GIS technology verifies Caesar and Helvetii history

May 22, 2014 by Geoff Vivian
According to Caesar, more than a quarter of a million Helvetii were settled in the Swiss plateau before they decided to abandon their territory and invade Gaul in 58 BCE. Credit: Thomas Whitley

An international team is using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) modelling to assess Julius Caesar's account of his war with a Celtic tribe.

According to Caesar, more than a quarter of a million Helvetii were settled in the Swiss plateau before they decided to abandon their territory and invade Gaul in 58 BCE.

In his Gallic Wars he says the Helvitii were running out of food.

UWA archaeologist Tom Whitley is developing a GIS model to test Caesar's population estimate and is testing geophysical techniques to see if they can detect signs of the migration and war.

He is using the GIS to model a large scale economic system focussing on subsistence; looking at local wild and agricultural sources of available in the environment.

The model tests Caesar's assertions against the amount of calories that would have been available to the people if they had completely populated the territory.

"Does that in fact reflect what he was saying, that there was a stress on the amount of energy that's available versus how many people are there to use it?" Professor Whitley says.

"Or does it look like he's exaggerating his numbers to make it look like he defeated more people than actually he did?"

Prof Whitley says using the historical account, ecological and archaeological data allows him to construct detailed models of a complex .

"If we try to reconstruct what was going on from the alone when we have just a very fragmentary record, we don't know exactly how this mechanism is operating," he says.

"So with computer simulation we can simulate different kinds of effects and what the results were."

Part two of study investigates Roman war impressions

The other part of the study aims to find specific archaeological signatures for the war, such as Roman riverfront fortifications, using untested techniques.

"Some of the GIS modelling is intended to say where it is likely that the Romans would have been building these structures," he says.

"Can we simulate what that past environment looked like where people were likely to have crossed and … go to those locations and see if we can find them?"

They are also testing the effectiveness of ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry and aerial photogrammetry, to see if the massive Helvetian encampments can be identified on what are now vinyards and small farms.

Vinyards contain wire and metal posts, making magnetometry impractical, and radar can only be used in strips between the vines.

Explore further: More than two dozen articles provide insights on mummies

More information: A translation of "Caesar's Gallic Wars" is available online: classics.mit.edu/Caesar/gallic.html

Related Stories

Rethinking the fall of Rome's republic

Nov 09, 2011

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon -- a river in northern Italy -- in 49 B.C., leading what was effectively his own personal army, he triggered a set of changes that resonated through the ancient world ...

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

Apr 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Recommended for you

More than two dozen articles provide insights on mummies

21 hours ago

In a special issue, The Anatomical Record ventures into the world of human mummified remains. In 26 articles, the anatomy of mummies is exquisitely detailed through cutting edge examination, while they are put in historical, archeo ...

The Bronze Age Egtved Girl was not from Denmark

May 21, 2015

The Bronze Age Egtved Girl came from far away, as revealed by strontium isotope analyses of the girl's teeth. The analyses show that she was born and raised outside Denmark's current borders, and strontium ...

Oldest-known stone tools pre-date Homo

May 20, 2015

Scientists working in the desert badlands of northwestern Kenya have found stone tools dating back 3.3 million years, long before the advent of modern humans, and by far the oldest such artifacts yet discovered. ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Jim Horn
not rated yet May 24, 2014
Inaccurate headline as it implies to many that the project has achieved its goal. More correct would be "GIS to Test Caesar's Account of the Helvetii

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.