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ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network of the Roman World

January 14, 2019

In a reading a recent book review, I was introduced to a remarkable resource for all students and scholars interested in the Roman world:  ORBIS:  The Stanford Geospatial Network of the Roman World, an online resource freely available, the home page here.

ORBIS is primarily intended to serve historians of the Roman Empire, the main questions shaping the project having to do with how Rome managed such a far-flung empire.  So it is “top down” in orientation, more amenable to questions about how trade or governance operated, and at what cost and time involved.

But in various ways it is also useful for other questions.  For example, how long did it take for the trip from Antioch of Syria to Jerusalem (e.g., for the financial relief trip that Acts 11>27-30).  Well, per ORBIS, it depends on whether one traveled by foot, or by donkey, or by coastal vessel.  The latter mode would have taken a little over seven days.

So, in various ways, ORBIS allows one to get more of a sense of what physical and financial efforts were involved in travel.  And the New Testament writings make it clear that early Christians did a lot of traveling.   ORBIS is a powerful, but unavoidably complex tool that will require some help from the tutorials provided on the site.  But for historical questions it is a valuable resource.

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  1. Gilbert Salinas permalink

    Great tool and asset. Thank you for sharing this information.

  2. ORBIS is a great resource! I use it regularly. A while back, I did a project where I checked all of the travel information in Acts against ORBIS, which confirmed all of them. It was an impressive indication of the accuracy of Luke (or whoever kept the travel diary that those portions of Acts are based on).

  3. Many thanks for posting about the Orbis website. I haven’t gone exploring in it yet but it promises to be of considerable interest.

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