Viabundus update 1.3. (St. Gertrude)

On March 17, feastday of St Gertrude of Nivelles, the latest update 1.3 of Viabundus was released. It includes among others the following features:

  • Additional roads were mapped in the German states Hesse and Rhineland Palatinate, extending the mapped area southwards to Heidelberg.
  • The road networks of the German states Bavaria and Saxony, parts of the Czech Republic, and the former German province East Prussia (now predominantly located in the Russian oblast Kaliningrad), which were included in Hansische Handelsstraßen, have been checked for historical accuracy.
  • Reconstruction of the road network of a large part of Belgium and a small part of northern France, predominantly the historical principalities of Flanders and Brabant, together with the inclusion of all towns in the Burgundian Netherlands as mapped by Jacob van Deventer (16th c.) and collection of additional information in this region.
  • Ongoing improvement of nodes and roads in the Netherlands and Denmark.
  • Migration of the database from MySQL to PostgreSQL, which allows the use of the pgrouting package for the route planner, significantly speeding up route calculation.
  • Inclusion of additional stops in the route planner.
  • In cooperation with the World Historical Gazetteer and as a further step towards the Viabundus dataset as Linked Open Data, the nodes have been linked to Wikidata and other datasets where appropriate.
Viabundus 1.3 contains among others the route network for a large part of Belgium and an updated route planner.

Update 1.2 “St. Matthew’s” released

Launch event discussed scenarios of applying the Viabundus dataset

by Nina Dengg, Team Magdeburg

The update covers additions as well as corrections and smaller refinements.

  • The additions include more waterways in various regions: the Rhine from Bonn until Mainz; the Main between Mainz and Frankfurt; the Vistula delta between Gdańsk, Grudziądz and Elbląg; the Daugava between Riga and Polatsk; the Msta between Veliky Novgorod and Vyshny Volochyok.
  • For the former Duchy of Pomerania all towns before 1650 and the routes connecting them have been added.
  • For the Netherlands the number of places has increased, especially fairs, tolls, ferries and bridges.
  • Thanks to our partners of Erfgoed Brabant, a special focus was put on the modern province of Noord-Brabant.
    For Denmark the information for some ferries and settlements have been added and the documentation for the Danish part is now available.
  • We reviewed the roads in Hessen (GER) based on the map of the Geschichtlicher Atlas von Hessen and in Greater Poland and the Polish Crown, based on the Historical Atlas of Poland.
  • From this version on we use a background map as standard, which has been modified to roughly depict the topography of around 1500.
  • The state of research in the various regions covered by Viabundus can now be shown as a separate layer on the map.
  • A “Ready” field in the Edges data model now allows an easier identification of edges that are reliable, because they have been reviewed and corrected for historical accuracy.

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    Waterways in Viabundus, part 1: natural waterways

    Bart Holterman

    Much has been written already about premodern roads on this blog. However, the Viabundus dataset also contains a second important mode of transportation: inland waterways. This series of blogposts will shed a light on the peculiarities of transport over water in premodern times, and focus on the human interventions in the waterways in the form of dams, locks and canal construction. This first part is concerned with natural waterways.

    View of Hann. Münden by Franz Hogenberg (1584). The town was an important staple market, where commodities were transshipped between vessels sailing on the Weser, Fulda and Werra rivers.

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    Viabundus 1.1 (St Nicholas) released

    Ever since the release of Viabundus 1.0 in April this year, the team has worked hard on extending, editing and correcting the Viabundus dataset. The results of this work were released to the public on St Nicholas’ Day, December 6th.

    The most important addition to the dataset is the inclusion of the premodern road system in Denmark, which was celebrated with a hybrid workshop in Aarhus on December 8th. With the addition of the Danish roads, it is now possible to travel digitally as far as the region of Skåne in modern-day Sweden. Credits for the dataset go out to the Danish team Kasper Andersen, Peter Jensen, Casper Skaaning Andersen, Simon Harritz and Emma Klos. Behind the scenes, additional data will be entered about the nodes in Denmark, which will be released in Spring next year.

    St Nicholas saves a ship in a storm (Agnolo Gaddi, ca. 1393-1396)

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    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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