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Delphine Ackermann / Yves Lafond / Alexandre Vincent (Hgg.): Pratiques religieuses, mémoire et identités dans le monde gréco-romain. Actes du collque tenu à Poitiers du 9 au 11 mai 2019, Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes 2022
The unstoppable (and exponential) evolution of modern technology is manifest, but if there is a field in which that idea proves to be particularly appropriate, this is the digital world. From the popularisation of personal computers to the development of cutting-edge Big Data and Artificial Intelligence technologies, humanities, ever so resistant to change, have struggled to keep up with the former's speed. However, many are the universities and research projects that have, within the particular discipline of Roman economy, adopted digital tools and methodologies to enhance the quality of their research (by enlarging the amount available information) and to expand the reach of their hypotheses (by interconnecting their data with other initiatives from colleagues abroad). The most common expression of Digital Humanities has been the database, a very basic albeit useful tool that allows the researcher to process massive amounts of data in mere seconds, thus making formerly unfeasible regional and inter-regional (even occasionally Empire-wide) analyses possible.
The book "Arqueología y Téchne. Métodos formales, nuevos enfoques", edited by José Remesal Rodríguez and Jordi Pérez González, pays a thoughtful homage to the research project that has marked the last decade of the Centro para el Estudio de la Interdependencia Provincial en la Antigüedad Clásica (CEIPAC), from the University of Barcelona: "Production and distribution of food during the Roman Empire: Economics and political dynamics" (EPNet). Most of the credit for the success of this project has to be given to its flagship tool, the CEIPAC database (active analogically from 1989 to 1994, and digitally from that year onwards), which stamps, graffiti (scratched inscriptions) and tituli picti (painted marks) made on Roman amphorae. The book's introduction, by J. Remesal, goes deeper on the aforementioned issue, together with a deep reflection on the trajectory of the research group of which he was once director.
On that volume, many of the researchers that took part in the mainly collective and interdisciplinary work assess the reach and effectiveness of the different digital tools and methods used to store, process and analyse hundreds of thousands of data points, many (but not exclusively) from the CEIPAC database.
The first chapter, "Interacciones que dejan huella. Hacia una ciencia de redes de los objetos que quedaron" (L. Prignano, I. Morer Zapata, A. Díaz-Guilera), skilfully introduces the reader into Network Science and defends that STEM disciplines can (and do) have a place in Humanities as useful tools to process and rationalise large amounts of data that can be subsequently studied for historians or archaeologists. The second section, "Roman Open Data: A semantic based Data Visualization & Exploratory Interface" (X. Gimenez, A. Mosca, B. Rondelli, G. Rull) tackles the process of making this data comprehensible and visually attractive for scholars to work with. According to the authors, to build such visual models is a complex and long process, which did ultimately prove useful, and thus, successful. Having seen how to treat and present data, the third chapter, "From Counting Pots to Reconstructing Economy: Computational Tools Developed in the EPNet Project" (I. Romanowska, S. Carrignon, M. Coto-Sarmiento, J. M. Montanier, X. Rubio-Campillo), reconstructs the technical work developed for the EPNet project, especially that regarding the creation of the software necessary to carry out all the data processing.
The fourth chapter, "Similarity Analysis in Epigraphy. Syntactic Clustering of Tituli Picti on the PO8 Amphoras" (D. J. Martín-Arroyo, I. Romanowska) serves as a turning point from the first section of the book, focused on technical and theoretical issues, into the second one, based in particular case studies in which the already mentioned tools have been successfully applied. In it, inscriptions on Pompeii 8 amphorae are studied in order to determine their socioeconomic importance within the Campanian region, especially in the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae.
The second section proper, which will take the reader to different regions of the Western Roman Empire (the main stage of the EPNet project), begins with the work of Ll. Pons, "La Economía de Mauretania Tingitana en el Alto Imperio (2009-2019). Colaboraciones Internacionales y Aplicación de Nuevas Técnicas". In that chapter, he assesses the last ten years of research on the economy of that Roman province, focusing on the digital tools used to process an increasingly high amount of archaeological data. The midpoint of the book is marked by "Analysis tools for the study of the amphorae productions from the northeast of Hispania Citerior Tarraconensis. A first approach from EPNet Project" (A. Martín, C. Palacín, J. Pérez), in which several studies on the production and transport of wine from the Catalan coast serve as case studies to illustrate how a proper use of database information can yield invaluable results, such as trade networks. In the same way trade routes can be identified by studying the repetition over time and space of certain amphora stamps, so can the different individual producers of Baetican olive oil (and of its iconic vessel, the type Dressel 20). J. Moros explains that exact process in his chapter, "Esquemas organizativos de la producción anfórica olearia bética (Dressel 20, ca. 30-270 d.C.) ". In the eighth chapter, "La importancia de una provincia bisagra en el concierto del Imperio romano. El caso de Raetia", J. M. Bermúdez studies the deficient economy of such a mountainous region and the strategical value that could be the reason such an unfavourable situation was constantly maintained by successive emperors. Britain is the next step of the trip across the Empire, as J. Pérez's chapter, "Olive Oil beyond the Wall: Stamps on Baetican Dressel 20 found on the Forth-Clyde Isthmus", analyses the presence of Roman olive oil containers in military environments and its impact on trade routes within the Western Roman Empire. The last chapter of this section, "Approaches to the Roman Food Economy: GIS Agricultural Modelling in Baetica and Amphorae Epigraphy from Pompeii", is presented yet again by D. J. Martín-Arroyo, and it shows how the computational management of epigraphical and geographical databases proves to be highly convenient for the implementation of new approaches of historical research.
The book ends, as a symbolic wrap-up but also with the clear intent to show the tangible results of the EPNet project, with an extensive bibliographical list of all the works published by members of the research group related their lines of research, which revolve around the main issue of production and transport of wine and olive oil within the Roman Empire.
Although the book is not a monograph on any concrete subject (and it does not pretend to be such a thing), it acts as a symbolic conclusion to the work of more than a decade and the implication of dozens of people, and presents some of the results to prove that the project has something to show for it. To anyone wanting to know the intricacies of working with Network Science and databases being a humanist, this is a very recommendable read.
Arnau Lario Devesa