Workshop 'New Infrastructures, Old Landscapes', Ravenstein (Day 1)

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This two-day workshop aims to discuss current approaches and new methodologies for studying the innovation of infrastructure in the Roman world.

In our modern world, many lives have become increasingly dependent on the connections and movements of people, goods and ideas at a rapid pace over large distances: order today, receive tomorrow. These kinds of behaviour, or rather expectation, have drastically changed the environments in which we live. We need railroads, airports, highways, urban expansion et cetera. Such structures and systems do not only relate to the current socio-economic system in which we live but are also the result of centuries of innovation and globalisation. Around the middle of the second century CE, Aelius Aristides – an orator from the Roman East – highlighted the societal effects of new infrastructure vividly. He celebrated the changes in the innovated landscape, the high degree of ‘global’ connectivity, and environmental control as great achievements of Roman culture in the world as he knew it:

“You [i.e. Rome and its citizens] have measured and recorded the land of the entire civilized world; you have spanned the river with all kinds of bridges, and hewn highways through the mountains, and filled the barren stretches with posting-stations; you have accustomed all areas to a settled and orderly way of life.” (Ael. Arist. Or. 26 (transl. J.H. Oliver))

Material remains of ancient building projects for public benefit, nowadays generally termed as infrastructure, allow us to reflect on the words of the orator. More importantly, they demonstrate how in the past different levels of society – individuals, communities and the ruling elite – tried to (un)successfully change landscapes for specific objectives (see Wilkinson 2019). The orator lists building projects for improving mobility, but current discourse of ancient infrastructure often focuses on a substantial number of examples, such as canals, dams, maritime and fluvial ports, aqueducts, watermills, granaries, baths, spectacle buildings, temples, markets, basilicas, fortifications etc.

This workshop, part of the Anchoring Innovation Research Program which investigates innovation in different societal domains in the ancient world, will examine the innovation of infrastructure. For the Roman world, change and continuity have always been important topics, generating complex research questions on how past societies inhabited and changed the landscape, including development of infrastructure. One of the conceptual tools to examine such developments is anchoring innovation, which implies that when introducing something new, one has to incorporate familiar elements in order for the innovation to be successful (Sluiter 2017). For example, a newly constructed road following an older route, or the transformation of thermal springs into a Roman bathing complex. We invite scholars using anchoring innovation or other conceptual approaches to contribute.

We invite abstracts for papers between 20 and 30 minutes from archaeologists, ancient historians, and other scholars of the Roman world. We welcome papers dealing with conceptual and methodological issues as well as papers presenting specific case studies, preferably examples of material culture. We ask for papers exploring topics of Roman infrastructure, landscape and innovation, which may include:

Material innovation of Roman infrastructure and identifying continuity, change, and/or ‘anchors’ in material remains of infrastructure.

Factors, human and non-human (e.g. landscape), which determine the success or failure (see Van Oyen 2023) of infrastructure as an innovation; one can think of factors related to technology, society, mobility, or connectivity.

Individuals or (target) groups involved in the development, innovation and utilization of Roman infrastructure.

Distinguishing elements of conscious innovation from pragmatic solutions in the development of infrastructure. Is there a distinction?

Roman infrastructure as frugal innovation (see Sluiter and Versluys 2023).


Sluiter, I. 2016. Anchoring Innovation: A Classical Research Agenda. European Review 25.1, 20-38.

Van Oyen, A. 2023. Roman Failure: Privilege and Precarity at Early Imperial Podere Marzuolo, Tuscany. The Journal of Roman Studies 113, 29-49.

Versluys, M. J. and I. Sluiter 2023. ‘Anchoring: A Historical Perspective on Frugal Innovation’, in: A. Leliveld et al. (eds). Handbook on Frugal Innovation, Cheltenham (UK)/Northampton (MA), 28-42.

Wilkinson, D. 2019. Towards an Archaeological Theory of Infrastructure. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 26, 1216–1241.


The aim of the workshop is to combine and cross-fertilize diverse sources, methods, and locales, to come to a better understanding of how human interventions were anchored in a physical environment. In addition, we will consider the possibility of consolidating the contributions through publication, e.g. a volume in the Euhormos series (Brill).

Abstract deadline

If you are interested in participating, please send your 300-word abstract for a 20 to 30-minute paper to Christian Kicken ( and Rinse Willet ( by Friday March 29. By all means contact us if you want to discuss your topic in advance. We welcome proposals from all disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, and from scholars at all career stages. Based on your reactions we will circulate the programme around mid-April 2024 and look forward to welcoming you in Ravenstein on June 20-21.