This article is available at the URI as part of the NYU Library's Ancient World Digital Library in partnership with the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW). More information about ISAW Papers is available on the ISAW website.

Except where noted, ©2014 Maurizio Lana; distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License
Creative Commons License

This article can be downloaded as a single file

ISAW Papers 7.11 (2014)

Geolat: Geography for Latin Literature

Maurizio Lana


The scope of Geolat: allowing scholars and citizens to discover the geography contained in literary texts, offering new ways to assess and read the geographical relations which link texts. This overview describes the state of the project as of 2013.1

Concise description:

Step 1) the digital library of latin is built, with philologically sound editions of texts.

Step 2) every geographical name is tagged (what means that are recognized as places only the places which are given a specific name; "the hut of Eurilocos sheperd" identifies indeed a place, but this place has not a specific geographical identity) both recurring to existing resources (Pleiades is the main example) and creating new ones (a geographical ontology for classical texts/world).

Step 3) the geographically tagged texts can then be accessed through a geo/graphic interface (see for example GAPvis that is if the traditional access to texts is made through a "pages interface" here we have instead a "places interface": the scholar accesses the texts starting form a map and not form a summary, or a name index, etc.

The principles which drive the project development:

  1. Multidisciplinary team: latin classical literature, ancient history, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, computer science, librarianship, geography, archeology; geolat started as an Italian only group (the components are now raffaella afferni, margherita benzi, fabio ciotti, maurizio lana, diego magro, cristina meini, roberta piastri, gabriella vanotti) but we are building relations in order to submit proposal to next EU calls as an international group.
  2. Open access: the system will be freely accessible to everyone.
  3. Free software: we want to build a system which doesn't waste of public money and which can run for years with minimal costs.
  4. CC licenses: the openness of access is formally defined regulated in order to protect both the creators and the users.
  5. Crowdsourcing: the system must allow for continual evolution of the knowledge it contains, and this can't be done with the only contribution of the research team and its collaborators.
  6. URIs for identification of places: we want to build a stable resource, which reliably cites (links) other resources and which can reliably be cited (linked) by other resources; all data will be published according to the Linked Data principles.

What characterizes the project:

  1. The geographical ontology is meant to start offering the user some minimal type of automatic reasoning.
  2. The development of the geographical visualization is a sort of evolution from lexical cooccurrences to geographical/geometrical cooccurrences: for example your circle an area on a map, you optionally select a time span, and you see which authors in which works do mention places in that area, and which places are mentioned; or you choose a place and then ask the system to select all the places within 1 day travel time (thanks, Orbis!
  3. Possibly, an ontology of geographical assertions (it appears to be very difficult to build, but its usefulness and interest is probably directly related to the difficulty).

Technical aspects of development

The project is intended to put together 'existing pieces' in order to go beyond them and with a global complete system which multiplies the usefulness of its composing parts: the digital library and annotations management of Perseus (thanks, Perseus!,, the geo/graphical visualization of GAPvis (thanks GAPvis!,, the geographical gazetteer Pleiades (thanks, Pleiades!,, can be glued together in order to get a completely new access to the classical latin texts (but not only them, see below). the main reason is avoiding to reinvent the wheel if we are (as we are in fact) in a time of scarcity of resources. would the project obtain all the funds it needs, it will be possible to (re)think the system software from scratch ) risorse scarse.


In 2012 and 2013 funds where searched by submitting proposals to EU ERC Synergy calls: the project was awarded two times a B score meaning 'top scientific level but money goes to other more appealing projects'. In 2013 the project after a blind peer evaluation of European Science Foundation got a starting grant from Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo, a bank fondation, allowing for a prototypical and investigating phase.

With the start of EU research framework "Horizon 2020" in January 2014 geolat research group will search for new EU calls; but private funding will be searched too.

Future perspectives and meaning

This whole structure has nothing specifically bound to classical Latin language. So one could envisage that all European literatures' texts be geographically tagged, allowing to read the geography of Europe through what writers said of its places, or conversely to read the texts starting from the places they mentions and wondering about the meaning of the waves of presence and absence of places in the texts according to the time spans.

So for Europe, an area where languages and interests have many historical intersections (in a same geographical area many different languages were spoken through times; or a same geographical place is mentioned by many different works in different languages) this would be a way to show in practice the deep intertwining of places, cultures, languages, giving solid substance to theoretical, programmatic statements.


1 This research is financed by Compagnia di San Paolo.