[This blog was written by Harry Mawdsley, PhD student on the project.]


Last Wednesday I gave a paper at the Sheffield PGR showcase, an event organised by the History Department where 1st year PhD students were invited to speak about their research. I’ve recently become very interested in the topography of exile; in particular, how the places of banishment can tell us something about the nature of exile, as well as the motivations of state authorities. Consequently, my paper attempted to chart and explain exile movement in one particular barbarian kingdom – Vandal North Africa.

With such an emphasis on space and motion, I thought that it was important – for the sake of the audience – to try and represent this visually. Exile maps (i.e. maps showing the direction of exile movement) are the perfect tool for this: they show the data in a clear and coherent way, and if several are presented together they encourage comparison. Our website already has some good examples, which can be found here. For my paper, I used Google Earth to create a series of maps that exploited the Vandal evidence.[1] This was a relatively straightforward procedure, as my database already contained a wealth of relevant geographical information. With this I was thus able to map exile movement:


Figure 1: Vandal Exiles 429-509

By itself this confusing mess of arrows illustrates very little, other than the fact that exile was a fairly common phenomenon in the Vandal Kingdom.[2] But, by adding additional components, I was able to manipulate this basic image; for instance, including the date of exile to investigate change over time:

Vandals2 Figure 2: Vandal exiles, 429-450


Figure 3: Vandal exiles, 480-509

Clearly, these two bursts of exile produced two very different geographical profiles, and in my presentation these maps were used as jumping-off points to discuss how and why the application of exile developed over the period.[3]

Of course, an argument cannot be made from maps alone; rather, they should be seen as a visualisation tool that complements standard source analysis. Having said that, for me the very process of creating these maps has thrown some aspects of Vandal exile into sharp relief. To provide one example, historians have already suggested that the Vandal ‘persecution’ was limited in geographical scope to the region around Carthage (mod. Tunis, Tunisia).[4] However, when you can actually see the places that Nicene clerics were exiled from, the concentration of sites in Africa Proconsularis becomes all the more apparent. This is without even mentioning the sophisticated statistical information that can be derived instantly from these maps, for instance the average distance of sites from Carthage (36.5 miles if you’re interested).

Hopefully then, I’ve convinced you of the value of digital mapping. We plan to include similar visualisation tools within our clerical exile database, allowing the user to generate their own maps according to their own research interests. These will be more refined than the examples shown above, including additional features such as provincial boundaries and the Roman road network. At the moment we’re still some way off that stage, but I’m glad that my paper gave me the opportunity to explore some of these exciting possibilities.

[1] I am indebted to Hannah Probert, a fellow PhD student here at Sheffield, for her invaluable help when creating these images.

[2] Figure 1 depicts 51 separate exile cases. A third of my exile cases could not be represented in this way due to the lack of topographical information.

[3] This chronological division is dictated by the evidence, as there was a gap in documented cases during the middle years of the fifth century.

[4] See Modéran, Y., “La Notitia Prouinciarum et ciuitatum Africae et l’histoire du royaume vandal”, AnTard 14 (2006), pp.165-85.