Viabundus-Edges in QGIS

Kurzworkshop Viabundus und QGIS (auf deutsch)

Viabundus ist in erster Linie eine digitale Karte vormoderner Verkehrswege. Zugleich stecken darin aber noch viel mehr Daten und damit Möglichkeiten, diesen Fundus für eigene Forschungen nutzbar zu machen. Wir möchten in einem gut zweieinhalbstündigen Workshop zeigen, wie man die Viabundus-Daten in der kostenfreien Software QGIS darstellen, anpassen und kombinieren kann.
Der Workshop richtet sich an Interessierte ohne oder mit geringen Vorkenntnissen in GIS. Es werden die Grundzüge des Programms und die Konstruktion räumlicher Daten am konkreten Beispiel erklärt. Der Schwerpunkt liegt auf der Vermittlung des Grundverständnisses von Viabundus-Daten und QGIS-Anwendung. Wer Lust hat, kann dies parallel am eigenen Rechner anhand des vorab bereitgestellten und in der Vorstellung verwendeten Viabundus-Datensatzes nachvollziehen. Es sind hierfür interaktive Phasen vorgesehen. Zugleich funktioniert der Workshop als reine Demonstration. Anhand der Unterlagen ist es möglich, die Schritte später individuell nachzuvollziehen.
Ziel der Veranstaltung ist es, Interessierten einen Einstieg in GIS zu geben und es ihnen zu ermöglichen, einfache Projekte selbst umzusetzen.

Der Workshop findet online via Big Blue Button (über Browser, keine Installation nötig) am Mo., 13.09.21, um 15:30 Uhr statt. Sprache ist deutsch, die Teilnahme ist kostenlos. Anmeldung bitte bis zum 09.08.21 an Angemeldete erhalten Details zur Softwareinstallation und weitere Unterlagen.

Stanley Donwood, Holloway

Include the Artists!

by Niels Petersen, Team Göttingen

When bookstores reopened in Germany after the first anti-pandemic measures, it was the cover of a German translation of Robert Macfarlane’s “Holloway” (“Hohlweg” in German) that caught my eye in the display (it might have to do something with a biased view…). The Artist Stanley Donwood created an image of branches of a multitude of trees, intricately woven around a path. They constitute some sort of tunnel that almost sucks you into the small book.

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Viabundus @ Coding da Vinci

Viabundus @ Coding da Vinci

„Coding da Vinci is the German hackathon for open cultural data. Since 2014 it brings together technophile communities, cultural enthusiasts and institutions of cultural heritage in Germany in order to further unfold the creative potential in our digital cultural heritage.“

What a great idea, we thought, and so we provide our data for the current hackathon #CdVSH2021 that runs from April 24 to June 11 2021. What will a creative mind do with pre-modern roads? Make a game or app out of them? Combine them with one or more of the 54 datasets archives, museums and libraries in Schleswig-Holstein provide?
We are excited, keep exploring!

The presentation of our data.

Here we go: Publication of Viabundus 1.0 on April 19th

Here we go: Publication of Viabundus 1.0 on April 19th

Just as books are read one word at a time, roads are taken one step at a time.
Xuē Xīnrán 薛欣然

Almost four years after the initial idea we want to celebrate with you our first steps on the road and are proud to present where they led us: the publication of Viabundus 1.0

Join us for the roughly 90-minute presentation of the map and database and see for yourself what we made out of our journey so far. We’ll show you how the map and data look like and how you can use them for your research. On Monday, April 19th, 16:00 CEST, via Zoom. Register to get the login here:

The map will be published on, the blog will move to

There is a time when ideas seem to be ripe, for that is what we experienced. From the time on when we started the project we came across quite a lot of similar projects around Europe and the US. While ORBIS already existed, viator-e of Spain is quickly making progress. The Historical Atlas of Poland very recently came to an end, while Viae Regiae is developing at a breath-taking pace. Mapping early France will start soon at St. Andrews, and the World Historical Gazetteer published its first version.

Our aim was to map the trade routes of Northern Europe for the time between 1350 and 1650, where hanseatic merchants were active. The atlas Die Hansischen Handelsstraßen (1963-1968) in the scale of 1:500.000 gave us a scientifically sound and source-based foundation for a first road network. Funding enabled us to get a much higher precision in northern Germany and Denmark and helped volunteers to enter data for the Netherlands. Partners in Finland, Poland and the United Kingdom still offer their help and data. The gazetteer of places along the roads and rivers comprises more than 10.000 entries on settlements, fairs, staples and customs and several elements more.

While applying for a grant we once told the board in an interview: “Well, sure not everything is clear at this stage, but someone has to start and things will find their place”. Unsurprisingly this didn’t convince them then, but the application was successful, nevertheless. It was – and still is – a huge learning process for all in the ever-growing team of researchers with backgrounds in archaeology, history and Geography. Historians had to develop databases, Geographers had to learn about the pitfalls of historical tradition, all had to learn about historical geography. For that reason, the map cannot be “complete” if ever this could apply to a digital map. There is a lot to do to make the platform more open for data exchange and connection, the technology more sound, the content richer. We want to apply all the tools out there. But then, “roads are to be taken step by step” and we will to travel further along that road.

Three babies were born during the project, three weddings and a Ph.D. have been celebrated. But we also mourn the loss of the author of the original atlas, Hugo Weczerka, who died at the age of 91 on March 31st 2021.

What did medieval roads look like?

What did medieval roads look like?

by Nina Dengg, Team Magdeburg

While there has been much writing about travel on roads here at Viabundus, we still haven’t addressed the question of what medieval land roads actually looked like.
In contrast to the road system in medieval cities, where we already have early evidence for paved roads, the medieval country road system was known for its bad condition (if anything is known about it at all). This is certainly due to the fact that, among other things, in most cases they were unpaved, and were therefore prone to change. The circumstance that prominent medieval writers such as Gregory of Tours tend to complain about the bad condition of the roads rather than praise them may have done the rest.
However, the appearance of the roads was highly variable: it depended on the travelers, the type of use, the weather conditions and the seasonal climate. Because of the flexible nature of the paths, in some places the roads fanned up into wide path bundles, which are characterized by several parallel routes in the terrain and also influenced the location of land use and territorial boundaries. Generally, we can at least state that in areas with greater landscape relief and steep slopes, high valley shoulders or terraced edges were chosen to move on, in order to avoid mountainous areas. In most cases, paving the road only became necessary as soon it was used by vehicles that were not suited for using the bare subsoil. For this reason, roads can usually only be attested archaeologically when they were designed for carts or wagons.
In the following, I will show some typical road types that have been uncovered by archaeological finds. Most of them were in use during the Middle Ages throughout Europe and left traces in the terrain until today. However, it must be noted that most archaeological finds of road constructions cannot be dated and thus not all types of roads can clearly be placed into the Middle Ages. Moreover, several road construction techniques were used until Early Modern times or even longer, so remains of old road construction do not necessarily point to ancient or medieval roads.

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The Schenkenschans situated between the Waal and the Rhine on a map with the situation around 1635 made by J.J. Schot, 1649, Atlas van Loon.

Toll Stations along the great Rivers

by Leendert van Prooije, Team Netherlands

A toll levied on shipping traffic on a river is a good indicator of an important trade route. A lord or government had an interest in maximizing the revenue from the toll on the transport of goods. The place for such a toll was therefore logically on a heavily used trade route.
The owner of a toll employed staff to collect the toll or leased the task of collecting. In both cases, a written registration was important. It provided a means of verification to determine whether the revenues paid corresponded with the shipping traffic that had been passing. And to us historians or anyone else interested in trade and transportation today, the registration kept on tolls are a rich treasure trove of information on the details of trade. Who transported when, how much of what, for which owner, from where to where, with which ship type and how much had to be paid? These are just about the questions that can be answered with a toll register. And if you have toll registers available over a long series of years, you can beautifully portray the developments in shipping traffic and in trade flows.

A fascinating resource these toll records.

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Road Testing with Living History

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via

Seneca wrote, and he sure knew what he was talking about. There is no gentle and earthly way to the stars. It doesn’t have to be the stars, though. A saint would do.
The two historians Mai-Britt and Philipp, who have some really nice living history projects running unter the flag of Histo|Faber, found a charter that mentioned a pilgrim from Hildesheim who had been robbed on his way to Nikolausberg near Göttingen in the year 1401. That pilgrim travelled in late January while Mai-Britt and Philipp opted for late August.
In historical accurate dress and attire, especially in specially manufactured leather shoes they made the 100 km (62 miles) in three days. Some of the Göttingen team joined them for the last 18 km. Niels could ask a few questions about wayfinding, the role of the viabundus-map to which we granted them a special access, and how to interpret the experience in terms of historical insight.

historfaber under a tree

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The “Dark Ages” of the Roman Roads

By Nina Dengg, Team Magdeburg

The Viabundus project initially aims to map the Hanseatic road system. It stretched from the Netherlands all the way to Russia and from Denmark to Czechia. One can rightly say that a truly European road system was established and used, not to mention the connections that existed via sea routes.

But this is only the perspective of the Hanse: Pan-European road systems are much older and have connected Europe since Antiquity. The most famous example would be the imperial road system that the Romans maintained, which stretched from the westernmost tips of Europe, along the Mediterranean, including the North African colonies all the way to the Levante during its Golden Age. The clearly organised structure of the Roman road network has attracted much attention from researchers, resulting among others in the ORBIS digital map of Roman roads, which has been an important source of inspiration for the Viabundus project.

But what happened to this expansive road system? How come we can see the remains of Roman roads quite clearly until today in certain places, while in others they seem to have disappeared completely? The following thoughts are derived from my master’s thesis in which I worked on the (dis)continuity of the Roman road network in northern Italy, the Alps and southern Germany.

The Roman road system. Map by Furfur (German localization (with minor changes) of the original by Andrei Nacu) – Wikimedia Commons.

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Disease control and pre-modern travelling

By Bart Holterman

During the current pandemic, it has become clear that viruses are spread all the more quickly by human movement. Among the first measures taken to stop the spread of the Corona virus were travel restrictions, eventually resulting in the lockdown of entire countries. Interestingly, the reaction of governments to epidemics has many parallels in pre-modern times. Despite the modern advances in medical knowledge, the basic factors are still the same: human contact, especially combined with frequent long-distance travel connections, significantly stimulates the spread of diseases. Although pre-modern authorities did not understand the mechanisms behind infections well, it was clear that social distancing and travel restrictions greatly reduced the chance that diseases would spread. Not for nothing the term quarantaine is derived from a medieval measure first taken in Venice during the Black Death, where merchant ships arriving to the city that were suspected of being plague-infected would have to wait 40 days (Italian: quaranta giorni) in isolation before being allowed to enter the city.

Death as a cart driver. Detail from Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death (c. 1562).

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Inns: tiny but indispensable

By Maartje A.B. (Radboud University; Viabundus Team The Netherlands)

The nodes on our Viabundus map come in all shapes and sizes. Among the tiny ones are inns. They could be a single house in the middle of nowhere, and yet function as crucial elements in our road system. The presence of an inn along a road could determine whether it was still possible to continue the journey, even though the next town could not be reached before darkness, and thus influence travel time. However, the exact location and the history of inns are often hard to identify, and therefore we cannot claim to present a complete set at the end of the project. The end result we aim for will rather be a solid basis for further research, in which especially inns laying outside towns between 1350 and 1650 are incorporated as much as currently possible.

In April, I wrote a blog post about inns on the Dutch blog of my dissertation project ‘Mirror of mutual relations: communication between Hanseatic cities (ca 1450-1650)’, with examples related to the area central to this research: the region around the rivers Rhine, Meuse, Waal and IJssel. On my project blog, I share research results, interesting finds, and project-related activities. What follows is a translation of this blog post, showing why inns are fascinating places worth bearing in mind in different types of historical research.

A typical inn in a village, according to J.W. van Petersen, because of the sign and trough (ca 1800, anonymus) in: Reizen is tol betalen, p. 123.
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