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Post-docs say goodbye

Three years ago we started as post-docs in the ATLAS project. One of our tasks was writing this blog, and now we are writing our penultimate post about our experiences in the project and the plans for the future.

Team meetings, visits to cities and sites
So let’s start with the beginning in April 2021. As we all remember, this was still within the pandemic and it was impossible to travel. So our first meeting as the core ATLAS team was digital. We both remember being a bit anxious, one of the things was the language used in the project. Was the meeting going to be in French or in Spanish? And how are the new colleagues? We had met before in the academic world of conferences, but working together is a real different thing. The meeting, in Spanish, went really well and the plans for a real meeting in La Rochelle were made. As we wrote earlier, this meeting in La Rochelle was a great and weird opportunity to get to know each other better. The sushi dinner in a hotel room and the copious meal at Laurent’s, restaurants in la Rochelle were closed, were very good social events to get the team together and break the ice. Within a month we were already off on a good start.
In addition to La Rochelle, the ATLAS core team has been meeting in various parts of the Mediterranean, especially to get first-hand knowledge of some of our case study cities. Thus, in September of the same year, we were able to organise a visit to Mérida, also to meet with some of our project colleagues, renowned specialists in the history and archaeology of this city. This meeting was essential to request and obtain the necessary permits and data to produce the 3D reconstructions for our exhibition. And, at the same time, thanks to our colleagues from Emerita, we were able to enjoy detailed explanations of some of the most outstanding buildings of the late-antique city, as well as the magnificent pieces and inscriptions preserved in the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano.

Visit to Mérida in September 2021.

Our next team meeting was already in March 2022, and on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. This time the four of us travelled to Tunisia, where we met our colleagues from the Institut National du Patrimoine, with whom we also agreed on permissions and data transmission to continue working on our travelling exhibition. There we were able to walk among the fascinating archaeological remains of ancient Carthage, but also to visit other sites such as Mactaris, included in the case studies of the project, or other sites of great interest, such as Zama Regia. Our Tunisian colleagues were certainly excellent hosts and guides, and even took us to taste the real local gastronomy in the heart of the Tunisian medina.

Visit to Carthage in March 2022.

In December 2022, Sabine and Pieter presented a paper at the Africa Romana conference, the paper co-authored with Stefan Ardeleanu should be out soon! This conference took place at Sbeitla, what was once the Roman city of Sufetula. Visiting this amazing site gave us the opportunity to get a grasp of another African city, unfortunately not one of our case studies. Luckily we were able to do an autopsy of a case study city during this visit. As part of the conference programme a  visit to Ammaedara was planned. This visit did not only allow us to see Ammaedara, but also gave the opportunity to speak to the two most relevant researchers of this site: François Baratte and Mohamed ben Nejma. Sabine took the chance to ask François Baratte her pressing questions on the site. The contact with Mohamed ben Nejma led to his visit at the RomanIslam Center at Hamburg where he and Pieter collaborated to create the map for Ammaedara.

Sabine Panzram and François Baratte at Ammaedara in December 2022.

Studying Late Antiquity
But beyond these visits and team meetings, obviously our main focus has been studying urban phenomena in Late Antiquity through our ten case studies. We have already explained in other blogs how we work and how we incorporate the enormous amount of epigraphic and archaeological information in our particular Geographic Information System in web format and open access (WebSIG). This exhaustive work has undoubtedly allowed us to exponentially expand our knowledge of this complex and interesting period, and also to broaden our geographical focus to regions that we had not had the opportunity to work on directly before. We can now say that we have a good command of the existing bibliography and a good knowledge of the historiography and the state of the art of our cases and regions of study. Moreover, by working together with a specialist in archaeology and a specialist in epigraphy, we have been able to combine these two fields and bring them together in WebSIG in a way that has never been done before. While this interdisciplinary approach is the aim of most projects, it often goes no further than one specialist reading sources from other disciplines. In this case, Ada and Pieter have not only worked together but also discussed issues from different points of view, which has led to new perspectives and raised questions that, for the moment, seem unsolvable (e.g. dating issues in archaeology and epigraphy; i.e. the swamp of circular argumentation…).

The Epigraphy group during one of their meetings.

As such the postdocs have indeed brought interdisciplinary work on another level, but this has not been the only teamwork we have done, as we also have the different research groups. These groups, made up of people from many different backgrounds and with different specialisations, have met regularly to discuss and deepen the study of specific topics. Admittedly, the epigraphy group is not so interdisciplinary, since it is simply made up of the project’s epigraphers, but here lies the other novelty of the project: bringing together Hispanists and Africanists. By studying these two regions together we can see some striking similarities and exciting differences. Obviously, the combination of people with different knowledge and backgrounds has also led to interesting intercultural exchanges. It has opened our eyes to new perspectives and changing points of view, as well as triggering discussions resulting from our different ways of working. Sometimes a certain diplomacy has been necessary to keep going. However, this international, intercultural and interdisciplinary way of working is very rewarding and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with our colleagues.

Yearly workshops
The key to these collaborations has undoubtedly been the research groups we formed after our first colloquium in Madrid. With eight groups of different sizes, depending on the popularity of each topic, we have had around thirty researchers participating in our project. But as most of them have their own projects on the case study cities, or on the topics of the research groups, it has not always been easy to find time to meet in their busy schedules. So a good way to organise this has been the annual workshops, which have set a strict deadline while giving each group the opportunity to present and discuss work in progress. It is true that, despite the tight deadlines, we have not always managed to organise ourselves in the most efficient way, but still the groups presented novel angles of study and questions at each annual colloquium that have opened discussion for the whole group. We are sure that our next colloquium in Madrid will also open up fascinating exchanges on Late Antique cities!

Group picture of our last workshop at Tunis.

All these group meetings and annual colloquia have been a slow-burning process that will soon bear fruit. As we have already explained, these collaborations and collective debates will be collected in a publication, the ATLAS Companion. In the last few months the work has been intense and the groups have been more active than ever in drafting the different chapters that will make up this volume. In addition, Pieter has been elaborating, advised by our specialists and helped by the Hamburg students, the many maps that will accompany the texts and that will undoubtedly be one of the main outputs of our project. If you are curious, you can already find some interesting maps in our Maps-to-go section. And we will keep you informed about the development of our Companion through our social media, so don’t hesitate to follow us if you haven’t already done so!

Coffee and blogs
Along with all this, Pieter and Ada decided already at the beginning of the project that it would be a good idea to meet on a weekly basis, especially since ATLAS has different headquarters and each of us works in a different one. So every week since the start we have organised what we call “online coffees”, during which we have mainly planned and prepared the content for our social media and blog. Organisation in this sense has been key and of course there has been no shortage of extensive shared spreadsheets where we have been adding week by week the ideas for X (at the time still Twitter) or our website. And while it is true that the amount of work required for these forms of scientific dissemination is quite high, it is equally fun to think about how we can reach you, our readers and project members. In addition, these weekly coffees have allowed us to chat in a more relaxed way, with a coffee (or tea) in our hands, about the project and also about our plans for the future.

Pieter and Ada during their presentation in the workshop at La Rochelle.

Future plans
Working in this international project has taught us quite a bit. Of course a load on Late Antiquity, but a lot more on cultural interactions and people skills. It was a really nice experience to see four different academic traditions (Spanish, French, Tunisian and German) come together and bring forth the best they all have to offer. With this new baggage we have been and are looking for future opportunities. Ada has some scolding hot irons in the fire, fingers crossed this will work out. Pieter will leave academia to teach Latin at the school in the Dutch town where he lives with his family. However, one does not simply leave ATLAS… We guess you might see some publications or maps focussing on Late Antiquity in Spain and Tunisia by our hands in the future. And there is rumour of an ATLAS 2.0, as such it is not “fare well”, but “see you soon”!

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Full speed ahead: presenting and writing

We have done it again, for yet another year we are continuing our long-established tradition and this autumn is another autumn full of congresses from one end of the world to the other. And this time, in addition, we are combining it with the preparation and writing of the different chapters for our Companion. The year has started off strong, but we come back with our batteries charged!

The season of scientific meetings started in September with the conference The Global and Local Economies of the Early Middle Ages, which took place in Tübingen and in which Sabine participated with an interesting paper on imperial and post-imperial economies in the Strait of Gibraltar. This month also saw the start of the QGIS workshop given by Pieter for the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which we have been telling you about through our social networks. The last session was at the beginning of October and the feedback has been so positive that the next edition is already being organised. Pieter also closed the month of September with his participation at a conference in Limoges, where he presented the the idea of small monumental cities as mere representation centres without inhabitation.

Laurent and Ada during their presentations in the workshop in Seville.

At the beginning of October, Laurent and Ada coincided in an interesting workshop in Seville on traumatic phenomena and crisis in antiquity. Their presentations were complementary, as each analysed the concept of crisis from two different perspectives, that of written sources and that of archaeology. Later, Sabine participated in the conference From Ctesiphon to Toledo: A Comparative View on Early Church Councils in East and West in Vienna. And, as we could not miss our traditional autumn of congresses, at the end of October the XIV workshop Toletum took place, this time dedicated to Hispanic diplomacy between the Republic and al-Andalus. As always Sabine took the lead in organising the Workshop. ATLAS was represented twice by Isabelle Mossung, presenting on the ‘tabula patronatus’, and our post-doc Pieter presenting the development of the urban system seen as a form of diplomatic dialogue.

Group photo with the participants in the XIV Toletum workshop.

But don’t think that the autumn of congresses ends here – there are still a few months to go before winter arrives! So in both November and December we have a few colloquia and conferences coming up that we are looking forward to participating in. In November Pieter will present a paper on Latinization of the Iberian Peninsula. Later that month Sabine presents a very ATLAS topic at the colloquium Crises et résiliences urbaines: «Résister au changement ? Le fait urbain de la péninsule ibérique pendant l’Antiquité tardive». December starts with Pieter participating in the Roman Youth University at the Thermenmuseum in Heerlen (NL).  Sabine and Laurent will participate in the colloque ATEG VIII in Bordeaux to present work from the ATLAS project. Thereafter if all goes well ATLAS will close 2023 with a bang: Sabine and  Pieter have been invited to go to Rio de Janeiro to formalise a collaboration between the universities of Hamburg and Rio de Janeiro. Fingers crossed the bureaucratic systems work like clockwork and they get to go. As always, we will keep you informed in more detail through our social media, so don’t hesitate to follow us!

And, in parallel, ATLAS as a whole is still at full speed preparing the final publication in the form of the Companion. Our research groups have returned to their regular meetings after the summer, to pool ideas and establish the lines of work for the writing of the corresponding chapters. We are looking forward to seeing the fruits of all these years of work!


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Working in Spain and Tunisia

Carrying out a research project in and about two different countries is both a challenge and a stimulating experience. It helps us to get to know the history of two places with different cultures and to get closer to their own idiosyncrasies, which undoubtedly enriches our professional and personal background. In fact, as you have seen over the years, ATLAS is allowing us to work not only in two different countries, but also with a number of different institutions, research teams and specialists.

Researching in two different countries

As you know, a large part of our research deals with the analysis of historical and archaeological heritage, including architectural remains and infrastructures, and topographical elements of late antique cities. For this reason, especially when we need direct information on these elements, we must turn to the different administrations and institutions responsible for the management and preservation, as well as the dissemination of this heritage. And, of course, each country (and each region) has its own institutions and ways of functioning. Therefore, knowledge of the procedures of each one of them is fundamental in an international project like ours, as it not only speeds up the necessary procedures but also allows us to establish reciprocal links by returning the knowledge generated to the institutions and society of origin.

In our specific case, in Tunisia we have worked hand in hand with the Institut National du Patrimoine, the main body responsible for looking after the country’s historical and archaeological heritage. In Spain, on the other hand, management is less centralised and in each region and city we have approached the corresponding institutions. Some cities even have more than one organisation working in the field of heritage, such as Mérida, where the Instituto Arqueológico de Mérida, the Consorcio Ciudad Monumental de Mérida and the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano converge.

Group photo at the INP during our last meeting in Tunis.

Moreover, many of the archaeological sites examined in our project have also been the subject of campaigns and studies by different international teams. Probably the most obvious case is that of Carthage, where the international Save Carthage campaign launched in the 1970s brought with it the arrival of research groups from many different countries. These teams not only carried out archaeological excavations in different parts of the ancient city, but many also published the results of their studies. Consequently, these results are collected in a large number of monographs, chapters and articles, often scattered, which we must gather together for our own research. A similar case can be found at Baelo Claudia. This site in Cádiz has a close link with France and the Casa de Velázquez, since the founder of the École des hautes études hispaniques, Pierre Paris, initiated the first archaeological campaigns at this site. But since then, many other teams have worked in this coastal Roman city, such as the University of Cadiz, the University of Seville and the University of Aachen.

That is why, in addition to contacting the different institutions in charge of heritage, on other occasions we have also contacted the teams and researchers who have led the excavations and studies of those elements for which we need more specific data. This is the case of the magnificent church of Damous-el-Karita, which was recently excavated by the Austrian team of Heimo Dolenz, the Christian epigraphy of Carthage studied exhaustively by Liliane Ennabli and Sihem Aloui, the multiple campaigns carried out in Leptiminus by the University of Michigan, or the excavations of the archaeological area of Morería directed by Miguel Alba.

Archaeological Reality

Another interesting difference that we, coincidentally, find in our case study cities is the continuity of habitation. Cartagena, Cordoba, Merida and Seville have developed on top of the original Roman cities; in other words, they are urban centres with a centuries-old occupational continuity. However, we only have a very partial knowledge of the ancient remains, which complicates archaeological research. Excavations are often only carried out when construction or repair work is being carried out on the buildings of the present-day city. So we end up with small windows of archaeological knowledge within the urban fabric, in some cases with the remains preserved and visible and in others simply documented and covered again by contemporary constructions. On the positive side, excavations tend to be of relatively small areas that allow us to document centuries of urban evolution. Of course, this means that archaeological remains are often found in complex stratigraphies, metres in extent, due to the use and reuse of preceding structures.

Part of the ATLAS team walking around the archaeological area of Morería in Mérida.

That said, one might think that the Tunisian sites in our project, which do not have contemporary cities above them, are easier to analyse. And indeed, we often have a more complete picture of the urban fabric of these ancient cities. Moreover, we can visit them and get a good idea of the buildings and the relationships between them and the rest of the urban infrastructures.
Fotografía del foro de Mactaris durante nuestra visita en marzo de 2022.
However, these sites present their own challenges. First of all, they are not completely abandoned, as new cities are often located in close proximity to the site in question. This is the case of Carthage, located between Tunis and Sidi Bou Saïd; Ammaedara, located east of modern-day Haïdra; or Lamta, next to ancient Leptiminus. Perhaps Mactaris is more similar to the Spanish cases of habitational continuity, given that it is enclosed by modern Makthar. Still, this proximity to modern cities is not always good for the preservation of archaeological sites. As an obvious matter of minimisation of effort and resources, it is very common for abandoned settlements to be used as quarries, resulting in the presence of numerous ancient materials (spolia) in the surrounding cities. So, for example, epigraphic information from these sites is very problematic. Indeed, a large number of inscriptions have been preserved, but their context is rarely known.

Another disadvantage of uninhabited sites is that they are more exposed to the weather and the passage of time. Thus, erosion affects not only the preservation of the buildings but also the stratigraphy, especially of the upper layers where the remains of more recent periods are found (and that includes our beloved Late Antiquity!). To this must be added, both on uninhabited sites and in living cities, the carrying out of interventions without archaeological methodology. However, the problem at uninhabited sites is that this type of intervention, which dates back to times when archaeology had not developed as a discipline, can affect a larger area of the ancient city. For example, in Baelo Claudia, our only depopulated case study in Spain, we have old excavation diaries that explain that dozens trucks loads with of earth that were removed during the excavations at the forum. The reason for this abundant extraction of earth is the interest in bringing to light the monumental buildings of the Early Imperial Roman period, to the detriment of other historical periods. Fortunately, however, this practice is now obsolete and today we have a large amount of information on late-antique urban evolution even in the most monumental areas of the city.

Plan of the late antique occupation of the Temple of Isis at Baelo Claudia (Dardaine et al. 2008, fig. 27).

Despite the differences, or perhaps because of them, we have an interesting job. It is fun and intellectually stimulating to consider how the differences between our case studies impact on the representation of Late Antiquity. Moreover, it is certainly an important exercise for a project like ATLAS, as it allows us to better understand the development of historiographical narratives about our period of study.

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Working in a multilingual project

As you might have noticed, our blogs are published in three languages: Spanish, French and English. This has all to do with the multilingual nature of our project. You might wonder why we opt to make our project multilingual and not just limit it to the ‘international’ language English. Well, there are several reasons for our project to be multilingual. The most obvious are the origins of the project and the funding, which comes from France with the Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR) and Germany with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). Here we already have two languages with a long history in academic research. German has been a language of importance to the Altertumswissenschaften since the beginning of the field. It is not without reason scholars joke that every topic has been published by a 19th century German. As an academic language German continues to hold an important place. Although German is of such importance for the field of Antiquity, we use Spanish for our outreach. This has its raison d’être in an equally fundamental part of the project: the valorisation and outreach of the project disseminating the results.

Facilitating outreach

The images of academia in its ivory tower are often a harsh truth and difficult to overcome. We can get so submerged into our topic that we lose sight of what is of interest to the general public and why we are doing it beyond the idea of l’art pour l’art. As most projects are, like ours, funded with public money, valorisation and outreach are necessary elements. We are convinced that part of our work is also to return and offer the knowledge generated to society. This is where Spanish enters. Since we are researching the south of Spain and the north of Tunisia we have opted to write our blogs in Spanish and French. Two languages widely used in the academic world of our project. In an ideal world we would have added Arabic to our website, whereby we would be able to reach out to the wider public in Tunisia and the whole Arabic speaking world. However, since none of the core team has sufficient knowledge of the Arabic language this means we can’t do it ourselves. Instead we opted for English as the ‘international’ language, thereby we hope to reach out to more people beyond our research focus and get people interested in the history of the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb. In future projects we might have to consider earmarking part of the outreach funding for translations of our texts to Arabic so we can reach out to more people.

WebGIS Multilingual

Another outreach element of our project is the WebGIS. Last month we wrote a blog explaining the WebGIS and how it works. Again we find that this is a multilingual element of our project. But here we find a mix of languages. The webGIS itself uses French, where the archaeology is written in Spanish and the epigraphy in English…

Examples of an archaeological and epigraphic sheet, where different languages are used.

During our meeting in La Rochelle at the start of the project we discussed the possibilities of creating a trilingual database. Soon we realised that this meant that we would have three databases running alongside each other. So each entry had to be done three times, one for each language. With the planning to finish the database entry phase before March 2024, this was not a feasible option. As a result we decided that we would use French, Spanish and English as the academic languages of the project and use these in the database. You can see that most archaeological entries are in Spanish as these are done by Ada, whereas the epigraphy is entered by Pieter in English. Both opted for these languages as these are the languages they are most comfortable with. Though we ask for your understanding if you come across any small linguistic errors, these are the hazards of this multilingual profession!

Multilingual Meetings

You may find this mixing of three languages a bit cumbersome and, again, wonder why we don’t just use English. In fact, you’ve probably already noticed that we don’t use English in the programmes of our annual meetings either. But it’s not really necessary, because the vast majority of ATLAS members have a very good level of Spanish or French, which allows us to exchange ideas without any problems.

Snapshot of one of our multilingual discussions during the first ATLAS meeting at the Casa de Velázquez.

So our discussions often take place in two languages at the same time, or one of the speakers decides to express himself or herself in the other’s language. Naturally, this means that we must all make an effort to communicate and to listen patiently to others, especially those who are encouraged to use a language that is not their own. But even those who do not yet feel confident to express themselves in these languages often have a broad knowledge of other languages close to French or Spanish, which enables them to understand what is being said without difficulty. This is certainly a very good way of broadening our linguistic knowledge while promoting a friendly and tolerant atmosphere of scientific exchange with all colleagues, who are always willing to facilitate discussions in any language. But, in addition, by using these languages we also facilitate understanding for those listeners from Tunisia or Spain who decide to attend our meetings.

So far the official workshop meetings, but what happens in the more informal meetings is even more interesting. Here we find that a multitude of languages is spoken. And yes English is part of these languages. As already said, the passive knowledge, or understanding what is said, is often higher than the active knowledge, leading to funny communication triangles. A famous one is held between three members alternating between French, German and even Dutch!

Pieter, Marc and Sabine are some of the members who combine up to three languages during their conversations.

Does it work?

We are convinced that this multilingual system of communication works perfectly well. So far, all our meetings have led to productive discussions between colleagues. When encountering the limits of our linguistic knowledge we can always rely on an intermediary language. Moreover, when writing we can resort to the old fashioned dictionaries or use the digital equivalents to facilitate our multilingual communication.

Dictionaries are a key tool in our project.

The project is also a human sciences project, so the promotion of linguistic richness is a value we hold dear.  But in any case, you can judge for yourselves by attending our scientific meetings or by reading our forthcoming bilingual publication (FR-ES) in the ATLAS companion to urbanism in Late Antiquity.


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The ATLAS WebGIS: what is it and how does it work?

As you must have seen in several of our blogs, we are working with a WebGIS. What is even better is that this WebGIS is open access. You can see our work happening in real time! Collecting the information, writing it up and adapting it to the WebGIS format requires time and, moreover, it is only a part of our work. But, in any case, today we are going to explain what WebGIS is, how we work in it and how it works, since it has several features and particularities that deserve to be collected in more detail in a specific post.

Introduction of the WebGIS

First up, the WebGIS itself. The WebGIS is created by Frédéric Pouget at the University of La Rochelle. It is a good example of using the existing structures of the university within a project. The development of the webGIS was part of a course taught by Frédéric, where students build the database as part of their assignments. This way we get our database and students get the needed experience in creating such a database, and get to see their work in action. Rather than doing an assignment just for the sake of doing an assignment. 

Our database is hosted by the Huma-Num of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS). This initiative of the French government must be applauded. Contrary to the standard approach, where datasets go offline after a project ends due to the lack of funding, Huma-Num continues hosting the database. This way scholars can still consult and use the database well after the end of our project. 

A major novelty of our project is the combination of archaeological and epigraphic sources in one WebGIS. Mostly we see that these sources are found in separate databases, if they are found in open access databases at all. By combining both sources we aim to gain a deeper understanding of the city (lay-out, use etc) and its social structure. Both fields are quite different and we, Ada and Pieter, work together to get the best out of our data.

Archaeological study in a WebGIS

As we indicated at the beginning, collecting, synthesizing and writing the information in a way that is appropriate for WebGIS is a very time-consuming job. This is especially true in the case of archaeological remains, since we rarely have other databases to which we can access and from which we can extract the information. Precisely one of the great contributions of our project is this, to gather a huge amount of information, updated and contextualized, on the urban phenomena in Late Antiquity.

So, at the archaeological level, the research begins with what we can call the old school style, with an exhaustive search of the most significant publications of the city we are analyzing at that time. This allows us to get an idea of the state of the question today and to have the most complete and recent bibliography possible. This sounds like a simple task, but one of the main challenges is, in fact, to gather the available information, as it is often scattered in different and varied publications, so it is not always easy to get hold of all the bibliography. Fortunately, we can always count on our colleagues collaborating on the project to give us a hand in this task.

Example of a file of an archaeological vestige of Carthage. On the right can be seen the plan of the city with an overlay of the archaeological plan of the city.

Once we have a bibliography as complete and recent as possible, it is time to read and analyze it carefully to obtain specific data of interest for our project. We want to know what buildings, infrastructures and topographic elements made up the urban landscape of our study cities throughout the five centuries of Late Antiquity. The analysis is done vestige by vestige, so that in parallel we can synthesize and write the information adapted to the WebGIS format. This information is initially collected in an Excel file to facilitate export to the database. However, we have not yet been able to export all this information en bloc, so the items are entered manually for the time being. We hope to be able to apply a system similar to the one used in the epigraphic part for the next case studies.

Finally, once the necessary information on the vestige in question has been synthesized and written (description of the vestige, state of conservation and chronological discussion), we search for the graphic apparatus to complete the record. Photographs, plans, sections or reconstructions are also included in the archaeological vestige files not only to facilitate the understanding of the archaeological remains, but also because this graphic documentation also serves as a starting point for our colleagues in charge of 3D modelling and reconstruction for the ATLAS travelling exhibition.

Epigraphic study in a WebGIS

The epigraphic part of the project uses a completely different approach. Thanks to the existing databases (e.g. Trismegistos, EDH, EDCS, HEpOnl and LatinNow) the individual study of each item through a multitude of publications is not needed. Some of these datasets are open source and allow scholars to download the data. Whereas for others there might be a work around… By combining the data available through these different dataset we already gain an improved epigraphic dataset. This combination of dataset is possible thanks to Trismegistos’ dataset holding the Id’s of most large databases. This way we can cross link to data from the different datasets. However, even after combining the data of the datasets, often we are still left with partial data. Moreover, and more importantly for our WebGIS, spatial data is only given on city level. That is, for Carthago we have over eight thousand inscriptions in the Claus-Slaby database, all given one representative centroid (point on the map).

Epigraphic spatial information for Carthage via Clauss-Slaby ( Note this includes all periods.

Of course, such an approach is useless for the study of individual cities. Often epigraphers turn to small case-studies and then spend loads of time to ascertain the location of individual inscriptions. Seldomly these efforts make it into databases. However, part of improving our data for the WebGIS includes the improvement of the spatial data. While going through the publications we search for the find spot of the inscription. This way we are able to assign the inscriptions on building level. The map below shows how we located the over two thousand Late Antique inscriptions of Carthago within the city. Note the 163 inscriptions in the sea lack a known location, other than Carthage. Up till now we haven’t solved the problem of how to deal with unlocated epigraphy. Often a drop-site is chosen for these. We decided that the drop-sites are in the water, hopefully making clear that it is a drop-site.

Improved epigraphic spatial information for Late Antiquity (ATLAS).

While searching the epigraphic publications to improve the spatial data we also improve the data on material, object and text type. Clearly, one of the most challenging aspects is dating the inscriptions. Thanks to the combined datasets and the publication of epigraphic collections working on the epigraphy can be done in bulk. This means that the epigraphy is not entered into the database inscription per inscription, but in larger samples. We did Carthage in one go. Soon we will finish and upload the other four case studies of the Maghreb. 

Using the WebGIS

The WebGIS is already available for all to see via: 

The start screen might at first look a bit overwhelming, this blog will walk you through. You will see that it is not complicated at all and you will quickly get used to the interface!

WebGIS home screen.

On the right hand side we find the map layers panel. Here we can switch layers on and off. In the overview we only see the ‘territories’, or ‘cité’, of the ten case study cities. When zooming in on one of the cities other layers become available. We can zoom in using different methods. The most intuitive is the scroll button on our mouse. However, there are two options in the webGIS itself: (1) On the left hand side we find the + and – for zooming, the arrows allow you to switch between the last two zoom levels. (2) the last icon in this row is a quick zoom function by creating a square box. Select this icon, it will turn blue, and left click and drag on the map to select the area you want to zoom in. Note the box indicates the zoom level, thus it will show what was within the box you dragged.

When we zoom in on for example Carthage, we note that the ‘cité’ and ‘enceinte’ disappear, whereas the icons of the archaeological ‘vestiges’ appear. The epigraphic layer needs to be manually activated.. On the right hand panel we see a section with base maps. Here we can switch on and off several basemaps and play with their transparency. So far playing with layers and the right hand panel.

On the left we find four icons: (1) The temple or better ‘Filtre Carto Vestiges’; (2) the monument or better ‘Filtre Carto Inscriptions’; (3) Magnifying glass or ‘Recherches’; (4) Graphs or ‘Statistiques’. Each of these allows you to search and query the database.

Filtre Carto Vestiges

This is a function that offers two options, apparently similar, but that make it possible to query the database from different perspectives. The first option (‘Recherche Vestige par Ville / Type / Sous-type’) offers searches within each city by type and even subtype of archaeological element. The interesting thing about this function is that none of the search items is mandatory, so that quite free queries can be made, even without sticking to a single city. Thus, we can have a list of all the archaeological elements by type (civic, religious, economic, etc.) or subtype (churches, dwellings, baths, necropolis, etc.) collected in our database. In fact, the results of this and all other search options generate a list on the right side, which can be displayed as a table and facilitates access to the data sheets of each vestige. Eventually, these tables can be downloaded in different formats to work with the data in the way that suits us best.

Example of the table that can be consulted after any search.

The second option (‘Recherche Vestige par Ville / Sous-type / Siècle’) is focused on specific queries by century, so this variable is mandatory when searching. In this way we can filter archaeological items chronologically, as well as by city or subtype if we wish. This is a good way to observe evolutionary patterns by specific categories of remains and/or buildings, both in a specific city and in the project’s case studies as a whole.

Filtre Carto Inscriptions

The search function for epigraphy gives four ways of searching the epigraphy. We can search the epigraphic record with the ‘Recherche Inscription’, which allows us to narrow down our searches using filters per city, text type, dating or description. By combining the filters we can get some fine detailed searches.

The ‘Recherche Langue Inscription’ is rather straightforward. You can select the language of the inscriptions. Note that the search is exact, thus Latin will only yield Latin and leave out the Greek/Latin and Hebrew/Latin.

‘Recherche Chronologique Inscription’ gives you the possibility to map out the inscriptions dated to specific centuries by switching on and off the layers. Note that this is a broad search, that is all inscriptions with the century mentioned are shown. For example an inscription dated within the range of the third to the fifth century will show up in all three centuries. The unspecific Antiquité tardive will only show with that layer enabled. 

The ‘Recherche ID Inscription’ is a useful way to single out that one inscription you were working on. With the ID of the inscription in our database you can easily focus on that one text.

On the other hand, we take this opportunity to let you know that we are working on more types of searches, specifically for the text within the inscriptions, based on a refined version of the edited text and on the search for references. We will keep you posted!


Following this line of constant improvement are the various search functions that we find within the magnifying glass icon (‘Recherches’). In some cases, in fact, they have been suggested by our own colleagues in the project, such as the search by keywords in both buildings (‘Recherche Edifice par mots clés’) and inscriptions (‘Recherche Inscription par mot clé’). As we said, these are functions that we are still developing, but we hope to make them fully available very soon. The rest of the search options work as we have already explained, both in the epigraphic and archaeological fields.


The ‘Statistique’ panel gives us at the moment a few graphs to show the data in rough overview and compare our ten case study cities. Obviously as it is work in progress it only shows what is already entered. Even so, it is a useful tool to observe evolutionary trends at a chronological level or even to know, at a quick glance, what types of vestiges characterise each of the cities in our project.

Example of the distribution by type of archaeological remains in Baelo Claudia.

In the near future we will add this description to the webGIS interface and we might even get a French video explaining how to do this. We hope you find it useful!

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Comparative and interdisciplinary research through the basilicas of Makthar, Haïdra and Mérida

The ATLAS project is designed, as you know, as a comparative and interdisciplinary research. Comparative between several study regions and cities, and interdisciplinary because of the integration of different sources and types of evidence. We already had the opportunity to present this methodology to you a few months ago. This time we return to it with a blog post dedicated to the analysis of a specific type of building, the basilicas. Although ours is not an exclusively architectural study, as you can imagine. These buildings contain many other evidences whose analysis allows us to understand them in a global way, also as a reflection of the social and religious aspects of Late Antiquity.

But let’s start at the beginning, what is a basilica? In Roman times basilicas were public buildings, usually located in the forum area of cities and used for multiple functions, especially for the administration of justice or as a meeting place to discuss civic community affairs. This is most probably the origin of the Christian basilicas, or churches, which are the ones we are concerned with here today. The social, political and religious changes that took place during Late Antiquity led to the disuse of civic basilicas, but their architectural and functional tradition was maintained, with certain innovations, in the buildings that then housed the meetings of the (Christian) community.


Comparison of the floor plans of the Basilica of Maxentius and the Basilica of St. Mary Major (original project), both in Rome (G. Dehio and G. von Bezold, Wikimedia Commons).

In the framework of our project we have come across many Christian basilicas, some better preserved than others, some with more epigraphic data, others with more archaeological data. For the interdisciplinary and comparative study we are proposing, we need similar examples for which we have good data, both in quantitative and qualitative terms. For this reason, we will focus mainly on those basilicas which, in addition to having been the object of specific archaeological studies, also have a good volume of inscriptions accessible through databases or epigraphic works of reference. Specifically, we are going to analyse the basilica of Melleus in Haïdra (Ammaedara), that of Hildeguns in Makthar (Mactaris) and that of Saint Eulalia in Mérida (Emerita). All of them meet the above requirements and, in addition, have dozens of tombs and epitaphs in or around them, i.e. they are funerary basilicas. This particularity allows us to provide our study with a social perspective, either through the human remains or through the funerary inscriptions. Thus, in addition to asking about the location of the basilica within the topography of the city (within or outside the walls, near or far from the ancient centres of power) or about the orientation of the building itself (perhaps linked to religious changes), at the micro-spatial level we can ask ourselves about the position of the tombs within or next to the basilica and examine questions of a social nature, such as the age, gender or social position of the people buried. But at the same time, we can also observe their development over time, taking into account the chronological differences in the epigraphs and the architectural evolution of the buildings themselves.

However, as we shall see, these questions are sometimes easier to ask than to answer. In studying these buildings we are faced with several challenges, one of the most obvious of which is whether the basilica is still in use. In this respect, the fact that the basilica of Santa Eulalia has been excavated is quite unusual. It is a functioning church to this day, so obtaining permission to excavate its interior, where presumably the tombs of local saints could also be found, is not at all straightforward. Unfortunately, those basilicas that are no longer in use also have their own drawbacks. These buildings have often been used as ‘quarries’ in later periods, i.e. their materials were reused to construct new buildings and therefore often involved the destruction or at least the alteration of the stratigraphic record.

Plan of the basilica of Melleus in Haïdra, with Cyprian’s reliquary and Melleus’ epitaph found there (Images from Duval 1975).

Even so, it is interesting to note that the epigraphic register of the basilica of Melleus in Haïdra is better preserved than that of Saint Eulalia in Mérida, and for precisely the same reasons. As the church of St Eulalia remained in use and maintained the martyr’s memory, its religious relevance was maintained and so was the interest in burial inside it. So, in order to place these new tombs, the previous ones were affected and even displaced. As a result there is only one epitaph in the santa Eulalia found in situ: the triple inscription of Gregorius, Perpetua and Heleuterius. The basilica of Melléus, on the other hand, was abandoned and went largely unnoticed in the face of the scale of other monumental buildings in Haïdra, so that fortunately its archaeological record was preserved until the first excavations at the beginning of the 20th century. 

Triple epitaph found in situ in the basilica of Santa Eulalia in Mérida (CILAE 1287)

Despite the problematic nature of the location we can study the epigraphy for a multitude of parameters. Just by turning to the carrier or object on which the inscription is found tells us a lot. The funerary inscriptions can be, amongst others, lids of sarcophagi, small plaques covering a niche, or standing stelae. This already gives us information on the funerary method. Similarly we can turn to the materiality, what type of stone was used, a local stone or a piece of marble coming from far away? After establishing the object we can turn to the text, this can yield quite some information and raise even more questions. We already treated the issue of the locus inscriptions in the ‘Basilique de la Citadelle’ in Haïdra, for which it remains uncertain to what they refer. However, before reading the text we have the option of gaining information. At the shift from the Imperial period to Late Antiquity we find christian iconography adjoining the text. We can think of clear symbols like the cross, the staurogram or christogram, but also less clear iconography could be used like doves and fish.

Now after studying all elements but the text, it is time to turn to the text itself. Funerary inscriptions are very formulaic, that is to say they follow a rather standard pattern with standard wording. We have several phrases we encounter in funerary inscriptions: D(is) M(anibus) S(acrum), meaning sacred to the Manes (the gods of the dead), is a standard starting formula. Often associated with non-Christian inscriptions, however, as an integral part of funerary inscriptions for a long time it continues to be used in clear christian inscriptions for quite a while. Several of the clear christian inscriptions in the basilica of Hildeguns in Mactar still start with DMS, for example the cleric Rogatus was interred in the basilica with a limestone slab covering the grave and carrying the following inscription:

D(is) M(anibus) S(acrum)
(Greek cross)
Rogatus cleri-
cus fidelis bixit
in pace annis bi-
ginti q(u)inq(u)e men-
ses q(u)atuor (h)ora-
s septe 

The inscription is clearly a christian one, as we find the Greek cross and the fact he is a cleric. Within the text we find more hints to the christian nature. Fidelis, faithful, is often found in christian funerary inscriptions, most likely indicating that Rogatus was baptised. Similarly to the formula in pace. Seemingly, Rogatus, or his relatives, kept close watch on his age: he was 25 years old, four months and seven hours. It has been argued that such precise indication testifies to the short life, it was worth noting the hours he lived as he lived so shortly. The age at death is more often recorded in christian inscriptions, as it marks the transition from life on earth to life in heaven. As a result we also find plus minus indicating an estimation of age, when uncertain.

Clearly such data, as the name, position and age, can give us insights into the people buried in the churches. We can ask questions regarding age, gender, gender distribution, function and chronology. The latter is possible when we have either the era or indiction (time recordings in Late Antiquity) or using indirect ways of reconstructing the dating, based on palaeography (the way it is written) or the archaeological context. With such dating we can observe chronological shifts in patterns, the changes in the burial customs over the ages the churches were in use. However, we must keep one major caveat in mind, epigraphy is strongly biassed. Not every person could afford an inscription, or even have the right to be buried within the walls of the basilica. As such we must be careful drawing conclusions for the population of the cities under study. Nonetheless, keeping in mind the limits of archaeology and epigraphy we can observe new patterns and understand the use of the basilicae in Hispania and Africa in Late Antiquity just a bit better. In the near future we hope to publish an article on this topic. It is work in progress for now. Follow our social media to see our happy faces when the publication is out!


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ATLAS and RomanIslam visit Africa Romana

Just before the end of 2022 our and RomanIslams director Sabine and our postdoc Pieter took the opportunity to present at the Africa Romana conference (December 16th-18th) in a RomanIslam-ATLAS collaboration. In the summer, the RomanIslam postdoc, and ATLAS member, Stefan Ardeleanu proposed to team up and write an abstract for the Africa Romana conference on the Julio-Claudian period. Even though the theme is a bit far from our beloved Late-Antiquity, we were sure that our earlier work on the Julio-Claudian period would be of use. Hence, we successfully wrote an abstract to study the spread of the imperial Cult in Africa in the Julio-Claudian period:

L’émergence du culte impérial en Afrique du Nord : matérialité, acteurs, contextes spatiaux

From the onset it was clear that Sabine and Pieter would present in Sbeitla and that this would be done in French. Therefore, we had to prepare an article to present in December. Stefan Ardeleanu as the expert on North Africa took the lead writing the paper, Sabine and Pieter added their perspectives along the process. In the end, we had a paper containing the archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic evidence, brought together in a few maps. On December 15th our trip to Sbeitla started. Admittedly, we made it a bit more difficult than needed… For our own convenience, we took a flight arriving late afternoon in Tunis. However, one does not simply walk to Sbeitla, or for that matter take public transport. Luckily, our colleagues from the INP organised a ride to Sbeitla for us. After a long ride, we arrived just before midnight in the hotel in Sbeitla.

A room with a view, the opening of the conference and the oud-intermezzo by Mehrez Abidi.

After a good night and delicious breakfast, we were refreshed and excited for the conference. This took place in the same hotel so it was easy moving around, as you will see. The opening itself took the whole first part of the morning. After the coffee break (more delicious Tunesian sweets!), we thought the first presentation was planned. Not at Africa Romana! We were treated to the music of oud player Mehrez Abidi, who had written some new pieces combining Sardinian and Tunisian folk music styles. After this musical intermezzo or maybe closing piece of the opening, the first presentations started. After the first few presentations, we already had a good idea that the conference holds loads of new research (epigraphy!) and ideas. Even though the Julio-Claudian focus was chronologically far from ours, several the presentations gave us new insights in the early development of the provinces and its relation to urbanism in Late Antiquity.

The long-time reserved for lunch gave Sabine and Pieter the opportunity to sit together and try-out our presentation. As we did not want to disturb the other participants we went to our adjacent rooms and realised, we could work from our own balconies with a view over Sufetula, Roman Sbeitla.

Hotel Byzacene provided the best possible environment to finish the presentation 😉

In time for the presentation of our ATLAS member, Rubén, we finished and returned to the conference room. The whole day gave us ample time to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones. The dinner added a culinary tone to more opportunities for discussions and talks. The fact that researchers from Tunisia, Algeria, Italy, France, Spain and Germany (certainly countries have been forgotten) get together makes it an interesting venue to exchange ideas bridging the different discourses, often delimited by national or linguistic boundaries. The clearest boundary is linguistic; with each meeting, we first need to find out what language is common between the members. Unsurprisingly most often we find that French is used, hence our presentation in French. However, we have been speaking more Spanish than we would have thought before going to Sbeitla.

The next morning we were all excited and ready to go! Early at breakfast and off to get our French texts printed. We went to the host of Sardinian students assisting at the conference in the small admin room. As if being in a sketch we had to state what we wanted at student number one sitting opposite the table with the printer. The student then sent us to another table just a few steps further, but also farther from the printer. After stating our purpose, we were guided to the printer. With the texts still warm from the printer, we went to the sala piccola (we get it, Africa Romana first timers don’t go to the grande sala 😉 ). Just after the coffee break, it was our turn to present. Luckily, several people touched upon the imperial cult in their talks, leading to a good discussion on this topic at the end of the session. Clearly, our presentation and ideas had struck a chord. We look forward to publishing our paper in the proceedings. 

All ready to present our paper!

As we were so close to Sufetula and a visit was not planned, we had to take our chance. With a small group, we left the lunch break early to visit the site. Sabine and Pieter, being used to Hispania, were amazed by the conservation of the city. So many buildings still have standing walls or have been reconstructed to show the original construction. The forum of Sufetula with its capitolium and Late Antique fortification are just impressive. Walking around the site, we started looking for the different basilicae and churches we knew were there. Knowing that these buildings are there and that some of them have well-preserved baptisteries is one thing, seeing the amazing quality of the baptisteries is something different. As to be expected, we lost track of time and had to run back to the conference. A nice steward allowed us to jump a fence so we could cut our way by at least half an hour. 

The arch of the four emperors in Sufetula, ATLAS members at the capitolium, one of the many baptisteries.

The last day of the conference was the day we had been looking forward to: the visit to Ammaedara. As you might know this is one of our case study cities. Moreover, this case study is not easy to visit; the region close to the Algerian border is known to be unsafe. Nonetheless, the conference organisation organised a visit to the site guided by no one less than François Baratte and Mohamed ben Nejma both are experts of the site. The whole adventure started in the early morning as we got in the bus and started heading for Haïdra. At a certain point we realised there was a small police patrol car in front of our motorcade of cars and tourist bus. All safe and sound we arrived at Ammaedara and saw the guards were all relaxed. Nothing to worry about then.

The visit started with the small museum holding some of the beautiful pieces of Ammaedara. François Baratte started explaining the history of the city and its archaeological excavations. Thereafter the tour of the site started. Unfortunately, we had only one and a half hour to visit this amazing site. We started with the Basilica I, where we could see the funerary slabs in situ on the floor. Moreover, not just a few of them, but loads. You can imagine the epigraphists running around with their cameras playing with light and shadow to get the best pictures. From there we walked towards one of the many eye catchers of the city: the Byzantine fortress. The standing round towers are not byzantine at all but modern additions from another age of war, nonetheless, the remaining standing towers and wall sections are Late Antique and impressive. Inside the citadel, we find two basilica, of which we visited Basilica III. This was a two-storey building adjacent to the outer wall of the citadel. As we were doing a tour of highlights in the limited time, we went to the Monument des auges. This type of monument is found in several African cities, but even today (despite a recent book on the topic) it is not fully understood. We ended with the most famous building of all: the Arch of Septimius Severus. The arch speaks to so many as it is a well-preserved third century arch partially encapsulated by walls to create a Late Antique tower.

The police car guiding the bus, François Baratte discussing with Sabine, the Basilica III.

All in awe because of the beauty of Ammaedara we headed back to the hotel. Nevertheless, not without a small detour visiting some traditional handwork shops. After this intermezzo, we returned to the hotel for our last lunch. As we planned to fly back early morning on Monday, we had to leave for Tunis Sunday afternoon.

In a few months, we expect our paper to be published open access!

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Returning to conference season

It is that time of the year again! After the summer break the conference season is back and, it’s back with a vengeance. When the  “academic summer” ended in August, and we opened our calendars, we realised that an autumn with a full programme awaited us.

The first steps in September
The first conference of the new academic year was the Congressus Internationalis Epigraphiae Graecae et Latinae, or in short CIEGL. This conference takes place once in five years and brings together epigraphers from all over the world to discuss to discuss the latest contributions and upcoming research in the field of epigraphy. From August 29 to september 2nd epigraphers met in a beautiful and warm Bordeaux. From ATLAS we had several members present at the conference. Our director Sabine Panzram organised a whole panel called “L’épigraphie du « Cercle du détroit de Gibraltar »” in which the scientific director of the Casa de Velázquez for the ancient and mediaeval periods, Gwladys Bernard, also participated. In the session “Les traditions épigraphiques après Dioclétien” our ATLAS member Morgane Uberti presented her work. Pieter did not present a paper as such, but presented with the new WebGIS of the LatinNow team to which he also belongs:

ATLAS members presenting at CIEGL

This first conference was followed by the IV Coloquio de Arqueología e Historia Antigua de Los Bañales, entitled ”Pecunia communis: economic resources and sustainability of small Hispano-Roman cities”, which took place from 22 to 24 September in Ejea de los Caballeros and Uncastillo (Zaragoza). Several members of ATLAS also participated in this event, as we tweeted a few days ago. Darío Bernal Casasola dedicated his presentation to the garum cities in Hispania, focusing especially on one of our case studies, Baelo Claudia. Alfred Hirt, for his part, presented a detailed analysis of metallurgical production in the Iberian Peninsula during the Roman period, emphasising the importance of mineral resources. Finally, our postdoc, Ada Lasheras González, presented the interesting Circ-E project, in which she also participates and which is dedicated to the study of logistics and the principles of the circular economy in Hispano-Roman cities. Our director, Sabine Panzram, joined us on the last day of the colloquium during the visit to the site of Los Bañales.

Participants at the conference in Los Bañales

The conferences ahead
In October the annual TOLETUM workshop will take place. For more information follow this link. Even though no ATLAS team members will be presenting, TOLETUM is close to our heart, not only because Sabine Panzram is the founder and co-organizer, but also because we all attended one of these workshops in the past few years. TOLETUM XIII “Valles fluviales de Hispania en perspectiva diacrónica” will treat different aspects of river valleys in antiquity from the third century BCE to the ninth CE.

The famous Warburghaus in Hamburg

In November the Warburghaus will host another conference co-organised by Sabine Panzram, incredible is the number of conferences she is organising, Shifting Cities in the Iberian Peninsula, III BC – IX AD. At this conference a few ATLAS members will present their work. It starts on Thursday with the co-presentation of our Hamburg members Sabine Panzram and Pieter Houten on the possible transformation of the civitates in Late Antiquity. On Friday, our colleague from Casa de Velázquez, Ada Lasheras González, together with Joan Negre and Francesc Rodríguez Martorell, will present the changes observed in the cities of Ṭarrakūna and Ṭurṭūša in the first centuries of al-Andalus. She will be followed by our member María Teresa Casal-García on our case study Qurtuba. On Saturday we continue with Sonia Gutiérrez Lloret on the urbanism of the southeast of the Peninsula. All in all a promising conference.

In December the conference season comes to an end with Africa Romana XXII. Although the focus on the Julio-Claudian period is a bit far from the focus of ATLAS, several of our members will be presenting papers here. First, we will have Rubén Olmo-López presenting his work on magistrates. On Saturday Sabine Panzram, Stefan Ardeleanu and Pieter Houten will present a joint paper on imperial cult in North Africa.

The Capitolium temple at Sbeitla (Wikipedia)

Amidst these conferences our research groups have been meeting in preparation for what maybe is the most important gathering for ATLAS:

The ATLAS Workshop in La Rochelle
On November 9th and 10th we will have the third ATLAS workshop at the Université La Rochelle. We expect to have the programme finished in a few days and publish it on our website, as usual. We can give a sneak preview of the idea behind this workshop. Each research group will have a timeslot of one hour to present their work for ATLAS. The group can opt for two 20 min presentations followed by two 10 minute discussions, or have one longer presentation with a longer discussion. We already know of some groups opting for one or the other, so the programme will be varied in that regard. In addition to the set up, we have invited Marc Heijmans of the CNRS, the director of another atlas project: Atlas topographiques des villes de Gaule méridionale. He will present his work on the cities of southern Gaul in Late Antiquity. We will also have the opportunity to welcome Didier Bayard, from INRAP, who will present a synthesis on the cities of northern Gaul in Late Antiquity.

We look forward to all these opportunities to disseminate our work and exchange with colleagues. Above all we look forward to the ATLAS workshop, where we have the chance to meet our project members and exchange with a specific focus on urbansim in Late Antiquity.

Université La Rochelle (Wikipedia)

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Combining Epigraphy and Archaeology

As we have mentioned before, the project combines multiple sources, the most visible in our  WebGIS are archaeology and epigraphy. Besides the differentiation in icons and on the panel these are divided among our two postdocs. Ada is responsible for the archaeological data and Pieter does the epigraphy. Despite the seemingly clear division between these sets, we do combine them to understand our data better. In this blog we will give you examples from our case studies where archaeology and epigraphy come together.

Baelo Claudia

That archaeology and epigraphy should not be two different parts in the project was made clear from the onset. Interestingly, the collaboration between Ada and Pieter started when they first met in La Rochelle, where we worked for the first time in the WebGIS and on our case study of Baelo Claudia. Entering one of the seven (!) inscriptions of Late Antique Baelo, Pieter noticed that one inscription on a terra sigillata plate (IRCB 135) was dated to the fifth century based on the ceramic type Hayes 87B. Ada said jokingly: “Let me check this!” and grabbed Hayes Late Roman Pottery. She found that the type Hayes 87 is dated to the fifth century, however, 87B is dated to the early sixth century. To our surprise our first collaboration already proved fruitful. Admittedly, we will not change the history of Baelo Claudia with this change. Nonetheless, it was a promising start and is a reminder to all epigraphers and ceramists to collaborate so we have our dates correctly.

Emerita Augusta

In our earlier blog on Mérida we already dedicated a few lines to the basilica of Santa Eulalia and its origins as a funerary basilica. Located in the northern suburban area of the city, this mid-fifth century basilica was built over a necropolis area dating back to the fourth century. The martyrial character of this basilica is corroborated by the maintenance of a mausoleum, which was enclosed within the central apse of the church and was accessible through the crypt, built at the same time as the building. This funerary monument played an important role in the development of the necropolis, as can be seen from the large number of tombs and epitaphs arranged around it, confirming that this was most probably the mausoleum that preserved the relics of the martyr from Mérida.

Interior of the Santa Eulalia basilica during the excavations (photo: P. Mateos Cruz – IAM)

With the importance of Eulalia for the city of Mérida we expect to find some epigraphic evidence. Indeed two inscriptions have been found with reference to Eulalia. One of these refers to her house, CILAE 1407 / AEHTAM 612:

(crux) Hanc domum iu/ris tui, placata, posside, /martir Eulalia, · / ut cognoscens inimicus, / confusus abscedat, ·ut domus h(a)ec cum habi/tatoribus, te propitiante, florescant /Amen

Translated we get the following text:

Lie quietly, in thy own house, Martyr Eulalia, so that when he realises this circumstance, the enemy will flee in confusion, and so that, as is thy wish, this house and all who dwell within it shall flourish. Amen

Religious inscription referring to the domus of Santa Eulalia (CILAE 1407, photo: Pieter Houten)

The marble plaque was found as a reused piece in an excavation roughly 700 metres from the basilica at the Calle Forner. The reference to the house of Eulalia at first sight seems to refer to a church. However reading the text a bit closer we see that the inscription also mentions those that live in the house. This has led to a debate on whether the inscription refers to the basilica or another building, such as the xenodochium or possibly a monastery.

The second inscription, CILAE 1411, similarly refers to a religious building, and has similar problems. The inscription is found reused in the arch above the entrance of the Alcazaba.

Dedicatory inscription for the aula referring to the relics of saints, including Santa Eulalia (CILAE 1411, photo: CILAE)

(crux) dedicata est hac aula ad nome+[- – -] / riosissime matri Domini nostri H+[- – -] / dum carnem omniumque virginum princ[- – -] / ne cunctorum populorum catolice fide+[- – -] / iussa creare sunt reliquiae reco ndit+[- – -] / de cruce D(omi)ni n(ostr)i • s(an)c(t)i Iohanni Baptiste s(an)c(t)i S+[- – -] / s(an)c(t)i • Pauli • s(an)c(t)i • Iohanni Evangeliste s(an)c(t)i • Iacobi • s(an)c(t)i • Iuli[- – -] / s(an)c(t)e • Eulaliae • s(an)c(t)i • Tirsi s(an)c(t)i • Genesi • s(an)c(t)e Marcille • sub d(ie) VIII Kal(endas) Febru[- – -]

This church was dedicated in the name of the most glorious Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the flesh and Princess of all virgins and Queen of all the peoples of the Catholic faith, under whose sacred altar are kept relics of [—] on the cross of Our Lord, of Saint John the Baptist, Saint Stephen, Saint Paul, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint James, Saint Julian, Saint Eulalia, Saint Tirso, Saint Gines, Saint Marcilla, on the 8th day before the kalendas of February (25th January).

Again the church, referred to as aula, in this inscription is unlocated. It has been proposed that the church was found within the alcazaba, likely on the aljibe. Another possibility is the rededication of an existing church in Mérida. The cathedral of Mérida was formerly known as the Church of Jerusalem and later became the Santa Maria (VSPE IV ix 2). It could well be that this inscription commemorates the rededication of the cathedral.

Interestingly the epigraphy of the city of Mérida related to Santa Eulalia did not yield a dedication of the actual basilica of Santa Eulalia, but it gave us two more buildings where Santa Eulalia was revered.In the territory, in San Pedro de Mérida,  we find a third inscription referring to Eulalia. The monogram on a tile is composed of the letters: L, S, N, A, E, C, T. These have been combined to read: Sancte Eulaliae.


The so-called ‘Schola des Juvenes’ is a famous example for the combination of archaeology and epigraphy. The name of the building comes from an interesting inscription reused on the stairs of the nearby thermal baths, known as the “Thermes du mégalithe”, probably built in the third century:

The inscription of the Schola des Juvenes (AE 2016, 14. Photo: EDH)

However, as this inscription dates to 88 CE and treats the building in the Imperial period, we will not go into this use. We will turn to the combination of archaeology and epigraphy for the later conversion to a Christian basilica as we tweeted before. The Christian basilica reused the western room and peristyle of the earlier building. Architecturally, it is a basilica with three naves, divided by a double colonnade placed directly over the previous mosaic pavement and made from recycled materials. The last two bays of the central nave were occupied by the choir, delimited by gates, and in the centre was an altar, for the base of which a funerary inscription was reused. At the foot of the basilica, another area has been identified that occupied the west wing of the peristyle of the previous building. The intercolumniation on this side of the former courtyard was walled off with recycled material, leaving a single access on the northwest side. This space has been interpreted as a narthex or counter-abdess, since a funerary monument reused as an altar base was found inside it, inserted within a rectangular ciborium.

In addition to repurposement of the existing architecture, we also see that the third century geometric, black and white mosaic in the apsed room was repurposed. In the sixth century the mosaic was broken to insert three new mosaics with epigraphy. We can date the inscriptions to the Byzantine period, presumably the sixth century, by the reference to the indictione found in the inscriptions. The indiction refers to the fifteen year tax cycle mostly attested in the fifth and sixth century. Unfortunately, the indiction dating only gives the year within the cycle, thus we can not specify the exact year. As it is a practice not followed by the Vandals, the inscriptions date to the Byzantine period. The similarity between the inscriptions is used to argue that they are contemporaneous. Although we should not forget the possibility of imitation when adding a new inscription. The smallest mosaic to the right could well be a later addition imitating the other two.

Tripartite mosaic with funerary inscriptions (ICMactar II, 1 to 3. Photo: Ada Lasheras González).

The three texts help us understand the reuse of the building as a Christian basilica:

+ Animo mente corp/oreque Constantin/us oriundus Paulini m/atreque (H)onorata / rabiem inimicorum / tropeo fidei vincens / cum Chr(ist)o fidelis per s(a)e/cula regnaturus / bis tricenos quat(t)uor / annos menses VIII / vixit / hic ultimus claudit dies / despositus sub d(ie) XIII Kal(endas) / Mai(a)s ind(ictione) quarta decima

ICMactar II,1

+ Terra premes te/neros iniusto ponde/re Manes qua<n=M>ta te/cum bona de summi/s duces ad ima hic / Honorata tibi mem/bra ponit animamque / Tonanti <h=TI>os tibi ap/ices filia <v=B>aledictu/ra discedam bis qua/ternos functa anno/s debitum vit(a)e finem r/eddidit sub die depo/sita octa<v=B>u(m) Id(us) / April<e=I>s ind(ictione) XIIII

ICMactar II,2

+ In (h)oc [tumulo] / deposita [est] / Co(n)st[antia(?) vix]/it in pace [an(n)u(m)] / unu(m) men[ses – – -] / die(s) III N(o)n(as) [- – -] / in[d(ictione)

ICMactar II,3

The clear giveaway is the cross that starts all three inscriptions. In addition to this we find more Christian elements in the texts themselves.

The texts also support the idea of inhumation in the basilica. The best example is the ‘In (h)oc [tumulo] / deposita [est]’ (in this grave lies…) found in the smallest mosaic. The other two texts are less obvious, but still allude to the inhumation in the site:

ICMac II-1: Hic ultimus claudit dies / Here he is buried on his last day

ICMac II-2: Hic Honorata tibi membra ponit animamque Tonanti / Here Honorata lays down her body and soul, for you, thundering god

The thundering god might put us on the wrong foot, we might start thinking about Jupiter or other gods of thunder.

The evidence for inhumation in such a central position raises another question: Are these martyrs? Unfortunately, the inscriptions are not clear in this regard. We could interpret the largest inscription in such way it supports the idea of a martyr:

…rabiem inimicorum tropeo fidei vincens… / …victorious over the fury of the enemies with the trophy of the Faith…

We could interpret it as stating that even though Constantinus died due to the fury of his enemies in the form of persecutions, as a result of his continued faith he is now victoriously in heaven. However, it could also refer to the victory over temptations put forward by the devil.

But, in any case, again the joint work and the combination of epigraphic and archaeological data allow us to obtain a much more complete picture of this Christian basilica and its development on an earlier building. In fact, as you can see in the above examples, despite the distance between the ATLAS postdocs working in Madrid and Hamburg and their different specialisations, they are well-able to bring together the data. This combination of the fields is the core and one of the novelties of the ATLAS project, where we bring together the archaeology and epigraphy into one WebGIS. From this we are able to further our understanding of Late Antiquity.

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Mapping in the ATLAS project

ATLAS in our project name has led people to ask whether this refers to the Atlas mountains. This interpretation fits the project nicely, our study regions are indeed on both sides of the mountain range. However, it is not the first meaning of the project name, although a nice one. The name refers to the ‘atlas’ of Late Antique cities that we create and use for the analyses of urbanism between the 3rd and 8th century. We put atlas between inverted commas for a reason. You shouldn’t expect an atlas in the style of Der neue Pauly Historischer Atlas der antiken Welt or the Barrington Atlas. Our project is not creating a printed Atlas, but rather an online tool for geographical analyses (our WebGIS) that will focus on our ten case study cities. And if time and funding permit we might be extending our scope… 

Working with the Barrington Atlas (open) and the Historischer Atlas der antiken Welt.

Find our WebGIS online

Our WebGIS permits us to publish our results, just like a printed Atlas. However, in the process the WebGIS allows us to query and analyse our dataset. As you might have read in earlier blogs ([1 on Baelo]; [2 on Emerita]). The WebGIS runs on a Huma-Num server and is created and maintained by two database managers from the Université de La Rochelle. In the past we have worked with Frédéric Pouget and Alain Layec to create a way to link the WebGIS to our Zotero-library. Now we can easily add the bibliographical references to our data from Zotero. The next step, which was finished last week, is the importation of epigraphic data directly from a csv into the database. As we tweeted, before we were (and still are for the archaeological data) entering each inscription manually into the database. As this data can be obtained as csv from the Trismegistos database (through the licence of the University of Hamburg), and improved upon via other databases and the epigraphic corpora, it is easier to work in a csv (this love some of our team members have for Excel-sheets is still being discussed).

Start screen of the ATLAS WebGIS.

For those interested to look at the work-in-progress, we have made available the WebGIS in a view only version, you can find via this link. A short explanation of its functionalities can be found below. You will find that Baelo Claudia, Emerita Augusta and Carthago are finished. If you encounter any errors or omissions, don’t hesitate to contact us! 

Short user guide for the WebGIS

When you visit the WebGIS you will see the start screen with our research areas and case studies. You can zoom in on one of the case-studies and from zoom levels lower than 1: 1,000,000 (left lower corner you see the scale) the individual items corresponding with the epigraphic and archaeological evidence become visible. For instance the territory of Emerita:

Territory of Emerita Augusta with archaeology and epigraphy.

On the right hand side we can select the items on display by clicking the “Map” icon (the hand holding a globe). Here we can select and deselect items to show. For instance, to see only the churches within the territory of Emerita we deselect the epigraphy (click the eye on the left of “Inscriptions”). And as a quick option to get the churches we deselect all “Edifices”, then select only the “Église”. Now you should have the following image:

Territory of Emerita Augusta with the churches.

ATLAS Cartography

In addition to our WebGIS we are creating maps for some side projects and interests of our team members. As our directors run more than one project and our post-docs have more than one skill we are able to produce maps for our region covering topics beyond the scope of our project. In the past year we have created several maps for presentations and publications. However, as creating maps is quite some work and we have to keep our eye on the core research, we have decided to give the student assistants in Hamburg a QGIS-training. Thanks to the German part of the project we have a few students helping us with parts of the project. For example, all our French blogs are translations done by Lilian Fischer. In the past months Lilian Fischer, Tjaard Jantzen and Sebastian Meyer, have done several tasks for the project, such as: searching bibliography, data curation and entry.

As they have become acquainted with collecting data to create maps, it was time for the next step: Learning to make maps with QGIS. In the past weeks they have had the basic training from QGIS in Classics. This self-study course was created in 2020 as a TOLETUM Autumnschool. The students, accompanied by Lina Schimmelpfennig (student assistant of the RomanIslam Center), went through the modules and had a weekly meeting with Pieter (one of the developers of the course) to discuss issues and progress. The results of this course can be seen in our new section to the website.

The students in a digital meeting for the QGIS course.


In ATLAS we have been committed from the beginning to an open access policy with respect to all the output of our project. For this reason we have also decided to provide the maps that we have been creating during this time for the community. You can find them on the new section of our website: Maps-to-go.

In this section you will find maps that have been created by our ATLAS team and are based on research done by our team members or experts related to the ATLAS project. The base layer for our maps might look familiar: we are using a WMTS-layer following the style of Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire. You are free to use the maps under CC-BY-NC, meaning that you can use (and change) them with reference to the ATLAS-project. This means you can use the maps as a base for your own work, as long as you refer to us. In the next two years of the project we will continue to upload new maps based on our research. Stay tuned to our Twitter-account for the latest cartographic news!

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ATLAS workshop in Hamburg

From Monday the 24th of January to Wednesday the 26th we held the second ATLAS meeting with the title Ciudad y Antigüedad tardía: avances y perspectivas. We met in the reading room of the always impressive Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg, or in short Warburghaus. Due to its oval lay-out the room creates the right ambience for exchange and discussion between the speakers and the audience, but also within the audience. As not all members were able to travel to Hamburg we held it in hybrid form. This way we had visitors connecting from far and wide, as far as Brasil, and being able to join the debates.

Picture of the Warburghaus with the posters of the ATLAS workshops.

The title explains the aim of the meeting, discussing the advances and perspectives of the seven research groups. We divided the meeting into sessions for each group, where a key-note speaker from outside the project was invited to present on the topic of the group. This key-note was followed by a Work in Progress presentation of the research group. After both presentations we planned discussions of about 30 minutes. As always the discussions could have lasted much longer, as did some presentations 😉 Luckily we always had either coffee or lunch following the sessions, so there was room to continue in the breaks.

Monday, 24th January
The two directors opened the meeting in the standard ATLAS way and thereby indicating what the discussions would look like: Sabine opened in Spanish, whereas Laurent used French. Within the project most members speak at least one of these languages and understand the other. This way we were able to have discussions simultaneously in French and Spanish.

Sabine and Laurent during the opening of the workshop.

As part of our opening we invited Hervé Inglebert of the Université Paris Nanterre. He gave a magistral lecture on the position of the ATLAS project within the large debates. Starting his historiographical analysis with the earliest authors debating Late Antiquity, from Riegl and Strzygowski (1901) and worked his way to our time. Thereby bringing up the large problems we can encounter in our project. How are we treating our Long Late antiquity? What about the geographical scope? His conclusion was reassuring: The ATLAS project is positioned very well within the studies of Late Antiquity.

Snapshot of the discussion following Hervé Inglebert’s presentation.

The first research group was Poder político y ciudad; they invited Javier Martínez Jiménez from the University of Cambridge. He first showed the changes in the urban settlement pattern in Visigothic Spain including the question: What is a city? Thereafter he turned to the politics behind these urban foundations. He pointed out that controlling certain areas could be one of the explanations for these foundations. However, by new foundations the king could create new elites and bind people to him.

For this group Javier Arce and Rubén Olmo turned their attention to the provincial governors and the cities in Hispania. They found that the evidence, epigraphic and textual, for governors is very scarce and does not allow to elaborate on the relation between city and governor. What can be observed is that the governors were mostly active within the capital cities: Tarraco, Emerita Augusta and Corduba. The question is raised whether a view from Africa would give us another picture.

Javier Arce and Rubén Olmo during the presentation of the group Poder político y ciudad.

We ended the first day, well afternoon of our meeting as we always do in the Warburghaus: with a reception. The small bites and drinks help to get the conveners to know each other and start the informal discussions. We need to mention the always friendly and helpful Frau Drößler, the silent power behind all food and drinks at the Warburghaus. Without her help we wouldn’t have such nice breaks in the Warburghaus.

Tuesday, 25th January
We started the second day with a brisk walk through the city under the excellent guidance of the local tour guide Dominik Kloss. We started our tour from the hotel and on our way to the city center we passed the RomanIslam center, and more importantly, the ATLAS office (a.k.a. Pieter’s office). Dominik explained us the development of Hamburg from its origins as a trading center at the confluence of the Elbe and Alster to the construction of the University building in 1911 and the foundation of the university in 1919.

Picture of our guided tour through the center of Hamburg.

We then started our morning session on Tuesday with the Forma de los espacios urbanos. The group invited Gisella Cantino Wataghin of the Università del Piemonte orientale. She presented a paper on the role of cities, especially smaller cities, in Late antique northern Italy. Her views on the changing settlement systems and internal structures and fortifications of the cities were a perfect fit with the group presentation.
Our ATLAS postdoc Ada Lasheras and Stefan Ardeleanu took care of the presentation of our largest research group. The research group clearly coordinated their work and provided a perfect side by side treaty of the changes we can observe in the late antique city. Their focus was on the reorganisation of the city and the new hierarchies resulting from these changes.

Ada Lasheras and Stefan Ardeleanu during the presentation of the Forma de los espacios urbanos group.
After the guided tour and the group session we closed the relatively easy morning. It was high time for some informal exchange at the restaurant over a good plate of pasta.

The afternoon sessions started with Julia Sarabia-Bautista, of the Universidad de Alicante, as the key-note for the Territorio group. She presented a longue durée view on the occupation of the territories around cities in the region around Alicante. She showed that the peri-urban areas often find multiple areas of occupation but mostly short term, possibly depleting the resources and then moving. Whereas the peripheral areas have a more continuous occupation, this raises the question whether these areas are more autarchic and sustainable.

Picture of the presentation by Julia Sarabia-Bautista.

Jesús García Sánchez gave a similar view on the territory of Emerita with new materials found through survey and legacy data. Our postdoc Pieter Houten added Africa by turning to  Carthage and looking at legacy data approach based on the article by Sycamore and Buchanan. Since ATLAS uses already published materials the questions of legacy data are relevant. The resulting debate on how to define categories was helpful to the analysis of the different territories.

Pieter Houten and Jesús García during the presentation of the group Territorio.

After a coffee with local Hamburgian cake, Frau Drößler always takes good care of us, it was time for the final session of the day: Economía.

From the University of Liverpool we invited Alfred Hirt to present his research on mining in Africa and the Iberian Peninsula in late antiquity. He spoke about the diminishing mining operations and searched for reasons to explain the decline. The often used argument that the mines were depleted is not true, mining continued later on. Fred argued for a combination of factors leading to diminishing returns, simply put, it became too expensive to run the mines. Part of the problem is the tying down of labour. This way the specialist miners could not move to new mining regions to start operations there. One of the points for discussion was brought in online via the numismatist Ruth Pliego and turned to the origin of the gold for minting in the northwest in Late Antiquity.

Ada Lasheras introducing the keynote speaker Alfred Hirt.

The economy group focussed on three economic topics: Darío Bernal presented the fishing operations in the Straight of Gibraltar and the intertwining of Hispania and Africa. Thereafter he took over for Jaime Vizcaíno to consider the economic position of Carthago Nova and the reuse of former public areas for workshops. Touatia Amraoui examined the fishing activities in Leptiminus, as well as the production (kilns) of amphorae for wine and olive oil. However, the production sites for wine and olive oil in the hinterland are not found yet. Similarly in Carthage the kilns have been located, but not related to rural production.

Snapshot of the discussion after the presentation of the Economy group.

We closed the day with a lovely local dinner at Broderson, which cannot be left out in a Hamburg meeting. The Labskaus frightens those that do not know how amazing this local dish is. Every time we manage to convert just a few lucky souls. 

Wednesday, 26th January
Last day, last century. The key-note for Siglo VIII by Carolina Doménech Belda, of the Universidad de Alicante, presented a paper on coins and seals from the time of the Arab-Berber conquest in North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. Among the most recent findings are the seals, which are linked to the payment of tribute and have been especially found in the south of Hispania and in the Narbonensis. She also presented the evolution of the so-called ‘coins of conquest’, a gold coinage that presents linguistic changes but also in the legend. The first Islamic coins showed representations of the kings with a bilingual legend in Latin and Arabic. Gradually the Latin disappeared and the coins became aniconic and only included the Arabic legend. It is interesting to note that silver and copper coins do not show this evolution, but immediately start in Arabic.

Carolina Doménech during her presentation.

Sonia Gutiérrez took the honours to present “Los tiempos de la conquista (siglos VII-VIII): problemas de registro” for the Siglo VIII group. She discussed what we can know about these “dark” centuries through archaeology. The most problematic are the dating issues and lack of evidence (increased by the methodology of old excavations in relevant sites). Often materials are dated to the period before or after the conquest, leading to the idea of a period without evidence.

Sabine Panzram introducing Sonia Gutiérrez during the session Siglo VIII.

The first morning session was continued in the coffee room, with some real Hamburgian Franzbrötchen.

For the second morning session of the last day we invited the keynote speaker Isabel Velázquez (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) for Epigrafía. She presented an overview of the epigraphy in the Visigothic period. In addition, she brought up the problems of dating epigraphy, however, with the Hispanic era, the Visigothic epigraphy gives some good footing to base dating on palaeography. The epigraphy group was presented by Javier Arce and Pieter Houten. The group turned to the honorary inscriptions in Late Antiquity. The decline of the epigraphic culture for this text type is very strong and seems to support the idea of a dying epigraphic habit in the late fourth century. However, the funerary epigraphy continues well into later periods and therefore other text types need to be considered.

Pieter Houten and Javier Arce during the presentation of the Epigrafía group.

For lunch we walked to the nearby, and our new favourite Italian restaurant, where we got antipasti and pasta as much as we could wish.

The last group for our meeting was Terminología, they invited Álex Corona Encinas to discuss the juridical aspects of municipal institutions in Late Antiquity. He presented the reality we can create from Roman law during Justinian reign, specially focusing on how the central power tried to limit the local aristocracy privileges and power.

The terminology group gave their three perspectives in three subsequent presentations. We got to see the urban reality in North Africa and the continuation of gentes as self-governing, urban, communities presented by Stéphanie Guédon. Rubén Olmo took over and gave an overview of the changing terminology in the classical texts where there seems to be a shift towards a more general use of municipium when we compare Pliny the Elder and Ammianus Marcellinus. Sabine Panzram looked at the reality in the urban settlement system when we turn to the changing terminology, for instance from urbs to civitas and vicus to castellum or castrum. Moreover, she pointed out that in the Visigothic period the urban elite became more dependent on the king, thereby losing their political footing within the community.

Stéphanie Guédon, Rubén Olmo y Sabine Panzram during the presentation of the group Terminología.

To close our sessions we invited Jean-François Bernard (Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour) to present one of the future plans of ATLAS: 3D reconstructions. He showed us how the reconstruction of ancient cities is grounded in a long tradition going back to antiquity and passed by artists like Raphaël. These handmade pictures are a splendid way of visualisation of the ancient cities. The modern 3D reconstructions have a solid base in archaeology and open up debates on how to render uncertainties. In the discussion on 3D reconstructions Christoph Eger was given the opportunity to show the 3D reconstructions the LVR Xanten was able to obtain from their work.

Jean-François Bernard during his presentation on 3D reconstructions.

The day was ended by Sabine Panzram and Laurent Brassous, thanking all participants present in the Warburghaus and online for their presentations and discussions. They rightly called the meeting a success. In addition to these words of thanks we took the opportunity to finish with a tradition: the general discussion led by Javier Arce on the merits (and problems) of the group work. He concluded that meetings on a more regular basis would be best. We look forward to the next one in La Rochelle in November 2022!
The day ended with the farewell dinner at Neumanns. Again a good venue for the participants to enjoy good food and have some more time for discussion before going back home.

Concluding cartoon of our colloquium, drawn by Sonia Gutiérrez.

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2021 blast from the past

It seems only yesterday that we published our first blog, but it is most certainly not, it has been almost nine months! Time flies by when you are dedicating your time to a subject so grappling as the phenomenon of late antique urbanism and, it seems impossible that 2021 ends in a few weeks.

Since the start of the project last April we have done quite a bit. It was at this blog that we informed you of our first (digital) meeting between Sabine, Laurent, Pieter and Ada. The pandemic situation forced us to postpone a first real life meeting with all project members in the Casa de Velazquez, but (spoiler alert) fortunately was organized a few months later. The project got really on the road with our WebGIS meeting at the university of La Rochelle. This was the moment we had the opportunity to get to know each other and find out how to communicate. As you might have read in May, this meeting was a true linguistic immersion.

On the left, a nice view of La Rochelle. On the right, Ada, Pieter, Frédéric and Laurent working on the WebGIS.

During the meeting in La Rochelle, we debated the definitions and categories of the different elements to include in our WbGIS, we also established that we had three months for each case study. This gives us 30 months, which allows us to finish just before the end of the project. As we were already a few weeks into the project, we decided to study Baelo Claudia in six weeks. At that time it seemed quite a challenge,  little did we know… We have studied Baelo and in the process we got the hang of our WebGIS.

Picture of a sheet and screenshot of the work done on Mérida in the WebGIS.

Subsequently, in July we were able to present our progress with GIS for a large group of our members. As we said, the official launch of the project in the Casa de Velazquez had been postponed. Finally, we could have a hybrid launch on the 12th and 13th of July. It was a great opportunity to get to know the members of the project and debate the database, as well as the different research lines of the project. As such, we created various research groups that have been working since then in specific subjects to advance the study of cities in late antiquity in North Africa and the south of Hispania.

Pictures of the fantastic patio of the Casa de Velázquez.

Through an autumn busy by running from conference to conference, and after 15 weeks of work, we are at the point of almost finishing the second case study: Mérida.  Now we can certainly state that studying Baelo and her Late Antique history in six weeks is a lot easier than studying Mérida. During our research visit last september we were already made aware that Mérida had much to give. Nonetheless, the amount appears to be overwhelming, and then we know about unpublished materials, which we hope will see the light soon. In January we aim at writing a short overview of this amazing city and close the chapter before starting a new one in the new year.

On the left, Pieter and Sabine during our visit to Mérida. On the right, Sabine presenting the ATLAS project in Alicante.

Most likely our next case study will be as challenging as Mérida: Carthago. With our first case study in Tunisia we hope to get some help from our colleagues to locate the most important reference works and hit the ground running. One thing that certainly will keep us busy in January is our second ATLAS meeting in Hamburg from the 24th to the 26th. Keep posted by following our Social Media (Twitter and Facebook) for more information!

Pictures of the offices of Pieter, in Hamburg, and Ada, in Madrid.


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The ATLAS research groups

Last July when the members of ATLAS met for the official project launch we had discussions on the major fields of the project: urban life; city and territory; urban networks. The discussions led to the creation of research groups that turn their attention on specific themes within the large fields of the project. The process of deciding what groups had to be formed was one of mutual agreement. A member would state that a theme could be of interest, if this was seconded by another member the group was formed. After the Madrid workshop each member could join one or more groups by signing up on the list of research groups. Interestingly, this meant we had a second selection of groups, as some were not continued. In the end we have research groups covering different aspects of late Antiquity on the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. Each group nicely reflects the diversity of our research focus, they all have specialists focusing on either the Iberian Peninsula or North Africa. This way we ensure that the comparative aspect of our project is going to be part of these groups.

Picture of our first meeting at the Casa de Velázquez, last July.

The Research groups

We have research groups dedicated to the study of various topics. On the one hand, the “Political power in the city” group deals with sociological aspects. This was also the case with the “Religion” group, but finally this team has joined the massive “Shape of urban spaces” group, as it will also focus on religious buildings in cities. This large group, having gulped up almost half of the participants (luckily many people joined two groups), will look at more aspects such as the resizing and topography hierarchization of late antique urban centres. This is one of the groups with an archaeological focus. Another archaeological group is that on “Territory”, they will look at the territories of cities from a Landscape Archaeology perspective. With archaeology the economy is never far away, this research group will turn to the productive side and trading networks of cities. The more theoretical and methodological approach can be found in the groups “Terminology” and “8th century”. Wait, we have a group for one specific century? Yes indeed, this century seems very difficult to research in both North Africa and on the Iberian Peninsula. They will focus on the still existing difficulties when defining the 8th century archaeological record and on the evolution of cities during this ‘fully post-Roman’ century. The last research group studies the epigraphy of both regions. So we can venture saying that with these groups we have covered all major themes of late antiquity.

An autumn of conferences and group meetings

As we wrote we had quite the autumn of conferences, with us going all over the place. It seems that all organisations were using the short period of open borders and reasonably low numbers to get going with conferences (fingers crossed we will not find ourselves in a long lockdown winter).  As we do like to keep busy this period was also used to get the research groups going. As always with different groups we observe that some meet frequently and others work under the radar. Nonetheless, with the deadline for titles and abstracts last week we see that all have been working hard to get their favourite themes highlighted in our project. Each research group had to start thinking about their first work in progress presentation planned for our next ATLAS workshop.

Picture of our next meeting point, the Warburghaus in Hamburg.

Next ATLAS Workshop: sneak preview

The next ATLAS workshop will take place in Hamburg between the 24th and 26th of January. Keep those fingers crossed, we hope the new regulations will have success and we can still meet in person at the Warburghaus in Hamburg. Each group will present work in progress within their chosen theme. The idea behind it is that we will be working towards the publication of our companion of late antiquity. The fruits of the workshops and groups will lead to the needed reflections to create an up to date and fundamental source for the basic study of late antiquity in North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. To facilitate discussion each group will invite a key-note speaker, and expert within the field, to present the latest on the theme of the group. This will be followed by the work in progress presentation of the group. Thereafter we plan ample time for discussion among the members. This way we hope to bring forward our research and the study of late antiquity as a whole.

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Autumn of conferences

After 17 months of digital conferencing we see a sudden rise of “real-life” conferences after the first almost normal summer. So, in this blog we will treat the conferences of this autumn that were or are going to be visited by the two directors and post-docs. There will be many more with ATLAS members present, but that would lead to a long blog containing almost all conferences treating Late Antiquity in Spain, Tunisia and beyond.

With universities returning to teaching at the university and allowing students to come, it is expected that academics also want to start meeting again. Even though the past year has shown that we don’t need to visit every conference to ‘participate’. It is great to be able to follow seminars all over the world without creating a massive carbon footprint for a two hour session. The chat function in most programs allows you to greet familiar faces and to ask questions when it is impossible to switch on the microphone due to life going on at home.  Nonetheless, the digital meetings, how well organised, do not provide the same opportunities. Break-out rooms for coffee breaks cannot replace the coffee in a conference. Well, we do not literally mean the coffee. Working at home that much, we all have improved the home brewing to a level we can never expect from university catering. But we mean the breaks in between the presentations. These coffee breaks allow for 20 minutes of wandering around  and being able to start conversations with speakers (to ask that question you really want to ask but felt did not fit the discussion). Lastly, real life conferences provide the peace of mind to completely focus on the conference, without all distractions and needs at the home front. 

It might be clear we do like our conferences live and kicking, but if possible in a hybrid form so we can still follow or present at those for which we can not travel. What conferences did we have since october? We decided not to hand you a boring list of conferences but treat them thematically in three themes we discovered: urbanism, ports and romanization. We will start with the latter as these are the first conferences. 

The first conference of October, or the last of September really, was the official kick-off of the RomanIslam Center in Hamburg between the 29th and the 1st. Although they had been running for a year, the kick-off meeting with bubbles and all could only be held now. The three-day conference “New Perspectives on Romanization and Islamication” co-organised by our director Sabine held presentations of several team members, as those following twitter already saw, Javier Arce, Darío Bernal-Casasola (online), Philipp von Rummel and Chokri Touihri gave papers. A few days after this conference on Romanization and Islamication, the theme of Romanization was continued in Xanten with the Toletum: El ejército y la romanización: Hispania y Germania en comparación, between October 7th and 9th. As this is the well-known German-Spanish research network led by Sabine, she opened the workshop. Although we had two days of conference ahead of us, Sabine’s well chosen image immediately gave away how the Roman army integrates the locals. 

Picture of Sabine during the opening of the Xanten Workshop.

Continuing chronological we get to the next theme: urbanism. Barely returned home from Xanten Sabine had to go to Paris to meet Laurent and to give a presentation at the Université Paris Nanterre in the colloquium Le phénomène urbain dans l’Antiquité tardive et le haut Moyen Âge between 11-12 octubre 2021. Our directors were invited to present the status quaestionis of Late Antique urbanism on the Iberian Peninsula. The colloquium was concluded with the closing remarks of our team member Anna Leone. After the Paris Nanterre colloquium we had a few days of rest, to write this blog, before continuing our tour with the next urbanism papers.

From here we are turning to the future conferences. The first up is Small Towns: una realidad urbana en la Hispania Romana at the Museo Arqueológico de Alicante (MARQ) between the 26 and 28th of October. On the 26th Pieter will be presenting his paper Small Towns a través de la epigrafía. The next day Laurent will turn to our first case study and present Baelo Claudia as a small town. Be it a small town, it is dear to us 😉 On November 3rd Pieter will present (online) the paper “We don’t need a city: Roman civitates without urban centres in Hispania”  at the Institute of Classical Studies in a Seminar Series in honour of Simon Keay. The last presentations on urbanism will be given mid-November at the Universidad de Alicante. Where Sabine and Pieter will present at the Workshop: Net Land. Arqueología, redes urbanas y paisajes de asentamientos en la larga duración. With this we close the urbanism paper section and continue with a specific part of the city: the ports.

Laurent and Sabine in the conference at the Université Paris Nanterre.

It is interesting to see that this part of the city is well represented within our conference autumn. On November 3rd Ada will participate online at the conference “Entremares: Emplazamiento, infraestructuras y organización de los puertos romanos” with a paper co-written with Patricia Terrado Ortuño, Anna Gutiérrez Garcia-Moreno and Jordi López Vilar on the latest findings en Roca Plana, an important docking point within the Tarraco port system. Next follows the colloquium “De Gades a Tanger Med. El futuro de la tradición en el Estrecho de Gibraltar” organised by Sabine and our colleagues at Casa de Velázquez and la Casa Árabe in Madrid, which unfortunately had been postponed several times. The colloquium will take place at the Casa Árabe in Madrid on 11th and 12th of November and again members of ATLAS will be participating: Darío Bernal-Casasola with a paper on the role of Gades in the trade network of the Fretum Gaditanum, and Patrice Cressier, as chair of the session on the medieval period. The ATLAS conference autumn will end with the 5th Tarraco Biennal: Ports romans. Arqueologia dels sistemes portuaris and is co-directed by Ada, together with Patricia Terrado Ortuño and Joaquín Ruiz de Arbulo. Our team member will present a paper on the port system of Tarraco at the urban level. Moreover, the conference will have another ATLAS member joining: Darío Bernal. The conference will hold more papers of interest to the ATLAS team, for instance on the port system of Hispalis (a future case study) and its role as an emporium for the Baetis.

The TOLETUM workshop of November 4th to 7th is a hard one to place within the three themes. Sabine organises a second TOLETUM this year, specially for junior researchers who could apply to join. This has led to a very diverse and interesting programme with its own themes: Archaeology and the Environment; Landscape Archaeology; Economic History and Social History of Power. 

Without a doubt, this has been (and will be) a very busy autumn, but we are glad to be able to meet again with many of our colleagues and discuss the topics of great interest to our research directly with them. The Islamication, urban development and port networks are important aspects in the study of our Late Antique cities and we are certain that all these conferences will allow us to return with our minds full of new ideas and perspectives.

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Official project launch in Madrid

After three months of the formal start of the ATLAS project we had the chance to officially launch the project in a semi-presential launch event at the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid!

For those unaware of the Casa de Velázquez (CdV): It is a French institution to promote artistic, cultural and academic exchange between France and Spain. The monumental house is located in the Ciudad Universitaria and overlooks the Manzanares river valley. Besides its beautiful architecture and views, it also holds an impressive library. What a joy to be able to spend a few days there to start our project and work at the CdV.

Some pictures of the Casa de Velázquez: to the left the impressive patio; to the right the fantastic library.

The official project launch took place on Monday the 12th and Tuesday the 13th of July. Twelve members of the project were able to travel to Madrid, the other half was digitally present. After a year of such hybrid events, the CdV had all organised and we were able to have discussions taking place in Madrid, other parts of Spain, Tunisia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. It was a great opportunity to meet our project members and discuss different aspects of our project. On Monday morning we started with introducing our project. Sabine and Laurent explained the technical and scientific details of the project, and its set-up with our three seats: Casa de Velázquez in Madrid; Université la Rochelle and Universität Hamburg. Thereafter Frédéric introduced the WebGIS to our members. The view of this hybrid presentation was worth taking a picture of.

Picture of Frédéric, in the middle of the room, presenting the WebGIS at the hybrid workshop.

Well and not all went as planned with these hybrid presentations. One of the challenges was created by failing microphones. One of our digital participants could not get their microphone to work, but an old-fashioned phone call on speaker simply solved this issue. In the picture below we can see Laurent holding his phone near the microphone so the participants in the room as well as those present digitally (lower right corner) could hear what was said.

Laurent helping out with an old-fashioned phone call.

By discussing the WebGIS we reaffirmed some of the database questions we had ourselves. The main one is the obvious: How to deal with the messy reality in a structured database. We can make categories to fit our different archaeological and epigraphic finds, but they often do not neatly follow our planned categories. The question is how far do we go to represent the reality in our model? If we create a separate category for each and every building we will not be able to see the larger patterns, as we have every building entered as an individual building. However, we do need to fit our buildings somewhere. A good example is the already mentioned xenodochium of Mérida, it is the only xenodochium in our ten case studies. Should we enter it as a xenodochium? Or would creating ‘hospital’ or ‘hostel’ as a category be more helpful to understand the spread of similar institutions? We will continue improving our database, whilst entering data and encountering new questions.

Our meeting was not only a discussion of the database. As we mentioned before on our Twitter account, we had some keynote lectures planned to start discussions on the research themes.  Prof. Dr. Javier Arce gave the first keynote with the title “Los paisajes urbanos en la Antigüedad tardía”. This opened an interesting discussion on the terminology we should employ to discuss the city. In continuation, Prof. Dr. Sonia Gutiérrez opened an interesting debate with her key-note talk “La ciudad y territorio”. Questions included how to define the territory of Late Antique cities. Some held more than one role (thinking about provincial or diocese capitals). How should we treat their administrative territories? The final keynote presentation was given by Prof. Dr. Touihri “Un réseau de villes dans l’Antiquité tardive”. He brought forward that we should look at our ten case studies within their larger network of cities. Only then can we understand the role and development of cities in Late Antiquity. After these three keynotes and the discussions following afterwards we all had the right mind-set for the workshops on the different themes. 

Picture of the workshop during the presentation by Prof. dr. Chokri Touihri.

We planned three workshops to discuss and organise the different research groups befitting the main research topics: urban life; city and territory; urban networks (see under ‘Research Fields’ on this website). During these discussions, we realised that some themes within the Research Fields require more focus. From there we formed several research groups to work on specific subjects of relevance for our project and in line with the main research fields mentioned before.

All in all we are very happy with our first project workshop. It was great to meet several members in the Casa de Velazquez. It was even better to be able to discuss the main topics with most members using the digital techniques. We look forward to our next workshop in January 2022 in Hamburg. Fingers crossed we are able to all get together in one place!


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The first case study. Baelo leading us forward with the WebGIS

Last month we met in La Rochelle to kick-off our WebGIS database with training by our database expert Frédéric Pouget. After this four day training we were sent into the deep waters of WebGIS. Luckily Frédéric was on the side watching us and making sure all went well. The advantage of this early user process is that we can make changes on the go. Using the WebGIS database we discover some small issues with the search function, but nothing that cannot be solved. Other things we discussed are more on the aesthetic side of things. The icons we have now need improvement. Luckily Sabine knows a very patient designer… Each time he created a new version we wanted icons added or deleted. We fear he has created at least a dozen versions of our icons. However, these will make our maps look smashing.

Screenshot of the WebGIS with the new icons and the Silla del Papa sheet.

As you know our first case study is Baelo Claudia, which is quite fun and challenging. The challenge is the fact that there is so much work published and accessible (see for instance: that it is difficult to get acquainted with the whole debate. Studying a site from the desk is another challenge. Understanding archaeological reports and reading the archaeological plans is greatly improved by visiting a site. Under current circumstances that was not an option. However, here Baelo Claudia is again a good starting point since most of the archaeological site can be digitally visited. Now we don’t want to state that this comes even close to visiting the site and seeing it with your own eyes. Autopsy is not just a thing to visit the beach of Baelo. But in these times of travel limitations the street view has been helpful at times.

Panoramic view of Baelo Claudia.

As you might have noticed in our Twitter feed we have been working on the epigraphy of Baelo Claudia. Unfortunately, there are only a few late antique inscriptions to be found. Nonetheless, there are some really interesting ones, such as the funerary inscription to Sabina. This early sixth century inscription is a great example showing the presence of a Christian community in Baelo.

Another approach we have is that of the digitization of archaeological plans for late antique Baelo Claudia. We aim at providing maps for late antique Baelo for different periods, to show the dynamics of the city. Most of the work has gone in collecting and researching the different elements for the late antique period. Each archaeological trace that can be related to our research period has been entered and described in the database. Last week we gave an example of one of our archaeological sites: La Silla del Papa.

A few days ago Laurent, Sabine, Pieter and Ada had a virtual meeting to share and discuss all the work done on Baelo Claudia. By then most of the archaeological and all the epigraphic remains were already added to the WebGIS and we could exchange our views and interpretations on the evolution of the late antique city. It is actually very helpful to see all the late antique buildings, urban infrastructures and inscriptions at a glance in the map. Moreover, having incorporated the most recent archaeological findings has provided us with a slightly different picture than that offered by previous studies. Indeed, a general plan of late antique Baelo is still lacking and our project aims at creating one. This will be a great tool for analysing Baelo’s urban development but also for comparing it with the other case studies for which we intend to produce new plans as well.

Sabine, Pieter, Laurent and Ada at the virtual meeting held on 22nd June.

Returning to our meeting, we started our discussions on the evolution of Baelo in late Antiquity. In the traditional literature we find that an earthquake (possibly dated to the third century) is treated as a breaking point in history. The focus on the Imperial city and its apparent destruction by this earthquake have led to a clear watershed in research. Often we find that the period from the third century onward is less profoundly treated. Our goal is to bring together the evidence we have for Baelo Claudia in Late Antiquity and reconstruct the late antique city. In the end we will write a discussion of the evolution and our interpretation of Baelo in late Antiquity in the city record. This is an encompassing record that allows for these overarching discussions. It is here that we will revisit the idea of a city in decline after the supposed earthquake of the third century.

After three months of spending our time on the ‘small town’ at the Atlantic coast it is time to pack our bags and move to our next case study. On July 1st we will refresh at the xenodochium of Masona before entering the next case study at the banks of the Ana.