making MOOCs: Archaeology of Portus

October 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Posted in MOOC | Leave a comment
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Archaeology of Portus was the FutureLearn course that I really wanted to be involved with, as I have always been interested in Roman archaeology and have visited many sites in Britain and Europe, including the extensive ruins of the ancient port of Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber near Rome. Portus was an artifical port built about 3km up the coast to provide additional port capacity at the height of Roman Imperial power.

Almost my first task on joining the project was to push forward the completion of the promotional video trailer for the course. I saw a need for a map that showed the location of Portus and its relationship to Rome, and thought that it would be fitting if it looked like a mosaic. I started by finding a suitable map of Europe on Shutterstock and cropping it to the area, 16:9 aspect ratio and 1920×1080 resolution that we wanted:

stock-photo-old-map-of-the-world-Shutterstock 140319292

Image © Aleksandra Gigowska /Shutterstock

Image © Aleksandra Gigowska /Shutterstock

I then searched for advice about how to create a mosaic effect and found exactly what I needed on DKauffman’s blog. After some experimentation I arrived at the result I wanted, including colouring the tessarae (tiles) to show the extent of the Roman empire at in 117AD, when the Emperor Trajan constructed the fabulous hexagonal basin at Portus:

Mosiac map of Roman Mediterranean showing extent of empire in AD117

Mosiac map of Roman Mediterranean showing extent of empire in AD117© University of Southampton

Close up of mosiac image of Italy

Full resolution section of the mosiac showing effect. © University of Southampton

Of course it doesn’t really look like a Roman mosaic, which would mainly consist of roughly square tessarae – but overall I was very pleased with the effect. It forms the basis of several maps used in the course’s videos, for example showing the trade routes between Roman Mediterranean ports:

Mosaic map showing trade routes between Roman Mediterranean ports

Mosaic map showing trade routes between Roman Mediterranean ports © University of Southampton

The trade routes are speculative and there was some discussion with the academic team about whether we should show such definite routes, given their expertise from the Roman Port Network project. The Wikipedia article on Roman Commerce has a really interesting map showing the movement of goods around ‘Mare Nostrum’!


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