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Mapping the Journey of Marble: MA Student Stephanie Manning’s Digital Thesis Project

January 16, 2018

M.A. in Digital Art History student Stephanie Manning conducted her thesis on the applications of GIS on the logistics of material transportation in Ancient Rome. She focused on a site-specific case study – the Baths of Caracalla (the largest surviving bathing complex in Rome), and mapped the marble quarries supplying the baths using ArcGIS Pro.

UPDATE: In 2018, Stephanie joined Apple via Apex Systems as a GIS Technician.

The Baths of Caracalla
Screenshot from Manning’s StoryMap presentation. Blue points denote locations of ancient marble quarries.

The goal of this project was to measure the difficulty of transportation (accounting for slope and means of transport) and to determine through cost distance analysis the least-cost path that would have most likely been taken to reach Rome from the various marble quarries.

Screenshot from Manning’s StoryMap presentation; the Process section describes her methodology.

Stephanie spent her summer researching the process of designing her own Agent-Based Model and using it to perform cost distance analysis. She also travelled to Italy to visit the site of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome to get an accurate understanding of the scale of the complex, as well as to take several images of any marble fragments remnant in the structure. She visited other monumental bathing complexes in Italy, including the Baths of Diocletian and the Stabian Baths in Pompeii for comparison and use of materials.

Screenshot of Manning’s StoryMap presentation; showing the least cost paths that workers may have used to transport marble from quarries across the Roman Empire to the Baths of Caracalla.
The Baths of Diocletian. Rome, Italy.

Through this GIS model, Stephanie tells the story of the difficulty of transporting marble across the Roman Empire for a monumental construction project. Despite the limited technology of the time, the Romans had devised a highly efficient system involving a vast network of roads and sea routes to transfer materials from supply to site. She brings the map to life through the digital and interactive ESRI Story Map online, and provides open-source data to future scholars interested in historical GIS applications.  | Link to Story Map:

Screenshot of Manning’s cost distance analysis.

Professor Sheila Dillon advised Manning’s thesis with Dr. Edward Triplett providing GIS advising.