Bored at work? Here’s a Google-style digital map of the Roman Empire to play with

The heartland of the Roman Empire. Image: Screenshot of the Digital Map of the Roman Empire.

If you're anything like me, you'll have spent many years fretting over a single vexed question: What's the best route from Camulodunum to Korinion? Should you take the direct route via Verlamium? Or the more southerly one, through Londinium? It's a tricky one.

Well worry no longer – for the Roman Empire has finally joined the 21st century. This map is a sort of Google Maps of antiquity. It’s fully searchable, and comes with multiple zoom levels.

You can see the entire sweep of the empire, with its provinces marked out (you can click to expand the map):

Or you can zoom right in to see its heartland, complete with cemeteries (the tomb stones), villas (semi-circles) and temples (stars):

You can even search for specific places:

Sadly, it doesn't go down to street map level – though that’s probably more a reflection of the limits of the data than the limits of the cartographer’s ambition.


The map is the work of Johan Åhlfeldt, a researcher at Sweden's Lund University, who built it using sources including the  Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World and the Pleides dataset. In all it has eight different zoom levels, with a ninth covering the regions (Italy, Greece and points east) where data is richest.

The Roman Empire, of course, was around for a while: there were emperors in the west for half a millennium, and the Roman Republic had been conquering territory well beyond Italy for a couple of centuries even before Augustus got his hands on power. Maps tend to change rather a lot over that many centuries.

But as Åhlfeldt explains here, his map doesn’t reflect a particular point in history:

“In a departure from the original Barrington Atlas and the Pleiades dataset, our digital map does not try to implement time periods when places are attested, nor does it speculate on the certainty (or otherwise) of locations: only precise locations from the Pleiades dataset can be rendered on the map. Nevertheless, since many places lacked precise coordinates and/or feature data, a good deal of effort has been made to improve the data.”

That said, the names and borders of Roman provices changed rather a lot of over time – best we can tell, the ones shown on Åhlfeldt's map date from the early 2nd century CE.

Oh, and my quandary about getting from Camulodunum (Colchester) to Korinion (Cirencester)?

It's a longer route if you head south, but the roads are better quality.

Next time you're in Roman Britain, you can thank me.

You can see the whole map here. Check it out.

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Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.