Finding the limits of the Limes

Image project Finding the limits of the LimesThe project aims to apply spatial dynamic modelling to reconstruct and understand the development of the cultural landscape in the Dutch part of the Roman Limes (Figure 1). It focuses on modelling economic and spatial relations between the Roman army and the local population, in particular the interaction between agriculture, animal husbandry and wood management, and the related development of settlement patterns and transport networks in the area.

Spatial dynamic modelling can assist in interpreting past landscape development. It is a computer technique for building rule-based models that will simulate spatial processes – like the development of land use – through time. In this way, cause-and-effect chains will become more transparent. It can also tell us whether developments inevitably lead in a certain direction (path dependence), and if different scenarios produce similar outcomes (equifinality). The Dutch Limes zone is one of the archaeologically best researched areas in the world. It is therefore an ideal laboratory area to construct new models of the development of the cultural landscape.

In the project, we specifically want to investigate at the micro- and macro-level what the impact of certain modes of production (e.g. herding sheep for meat, milk and/or wool) would be on land use and work force. By simulating a range of strategies in hypothesized production scenarios we can better understand to what extent surplus production was possible.

We will also use simulations to investigate the dynamics of population development at both the household and the regional level. This will help us understand the possible effects of recruitment on population growth, and to better estimate the potential workforce that could be employed for surplus production.

Furthermore, an in-depth analysis of the settlement pattern and palaeogeography of the area will inform us about the possibilities and limitations of transport of people and goods in the region, and the possible economic relationships between the military, civilian and rural population.

Basemap Limes
Figure 1. The study area with major Roman sites and palaeogeography

Project details

NWO Vidi project (2012-2016)
Budget: EUR 800,000


Jamie Joyce MA
Project: Palaeo-economic analysis

Mark Groenhuijzen
Project: Palaeogeographic analysis

Dr. Philip Verhagen


Finding the limits of the Limes



Publications 2016

Publications 2015

  • Groenhuijzen, M.R. & P. Verhagen (2015). Exploring the dynamics of transport in the Dutch limes. eTopoi Special Volume 4, pp. 15-46.
  • Verhagen, P., L. Nuninger, F. Bertoncello & A. Castrorao Barba (submitted). Estimating the “memory of landscape” to predict changes in archaeological settlement patterns. Proceedings of CAA2015.
  • Chiarcos, C., M. Lang & P. Verhagen (submitted). IT-assisted Exploration of Excavation Reports. Using Natural Language Processing in the archaeological research process. Proceedings of CAA2015.
  • Joyce, J. & P. Verhagen (submitted). Simulating the farm: a role for the computational modelling of the agricultural palaeoeconomy. Proceedings of LAC2014.
  • Verhagen, P., J. Joyce & M. Groenhuijzen (submitted). Modelling the dynamics of demography in the Dutch Roman limes zone. Proceedings of LAC2014.
  • Nuninger, L., P. Verhagen, F. Bertoncello & A. Castrorao Barba (submitted). Estimating “land use heritage” to model changes in archaeological settlement patterns. Proceedings of LAC2014.

Publications 2014

  • Verhagen, J.W.H.P., Joyce, J.A. & Groenhuijzen, M.R. (2014). Finding the limits of the Limes. IAG Working Group on Geoarchaeology Newsletter 15, 10-15.