von der Römischen Kaiserzeit bis zum Mittelalter

Harbours and maritime networks as complex adaptive systems

Workshop “Theory”, SPP 1630 „Häfen von der Römischen Kaiserzeit bis zum Mittelalter“:


Locality: Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (RGZM), Forschungsinstitut für Archäologie, Ernst-Ludwig-Platz 2, 55116 Mainz

Date: October 17th-18th 2013

Organisers: Dir. Univ. Prof. Dr. Falko Daim, Dr. Johannes Preiser-Kapeller (both RGZM)

Presenters (in alphabetical order):

  • Prof. Dr. Pascal ARNAUD, Professeur des universités à l’Université de Lyon 2
  • Prof. Dr. Falko DAIM, Director, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (Mainz)
  • M.Eng. Guido HEINZ, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (Mainz)
  • Dr. Flora KARAGIANNI, European Centre of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments (Thessaloniki); coordinator of the OLKAS-project
  • Dr. Allard MEES, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (Mainz)
  • Dr. Johannes PREISER-KAPELLER, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (Mainz)/Austrian Academy of Sciences
  • Prof. Dr. Damian ROBINSON, Director, Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology
  • Dr. Thomas SCHMIDTS, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (Mainz)
  • Prof. Dr. Søren M. SINDBÆK, University of Aarhus, Dept. of Archaeology
  • Dr. Myrto VEIKOU, University of Crete, Postdoctoral Researcher

Theoretical Outline:

The theory of complex systems was intensively discussed and integrated into archaeology in the last decades, but much less so in other historical disciplines. Complex systems elude attempts for simplification and mechanistic disintegration into single parts; but they show a number of common characteristics:

  • Complex systems can be understood as large networks of individual components, whose interactions at the microscopic level produce “complex” changing patterns of behaviour of the entire system on the macroscopic level (“emergence”); in the field of social systems, these patterns stem from the actions and interactions of individuals, families, small communities, etc. up to the globalized society of today.
  • Small variations in the system or minimal differences in initial conditions can lead to significantly different outcomes (“non-linearity”, “butterfly effect”).
  • Complex systems are typically open systems, which are entangled with their environment, often in equally complex interrelations.
  • Complex systems are often “path-dependent”; their trajectory does not only depend on current conditions, but also on the “history” of the system.
  • Many complex systems tend to be attracted toward specific states or sequences of states (“attractors”).

Such phenomena could also be observed within the framework of SPP 1630 on various levels: the selection, construction, utilisation, maintenance or abandonment of a harbour site depended on the interactions of a multiplicity of actors (population on-site and in the hinterland; local, regional and central authorities; merchants and sailors, etc.) against the background of an equally complex interplay between society and environment (natural conditions on land and on sea and their dynamics). Within this framework, also the concept of path dependence is of relevance: decisions and efforts made for the selection and construction of a harbour determine the parameters for subsequent contexts of decision making. Ports are integrated into local and regional settlement systems via multiplex connections with their hinterland and co-determine the distribution of demographic and economic potentials within these systems. Local, regional and over-regional sea-routes link ports of various sizes and importance in complex maritime networks, which are equally characterized by the emergence of hierarchies of harbours. On the basis of these sea-routes, also individuals and groups in various localities are connected in social networks, which can be characterised by mercantile, political, religious or cultural interactions, but especially through the mobility of individuals. A systematic survey of these entanglements between individuals, groups and localities could contribute to a more adequate analysis of the complexity of these phenomena as would detail studies on the interplay between social and environmental factors for the development of selected ports.

Questions to be discussed within the workshop:

  • Complexity, networks and mobility within the framework of SPP 1630
  • Ports in the complex interplay between environment and society
  • The interplay between actors and decision-makers for the selection, organisation, utilisation and maintenance of harbours
  • Ports and their complex entanglements with the hinterland
  • The survey, modelling and analysis of maritime networks
  • The survey and analysis of social networks: prosopography and maritime mobility.

For each of these questions, specialists in the field have been invited in order to provide food for discussion; the results of the workshop shall also be published in a collection of papers.

For the abstracts and protocol of the workshop, please click here.
Visualisation of a topological nearest neighbour network model of Ancient port sites in the Aegean (791 nodes, 2188 links); nodes are scaled according to their “betweenness”- centrality (© J. Preiser-Kapeller, RGZM, 2013; cf. also oeaw.academia.edu/TopographiesofEntanglements)

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