All Roads Lead to...Athens: Visualizing Evidence from the Ancient World

Publication Date

Summer 2015

Document Type



“Visualizing Networks in the Ancient Mediterranean” (VNAM) stems from Tom Beasley’s research in the connections between literature and society in ancient Greece. His objective was to create a web-based application for visualizing all varieties of networks in the ancient world and exposing primary evidence on which they are based. For his first summer research project proposal, Tom identified the Homeric Hymn to Apollo as the test for overlaying places mentioned in the text against a map of cities with temples to the god.

In phase 1 (summer 2015), Tom and Suné created the functionality for the application that gives users the chance to view paths and locations associated with gods, goddesses and heroes in Greco-Roman mythology. Using the Homeric myths as the first dataset, they built a database structure that connected literary, epigraphic and textual evidence with regards to place. In fact, they exceed the scope of the first grant, going so far as to redesign the interface to support extra functionality, allowing users to visualize multiple networks at once, and to show or hide individual networks.

We all realized as the first summer progressed that Suné, a rising junior, was actually learning and working with computer languages in advance of her academic pace, developing advanced skills in XML, CSS and JavaScript as she and Tom adapted the JS Leaflet library for interactive maps to the needs for the application. At the same time, she was developing a unique understanding of Classics subject matter. At the end of the summer Suné presented an electronic poster at the Susquehanna Valley Undergraduate Symposium – one of only a few digital humanities projects presented by students.

Suné continued to work with Tom during the Fall of 2015, and they presented their ongoing work at the #BUDSC15 conference. In phase 2 of the project (summer 2016), Beasley and Swart incorporated a contribution function to the project, whereby scholars and students can participate in creating pathways between places identified in more Homeric Hymns as well as other contemporary texts. While there are other network-related digital mapping projects focused on the classical period, no other makes it possible to analyze the breadth of evidence on which these visualizations are based.

This summer Tom and Suné have added a dynamic time slider function to the application and expanding data to consider a larger cross-section of the Athenian empire, providing an opportunity to compare that network evidence against other data about the political, religious and architectural life of a wide variety of cities.

In addition to supporting his own ongoing research, Tom is using VNAM in his fall 2016 Classical Mythology course: students will be given the opportunity to contribute to the application database by tagging places mentioned in assigned texts. He also intends to use the application in his spring 2017 Greek Civilization course: students will create or supplement network nodes on the basis of evidence they encounter in literary/historical texts, inscriptions, and material remains.


Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies

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