Borders, Caravans, and Empire

Writer: Derek Kim

Date: Spring 2016

Citation: Kim, D. & Takács, S. (2016). Borders, Caravans, and Empire. Rutgers Research Review, 1(1).

My name is Derek Kim and I am a member of the Class of 2016 in the School of Arts and Sciences. I am majoring in History with a minor in Political Science. I intend on using my Bachelor's degree in these subjects to pursue a J.D. and, ultimately, a career in law. History has always been a major interest of mine, so when I saw that Dr. Sarolta Takács was starting a project focusing on the ancient Romans’ perception of space and their empire, which received support from the Aresty Research Center for Undergraduates, I wanted to be part of her research team.

Our project deals with the Roman Empire and the time period ranges from the early principate to the reign of Justinian I, which is roughly from 27 B.C. to 565 A.D. Dr. Takács' research focuses on how Romans perceived their empire, the space they controlled, and the space they perceived as under their control but actually was not. The core idea is to show students how vast Roman influence was during the height of the Roman Empire through the use of a three-dimensional portal that shows how cities may have looked like and how inhabitants may have experienced this space, in addition to how the Roman Empire influenced this experience. Picture the concept of how Google Maps works today, how you explore an area or a city with Google; now, imagine in the ancient caravan routes, the Silk Road for example, and how it brought merchants to places well beyond what was perceived as the "borders" of the Roman Empire. The idea behind the project is to allow students to proverbially "put themselves in the shoes" of a person in antiquity to see what it was like to travel (and live) in that time period. Instead of focusing on the capital of the empire, Rome or later Constantinople, we are concentrating on places that are presently under the sway of the Islamic State. Our ultimate goal is to create an interactive digital map, based on the Peutinger Map, a medieval map based on an ancient Roman one, with portals throughout that will allow the viewer to enter the world on antiquity and virtually experience how people lived and operated in societies at the periphery of the Roman Empire.

The methodology behind our research is what could be called the complex historical method. In creating the virtual world, we connect primary sources including texts, inscriptions, and artifacts to create the context for the portals. Luckily, there are many artifacts dating back to Roman antiquity available today, so we have a solid basis from which to develop the elements of our project. In addition, these artifacts are real and tangible. Although they may have changed over time from factors such as weathering or war, software will allows us to "fix" ruins, for example, so that we can actually show how edifices looked during their prime.

It is clear that virtual archaeology will become an important part in making and keeping the ancient world alive and accessible. The advances in software technology, specifically in gaming, will be instrumental in what our research is trying to accomplish: the creation of an interactive portal through which the viewer can attain a first-hand experience as to how the world looked and was experienced in antiquity. Dr. Bernard Frischer, a colleague of Dr. Takács from the University of Indiana at Bloomington, is the leader in this new field of virtual archaeology. He was instrumental in the creation of virtual Rome, Rome Reborn. While our research is still in its infancy, we are confident that we can reach the ultimate goal of producing a pedagogical tool that opens up the world of commerce in the eastern Roman Empire and beyond via virtual three-dimensional travel. For this academic year, our research team hopes to create one to two functioning portals.


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