Syrios — Finding Connection in Ancient Syria

This project is the public extension of Dr. Neumann’s research, which explores how communities in the Middle East evolved under ancient Roman rule. In particular, this research focuses on cities of ancient Syria and the complex responses of their inhabitants to annexation by a western Mediterranean power. Previous scholarship on this topic has struggled to unravel these discrepant experiences due to significant gaps within the historical record and ongoing political violence and destruction. Dr. Neumann proposes that a combination of ancient coin finds and modern technologies can help reconstitute patterns of political, economic, and socio-cultural connectivity among ancient Syria’s communities.

Many cities and peoples in the Middle East minted their own specialized coinage celebrating local histories and identities with images and bilingual inscriptions, even after they were absorbed into the Roman Empire. How these pictures and words evolved over time can reflect how an individual community experienced its relationship to the imperial state. In addition, these coins can also be examined as found objects. Because of the uniqueness of each coin and the authority that guaranteed its value, not all coins were accepted everywhere as currency. Using digital technologies to map where, when, and in what quantities each community’s coins appear in the archaeological record can identify regional and empire-wide limits in their circulation, as well as speak to the activity, policies, and relationships of the different peoples issuing and using them.

This research both advances a new methodology for historical analysis and makes use of a highly overlooked set of evidence for the study of ancient Syria, and so the goal of our proposed multi-year digital humanities project is to bring both this method and material to a much wider audience. In its finished form, the online exhibit will contain a 3D-scan of a coin with a detailed analysis of how coins can be used as historical evidence, as well as different maps that can be manipulated to explore individual cities of Syria, the political and socio-economic routes connecting them to each other and the wider Mediterranean and Middle East, and how each of these cities expressed their unique histories and identities. Additionally, we are working on a circular visualization of exchange between individual cities and whole regions through the program Circos, which was originally designed to visualize genomic data (a link to our prototype live web app available upon request). Finally, the exhibit will also host a cleaned version of our data set of 300,000+ coin finds gathered from excavations and hoards throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean, in order that other researchers may download and explore their own applications of the material.

See the project’s website, currently under development.

Download the Antioch coin data in tsv format here