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Recap of 2023 and plans 2024

As the saying goes, “it’s never too late to start”. Our usual annual retrospective comes a little later this time, but we simply had too much to tell! 2023 has been an intense year at ATLAS, during which we have not only continued work on our WebSIG and participated in multiple colloquia and conferences, but also focused to a greater degree on our other goals: the companion and the touring exhibition.

Last year January started with a conference in Xanten on one of our case study cities: Emerita. The conference “Nuevas investigaciones sobre Emerita Augusta” brought together the experts on the city, including our own Sabine and Pieter to discuss the latest on the city. The results of this conference will be published as the catalogue belonging to the exposition planned in the summer later in 2024. Keep an eye out on the museum website for the official announcement of the expo.

As you see, our involvement in the study of our cities goes beyond the work on the database and WebSIG (by the way, if you haven’t already done so, we recommend you take a look at this post on how to use it). An example of our commitment to the work is Ada, in April she participated in a new excavation campaign at Baelo Claudia, carried out in the framework of the CircE project. In October, this same project took Laurent and Ada to another of our cities: Seville. Here they held the workshop “¡Qué desastre!”, which focused on the analysis of traumatic phenomena in antiquity, a subject on which Baelo Claudia had, as always, a lot to contribute.

Laurent and Ada at the workshop

This year also saw the last work-in-progress meeting of ATLAS: Les Villes dans l’Antiquité Tardive au sud de la péninsule Ibérique et en Afrique du Nord: entre recherche et valorisation patrimoniale. Last May our members had the joy of visiting Tunisia for this meeting. We had two days of presentations and discussions by the members of the research groups on the topics that are so close to our hearts. The first day of our meeting was hosted by the INP in Tunis. The second day we were invited by the AVMPPC to come to Uthina for our meeting. In addition to our discussions we had the chance to visit some sites. Clearly we visited Carthago and Uthina, where we were meeting, but the programme included an additional cultural day to visit Thuburbo Maius and Testour! 

Some pictures of our visits to Uthina and Testour in May.

As the project was in high gear racing towards the final publication of the companion, more on this later, the student assistants in Hamburg were more and more involved with the cartographic element of our project. They followed the QGIS course and over time learned a lot more by creating maps for the project. As always you can find some of the results on our Maps-to-go page

The year ended in December with two major outreach activities. First our directors participated in the large ATEG conference: “ATEG VIII Les villes de l’Antiquité tardive en Gaule et dans les régions mitoyennes”. This conference takes place once each two years and was a great opportunity for our directors to present the preliminary results of the ATLAS project. Later in December our post-doc Pieter went to Rio de Janeiro as part of a future exchange programme between the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and the Universität Hamburg. Pieter gave a lecture on the epigraphic studies within the ATLAS project. In addition, he taught the QGIS course to a group of engaged students. We hope to spread the love for spatial analyses and cartography.

Pieter in Rio de Janeiro

What are the plans for 2024? The largest part is the closing workshop in Madrid March 20/21. This final workshop for the ATLAS project will be the final meeting of the members within the frame of the ATLAS project. However, these are not farewells, but just see you laters. We are certain that many of our members will continue to collaborate, and while we will reap the fruits of the project, we are already preparing ATLAS 2.0, of course. 

Nonetheless, now is no time for goodbye, we are full throttle working on the project. The workshop must be prepared. As we have written before, the deadline for the companion has kept us quite busy the past few months. With the deadline made, the work for others starts. All manuscripts have to be checked and corrected (style guides are there to be ignored 😉 ) before it can be sent to the publishers at Casa de Velázquez. Moreover, at the moment we are also preparing the ATLAS exposition that will have its kick-off at the workshop in Madrid. Thereafter it will go around our research area and institutions. Keep an eye on our blog to see when and where you can visit the ATLAS expo near your home town!

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2024!

The ATLAS team wishes you a merry Christmas and all best for 2024!
We will take, and wish you, a well-deserved break until the 7th of January.

The Arch of Trajan in Mactaris

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Have a great summer!

A bird’s eye view on Carthago

… to rest and enjoy! Good holidays to all and we will meet again in September…


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Starting Leptiminus

As we announced a few weeks ago, we are currently working on our fourth case study in Tunisia, Leptiminus. This is a coastal city located in the Sahel region, south of the Gulf of Hammamet, which covered an area of approximately 45 ha between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. This is certainly a somewhat different case study to those we have been analysing to date, because Leptiminus is not known for the preservation of large public buildings, unlike many of the Roman cities of the Maghreb. It does, however, offer the possibility of studying many other interesting aspects that have often been overlooked in those North African cities whose monumental remains have been better preserved. In fact, thanks in particular to the “Leptiminus Archaeological Project” directed by John Humphrey, Hedi Slim, Nejib Ben Lazreg, Lea Stirling, David Stone and David Mattingly, the city has been exhaustively analysed from multiple perspectives and using a wide variety of methodologies. This is why today Leptiminus is a fantastic example for understanding the economic side of a relatively modest port city (its fishing and craft activities, mainly dedicated to pottery production), but also the occupation and evolution of the suburban areas (where these craft activities were located, but also domestic, funerary and religious spaces) or its relationship with its immediate hinterland.

Archaeological plan of Leptiminus (Mattingly et al. 2001, fig. 4.03)

We had the luck that David Stone visited the RomanIslam Center in November 2022, at the same time we were participating in the Shifting Cities conference. This serendipitous meeting allowed us to discuss Leptiminus with one of its experts. David is a survey archaeologist working in both Greece and North Africa whose research addresses current questions about ancient cities, empires, and landscapes. At Leptiminus, David worked mainly on the field survey, which was presented in Leptiminus 3 (Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 87, 2011). This book considers the “urban biography” of the city over 1200 years of Punic, Roman, Vandal, and Byzantine rule. The tale of Leptiminus included a remarkable period from about 100 to 300 CE, during which investment in agriculture, fishing, shipping, and ceramic manufacture were all documented. The city continued to import and export products until the seventh century while also maintaining a significant population. It is in the late-antique phase that the slow but perceptible changes to the diets, occupations, burial customs, and physical spaces and other aspects of the lifestyles of inhabitants may indeed be most visible.

Garum tanks on the sea shore (©Leptiminus Project)
Underwater remains of the jetty (©Leptiminus Project)

Besides being very helpful discussing this case study, David was eager to join the ATLAS team and since then has been an active member of the Territory and Economy groups, even presenting three times in Tunis! He will contribute in the Companion as a co-author to the chapters of the groups, and even deliver one single author chapter on Leptiminus. 

David’s last presentation at the last ATLAS meeting in Tunisia

Moreover, David was so kind to offer us the needed data in usable formats. That means, rather than having to go through the many good publications to find and locate archaeological remains for our WebGIS, we received excel tables of site numbers, coordinates and descriptions. This means that for this city we can finally try out the bulk upload for archaeology. As we already mentioned before for epigraphy we have been using this approach of uploading thousands of entries in one go. The only task left is to curate the data and make it fit our webGIS format. One of the main tasks was to associate the find types of the Leptiminus project with the ATLAS types. Ada created a correspondence list of the English types from the Leptiminus and the French of our WebGIS, so the student assistants could do this task. In some cases the correspondence is rather straightforward: cistern is citerne, however, sometimes they can be a bit harder like amphora burials being Espace funeraire, another example of our multilingual project.

As you might know, we use a similar approach to work on the epigraphy, we collect the data from a multitude of dataset and then curate it for our database. Again this is partially the hard labour done by our Hilfskräfte, who have slowly become experts in epigraphy. Admittedly, the role of Leptiminus is very limited in our understanding of the epigraphic culture in Late Antiquity. There is just a handful of epigraphy dated to this period. Nonetheless, there are some beautiful examples of mosaic inscriptions found in the Christian cemetery.

Some of the Christian mosaics located in the catacombs next to the eastern cemetery of the city (Stevens et al. 2007, fig. 4)
René Cagnat and Henri Saladin’s excavation of a Christian cemetery  (R. Cagnat and H. Saladin, Voyage en Tunisie, 1894)

Working on Leptiminus for the past few weeks has given us some new insights. First to learn about this small port city of the Sahel at the Mediterranean coast in Late Antiquity. Moreover, the first time we were able to work with the archaeological material in a different way, is an interesting experiment. It raises the question and option to share archaeological data more effectively. As always, to follow our work you can check our WebGIS and follow our twitter account!


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International ATLAS Colloquium in Tunisia

The fourth and penultimate ATLAS meeting, Les Villes dans l’Antiquité Tardive au sud de la péninsule Ibérique et en Afrique du Nord: entre recherche et valorisation patrimoniale, took place in Tunisia under the organisation of the Institut National du Patrimoine, the Agence de Mise en Valeur du Patrimoine et de Promotion Culturelle, the Institut de Recherche sur le Maghreb Contemporain, the Casa de Velázquez, the Universität Hamburg and the UMR 7266 LIENSs (La Rochelle Université/CNRS) on May 2nd and 3rd. Some started their trips on International Labour Day with some concern, crossing their fingers that strikes would not impede travel. Fortunately, very few flights were cancelled, they were easily changed and all were in time for the first dinner in the Sidi Bou Said hotel. Nothing like meeting up with our colleagues on a terrace with a fantastic view of the city of Tunis!


Tuesday May 2nd: Conference at Institut Nationale du Patrimoine

After a good night’s rest and a coffee with breakfast it was time to head for the INP in the medina of Tunis. Fortuna was not with us, the busride started too late in the morning leading us to get stuck in the morning traffic of city centre Tunis. With an hour delay we started the colloquium, only to discover that the internet-connection was not stable enough in the sturdy building, the walls were simply too massive. Despite these minor setbacks we started our conference with the opening words by Youssef Lachkem (the interim general director of the INP) and Daouda Sow (AMVPPC’s interim general director). They were followed by brief introductory words from Laurent Brassous, Sabine Panzram and Moheddine Chaouali, who concluded the opening of the fourth ATLAS project colloquium.

Laurent Sabine and Moheddine opening the workshop(*).

Sabine had the honour of opening the scientific part of the conference with her presentation for the Political Power work group. She presented the evidence of worldly and religious local government in late antiquity to  observe how this slowly changed in our period of research. The Urban Spaces group was represented by Ada Lasheras and Stefan Ardeleanu, and their presentation focused on public and collective spaces in late antique cities. Far from more traditional perspectives, focusing mainly on the evolution of public monuments of the classical period (especially the fora), their communication drew attention to other spaces of collective and public use also present in these centuries.

The last presentation of the morning was for the epigraphy group. Pieter Houten presented their work on the funerary epigraphy only to descend into a discussion on dating. It appears that when scratching the surface of the epigraphic dating, the card house collapses rather quickly. How to solve the problems of correctly dating remains to be solved. With three presentations done it was already time for the final discussion of the morning. The responses from the public were positive, with some constructive observations and comments to take into account when we put all this work into writing. Whilst continuing the discussions we walked slowly into the medina to our lunch place.

The first three presentations, by Sabine (Political power group), Stefan & Ada (Urban spaces group) and Pieter (Epigraphy group).

Refreshed from a great and copious lunch we returned to the INP only to discover that some sweets and coffee were presented there. Participants gathered around the table to savour Tunisian sweets, but it was time for the afternoon session to begin.

Jesús García and David Stone were given the challenge to engage the public so they wouldn’t give in to the after-dinner-dip. They presented, on behalf of the territory group, the issues and challenges of defining territory for our case study cities. The first issue is how to define a territory. The simple approach of assigning one by Thiessen polygons does not work when we add in the few pieces of evidence we have, they seldomly support this simple territorial division. Moreover, we need to consider the maritime territory of our coastal cities as well. But, in any case, their presentation showed that with a rough estimation of the territory we can start to analyse the settlement patterns and land-use. The presentation of the Economy group was given by Darío Bernal and David Stone, who pointed out the importance of analysing the economic aspects of the study cities to understand their historical development and link it to the evolving patterns of both regions and the western Mediterranean during Late Antiquity. Baelo Claudia and Leptiminus were specifically the examples chosen to show the possibilities offered by such economic studies, through the production of garum and the distribution of amphorae.

The presentations of Jesús & David (Territory groyp) and David & Darío (Economy group).

The group sessions were ended by the 8th century group. The official group presentation was presented by María Teresa Casal, who gave an overview of the materials, construction techniques and buildings that can be dated to the elusive 8th century. The quantitative and qualitative differences in the available data continue to be the greatest challenge they face, especially for making valid and useful comparisons. She also pointed out the need to widen the chronological range in order to really understand the processes of change that took place in this key period. This was followed by another paper dedicated to the issues of the 8th century, this time by Chokri Touihri, as other members were also invited to present their own work. His presentation focused specifically on Tunisian sites and the problems encountered in dating ceramic materials in this century, and even in the 9th century.

The 8th century group presentation, given by Mayte, and Chokri during his presentation on the material evidence of the 8th and 9th centuries.

The last presentation this day was by our own database and GIS expert Frédéric Pouget. He gave a general presentation of our WebGIS for the people who joined our colloquium, followed by an update on the latest changes and improvements. We now have a search function that allows you to search the database by text in fields. This was a request of the ATLAS members at our meeting in La Rochelle. Moreover, the filtering options have also been updated (by centuries, types of evidence or inscriptions, by city, etc.), allowing users to make more specific searches.

Frédéric presenting the latest updates of our WebGIS.

After this successful day we went back to our hotel for another great Tunisian dinner and to get some rest. Wednesday we had an early bus to get to Oudhna.

Wednesday May 3rd: Conference at Uthina (AVMPPC)

After a relaxing bus ride we arrived at the new interpretation centre of Uthina (Oudhna). The building was inaugurated last year and offers all the necessary information about the site before visiting the fantastically preserved archaeological remains. Moreover, it provides a conference room and restaurant. In short, a great location to gather archaeologists, epigraphers and ancient historians to discuss Late Antiquity.

We started our second day with the presentation of one of our own case studies by the team of archeologists responsible for the newest research. Caroline Michel d’Annoville, Mohamed Ben Nejma and Zénaide Lecat presented the paper they wrote jointly with our ATLAS member Elsa Rocca. They gave us an overview of the latest archaeological work carried out, including geophysical surveys and excavations. The geophysical survey provided new data for a better understanding of the area between the theatre and the large “à auges” building, in the north-eastern sector of the city. Archaeological excavations focused on the area of the possible forum, where several productive structures of late antique chronology were found and are currently being studied.

David, who was the star of our colloquium, gave his third and last paper on Leptiminus, another case study of our project. Here again, the archaeological research carried out in recent years has shown us some of the results corresponding to the Late Antique phases. During this period the city seems to develop through a polynuclear urbanism, especially in points close to the port area, and to reduce in extension, a dynamic observed in other North African cities such as Lepcis Magna or Tipasa.

The team of Ammaedara and David during the discussion after their session.

Stefan had the honour to present the work on Simitthus done by a German Tunisain collaboration (including Moheddine Chaouali, Heike Möller and Philipp von Rummel). He reviewed the status quaestionis and presented some new results including a basilica with a possible baptistery and mausoleum or even martyrium?

After the treatise of several of our North African case studies, it was time to give way to presentations providing a comparative approach. First up is yet another ATLAS member: Jesús. This time he takes us to the Algerian site of Tipasa and presents the work Alejandro Quevedo and he are doing in an Algerian-Spanish collaborative project. In addition to outlining some of the problems that the site is facing, due to urban encroachment and the sea claiming more and more land, he also pointed out the enormous research potential of the site, also from a comparative perspective with other parts of the Mediterranean.

Stefan and Jesús after their presentations.

With the morning session done we had to wait for 15 minutes to have the lunch presented, unsurprisingly all participants swiftly headed for the site. After half an hour the organisation had to gather the scholars from the site, where they stood discussing, ceramics, building plans and phases. The lunch was again a feast of tunisian cuisine. Due to the many requests to have just a bit more time on the site, the programme was slightly altered and we obtained another hour to discover and discuss Uthina.

Some pictures of our rapid visit to the site.

The afternoon programme started with Sanaa Hassab, taking us to Morocco and discussing the reorganisation of the province of Mauretania Tingitana into the diocese of Hispania and its effects on the local urban system. Next up, the anthropologist Kahina Mazarai surprised us by stating that she had been studying us, studying and discussing the Maghreb in antiquity. She pointed out that the dynamics between the different national institutes are problematic, as well as the use of Roman North Africa, as it defines the region with Roman, and thus colonial, terminology. Clearly there was ample discussion and reflection after her presentation.

The presentations of Sanaa and Kahina generated an interesting debate.

The AMVPPC opened the session on the valorisation of heritage. Mohamed Ben Fathallah and Wahid Ben Ghozi presented the use of the latest technology to improve our understanding and interaction. Followed by Moiz Toubal giving us an overview of the valorisation practices applied by the AMVPPC to Bulla-Regia, Dougga and Uthica.

The presentations by Mohamed Ben Fathallah & Wahid Ben Ghozi, and Moiz Toubal of the AMVPPC.

With the last presentation of our conference, we returned to our own work. Laurent presented, on behalf of Titien and Jean-François, the progress of the 3D modelling for the work. As well as giving us an overview of the progress of this important part of the project, he also outlined some of the challenges facing us in the reconstructions of the various buildings chosen and the plans for the touring exhibition planned for next year.

Laurent closing the workshop with an eye on our future exposition.

Thursday May 4th: Visit to Thuburbo Maius and Testour

The last day of our stay in Tunisia was one of leisure. And with a group of ancient historians and archaeologists, this means visiting an archaeological site. For the third day in a row we had to get up early to get the bus. First up Thuburbo Maius! At the site we were welcomed by Hamden ben Romdhane, the lead archaeologist of the INP for Thuburbo Maius. He gave us a tour of the site. As most of the group consisted of people studying Hispania, the exclamations of awe were plentiful. The archaeology and epigraphy of the sites of the Maghreb are impressive. There is an abundance of standing walls and epigraphy that beg for research. Hamden showed us the different areas of the city and explained their significance and history from the Imperial period up to Late Antiquity. After three hours we could still have continued learning more about this city, but the programme had us to continue.

A group picture in the capitolium of Thuburbo Maius.
The next stop was Testour, a city that brings the Maghreb and Hispania together. The city was founded between 1609 and 1614 by the ‘Moriscos’ expelled by Filipe III of Spain. We started at the information centre where we were given a short introduction of the history of the city. Thereafter we had the most amazing lunch, including a variety of local dishes. All recharged we were ready for the next tour. This time we were guided by Mohi Al-Din Al-Shawali of the AMVPPC. We started at the main square with the introduction to the plan of the city and the Andalusi elements visible in the architecture. From there we walked the winding streets of the old town to the Great Mosque, where we were allowed to enter the frontcourt. Thereafter we visited the House of Habiba Msika. The large house was constructed by an obsessed fan of hers, who killed her. Her tragic story had us silent for a moment. In the back of the house there is a small library, including the book Ciudades hispano-musulmanas by Leopoldo Torres Balbás. Two fans really had to get a picture with the book 😉 We finished the visit back on the main square where we could get some refreshments before heading for the bus back to Tunis for our last joined dinner.
Some pictures of our visit of Testour.

We look back on an amazing workshop where we were able to exchange ideas, see the progress of the workgroups and get some new insights. But the ATLAS workshop was not the sole reason to visit Tunisia. Our directors met with the directors of the INP to discuss our collaboration. The directors took the opportunity to meet with the president of the INP and discuss the collaboration. Moreover, Iconem, our partner for the reconstructions, visited Mactar to do the needed photogrammetry of the site. Our next and final Workshop will be in a year in Madrid!

(*)The images are a combination of pictures taken the ATLAS team and those of the photographers of the INP and AMVPPC.

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ATLAS’ students assistants

Behind every research group there are diligent helpers most of whom are still students. As for our project, there are three German student assistants working with us. Today’s blog is dedicated to their work, giving each one the space to introduce themselves and to explain their duties within our project.

The first to join the ATLAS project was Jill Lilian Fischer, already from the start of the project in April 2021 during her third BA semester at the university. Currently she is a first semester MA in History. One of the first (and continuing) tasks was to translate the blogs into French. Humble as always, she wants to add she is no native speaker. In addition, she has done quite some work curating bibliographies and entering references in our Zotero database. Since this year the main task has become digitising maps and data using QGIS. As a true fan of maps in all kinds and forms (historical and fantasy), she was more than happy to learn QGIS and explore its possibilities to create new maps.

As there was ample work to do, Tjaard Jantzen, a student of history and mathematics for school teaching, joined the ATLAS project in October 2021. He is currently in his first semester of the Master of Education. Since joining ATLAS, he spends most of his time filling Excel spreadsheets to digitise and sort epigraphic data, which then can be transferred to the database. He is also responsible for borrowing and obtaining books that contain relevant data. Furthermore, part of his work is the research of citations in the ancient literary sources that relate to the case studies of the project. Like Lilian and Sebastian, he completed a course on map creation in QGIS in the spring of 2022 and has enjoyed creating and digitising maps for the ATLAS project ever since.

Most recently, Sebastian Meyer joined the student assistant team in April 2022. As a student of history and mathematics for grammar school teaching, he is now a first semester in the Master of Education. Shortly after joining the ATLAS project, he took part in a course together with ATLAS student assistants Lilian and Tjaard to learn how to digitise maps with QGIS. Besides bibliographic work, mainly with the Zotero database, his main activity since then has been to digitise maps for the project.

Student assistants Lilian and Sebastian while working in the ATLAS office in Hamburg

Learning how to digitise and create a map

When we first started working with maps, we were all disappointed. The glorious work we were supposed to spend our time on was a simple excel spreadsheet which, of course, didn’t look like an atlas or a map at all. What we were doing was a work that was either tiring (a lot of copy pasting) or unspectacular (combing loads of literature just to find out a certain inscription was surprisingly carved in stone). At first, we didn’t know why we were doing this. Sure, it’s nice to know the exact coordinates of an ancient city or the location of an inscription. But wasn’t the project about maps and cool stuff like that?

An extract of our Excel spreadsheet

So, then Pieter introduced us to QGIS (see the online course). And soon, we were going to learn how an excel spreadsheet would turn into a beautiful map that is not only accurate but customisable.

Import of Excel data

There are two ways to implement the positions of cities we would like to have in our maps as point layers in our QGIS program. For the first one, we create a point layer and manually set points to represent the cities. The problem is that those points remain inaccurate as we cannot guarantee that the cities are exactly where we think they are (even with a georeferenced map as a basis which will be discussed later on).

Thus, during their first tasks with QGIS, the three student assistants quickly realised why Excel spreadsheets, so sacred to Pieter, play a crucial role in the ATLAS project. Through the coordinates that were fed into the Excel files, QGIS provides the function to add a “delimited text layer.” By specifying the columns where the X (longitude) and Y (latitude) coordinates of our cities are located, we thus have the wonderful opportunity to implement the cities in QGIS true to their locations. In addition to the accuracy, this offers the further decisive advantage that all further information of the table has already been added to the layer and can be flexibly revised and supplemented via Excel. This makes the creation of specific maps much more flexible for QGIS users.

Import of our Excel data

For example, one of Sebastian’s tasks at the end of last year was to make thematic maps of Gaul. Using information on the cities of Gaul, Sebastian created maps that show us the cities mentioned in the Notitia Galliarum (4th to 6th century), Gregory of Tours (6th century) and minting cities (4th to 6th)That information had all been implemented through a new column in the Excel spreadsheet. After coding with a “1” in the row of the Gallic city when the criterion applies, one can easily transfer the desired information as a sublayer into our QGIS file via the filter function.

Coding and filter functions in Excel. It’s less complicated than expected!
(Data from Jürgen Strothmann (Hrsg.), Civitates, regna und Eliten. Die regna des Frühmittelalters als Teile eines „unsichtbaren Römischen Reiches)

Excel spreadsheets are the easiest way to feed our map with precisely located places. However, cities alone do not make a map: we still need rivers, roads and boundaries, especially in an ancient context. So, the second big step we took was to learn how to digitise printed maps to make use of their content which isn’t necessary bound to a single location as cites are.

Georeferencing a map

Following our tutorial, we used a printed map to create a new data set for provincial boundaries. The first step is always the same: If we want to use the content of printed map (e.g., the boundary lines of 4th century Gaul), we have to match the coordinates of the printed map with our QGIS map. Ideally, we link the location of a city or a significant landmark to the corresponding point in QGIS so that QGIS is able to tie the scanned map to its own map-layers. This could potentially look a little strange – printed maps are often not truly scaled or compressed to fit better in a publication. There are even examples where this way of georeferencing a map doesn’t work. Plenty of maps are too inexact or the places are only vaguely in the right place. QGIS is, in the end, a and certainly not known by everyone, so it does not surprise that most maps are not exactly georeferenced.

A georeferenced map from Panzram (eds.) 2018 Entre civitas y madina overlayed in QGIS. It doesn’t really work out as you can see at the city locations: The labelled orange points symbolise the true locations of the cities while the georeferenced map is shifted because of the inaccuracies of its places.

After georeferencing a map into QGIS, we could digitise its content as we wish, using point layers for places, line layers for roads and boundaries and polygon layers for seas. In the end, we have the layers to create a map that is either a georeferenced version of a once vaguely drawn map or a map that contains data from multiple sources. The map, however, is still no real map as you would imagine in a traditional atlas. It’s more comparable to a Google-maps: You can zoom in and out and it’s not necessarily as aesthetic pleasing as a printed map would be. This leads us to our last point: Creating a map that is ready to get published.

The beauty of maps

As the work progressed, each student assistant was eventually given their own area for which they would produce maps in the near future. ATLAS is, as you all know, focusing on three regions. While Sebastian complemented the spreadsheet for Gaul, Tjaard and Lilian combed through lots of publications to find inscriptions located in North Africa and Spain. In the end, Lilian has chosen North Africa as her “map speciality” and Tjaard was responsible for ancient Spain.

Each of the three was now faced with the task to finalise a map so it is ready to get published.  In the next few months we will publish maps from our work via the Maps-to-go page.

Fortunately, QGIS has a tool to create a print layout of your map layer. It’s relatively easy to handle and allows to create an image (Jpeg, Png, tiff and many other formats) of your map which can be read by every computer without installing QGIS and, of course, which can be printed and therefor published. With the layout manager it’s also possible to create different maps all based on the QGIS map. The components of the print version of the map depend on the layers that one decides to activate. Thus, every map contains exactly what one could wish for.

But, as always, there is a snag. Wouldn’t it be easiest when someone could use the labels created by QGIS? It’s actually possible to do so – but the outcome is not quite satisfactory as you could clearly see in the picture.

Enabling the labels could lead to unpleasing maps that are quite chaotic

In ATLAS, we also thrive to use a harmonising design for our maps: yellow boarder lines (yellow is the colour of ATLAS!), a background that feels a bit like a painted map and city symbols that are simple but easy to recognise.

Having this in mind, the student assistants needed to give the map a last fine tuning. Instead of just enabling the labels, they create new text fields for everything that needs a name, allowing to move, rotate and scale the labels as wanted. The only problems they still must face is the fact that not every region is equally easy to depict. For instance, creating the map of Gaul is satisfying in its own way: France has an ideal form to fill out the map layout while still leaving enough space to add a legend. The Roman cities are evenly spread across the provinces and there is enough space for (almost) every city to be labelled appealingly.

Isn’t Gallia a beautiful place to be seen on a map?

Designing a pleasant map of North Africa is less simple as it contains lots of cites in the east which are often close together. But there’s always a solution. Thankfully, the QGIS layout manager has a tool to add a second or even more maps. So, in the end you can generate a map with smaller detail maps to show the densely populated areas.

Creating every label by hand needs some time, but it’s worth it!

Finally, the printable map is in our virtually hands. The once excel spreadsheet is fed in a visual appealing layer that contains all necessary information and is individually customisable.

The work of student assistants is – although sometimes dull or tiring – satisfying and even creative. Once there is the need of a map with special elements, the three are able to create a perfectly matching map. The future of the project still brings lots of map possibilities that will task our student assistants. Behind the designed maps, the research groups work to add new precision and to interpret and analyse the atlas around our case studies. In the end, the maps are a useful and appealing tool to visualise certain research results and accompany our academic papers. If you haven’t already, feel free to look at our last maps and make sure to come occasionally as we try to update our maps as often as possible!

Work-in-progress of ATLAS’s main regions all united in a map made by our student assistants, using an excel spreadsheet and multiple georeferenced layers.


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Looking back at 2022

The first full year for ATLAS has come to an end, and similar to last year we had a great time. Normally one would start a new year at an easy pace, especially after these conference autumns, which always remind us that we ought to take it easy. But not in ATLAS. We started the year 2022 with a project meeting in Hamburg, which gave us the opportunity to exchange ideas with the experts invited by our various research groups.

ATLAS meeting in Hamburg

So February, rather than January, was the month when we had some time to take it easy and focus exclusively on our case study research. In fact, we finally finished the study of Mérida, one of the cities for which we have the most information, in order to face another great challenge: to collect, analyse and synthesise the enormous amount of data available on Carthage in Late Antiquity. And right from the start we could see that this city offers great possibilities, both for archaeological and epigraphic research!

The Antonine Baths (left) and the inscription mentioning the emperors (right)

In March we were in for a wonderful surprise: who would have thought that we would be able to enjoy the fascinating Carthage in situ? As the directors had to go to Tunisia to finalise the details of the collaboration with the Institut National du Patrimoine (INP), it was decided that it was a good opportunity to organise a working trip. For the postdocs, it was our first trip to Tunis and we were the first to arrive, so we were able to visit ancient Carthage and get to know the city well. But most importantly, during these days we were able to meet our colleagues, discuss the research we are conducting at ATLAS and establish new collaborations. In fact, these discussions even led to a change in the selection of case studies, as we decided to work on Mactaris.

Project presentation at the INP and the meeting with Mdme Ennabli at the Carthage Museum

In May the postdocs took a slight detour from the project. Ada stayed a bit closer to ATLAS and participated in the excavation at Baelo Claudia organised in the framework of the Circ-E project, while Pieter went to Oxford to attend the LatinNow project workshop (after two years he finally got to see his colleagues in person again!) These escapades actually show the other side of academic life: we are always involved in other projects and thinking about starting new ones.

But of course not every month is that exciting, the rest of the months are dedicated to developing our research more intensively. Thanks to this we were able to finish the study of Mérida at the beginning of the year, before the summer holidays we finished Carthage and at the end of the year we were able to finalise Maktar. In addition, we have another constant, which is the meetings of the research groups, although these certainly tend to be concentrated around the dates of the project meetings. In fact, shortly before the summer holidays, most of the groups met to organise the work to be done after the summer and to prepare for the next meeting in La Rochelle.

Screen shot of some of the group meetings of ATLAS

In September the leaves started to colour again, which meant that a lot has happened since the last autumn of congresses. We kept our word and refrained from planning many conferences up to this point, only to realise that we fell into the same trap: instead of spreading the congresses over the year, we concentrated them again in autumn. Also, at the beginning of the academic year we welcomed Titien Bartette, a new member of ATLAS, in charge of working on the 3D restitutions of the monuments and cities chosen to be presented in our travelling exhibition.

As our third ATLAS meeting was scheduled for November, October was mainly devoted to preparing the presentations. The research groups were particularly active this month, finalising the last details. The workshop took place in early November, and was an intense two days of presentations and fruitful exchange of ideas. In addition, at the end of the month, several members of the project met again in Hamburg to participate in the Shifting Cities conference, organised by the RomanIslam centre.

ATLAS meeting in La Rochelle (left) and members at Shifting Cities (right)

Whilst trying to catch our breath in December Sabine and Pieter had to go to the last conference of the year Africa Romana in Sbeitla. Here they presented a paper on Imperial cult in the Julio-Claudian period written together with our ATLAS member Stefan Ardeleanu. Visiting Africa Romana is an experience we can recommend. Besides the exchange of ideas and fruitful discussions after the papers the conference offers a wide array of activities. The first day started with a musical intermezzo by an oud player. The last day included a visit to Ammaedara under guidance of François Baratte, who led the excavations for years. We couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to see this case study. 

François Baratte and Sabine at Ammaedara

The truth is that in retrospect we can say that this has been a really productive year. We have learned a great deal about our study sites (some of them we have even got to know first-hand) and the research groups have allowed us to make progress in the methodology and proposals of our project. Even so, we also have some New Year’s resolutions: next year we are going to organise everything much better. No more tight schedules, no more autumns of conferences, and the research groups will not work until the last minute… Let’s see how we do. For now the first deadline is 13 January, when the research groups have to submit the abstracts of their respective chapters for final publication. Luckily, the next meeting is already marked in our calendars for spring, well away from autumn. From 1 to 5 May we will meet again for the fourth international workshop of the ATLAS project, this time in Tunisia! Our Tunisian colleagues are already planning site visits, and we are looking forward to 2023!

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Third ATLAS Workshop: La Rochelle

Every year the members of the project meet in one of the research centres. After Madrid and Hamburg it was time to go to La Rochelle. For the directors and postdocs a happy return to a different city with people and restaurants: our last visit to start the project and WebGIS was mid-pandemic. Our workshops are hybrid allowing the members to plan it in their busy schedules. Luckily several members participated in person to present the group work. As we started on Wednesday morning those participants arrived on Tuesday. This early arrival of most participants led to an accidental unofficial project dinner where we were able to enjoy getting together again and sharing some good pizzas.  

The directors, Laurent Brassous and Sabine Panzram, during the opening of the workshop

Wednesday November 9th

The first day of the workshop started early with a welcome by our directors Sabine Panzram and Laurent Brassous (who organised the whole Workshop). Their introduction gave an overview of the work done so far and, more importantly, the work that needs to be done. The project will lead to the publication of a companion where we have collected the research we have carried out over the years. The deadline for the manuscripts of each research group is the 1st of december. As our next meeting is early May 2023 in Tunis, it looks like it might become the best venue to present our first drafts for the companion. The final meeting will be in April 2024 in the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid. After these important household announcements it was time to start the presentations and discussions.

The first research group to present was Terminology and Political power, they started with an introduction by Rubén Olmo (Universidad de Oviedo). He explained that the former two groups Terminology and Political power were composed of almost the same people and were researching the same topics. Hence they decided to merge the groups into one. Their focus will be on the ideas behind the definition of the city, and its relations with imperial, and religious powers in Late Antiquity. The first presentation of this group was given by Álex Corona (Universidad de Valladolid) on the role of bishops beyond the religious. He argues that over time bishops tended to take more profane roles upon themselves and so controlled jurisdiction and administration of cities. Stéphanie Guédon (Université de Limoges) continues with the changing social and cultural affiliations in the region of Sufetula. She shows that the affiliation to an urban community found in imperial funerary epigraphy changes to a christian affiliation. 

Stéphanie Guédon did one of the presentations of the Terminology and Political power group

The Territory group presented by Fred Hirt (University of Liverpool) and Pieter Houten (Universität Hamburg) the territories of two mining cities among our case studies: Simitthus and Carthago Nova. As the available data for these two case studies is very different, the presentation was conceived as two separate sections. Whereas Simitthus saw a revival of quarrying in Late antiquity, the mining of Carthago Nova ended already in the second century and never returned. However, thanks to a recent survey of the hinterland of Carthago Nova we can reconstruct the dynamics of this region. Despite the limited work done in the territory of Simitthus, it is possible to reconstruct some of the dynamics through the epigraphic data.

Alfred Hirt and Pieter Houten offered us an analysis of the territory of Simitthus and Carthago Nova

Ada Lasheras (EHEHI – Casa de Velázquez) who presented the work on the Eighth Century. This time, the group carried out an in depth study on the data available on this century in each of the ATLAS case study cities. Despite what one might think a priori, the group’s presentation showed a remarkable amount of information, mainly of an archaeological nature. It is equally true, however, that there are very marked differences according to regions and specific cities, showing not only different urban evolutions but also the need for further research and excavations, especially in the North African area.

Ada Lasheras presenting the work done in the Eighth century group

After this inspiring morning with quite some fundamental discussions on urbanism in Late Antiquity, we moved to the harbour of La Rochelle for lunch. Those positioned at the windows had some beautiful views to go with the fresh seafood on the plates. The dinner conversations varied from scientific discussions to trivia. All refreshed and recharged we could continue the Workshop.

Panorama of the port of La Rochelle

The Epigraphy group got the task to battle the after dinner dip. They played their best card by having Javier Arce (Université de Lille) give a magisterial talk on the Comentiolus inscription from Carthago Nova. It is always interesting to see how one text can open up debates on the presence of troops, the position of Carthago Nova as capital (or not)  and the reorganisation of the territories. Thereafter Pieter Houten (Universität Hamburg) presented the work of the epigraphy group on building inscriptions. They propose to extend the definition of building inscriptions to include those commemorating the sacralization of a church. Taking this one step further they proposed to place caritas in line of euergetism. 

The presentations of the epigraphy group were given by Javier Arce and Pieter Houten

Laurent Brassous presented the work of the largest research group, Urban spaces, on houses in  Late Antiquity, for which we have a wealth of information. He started with a short survey of the bibliography on housing, even though we can see this rise in interest, the research tends to focus on specific areas. Northern Africa seems to be ignored so far. Here ATLAS can take an important place to put housing on the map. 

The presentation of the Urban spaces group rested on Laurent Brassous

After a short coffee break we turn to the guest presentations allowing to compare our work to that done in Gaul. Marc Heijmans (Centre Camille Jullian) gives us an overview of the urban development in southern Gaul. He shows the different urban elements we can find in cities, such as walled perimeters. The subsequent presentation by Didier Bayard (INRAP) was mostly focussed on the urban walls, as he concentrated his paper on the recent publication: Villes et fortifications de l’Antiquité tardive dans le nord de la Gaule. The joined presentations gave a good overview of the urban development of Gaul in Late Antiquity.

Marc Heijmans (above) and Didier Bayard gave us an interesting view from Gaul

After the long first day it was time to conclude the day by a dinner in the city. As we had some time between the end of the presentations and the start of the dinner, some decided to take a quick nap, others strolled around the city to enjoy the lighted facades of the harbour and a few decided to enjoy some local beers on the terrace of the restaurant. The dinner in Prao with fresh local ingredients was amazing. The table conversations shifted between continued discussions on Late Antiquity and the trivials of food and wine pairing. For some the evening couldn’t come to an early end and they were stranded in an Irish pub for a nightcap. 

The lovely dinner and food after the first day of the workshop

Thursday November 10th

Thursday morning we had the last sessions on the methodology of our different project objectives. We started with the webGIS presented by our post-docs Ada Lasheras (Casa de Velázquez) and Pieter Houten (Universität Hamburg). They showed the interface of the webGIS and explained their workflow. More importantly, they drew the attention to the open part of the webGIS, where people can see the work done. This allows experts to check our work and notify us of incomplete, missed or even erroneous entries. The discussion on the functionalities of the webGIS was very helpful and will lead to changes so we have more search possibilities.

Our postdocs, Pieter Houten and Ada Lasheras, explain the workings of the WebGIS and at the same time the progress made

When you are called ATLAS, you should also engage with other atlas projects. Marc Heijmans presented the results of the Atlas topographique des villes de gaule méridionale. The massive tomes of Arles and Frejus he brought along to demonstrate the work done, created sparkles of joy in many eyes. We are like magpies with shiny things when seeing beautiful books. The Atlas series is well made and provides detailed information and maps on the city it focuses on. Even though our atlas will be an online WebGIS, some elements might be adopted into the companion that will be published at the end of the project.

Marc Heijmans during his presentation of the Atlas topographique des villes de gaule méridionale

Our new colleague Titien Bartette (LIENSs) presented the methodology and progress of the 3D reconstruction for our travelling exhibition. Unfortunately  Jean-François Bernard (CRAA) could not be present. Titien presented the case study of Baelo Claudia and how he worked to create a 3D reconstruction of the church at the site of Silla del Papa. It is great to see how the information provided in the webGIS combined with the expertise of Titien leads to a 3D reconstruction of the church. Each snippet of information is used to get to a reconstruction as close as possible to the historic reality. Each decision taken is founded in the archaeology of the site.

Titien Bartette explains the methodologies behind the 3D reconstructions
After the methodology presentations of the morning it was time for the general discussion. One remark had to be made, we should not lose sight of the ball: we are doing comparative research and therefore should keep both Hispania and Africa in mind when working with our themes. Moreover, and this has been discussed quite a bit, we have ten case study cities. These are central in our webGIS, as they are the only ones worked on, however, this does not mean we are not allowed to look beyond these. In some cases it might be interesting to look at neighbouring cities for a clearer picture. But, in any case, the general idea is that we are on the right track and we must continue to work along these lines with the final results in mind, both at the level of the publication and the travelling exhibition.

Some unfortunate members had to leave immediately after the end of the programme to catch the train to Paris. And so missed out on the leisurely afternoon programme. After enjoying an excellent meal at the Aquarium restaurant, Laurent had organised a guided tour of the city, which gave us a good insight into the history of La Rochelle, a major port enclave that often had to defend its autonomy. Afterwards, we still had some time to do some shopping and stroll around admiring the magnificent views of the harbour lit up in the mist at sunset. Finally, we enjoyed a lively dinner all together at Bar André, where some dared to try a wide assortment of seafood speciality of the house and others indulged in the dessert, renowned since then: rumbabá!

The ATLAS members during the guided visit and La Rochelle at dusk


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3D restitution in ATLAS

One of the objectives of the ATLAS project is the production of a travelling exhibition that will be shown at the Hamburg University Library, the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid (MAN), the Conjunto Arqueológico de Baelo Claudia Museum (Cadiz), the Casa Árabe Córdoba and the Institut National du Patrimoine (Tunis). Going beyond the strict framework of scientific research, this part of the project is more about valorisation and presentation to the public by innovative means using new three-dimensional technologies. That said, the processes implemented for such productions require a constant dialogue between specialists in ancient built heritage and the service providers responsible for the production of 3D content and the design of the immersive and interactive exhibition. The launch of this new stage officially took place this autumn and it is the French company ICONEM, specialised in the digitisation of cultural heritage sites and monuments and in the production of immersive digital experiences for the general public, which will be in charge of translating the archaeological data into 3D.

It is in this context that Titien Bartette, a doctor in archaeology from the University of Aix-Marseille, a specialist in ancient architecture and lapidary decoration and an expert in 3D technologies applied to cultural heritage, joined the ATLAS project team in September. His role will be precisely to ensure this dialogue, the transmission of archaeological data and their translation into three-dimensional terms, positioning himself at the hinge of these two worlds, that of the sciences of antiquity and that of advanced 3D technologies.

About the 3D modelling project

Prior to the development of the exhibition and user experiences, the project involves an important phase of three-dimensional production, namely capturing and modelling. These two digital datasets are then merged to allow for a repositioning and visualization of the rendered ensembles directly on the actual terrain. The project will focus on four cities, Baelo Claudia, Merida, Carthage and Makthar, and will highlight a number of monuments or ensembles that are emblematic of the sites or of current research.

Baelo Claudia: superposition of the rendered 3D models with the photogrammetric model of the site – Titien Bartette / ICONEM

This multi-scalar concept represents a challenge from the point of view of data management and 3D technology, since on-site recordings imply adapted procedures and methods, but the solutions implemented for modelling also differ according to the expected level of detail. Indeed, we reason and proceed differently at the scale of a city, a district or a monument. Furthermore, we are confronted with the obstacles of the heterogeneity of architectural ensembles, of the accessibility of the source data, and of the scientific discourse and the narrative aimed at in this innovative popularisation exercise. To overcome these obstacles, we have set up a meticulous production protocol adapted to the different cases.

From data to 3D models

The workflow includes the preparatory phases of rendering, which are the collection of graphic data and the production of any missing data, followed by their homogenisation. In parallel, the hypotheses are compared and possibly tested on the 3D models. From this point of view, the experiment also becomes a field of experimentation on the contribution of the model to archaeological and architectural reflection. Finally, we are building up collections of references for questions of textures and realistic renderings by seeking relevant elements of comparison. This mainly concerns materials, rock types and their particular grain, but also certain decorations, attributes and even site-specific environments.

As previously mentioned, the 3D production itself concerns, at this stage, two distinct aspects: the digitisation of the sites and the 3D restitution. The digitisation is done by drone and/or on the ground depending on the object in question. Generally, it is the combination of these two approaches that guarantees a satisfactory level of detail for global coverage. The 3D modelling work is therefore the translation into volume of the traditional architectural graphic documentation, to scale and detailed. For undocumented ensembles, there is therefore a prior ad hoc production of plans, elevations, sections, axonometries or evocations, depending on the case.

Baelo Claudia: enrichment of graphic data with new restitution proposals. The example of the monument with two staircases – Titian Bartette, after Ney C., Paillet J.-L. and Sillières P.

The amount of three-dimensional data produced in this context is considerable, and therefore requires adequate optimisation processing to guarantee its proper management and interoperability. In practice, optimisation consists of a series of processes that make the model suitable for multiple uses in different applications and media, such as animation, web, augmented reality and virtual reality. It allows the creation of a set of rich realistic textures at a lower cost in terms of data and file size. This is the ultimate step in the production of 3D models, the creation and application of accurate textures that faithfully reproduce the materials, their appearance and behaviour (colour, reflectivity, roughness, etc.).

Textures of large appliance blocks (ambient, normal and colour occlusion) – Titien Bartette / ICONEM

What’s next?

At this stage, the Baelo Claudia dossier is already in production and is due to be completed shortly. It focuses on the transformation of a district over the centuries, highlighting the processes of reuse and reoccupation of spaces in late antiquity. We will see how the public monuments of the Early Empire were able to change over time. Baelo Claudia was previously digitised in its entirety by ICONEM in 2017, as part of the Bringing the City of Baelo Claudia to Life project (see video below) celebrating the centenary of the excavations carried out there. The current work will thus enrich an already existing 3D graphic dataset.

In parallel, the first steps have already been taken on the Mérida dossier, which should be completed by the end of the year. This time, we will focus on one or two emblematic monuments of late antiquity and on their insertion in the urban fabric. As the modelling progresses, the questions of graphic production will begin to arise, i.e. the scripting, production of deliverables and their deployment. In the meantime, the workshop on 9 and 10 November at the University of La Rochelle will be an opportunity to present in more detail the methodology implemented and the state of progress through certain examples.


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Have a great summer!

Grabbing a tea with a view of the Gulf of Tunis from Sidi-Bou-Saïd.

… to rest and enjoy! Good holidays to all and we will meet again in September…


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Research groups preparing for La Rochelle

Next autumn on the 9th and 10th of November we will have our third and next ATLAS meeting in La Rochelle. With only half a year left the research groups have started thinking about the topic and preparing the research for the group presentations. We hope to have a similarly fruitful meeting as we had in Madrid and Hamburg. The Madrid meeting was the official launch of the project. This is where we got acquainted and formed the research groups. The second meeting, the one in Hamburg, was the first time that these groups presented their work to the other members of the project, generating a rich debate that encouraged us to continue analysing urban planning in Late Antiquity from different and complementary perspectives (here you can read a detailed report on it).

Digital meetings continue

For our research groups to present novel research and ideas they need to have group meetings and discuss their work. As our project has members from a multitude of countries, most coming from France, Germany, Spain and Tunis, we cannot meet in real life for each group meeting. Therefore groups meet digitally. Something we all have become much better in over the past two years. In the past few weeks some groups have already met and decided their research approach. Other groups are meeting this month for the first time since January. We all notice that the slow opening up of society has led to a high concentration of research activities. Invitations to participate in conferences, workshops and courses, as well as new archaeological excavations can finally take place. Added to this we find ourselves invited to join new conferences and excavations have progressively filled up our agendas. Nonetheless, the fact that we meet digitally makes it easier to  find a gap for the meetings between (or even during) our multiple obligations.

Planning research for the upcoming months

Various groups that have met earlier this year have made quite some detailed research plans. The epigraphy group first met in March and planned to study the building inscriptions.These are inscriptions that commemorate the construction, or restoration, of a building and often mention the benefactor. In the ancient world it was common for the elite to pay (partially) for the construction and upkeep of public buildings, this was called euergetism. Traditionally it is accepted that this habit died out in Late Antiquity as the role and wealth of the urban elite diminished. However, the pattern might change if we consider the bishops and their church dedications from the case study cities of the project. In order to do this the group has planned to collect all building inscriptions before June 8th. On this day they meet again to discuss the inscriptions and see if all have been collected and recorded correctly. If this is the case each member will have all summer to start thinking about the interpretation of the patterns. They meet again in September to exchange ideas and start preparing the presentation. In October they plan to have the presentation ready for the meeting in La Rochelle.

Screenshot with some of the members of the Epigraphy group.

Two other groups also met in March to begin to define the lines of work for the coming months: the Eighth Century group and the group on the  Shape of Urban Spaces. The group Eighth Century, dedicated to the study of the last century covered by ATLAS, has decided to carry out a specific analysis of each of the project’s case studies. Given the disparity and scarcity of the material and textual record, as was shown in the presentation at Hamburg, on this occasion the group intends to bring together all the available data on the 8th century for each of the cities. The aim is to present an updated state of the art that takes into account not only the archaeological record but also the textual and epigraphic sources, in order to answer questions such as: what archaeological indicators can we find to visualise the 8th century in the cities chosen for the project; what administrative category did they have before and after the Islamic conquest; how are these cities defined in the written sources (medina, alquería, etc.); or what happens to the place names of these cities, are they maintained, change or disappear? During its last meeting in mid-May, the group agreed on the distribution of the case studies according to the lines of research and knowledge of each of the members. The aim is to have this data collected by July, when another meeting is planned to share the work done and to start defining the points of interest for the November meeting. The group expects to meet again in September to finalise the presentation of La Rochelle.

The Shape of Urban Spaces group, on the other hand, began by brainstorming on possible themes to develop. As this is a group with a wide range of themes and a large number of members, it is not always easy to decide on a specific research question. Thus, at the March meeting it was decided to analyse to greater depth some of the themes that had already been treated in their presentation at the last meeting in Hamburg (fortifications, polynuclear urbanism, suburbia, housing, funerary spaces, etc.). After a vote, it became clear that there are two topics that are of most interest to the members of the group: polynuclear urban planning and housing. At its last meeting, the group considered the possibility of analysing both issues, paying particular attention to the urban organisation of cities, often with dispersed and apparently unconnected nuclei of occupation (the so-called città ad isole), and to the location of housing within this very particular urbanism. The group also wants to examine the evolution of these domestic spaces during Late Antiquity, their morphological and constructive aspects, in order to carry out a diachronic and comparative analysis between the case studies of southern Hispania and North Africa.

Screenshot of the last meeting of The Shape of Urban Spaces group.

The territory group convened on May 24th in the afternoon to start their brainstorm session. But before this could start two new members had to be welcomed to the group: Fred Hirt and Christoph Eger. After a short discussion on the topic it was clear the definition of territory had to be reestablished. The group focuses on the immediate territories of the case study cities. With emphasis on how these are related to the cities. After the brainstorm it was decided to turn to the territories of Carthago Nova (Cartagena) and Simitthus (Chemtou) for the meeting in La Rochelle. These cities have in common that their territories are of economic importance for mining and quarrying. Each member will turn to their respective interests and expertise for the territories, this way they can cover epigraphy, mining practices, archaeological finds and landscape archaeology. 

In the upcoming months the digital meetings continue. The month of June sees four more meetings: the Epigraphy group on June 8th, followed by the joined Terminology / Political power and the City group on June 13th, then the Economy group comes together on June 16th  and last the Territory group reconvenes on June 22nd. The urban spaces group will also meet again in the middle of this month. In July, before the summer holidays, the 8th century group will meet to share their work and start preparing the presentation for our next meeting.

See you in La Rochelle!

As stated we are meeting in La Rochelle in November. The core team already had a taste of this amazing city at the Atlantic coast. We know that Université La Rochelle will have all arranged up to the smallest details. Two days of discussion and knowledge exchange lay ahead! Moreover, the city itself provides ample possibilities to rest our minds and go for a great stroll along the harbour. We are looking forward to meeting again and making the most of these two days of discussion and knowledge sharing! Don’t miss the presentation of our results in November! 

Picture of the port of La Rochelle during our last visit in May 2021.


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Trip to fascinating late antique Tunisia

For specialists in Late Antiquity such as ourselves to have the opportunity to dedicate a few months to the specific study of Carthage is a marvel. This city offers us innumerable remains of this period and, moreover, with an exceptional monumentality. However, it is equally true that, for the uninitiated, finding one’s way around this immense city and locating the epigraphic and archaeological evidence is not always easy. So when we found out that we were finally going to be able to organise a trip to Tunis to get a better idea of ancient Carthage, we were beside ourselves with excitement! Not only were we going to be able to analyse the city through the literature, but we were actually going to be able to perform a proper autopsy, in situ.

Still, balancing the schedules and flight times of a team spread across Europe is no easy task. Nonetheless, we managed to plan for the week of the 7th of March! Ada and Pieter were the first to arrive in Tunisia on Monday afternoon. Our colleague and ATLAS project member Chokri Touihri was a fantastic host and came to pick us up at the airport. The trip from the airport to our hotel in the centre of Tunis at the Av. Habib Bourguiba was an eyeopener. A three-lane road can easily become five-lane and when you miss your exit you just reverse. The only thing Chokri could say was: “Welcome to Africa!” After the check-in at our hotel Chokri took us to La Goulette to have dinner. The plat du jour was a grilled dorade (from the Gulf of Tunis breaking waves a few metres from the restaurant), accompanied by a brick, a pastry with egg and tuna.

Tuesday, starting to discover Tunis

Tuesday morning Sabine started her journey towards Tunis, whilst Ada and Pieter started discovering the city. On the way to the TGM station, for the tram to Carthage, we were halted by a few Tunesians. They recognised one of us as German (we leave it up to you to decide which one) and started welcoming us and giving tips and advice for our visit! The tram ride was yet another experience we won’t forget soon. It started all easy and with ample space, however, when we got near to Carthage the tram suddenly got so crowded that the doors could not close. Getting out of such an overcrowded carriage did not seem an easy task, but we took advantage of the gap opened by other passengers who were also trying to get out and managed to get off at Dermech station.

We began our visit at the nearby Musée Romain et Paléochrétien, where the basilica known as Basilique Dermech, or Byzantine, or Carthagenna, is located. As we had already discovered, the multiplicity of names for the same site is a common practice in Carthage and although the toponym Dermech is already used elsewhere, it seems that it does not prevent us from using it again… In fact, to our bewilderment, there are several basilicas called Dermech. The Carthagenna, or Byzantine, is one of them and it also has a small museum where some of its most significant pieces are exhibited, as well as others from the nearby Maison des auriges grecs. The basilica is preserved only at the level of the foundation and, at this time of year, it was in full bloom, but it was enough to walk around it to begin to get an idea of the impressive dimensions of the buildings preserved in this city. This is also the case with the basilica of Bir Messaouda, located a few metres from that of Carthagenna, of which only a couple of walls are visible. Even so, the size of the site undoubtedly makes it clear that the dimensions of this basilica were equally large (around 50 m long!).

Pictures from the Musée Romain et Paléochretien. On the left, some of the pavements of the Maison des auriges grecs; on the right, the remains of the basilica of Carthagenna.

From here we continue our route to the archaeological area of the Baths of Antoninus. In this area there are several remains of interest for our project, such as the Basilique Dermech I (yes, this place name again), also known as the Basilica of Douïmes. In addition, we also visited the so-called Chapel d’Asterius and, to someone’s delight, the late-antique dwelling known as Maison du Triconque. It was impossible to keep up with Ada as she managed to record all finds, including a portable scale in all pictures.

The so-called Chapel d’Asterius on the left; on the right, Ada excited in the Maison du Triconque.

Of course, we did not fail to visit the imposing Thermes d’Antonin either, even though they are far from our period of study. The truth is that the immensity of this building and its magnificent state of conservation left us speechless. So, after a coffee while contemplating this monumental landscape overlooking the sea, we walked around the corners of these thermal baths, admiring their architecture but also the fantastic preserved epigraphy. Here Pieter got really delighted as the epigraphy was to be found everywhere. His delight of seeing the letter shape of the K in the monumental inscription (AE 1949, 27 and 28) and realising it was not only to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, but also had a second inscription to Theodosius and Arcadius!

The impressive Thermes d’Antonin, on the left; and Pieter’s beloved inscription (AE 1949, 27 and 28) on the right.

The archaeological site of the Villes romaines was the last visit of the morning, where we encountered several well-preserved aristocratic houses with a late antique chronology: the Maison du Cryptoportique, the Maison de la Rotonde, the Maison de la Volière, or the Maison de Bassilica, among others. It is here that we find the Mosaïque des cheveaux that we described in a tweet. Passing through the fantastic peristyle gardens and luxurious representation rooms we got an idea of what a privilege it must have been living in places like these. Far from the bustle of the forum and the commercial and port areas, but still with excellent views of the sea and the Gulf of Tunis.

Picture of the circular room that gives its name to the Maison de la rotonde.

After this visit, Pieter and Ada headed for the Musée de Carthage (not without a detour), as we had a meeting scheduled with the illustrious researcher Lilian Ennabli and Sihem Aloui. Mrs Ennabli is the person you need to know when studying Christian Carthage. She has written several books on this subject, but also the main epigraphic corpora on Christian epigraphy. But, before the meeting, Pieter and Ada wanted to go into the museum to get something to eat, so at the ticket office they made sure that they could get back in with the same ticket, in case they had to go out to look for Mrs Ennabli. The man at the ticket office made them confirm at least twice that they really did have a meeting with Mrs Ennabli, looking at them as if they were crazy, and even called his colleague to comment on the strange circumstance of apparently two “tourists” having a meeting with Mrs Ennabli. In the end, after the small fuzz, there was no problem and Pieter and Ada were having lunch in the museum gardens with Sabine and Chokri, who arrived shortly afterwards.

The meeting itself was very helpful. Lilian Ennabli was very kind and pointed out some of the most relevant aspects of what she calls Christian Carthage. In addition, we met Sahim Aloui, a researcher who is currently working on the Damous-el-Karita inscriptions, and Moz Achour, curator of the museum. With these specialists on late antique Carthage we discussed the possibilities for the 3D reconstruction of the basilicae and where to find the necessary bibliography. In addition, we were able to show them our WebGIS and the work done so far, which was very well received and generated a great deal of interest.

ATLAS project members (from left to right: Ada, Pieter, Chokri and Sabine) with Lilian Ennabli and Sihem Aloui, in front of the Musée de Carthage.

At the end of the meeting, our host Chokri took us to see other, even more impressive, archaeological sites. We visited the amphitheatre, where Perpetua and Felicitas, the first documented Christian martyrs of Roman Africa, were executed. From here we went to the cisterns of La Malga, an immense set of huge cisterns, designed to collect water from the aqueducts to supply the city. Finally, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the beautiful streets of Sidi-Bou-Saïd and a cup of mint tea with almonds, with a wonderful view of the Gulf of Tunis.

Views of the Gulf of Tunis from Sidi-Bou-Saïd.

Wednesday, visit to the INP and the Medina

The next day the ATLAS core team was completed, as Laurent arrived on Tuesday evening. We started the day with a morning visit to the Medina of Tunis, walking through several of its winding streets and visiting some of its marvellous corners. One of them was, to our surprise, Chokri’s own office in a beautiful historic building with a magnificent decoration of decorated stucco and tiles. Can you imagine working in such a place? Some of us would certainly love it…

From there we headed to the headquarters of the Tunisian Institut National du Patrimoine (INP), whose building is equally fantastic. Here we were welcomed by Mohedinne Chaouali, also a member of our project, who was waiting for us for a meeting with the directeur général of the INP. Sabine and Laurent presented the project and explained what we planned to do in the next two years. The meeting was a success as we can count on the co-operation of the INP in our future ventures.

Interior of one of the splendid palaces preserved in the Medina of Tunis.

After the meeting we went to a conference room because, as we announced on our Facebook page and on Twitter, the directors were invited to give a lecture about the project. However, setting up and connecting the computer and projector in this room was not an easy task. Working in historic buildings has an undeniable charm, but sometimes it can be difficult to solve technical issues. But thanks to the attentiveness of our guests, we finally managed to get everything working and Sabine and Laurent were able to present the ATLAS project to a really interested audience, which led to a lively discussion after the talk. 

Sabine and Laurent presenting the ATLAS project at the Institut National du Patrimoine (photo: Mediation Artistique Koko).

After the discussions, which continued for quite a while in the square in front of the INP, we headed with our INP hosts to the Medina for lunch. Wandering through the narrow streets and still talking about ATLAS, one of our Tunesian colleagues greeted another INP member heading towards us. It was only when we paid attention to the group that we noticed that Antonia Bosanquet from the RomanIslam Center and our own ATLAS member Anne Leone were heading towards us. What are the odds of such an encounter  in the winding streets of Tunis? After a short chat we decided that we’d meet again later that day for dinner. Because we needed to go on as we had to be on time for, well… lunch. 

Selfie of the serendipitous meeting ATLAS – RomanIslam in the streets of the Medina.

The restaurant we had lunch at a former funduq, or inn, splendidly preserved and refurbished. It is interesting to see how the narrow streets of the Medina hide such spacious courtyards with such green patios. Our table had sol y sombra, which was easily solved by straw hats. We thought it looked a bit silly and admittedly the Hamburgians were quite happy with some sun. The food at the place was great and we thank the INP for taking us! 

After the lovely lunch it was time to go back to work. The INP was so kind to provide us with two cars and drivers to facilitate visiting different parts of the city. In addition, we were accompanied with a guide to show us the sites at Carthage. We started at the Basilica dite sainte Monique, or basilica Saint Cyprian. Not much remains of this basilica, so having a guide explaining where to look to get an idea of the dimensions was much needed. Thereafter we visited the Villas romaines, which Ada and Pieter had already visited. However, we could clarify some questions we had. The piscina in one of the villas, we wondered why it was in a villa, appeared to be a late 20th century “reconstruction”… Next up was the Damous-el-Karita, this basilica is even more impressive than the basilicas we visited on Tuesday! Already from the main road you can appreciate the immense size of the basilica, which measures up to 1,5 ha. The reconstructed rows of columns give you a good indication of the size of the nave and aisles of the main building. The massive basilica is part of an incredibly large ecclesiastical complex, including a baptistere, an assembly hall and a big circular subterranean martyrium.

On the left, the group visiting the interior of the martyrium of Damous-el-Karita. On the right, Laurent taking a photo of the basilica.

Thursday, a tour to the inland sites of Tunisia

We had a really early start on this day. We had breakfast at an unholy hour, 6 o’clock in the morning. Even the baker was asleep as bread was only delivered at 6h45.  Luckily the Carlton provides ample choice beyond your pain et croissant and we could eat before the fresh bread arrived. At seven sharp the two cars with drivers, so kindly provided by the INP, were ready to take us to Makthar and Zama Regia. We took off in different directions: Chokri, Sabine and Ada directly towards Makthar, whereas Laurent and Pieter took a detour via Bou Salem to pick up Moheddine. In the late morning, we arrived at Makthar for a guided tour by Moheddine. The site is very impressive, so much archaeology and epigraphy is to be seen and researched. Moheddine brought us along all Late Antique remains to present us with all Makthar has to offer. The site is indeed very interesting and we are looking into the possibilities to add Makthar. Maybe you’ll read more about it in our future blogs. Halfway our visit Moheddine had a small surprise for us: we were offered a second breakfast with pizza. After this Hobbit-like breakfast and visiting the rest of the site it was time for our next destination.

On the left, Moheddine shows one of the Byzantine fortifications at Mactaris; on the right, the building of the so-called Schola Juvenes.

After a little less than an hour’s drive we arrived at Zama Regia, where they offered us a whole feast to eat, including homemade couscous! Here we met the archaeologists and students who make up the team that works at this site, where they also have facilities to stay and carry out the necessary research tasks after the excavation itself. They were our guides in the visit to the extensive site, whose long occupation and deep stratigraphy left us speechless. But also the landscape of the area, with vast plateaus, so different from the coastal landscape, was fascinating to us. After 20 years of excavations, they have been able to bring to light part of the monumental area of ​​the Roman city, including a huge temple with complex architecture; the perimeter of the wide Byzantine fortress; and a sector of the early mediaeval settlement. But, without a doubt, the site has much more to offer. We will be attentive to future discoveries!

Panoramic view of the monumental area of Zama Regia.

Returning to Tunis, we relied again on our two drivers from the INP who so kindly had been driving us around since Wednesday afternoon and the whole Thursday. We observed them with awe and a touch of fear as they navigated through the busy streets of Tunis and the local roads between Mactar and Zama. As we had two cars we always had to go on separate ways: Chokri, Sabine and Ada took the direct route to Tunis, while Moheddine, Laurent and Pieter went through Bou Salem to drop off Moheddine. As the trip via Bou Salem was with a slight detour we noticed that Sabine and Ada were quite content going the direct route and avoiding more travel. Laurent and Pieter went on their way to Bou Salem, admittedly with a bit of jealousy towards the direct route, but they made good use of the time discussing many things during the ride, amongst which the differences between academia in Tunisia, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Laurent and Pieter with one of the drivers, on the return trip.

Friday, the day of return

The day before we said goodbye to our Tunisian colleagues as we had to catch our flights back at different times in the morning on Friday. The truth is that we had mixed feelings, some of us would have stayed another week… Tunisia has fascinated us, especially those of us who did not know it, and we are looking forward to returning. That morning, Sabine, Laurent, Pieter and Ada had their last breakfast at the Carlton, commenting on the great opportunity that it has been to be able to organise this trip and get to know all these late antique sites and remains at the hands of the true specialists who, so kindly, have accompanied on our visit. We have returned to our respective offices with something from Fernweh, but with renewed energy and, without a doubt, greater knowledge to continue our research on late ancient Carthage.


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The second case study: Mérida presents us with new challenges

As we told you a few weeks ago, in January we said goodbye to “the Rome of Hispania” and crossed the Mediterranean to focus on Rome’s former nemesis, Carthage. Similar to what we did with our first case study, Baelo Claudia, it is time to take stock of our work on the second case study, Emerita Augusta.

The Roman bridge and the modern Lusitania bridge over the Guadiana

The study of the site at the Gulf of Cádiz posed several challenges and, of course, those of Emerita Augusta has been no less challenging. On the one hand, we have come across an enormous amount of data, both epigraphic and archaeological, of which our WebGIS gives an account! On the other hand, Mérida is still a living city, where present-day buildings are superimposed on ancient ones, making it much more difficult to locate archaeological remains through the satellite viewer and we do not always have the coordinates to locate them exactly. Fortunately, the visit we made last September allowed us to familiarise ourselves with its urban planning and to learn first-hand about the latest archaeological interventions in Late Antique Merida.

Snapshot of the WebGIS for the city of Mérida

Along with this, we have also been working closely with our specialist Frédéric Pouget to introduce a new improvement in WebGIS. As we told you in our first post of this blog, to manage the bibliographic references of the project we are using Zotero, a free software program where we have created a shared library with the members of the project. In the past weeks we have been working together with the database specialists from La Rochelle to link our ever increasing Zotero bibliography with the WebGIS. And finally, after much trial and error, we have managed to introduce this new tool that allows us to simply select the bibliographic references from the list that we already have registered in Zotero. In this way, we no longer duplicate the work of bibliographic registration (in Zotero and in WebGIS) and we avoid errors made by manually entering the references in WebGIS. There are still some little things to be solved, but it’s definitely a big step forward!

But let us return to the banks of the Guadiana. Since Emerita is such a massive case study we can’t give an overview of the whole city in this blog. That would most likely become a book. Thus we focus on three different aspects of the city. First we will look at the basilica of Santa Eulalia as this is a place where archaeology (Ada) and epigraphy (Pieter) meet. Then we will look at the territory of Emerita to see what Pieter has been doing with his love for territories. And lastly we turn the houses in the urban and peri-urban areas of Mérida, the work Ada had to collect, analyse and enter all these into the database.

One of the most relevant buildings in Late Antique Mérida is the Basilica of Santa Eulalia constructed in the mid-5th century. It is found to the north of the ancient city wall, just outside in a necropolis initiated in the 4th century. In itself it is not strange to find the early churches in the necropoleis, often they are built close to or on top of the graves of saints. The Santa Eulalia is one of the funerary basilicae, which means that this site began as a Christian cemetery built around the mausoleum that most probably housed the remains of the local martyr, Eulalia. 


Interior of the Santa Eulalia (P. Mateos – IAM)

We can clearly observe this funerary occupation not only through the archaeological remains (the image above speaks for itself), but also through the large number of epitaphs found inside the church. One of these is the threefold inscription mentioned in one of our tweets. The reason for being buried inside, or at least close to, the church is the belief that being in the vicinity of a saint or martyr would help your position as a Christian. At the day of resurrection the connection with the saint would get you into the right ranks. 

Near the Santa Eulalia we find another building of interest: the Xenodochium. According to the Vitas sanctorum patrum Emeretensium the bishop Masona had a xenodochium constructed in 580 for the “the pilgrims and the sick poor” (VSPE V. III 4), which has been identified with the building to the east of St Eulalia, archaeologically dated to the second half of the 6th century. Its layout does indeed look quite different from what we know of a church and the location outside the city fits the idea of a place for foreigners (indicated by the xeno- in the name, from Greek ξένος). Could the pilgrims refresh before entering the city and maybe even stay at the xenodochium? When turning to the epigraphy we are a bit confused. Many funerary inscriptions were found in the area around the xenodochium. Now in itself it is not strange to find funerary epigraphy in an extramural area, this is where we expect the necropoleis. And it is also quite common for urban sprawl to be constructed on top of necropoleis. Nonetheless, the funerary epigraphy found near the xenodochium dates to the same period as the construction of the building. This raises questions on the use of this building. If it is a hostel or hospital, why are there graves around it? What is the relation between the building and the graves?

Plan of the Xenodochium (Mateos 1995, fig. 2) and a Greek inscription with reference to the era hispánica DLX… (CILAE 1173)

The territory of Emerita Augusta is not an easy subject. The first problem we encounter is establishing the territory of (Late Antique) Emerita. The territory we have currently in our database is derived from the work by Cordero Ruiz (2010). Our data for the territory is partially derived from the PhD thesis by Cordero Ruiz (2013) and from the PhD by Franco Moreno (2008). Both these give us an extensive catalogue of entries with archaeological data and some inscriptions for the territory. As we can observe from our entries, this information is concentrated in the southwest sector, which led us to wonder whether this was a bias created by an unequal study of the territory or whether it responded to a historical reality. The concentrations of epigraphy seem to indicate that we are indeed dealing with a real distribution of the remains. This distribution is not all too surprising, it follows the banks of the Guadiana. The northern parts of the territory are quite rugged as we are in the western part of the Montes de Toledo. It is of interest to note that most churches in the territory are within 20 kilometres, or four hours walking. To the southwest we find two churches quite far away, at roughly 60 kilometres, two days walking from Emerita. Such findings need more attention! Something for the territory group to compare with other case studies with such large territories. 

Snapshot of the territory in our WebGIS

The analysis of the Late Antique houses of Emerita is not an easy task either, especially due to the immense amount of data available. Fortunately, we have recent and exhaustive studies on this subject, especially the doctoral thesis by Corrales Álvarez published in 2016. If we examine the chronology of these houses, we can quickly observe that most of them date from the 3rd-4th centuries and that, from the 5th century onward, the total number of domestic buildings clearly decreases. However, it is equally true that a large number of these domestic buildings from the Late Roman period are only partially known, thanks to the discovery of mosaics or some walls. Even so, we have a fairly large corpus of well-preserved dwellings from the 3rd-4th centuries that allow us to observe socio-economic differences and differences in location within the city. On the one hand, we find domus with rich mosaics and wall decorations that seem to be located mostly within the city walls. On the other hand, more modest domestic buildings have also been found, which also had spaces for productive and agricultural activities, located outside the walls. However, there was a clear change from the 5th century onward. The number of domus, or houses in the Roman tradition, still in use declined and new domestic spaces proliferated inside the walls. These new dwellings often occupied old buildings and show long sequences of use, ranging from the 5th to the 8th century. This is undoubtedly an interesting phenomenon that we must contrast with the dynamics of the other case studies. Is it an exclusively Hispanic phenomenon, or are similar patterns observed in North Africa? Can we identify these patterns in a specific type of city, such as those that had capital status, or is it a generalised phenomenon?

The development of the Casa Morería and a picture of the site

In any case, it is clear that the study of Mérida has allowed us to make great strides in our knowledge of late antique Hispanic cities, while at the same time raising new questions for comparative analysis with the other case studies. So now, with all these concerns in mind, it is a good time to turn to Africa. And what better place to start learning about urban dynamics on the southern shore of the Mediterranean than through one of its largest metropoleis, Carthage.


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Happy Holidays!

We wish you a Merry Christmas 🎄☃️ and a Happy New Year 🥂🎆!
We’ll be back after Epiphany 👑👑👑with more news about ATLAS 🤗
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Autopsy of Late Antique Mérida

Despite the silent and calm summer we have been continuing our work on the ATLAS project, but at a slower pace. To speed up our work on the current case study, Mérida, we decided to visit it and get a feel of the Rome of Hispania, as Schulten called it. This visit provided us with several opportunities. First and foremost get in touch with the latest work done in the field of Late Antique Mérida and meeting with the experts and team members in Mérida.

However, one does not simply walk into Mérida. First the Hamburg team, Sabine and Pieter, had to get to Madrid, early flights and all that. From there Ada joined for the train ride between Madrid and Mérida. We learned that digital displays and announcements are not to be trusted in Ciudad Real. We had to change trains and go to Vía 3, according to our information, the displays and the intercom system. However, personnel told us to go to Vía 4. Waiting at Vía 4 the announcement told us that the train for Mérida was about to arrive in minutes at Vía 3, doubt took over: “What if the man is wrong… We will miss our connection and will have to spend the night at the station of Ciudad Real…”  The man was right and all other information proved to be wrong, so we took our train from Vía 4 and made it to Mérida. We were really in the inland of Spain. As we moved more inland the outside temperature only rose, even though time passed and the evening had started… Arriving at Mérida in the early evening we were treated to the magnificent view of the so-called Templo de Diana.

The first view of the Temple of Diana

Tuesday first full day in Mérida

The omens were aligning on Tuesday, that morning the birds flew the right path. By chance we chose the restaurant next to the Instituto Arqueológico de Mérida (IAM) headquarters for breakfast. The IAM director, and ATLAS member, Pedro Mateos found us enjoying breakfast while entering his office. After discussing research topics over a café con leche, he gave us a tour of the most important sites.

We started with one of his favourites: Santa Eulalia, which he excavated between the 80’s and 90’s. We immediately had some interesting discussions on topics. A very relevant topic was how to bring together and interpret the main sources: archaeology, epigraphy and the written Lives of the Saints? These three seem to support each other for some parts, but what about the other parts? We will have to turn to this in the next few years.

Santa Eulalia (left) and the team under guidance of Pedro at the Morería (right)

Having such a great guide we were able to visit the latest excavations: a building from the 5th century that is located in the colonial forum. The local archaeologist Rocío Ayerbe showed us around the site and gave some early interpretations of the complex site. When looking at these excavations one wishes the city was in a green field. But then some of the buildings would not have been preserved as well as they have now. One of these buildings we have seen just now, the temple at the colonial forum. We visited this site with Rocío and Pedro to look at the often overseen foundations of another late antique building adjacent to the temple. As usual in many other cities, in late antiquity the forum plaza had been overbuilt. Rocío had to leave us and we moved through the city with Pedro. He gave us a tour of the Morería underneath the building of the Junta de Extremadura at the ancient walls of Emerita. This archaeological site holds a road crossing and some houses. We turned our attention to the reoccupation and reorganisation in later periods. A large domus from the early imperial period was carved up in smaller houses and iron smelting areas. The tour continued to the imperial temple where an interesting inscription was found for the joy of the epigraphists in the group.

This extensive visit by the hand of our colleague aroused our interest in late-antique Mérida even more and after saying goodbye to Pedro we headed for the National Museum of Roman Art (MNAR). Fortune smiled on us again as we were able to enjoy a full tour of the museum from its director, Trinidad Nogales, who was just finishing the details of an exhibition in Santa Cruz de Tenerife opening the next day. So, as we told you on Twitter, we were able to stop and take in one of the many interesting inscriptions that the museum preserves, such as the long epigraph that informs us of the restoration of the circus between 337 and 340. But we were also able to discover the museum’s fantastic library, to which we hope to be able to return and consult its extensive collection very soon. For now, Trinidad offered us a small sample with the gift of several books that will undoubtedly be of great help to us in our project.

Library of the MNAR (left) and Trinidad as guide

On leaving the museum, Pedro had prepared a surprise meeting for us with the Consorcio Ciudad Monumental de Mérida in what we consider to be the best restaurant in Mérida (an opinion supported by gastronomic professionals), located next to the so-called Arch of Trajan: A de Arco. We met Félix Palmer with whom we discussed the objectives and proposals of our project and who was kind enough to make sure that we could visit the different monuments managed by the Consorcio. We finished the meeting quite late and decided to stay for lunch in the same restaurant and what a discovery! We enjoyed  a fantastic meal and some delicious desserts, special mention for the chocolate cake!

The Day of Extremadura

On Wednesday, after finding several cafés closed, we headed back to the restaurant where we had breakfast the day before. Mental note for the future: it is important to check regional and local festivities before organising a trip… It turned out that it was the Day of Extremadura and, of course, many businesses were closed. Luckily, the museums and monuments were open so we started that morning by visiting the Visigoth Collection of the MNAR. Although it is a small exhibition, the truth is that they have very interesting pieces that show the monumentality of Visigothic Mérida. It’s a pity that, despite asking for it and looking for it in several places, we couldn’t get hold of the publication of the catalogue… We’ll keep an eye out for the publication of the new edition!

Our tour continued and we went further into the history of Mérida with a visit to the Alcazaba. Most of this part of Late Antique Mérida is a bit too late for us, but it holds some very nice elements of the period between the third and eighth century. It starts with the perimetral walls of the city. These early Roman walls were reinforced in the Visigothic period and later the material was used to create the Alcazaba in the ninth century. One of the constructions using spolia from the visigothic period is the central tower with aljibe (cistern). The tower has an ingenious system to provide water in case of a siege. Inside we find a stairs going down below the water level of the Guadalquivir (in Arabic al-Wādī al-kabīr) passing in front of the base of the Alcazaba wall, positioned on the old Roman dike. Due to water pressure the Guadalquivir water is pushed through the sand and get filtered before entering the cistern (see image).

Drawing of the Aljibe (Consorcio Ciudad Monumental de Mérida)

Entrance with Visigothic columns (left) and the aljibe (right)

Of course what drew our attention is the use of Visigothic capitals in the construction of the Aljibe. Especially the location in the more secluded parts did puzzle us. Why use such nicely carved columns in sections where not many can appreciate them? Some of us were disturbed more by the asymmetric use of the spolia. The Alcazaba proved to hold more than only some spolia of our period. However, as so often the Late Antique period is slightly forgotten. There is a domus that definitely needs some research. Looking forward to dive into this area of Mérida.

In the late afternoon Jesús García, one of Pieter’s friends and researcher of the IAM, was so kind as to offer us a ride to some sites in the territory of Mérida. After a rather interesting drive along back roads and what seemed nothing more than a dirt road created by tractors, we arrived at the palaeochristian basilica known as Casa Herrera. However, Fortune did not smile upon us that time, Casa Herrera was Casa Cerrada. Well-fenced and well-locked we could only gaze upon the standing columns in the distance. No despair, Jesús knows the lands like the back of his palm and continued the back roads towards the maintenance channels of the aqueduct Los Milagros. From there it was a rather pleasant drive along asphalted roads, oh the joys of modernity, to the Roman Prosperina dam feeding the aqueduct from its reservoir. With the sun setting we sat along its beaches (well not all agreed on whether this can be considered beaches) and had a great dinner enjoying the views over the reservoir.

Last day in Mérida

Our last day started with making up for a mistake made. Taking a picture of the inscriptions at the entrance of the Sta Eulalia:

Marti · sacrum
Vettilla · Paculi

Iam non Marti, sed Iesu Christo D.O.M.
eiusque sponsae Eulaliae Vir. Mart. denuo consecratum

The inscriptions are rather interesting, the upper one is a second century dedication to Mars by Vettilla of Paculus. The second one is a reconsecration written in a later period, translated:

Now not to Mars, but to Jesus Christ, God Omnipotent and Merciful, and his spouse Eulalia virgin martyr, consecrated anew.

After taking the pictures we continued to the Xenodochium, which we already mentioned last July. It is here that we saw the reconstructions of some of the columns from the Visigothic Museum and the context started to make sense. Again it was clear to us that the late antique period has ample to offer, but has not received the attention it deserves. We will try our best to make late antique Mérida shine a bit brighter.

Our tour of the city then continued by visiting some of the elite houses. First stop was the Casa de Anfiteatro. Thinking we were visiting an early Roman domus, we were up for a surprise. This domus continued well into the third century and thereby enters our research period. Near the domus some mausolea were found, among them one of the most famous: the Mausoleum of the Rivers. The entrance of the mausoleum held an inscription with depictions of the two rivers Anas (Guadalquivir) and Barraeca (Albarregas). From there we visited another domus constructed in the early imperial period, the Casa Mitreo. This time we were prepared that the domus would have continued into our period. However, it would not be Mérida if we were not surprised by what has been preserved. Here we stood eye in eye with the Mosaic of Cosmology, dated to the fourth century. Those following us on Twitter will know that this one is up for a #MosaicMonday.

Mosaic of Cosmology

After this tour it was time for lunch. And as three times is a charm, we went back for more joy at our preferred lunch venue. During our lunch we discussed the plan for the afternoon, including going back to the hotel to do less fun work. Let’s be honest, visiting archaeological sites and museums is fun and joyful, even though it does count as work for us. After the lunch and work break we continued our archaeological tour of Mérida. With a visit to the theatre and amphitheatre. These two buildings were excavated in the early 20th century, with a clear focus on the earliest phase of the buildings. As so often the archaeological layers of late antiquity were only a nuisance that needed to be cleared to get to the earlier layers. As a result only little is known about the late antique use of these buildings. Interestingly there is some evidence for late antique use of the amphitheatre, which we found in one of the books gifted on the first day!

To make our trip a full circle we decided to have the last dinner at the first magnificent view: under the columns of the temple of Diana. We had a spot exactly in front of the temple and enjoyed a nice evening recollecting what we had seen and done. The next few weeks we will continue our literature study of Mérida, but now with clear pictures of the sites and epigraphy in our mind.

Last supper at the Temple of Diana

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Have a great summer!!

Baelo Claudia and its beach

… to rest and enjoy! Good holidays to all and we will meet again in September…


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Linguistic immersion and WebGIS workshop in La Rochelle

As we mentioned in the previous post, this May the ANR-DFG ATLAS project planned a training workshop for our WebGIS in La Rochelle. Thanks to strict compliance with all the relevant health measures, this meeting was able to take place in person between 17th and 21st May at the University of La Rochelle. Laurent Brassous generously welcomed Sabine Panzram, Pieter Houten and Ada Lasheras at the train station. Without a doubt, this workshop has been a success and has allowed us to give an important boost not only to WebGIS, but also to the development of the project in general.

The workshop started on Tuesday 18th with a detailed presentation of the functioning of the WebGIS website by Frédéric Pouget. During this presentation, he also showed us the ins and outs of the WebGIS database. Interestingly, students of Frédéric Pouget have developed our database as part of a university course. And they did a great job! Frédéric’s explanation has been fundamental for our understanding of the wide range of possibilities offered by these digital techniques, but also for the optimal incorporation of historical and archaeological data. But what is a WebGIS?

Screenshot of the web interface of the GIS – as you can see, we started with Baelo.

The acronym GIS stands for “Geographic Information System”, which refers to a set of digital applications that allow the storage, integration and analysis of geographically referenced data (See here for an online course organised by Toletum). Their application in archaeological and historical studies has grown exponentially in recent decades, to the point of becoming essential tools for managing and visualising large volumes of data in the geographical plane, in turn aiding a more complex analysis of the data. In the specific case of our project, this GIS is presented in a web interface hosted on the Huma-Num server, a research infrastructure for the human sciences developed by the CNRS, the Campus Condorcet and the Université d’Aix-Marseille.

Part of the team at work during the WebGIS workshop. From left to right: Ada Lasheras, Pieter Houten, Frédéric Pouget y Laurent Brassous.

But, of course, this training workshop was not all theory, we also put it into practice! From Tuesday 18th to Friday 21st we have been incorporating all the information gathered on Baelo Claudia which, as you know, is the case study we decided to start with last April. The workshop allowed us to share and debate ideas with the La Rochelle members Laurence Tranoy and Stephanie Guédon to improve the database in its earliest days. Thus, in parallel to the debate on the names and organisation of the different elements or on the way of presenting the information, we have been able to implement new improvements in the database and WebGIS itself.

As you can imagine the course and discussions at La Rochelle university have been a linguistic challenge for those less well-versed in French. For Ada and Pieter this was a deep immersion into French. The WebGIS training incorporated a French class, as all was explained in French, but by a very patient Frédéric, speaking slowly and kindly repeating when needed. Where we went completely astray, Laurent was so kind as to provide a translation in Spanish. As this is the language we all have in common, we decided to use this language for our discussions. Admittedly, we also used German and English just to complicate matters a bit more. In practice we have no problems representing the multilingual nature of our project. Nonetheless, one of our discussions is how to represent the trilingual nature of our project in WebGIS. Well that needs some thought and discussion, we will return to this in another blog. Follow us on this page, or even better via Twitter: @ATLAS_cities

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We have started!

On April 16th the ANR-DFG project ATLAS started with the first meeting to kick-off the project. This first meeting was in a small group and, as has become standard at these times, digital. We had three homeworkers joining in: Sabine Panzram joining from Hamburg, Laurent Brassous from La Rochelle and Pieter Houten from Utrecht. Ada Lasheras joined in from her new workplace: Casa de Velázquez in Madrid. The three home workers were a bit envious, as we had planned to do the first meeting at the Casa de Velázquez. We had hoped to start the project with a meeting including the whole team of almost thirty researchers. However, as we are quite an international team, mostly coming from France, Germany, Spain and Tunisia, we will have to wait before we can gather all in one place. Fingers crossed that we will meet soon!

Ada (left) at work in the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid and Pieter (right) at home in Utrecht

The very international set-up brings another challenge with it: what language to speak. To be as inclusive as possible we are a multilingual project, being Spanish, French and English the main languages. This way we hope to be able to communicate with as many people as possible in our research areas. Our website and blogs will be in these three languages. On how multilingual communication works within the team we might dedicate another blog…

Back to our first digital meeting, after the introductions we discussed the first steps of our project. We started with a taster of the intuitive and very promising WebGIS interface. As the full title of the project already implies, in the next few years we will investigate the urbanism of Late Antique cities from the southern Iberian Peninsula (mostly from the ancient Baetica province) and North Africa(Africa Proconsularis). To be precise, we will look at ten cities, five in each region, as case studies. The WebGIS allows us to collect and analyse the archaeological, literary and epigraphic data for each of our ten case study cities (see map). In the next three years we will start working on these case studies one by one. During the meeting, we have decided to start with Baelo Claudia as the first case study. If you know about recent publications on Late Antique Bolonia we should not miss, let us know!

The study regions and case studies (4th century CE)

One of our goals is bringing together the most relevant publications of each of the case studies and for the study of Late Antique urbanism in general. With the open access principle in mind, we are using the reference manager Zotero to bring together the bibliography. After the project, we will publish our Zotero bibliography with the most relevant references online. Using this open source programme we aim at providing you with all the needed material to advance the study of ‘our’ Late Antique cities.

The first steps have been made; our research is slowly taking shape online. As we want to keep up the spirit and hope to combine the digital with the analogue, we aim at a meeting in La Rochelle to get formal training for the WebGIS. We hope that the situation clears soon and permits an analogue meeting at our Atlantic coastal seat at La Rochelle.

We hope you enjoyed the first blog of our project. Next month we will introduce the team with a bit more detail. Our goal is to write a short blog each month. If you think we should address something about our research, let us know! Stay tuned for further news, information about the research questions we tackle, events we are organising and the challenges and fun of our project!