pay extra for everything.

So, what were the two most geographically points that were every in the Roman or Macedonian empires at any time? What would the longest journey be between any two points that were at any time under the rule of the Romans or Alexander? Gandhara and York? Mauritania? Coimbra?

Gary Corby said...

York in the top left of the map for sure. Or for an extra two days of travel one of the mile forts along Hadrian's Wall.

If you're staying within the Roman Empire I'd guess somewhere down the Nile or on the Red Sea would be worst case for the other end, since you have to take a boat across the Med. It's not like they had official borders in those days, so it'd be a moot point where the empire ended, though you're certainly outside once you hit Aethiopia.

If you allow combing Alexander's empire with the Roman, then you'd stretch from York out to Hydaspes in Northern India as worst case, since you have to cross a lot of big mountains.

But if you allow crossing outside the empire altogether, then the Silk Road was definitely up and running and you could flog your donkey all the way to China.

It's known for sure that the Persians circumnavigated Africa long before the Romans appeared. Thanks for the idea. That might be the next blog post!