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Athena Review  Vol.2, no.4  

Book Reviews

The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World

edited by Richard J. A. Talbert

Princeton University Press, 2000. 175 pp. with 102 colored maps. ISBN 0-691-03169-X. $325.00 (cloth), with CD-Rom.

The Barrington Atlas, the first comprehensive set of maps of Greek and Roman civilizations to be published in over 130 years, represents work by at least 140 experts and consultants in the antiquities field from around the world, plus cartographers and technicians at (formerly Geosystems). Its contents cover geographically every documented place penetrated by Greeks and Romans, and chronologically from archaic Greece to the Late Roman Empire, 1000 BC to ca. AD 640. A CD-ROM map-by-map directory listing is also included.

One major advantage the Barrington Atlas has over previous attempts is the progress made in the field of computer cartography, combined with modern aerial photo and satellite data. The compilers of each map, experts in the archaeology and history of the area recorded, began with satellite data from the U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) and its British counterpart, the DMS. Modern manmade features were removed, and the compilers added the archaeological discoveries and information about ancient coastlines, based on various geological, historical and archaeological data.

Maps were constructed on one of four scales ranging from 1:150,000 to 1:5,000,000, depending on the density of relevant places and structures, and include  topography, geographical features, thousands of place names color-coded by period, major construction projects such as aqueducts, roads, bridges, cemeteries, and the occasional fort.

Supplemental information comes in the electronic directory on a CD-ROM (also available in a two-volume print version for $150), which includes Adobe Acrobat Reader. The directory opens to a table of contents organized by map. Each segment begins with introductory information about the peculiarities of compiling its corresponding map. Next is the directory, a chart with place names listed alphabetically with their locations on the map grid, periods, modern names and locations, and references. Similar charts for each type of manmade structure follow. An extensive bibliography completes the already exhaustive amount of mapmaking detail.

The maps are beautiful, produced in full color and fascinating detail. Thanks to the supplemental directory and the Gazetteer (index), the contents of the maps are easy to locate and reference. This is a wonderful reference volume for archaeologists and historians. A minor problem in clarity is the periodization method. When a feature was active for only one of the five periods (Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, or Late Antique), its name is underlined in the color corresponding to that period. Almost all designations are of the later three periods, which are denoted by purple, red and orange lines. Because of the small font size and some background colors, these are sometimes difficult to differentiate. However, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise exceptional work.

Fig.1: Map section around Marseilles (Massilia), with tax  grid in upper left.

Although the scope of the atlas is broad and previously unattained (including major zones of Roman tax mapping or cadastration, as in the lower Rhone; see fig.1), there is always more to include. For example, few smaller archaeological sites are included, and other data (i.e., findspots of inscriptions, battlefields, and searoutes) were excluded in the interest of time and space. Likewise, most historical events were excluded in the directory introductions, although some compilers have published these independently. Assembling this atlas thus inspired the establishment of an Ancient World Mapping Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to continue the expansion of this project. For more information, visit the Mapping Center’s website at

Abridged from Athena Review, Vol.2, no.4 (p.95).

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