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ERC advanced grant awarded to José Remesal's project on Roman food trade which gathers historians and physicists

Professor José Remesal.

Professor José Remesal.


José Remesal, professor of Ancient History at the UB, has received one of the advanced grants conferred by the European Research Council (ERC) to research leaders for the project EPNet (Production and distribution of food during the Roman Empire: economic and political dynamics). The project links physics, particularly the study of complex networks, with history in order to research on trade dynamics during the Roman Empire. The project counts with one of the richest database for amphorae and its epigraphy, created thanks to the work developed by the Centre for the Study of Provincial Interdependence in Classical Antiquity (CEIPAC) of the UB for twenty-five years. It has 36,000 registers and an average of 15 information indicators for each register. Computer modelling and complex systems simulations will extract information from this database to formulate and confirm hypothesis about Roman political and economic mechanisms.

Concerning the complementarity of the work carried out by historians, physicians and computer experts, Remesal affirms that “for physicians the projects means a possibility to apply models to real data, whereas for historians it enables to analyse big databases”. Besides CEIPAC, project partners are: the UB research group PhysComp (headed by Albert Díaz Guilera), devoted to study complex networks from statistical physics perspective; the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre (Xavier Rubio), and the consultancy SIRIS Academic, expert on semantic models and knowledge management (Bernardo Rondelli).

Roman amphorae can be considered as the best archaeological marker of Roman Empire economic production and transactions. They are a unique indicator of social relationships and chronological dynamics, because of their distribution throughout the Empire, the precise information contained in their epigraphy (similar to modern trademarks and labels) and their diachronic persistence. Considering CEIPAC’s database on amphorae, the project EPNet proposes an interdisciplinary framework to formulate trade dynamics models and their main routes. The authors of the project think that other systems studied by physics have similar properties and behaviours to the ones of social sciences. It is important to remember that complex networks have already been applied to the analysis of economy and trade between companies, banks and countries; the project EPNet proposes to apply complex networks to the ancient trade of wine, oil and preserved fish. Computer simulations will act like a ‘virtual lab’ in which hypothesis about Roman economic and political mechanisms will be formulated and validated. To date, computer simulations have been mainly used to study prehistoric societies, but they have been scarcely apply to more recent time periods, such as ancient history. Moreover, experts on semantic analysis collaborate in the project; they will contribute to define the values and parameters used in computer simulations.

Roman trade system is considered the first European complex trade network. Many theories and hypothesis about its organization and relation to the Empire’s army and politics have been formulated. Some authors consider that Roman trade does not share any feature with modern economies. However, other experts think that it is a predecessor of present globalised economies and affirm that it can be explained by present economic theories. The project EPNet will provide another opinion on this issue.

José Remesal (Lora del Río, Sevilla, 1948) is expert on the political and economic history of the Roman Empire. He has focused his research on studying the production and distribution of food, particularly olive oil coming from Hispania, and the study of amphora epigraphy. He leads the research group CEIPAC and the publication collection Instrumenta (Publicacions i Edicions of the UB). Together with José M. Blánquez, he has directed Monte Testaccio excavations, in Rome, for more than twenty years. He is member of Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the National Institute of Roman Studies, Casa de Velázquez, the Spanish Royal Academy of History, the Office of International Union of Academies, the German Archaeological Institute and the Sevillian Royal Academy of Good Letters. Remesal received the Humanities Academia Award conferred by the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA). He is the author of more than one hundred scientific works published in fourteen countries and translated into seven languages; some of his works are: La annona militaris y la exportación de aceite bético a Germania (Madrid, 1986); Die Heeresversorgung und die wirtschaftlichen Beziehungen zwischen der Baetica und Germanien (Stuttgart, 1997); Estudios sobre el monte Testaccio (Roma, together with J. M. Blázquez, six volumes); Celti (Peñaflor) (University of Southampton, 2000; together with S. Keay and J. Creighton); Carlos Benito González de Posada (1745-1831): Vida y obra de un ilustrado entre Asturias y Cataluña (Madrid, 2013, together with J. M. Pérez Suñé).

The last call of ERC Advanced grants has conferred up to 3.5 million euros to 284 top researchers, selected among 2,400 candidates, who are developing research in Europe. Project submitted are focused on very different subject areas, from life in Mars, to viruses which kill cancer cells or the molecular mechanisms responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. The EU advanced grants aim at promoting scientific excellence and creativity. They contribute to the research developed by excellent researchers on emerging fields, the so-called 'frontier research', and they are able to expand knowledge limits. Advanced grants pursue ground-breaking, high-risk projects that open new directions in their respective research fields, and at the same time they draw the best researchers to Europe. Besides Professor José Remesal, UB researchers who also received an advanced grant are: Susana Narotzky, from the Department of Cultural Anthropology and the History of America and Africa, for the project Grassroots economics: meaning, project and practice in the pursuit of livelihood (GRECO); Peter Wagner, from the Department of Sociological Theory, Philosophy of Law and Methodology for Social Sciences, for the project Trajectòries de modernitat: comparació de les varietats europees i no europees (TRAMOD), and Mel Slater, from the Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment, for the project Transcendir la realitat: activar les respostes en els entorns virtuals mitjançant un enriquiment sensorial (TRAVERSE).


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