Beyond the purple plots. Towards a dynamic perspective on imperial formations of the past
Johannes Preiser-Kapeller

, par Jean-Michel Colas

Vendredi 30 avril 2021, 16h-19h
Visioconférence :
Par téléphone : +33 187 210 241
Code d’accès : 906-762-757

Conférence dans le cadre du séminaire « Géographie historique et géoarchéologie »

Johannes Preiser-Kapeller

Institute for Medieval Research, Division of Byzantine Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Beyond the purple plots. Towards a dynamic perspective on imperial formations of the past

Popular perceptions of empires are still shaped by their cartographic representation as vast assemblies of territory in loud colours. More recent studies of geography, however, have argued for more “cobwebby” spatial manifestations of imperial rule as “series of nodes (population centres and resources) joined through corridors (roads, canals, rivers)”.[1] Historians have introduced the concept of “imperial ecology”, defined as the “particular flows of resources and population directed by the imperial centre” on which its success and survival depended[2] ; and environmental scientists have proposed various tools to survey and analyse these flows of the “social metabolism” of a society or urban community.[3] Furthermore, empires have been characterised as “regimes of entanglements”, in which certain structural and habitual circumstances – principles, rules, standards and mutual expectations – allow for the establishment of enduring long term linkages through the mobility of people, goods and ideas.[4]
This paper combines these approaches with tools of social network analysis and digital cartography in order to explore more patchy spatial manifestations and dynamic “fluidities” of imperial formations. It presents case studies based on a single text as well as some using large-scale historical and archaeological data sets, comparing imperial connectivity and mobility for the Roman, Byzantine and Chinese Empires in the late antique and medieval period.[5] Thereby, it aims at “Moving Byzantium” as well as other polities of the past.[6]

[1] Smith, Monica L. (2005) : Networks, territories, and the cartography of ancient States, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 95(4), 2005, pp. 832–849 ; Smith, Monica L. (2007) : Territories, corridors, and networks : A biological model for the premodern State, Complexity 12(4), 2007, pp. 28–35.

[2] White, Sam : The Climate of rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire, Cambridge 2011.

[3] González de Molina, M. and Toledo, V.M. : The social metabolism : A socio-ecological theory of historical change, Heidelberg and New York 2014 ; Schott, Dieter : Urban development and environment, in : Agnoletti, Mauro and Neri Serneri, Simone (eds.) : The basic environmental history, Heidelberg 2014, pp. 171‑198

[4] Schuppert, Gunnar Folke : Verflochtene Staatlichkeit. Globalisierung als Governance-Geschichte, Frankfurt am Main 2014, p. 29.

[5] See for example : Preiser-Kapeller, Johannes : Networks and the Resilience and Fall of Empires : a Macro-Comparison between the Imperium Romanum and Imperial China, Siedlungsforschung : Archäologie – Geschichte – Geographie 36 (2020), pp. 59-98 ; Preiser-Kapeller, Johannes : Small Worlds of Long Late Antiquity. Global entanglements, trade diasporas and network theory, in : Guidetti, Fabio and Katharina Meinecke (eds.), A Globalised Visual Culture ? Towards a Geography of Late Antique Art, Oxford 2020, pp. 357-379.

[6] For the “Moving Byzantium”-project see


Responsable : Anca Dan