Monday, October 10, 2016

Open Dataset: roman-amphitheaters

Edited by Sebastian Heath


roman-amphitheaters is a dataset published in conjunction with figures and discussion that has the goal of facilitating the study of amphitheaters in the Roman world. For the purposes of this project the category 'Roman amphitheater' comprises relatively large and public Roman-period oval buildings with rows of seating arrayed around a similarly oval surface, or arena, on which a variety of entertainments - such as animal hunts, executions, and gladiatorial combat - took place. The most famous example of this building type, and also the largest, is the Flavian Amphitheater, or Colosseum, in Rome. Construction of that edifice began under the emperor Vespasian (d. AD 79) and entered full and regular use during the reign of his son Domitian (d. AD 96). It is important to note that of the three broad categories of activity that took place in amphitheaters, none of them took place only in amphitheaters. Therefore this dataset is not a complete map of any single Roman behavior. While it is the case that amphitheaters are distinctly 'Roman' given that they do not appear outside the territory of the Empire, they cannot be said to be a necessary component of Roman culture given that their distribution is very unequal in the territory that was firmly under imperial control. The publication of this dataset, and of the figures that use it, is intended to explore this tension between amphitheaters as a regular but not necessary or universal feature of Roman presence in the regions that Rome conquered.

The Dataset

The primary version of the data is the geojson file 'roman-amphitheaters.geojson', which can be rendered as a map by a variety of freely-available tools. Other data files are derived from that geojson.

Like much information related to the Roman Empire, and to antiquity more generally, it is unlikely that any single listing of structures can achieve universal recognition as being either complete or finished. While there are over 200 structures that are uncontroversially recognized as within the category, others are not so easily included or rejected. In this dataset, so-called 'Gall-Roman' amphitheaters that combine features of theaters and amphitheaters are, or will be, included. Theaters that were later converted for display of gladiatorial combat are not.

Wikipedia's list of Roman amphitheaters at was an early source for the initial versions of this list. Tom Elliott added data from the Pleiades Project. In summer 2015, D. Bennett added orientation and other data. The full history of edits and contributions are available in the history of this github repository.
For users interested in acquiring just the current version of this resource, it should be sufficient to download the zip archive from That file will be smaller than the full repository...

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