from the Roman Period to the Middle Ages

Research projects on the subject of harbours

This Special Research Programme (known by its German acronym SPP - Schwerpunktprogramm), consisting of 15 individual projects, will be carried out by approximately 60 scholars over two three-year periods. The projects involve interdisciplinary research on the phenomenon of the 'harbour'. A further project has been added to handle the coordination of the SPP as a whole.

The importance of the interdisciplinary aspect of the SPP can be seen particularly clearly in the research questions to be addressed in the individual projects. Classical archaeology and the archaeology of the Roman provinces, supported by disciplines related to historical research and the natural sciences, will be represented in the SPP by two projects: Efficiency and competition between Italic port settlements, which will analyse the functional structure of Italic port settlements and their harbours during the middle period of the Roman Empire; and Images and imagination of Roman ports, which will document the different ways in which Roman harbours were described and depicted and analyse them in their respective contexts. The river harbour at Ostia and The Rhine as a European transportation route will also be investigated.

The project entitled The Thracian harbour city Ainos in Roman and Byzantine times - the development of a traffic hub in a changing environment will review the strategic and logistic significance of Ainos in the northern Aegean, at the mouth of the River Hebros, which is navigable far into the hinterland. This project constitutes a link to Byzantine Studies, which will be represented by two further SPP projects.

Harbours and landing places on the Balkan coasts of the Byzantine Empire (4th to 12th centuries) is a project that will look into questions relating to technology and monuments and also pay particular attention to questions of the economy and communications. Harbour administration in the Byzantine Empire (7th to 11th centuries) will evaluate the historical sources, supplemented by investigations into the administrative structure, the organisation of the civil service, and operational aspects of Byzantine harbours.

In addition to the above-mentioned projects, which mainly concern harbours on sea coasts, the SPP will also take a closer look at inland harbours, for example in the project entitled Studies of inland harbours in the Frankish-German Empire as hubs for European communication networks (AD 500-1250). Another project, The Fossa Carolina: a link in the network of harbours on the Rhine and Danube, will consider the question of how problems associated with crossing one of the major European watersheds were surmounted in the Middle Ages.

Three further projects concern research on the northern German coasts: Trading terps and Geest fringe castles − medieval trading ports on the German North Sea coast; Harbours as factors in the settlement of the Bremen Basin between the Roman Iron Age and the Middle Ages; and Early medieval Baltic coast harbours.

Linked with these are two more projects with a northern theme. The aim of HaNoA: Harbours in the North Atlantic (AD 800-1300) is to investigate the role played by harbours in the settlement and colonisation process in the North Atlantic during the Viking Age. The Leiruvogur harbour research project, on the other hand, will concentrate on a single harbour that is well known from the Icelandic family sagas and from the farmsteads located in its hinterland, which have been identified by archaeological fieldwork as the residences of the chieftains of Mosfell.

The Central Geophysical Project not only adds a natural-science component to the above-mentioned projects but will also contribute to the development of new instruments thanks to the fieldwork and fundamental research on methodology being undertaken in the course of the project.

The strength of the SPP lies not only in its extensive geographical area, which stretches from Iceland to the Aegean, but also in its chronological depth, covering several epochs, and the diversity of its research projects, which results in a high degree of interdisciplinary cooperation. The SPP thus tries to move away from the level of small-scale analyses: instead, in an overarching comparative analysis, it attempts to understand harbours as highly complex systems by defining and analysing their system-relevant components.

As well as establishing a standardized terminology and investigating the reciprocal effects exerted by the topography and the way harbours were constructed, the analysis concentrates above all on evaluating the influence of environment-historical developments and analysing the various economic regions and transportation systems. This should finally result in the generation of models of cultural evolution over time.

Rekonstruierte Darstellung des Hafens von Haithabu. Mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Wikinger Museums Haithabu.

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