Without Limits: Ancient History and GIS

Alexander Von Lunen, Wolfgang Moschek

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


At first sight, the Roman Limes appears to be a border in the modern sense, like the former inner-German border, the border between North and South Korea or the US border with Mexico. Over the longest time in Roman history, however, there were no such border installations (as the Limes) at the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Throughout the main periods of the expansion of the Imperium Romanum we find a kind of frontier that is in a way similar to that in American history with single forts or settlements facing a “terra incognita” – at least in the mind of the settlers. The question remains why the Romans all of a sudden began to build the Limes (i.e., the walls, palisades, and trenches), although there were no other states, kingdoms, bigger tribes, or threatening military forces on the other side of it? Can it be regarded as some kind of displacement activity for the soldiers, as for example J. C. Mann argued? 1 Other historians, like E. Luttwack, 2 claim to have detected a long-term “Grand Strategy” of a deep defense of the Imperial Roman borders in it. The military function of the Roman Limes has always been the main point in modern interpretation, from the beginning of the Limesforschung (Limes Research) in the nineteenth century until today. Newer publications started to merge this viewpoint with the interpretation of the Roman Limes as having been a controlled economic borderline. 3

Delving into these questions, one immediately encounters the main problem of the Limes: no ancient author or inscription gives any reason whatsoever for building a wall, palisade, and trench from the north of England to North Africa from the middle of the second to the late third century ad . Nevertheless, there are few written sources available and many if ambiguous, archaeological findings – does this mean that the work of the historian or the archaeologist becomes futile?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGeohumanities
Subtitle of host publicationArt, history, text at the edge of place
EditorsMichael Dear, Jim Ketchum, Sarah Lucia, Doug Richardson
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9780203839270
ISBN (Print)9780415589796, 9780415589802
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


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