Digital tools

Cicero’s works are rich with information about the ancient world. When we study Cicero, we normally try to communicate our findings in a verbal and linear fashion. We write an argument that our reader scrolls through from start to finish. But a number of digital tools now exist that allow us to convey our findings in different ways — ways which (ideally!) make our argument easier to understand. The ultimate aim of this class is to reach the vividness of the ancient world through a remediation of textual evidence.

There are three main approaches you could consider in developing your digital project: MAPPING, TEXTUAL ANNOTATION, DATA VISUALIZATION. Below are some examples of how this might work. Have another idea? Feel free to pitch it to me.

Update: see the final projects of #newcicero students from Spring 2019.


Cicero’s works are full of geographical information. Here’s a brief demonstration of how you might visualize this kind of information. I use a sample of Cicero’s letters from P. G. Walsh, Cicero: Selected Letters (2008), ch 6: Civil War.

Step 1. Read the letter. Walsh gives you the information you need: e.g., for Walsh Letter 77, you can extract the following basic info:

Cicero letter: Att. 9.11a
Ancient location: Formiae
Date: March 49 BCE
Addressee: Julius Caesar

Step 2. Look up more information about the geographical location, e.g. in this case “Formiae” using

Pleiades will give you more information about the location and links to further resources. Decide what kind of information you want to use for your project.

Step 3. Enter your data into a spreadsheet. For my simple example, I focused on the following categories:

  • Cicero letter
  • Ancient location
  • Pleiades link
  • Latitude, Longitude
  • Date

Step 4. Make a new Google map. Go to, and in the left hand toolbar select “My places.” On the far right select “Maps.” Create a new map.

Step 5. Export your spreadsheet as Excel or CSV. Import this into Google maps. Select how you want this information to be displayed. You can play around with the map to customize: the base map, the icon for the geolocation (shape, colour), the lable of the geolocation. The end result will look a little like this.

This is just a basic framework, but in your mapping of Cicero’s letters you can (and should!) add a lot of other information. Who is Cicero writing to in each letter (Julius Caesar, Att. 9.11a; his family, Fam. 16.11)? Are there any interesting details about where Cicero is writing from, e.g. he writes Fam. 14.7 to his wife, Terentia, while aboard a ship. Does he mention where other people are? (Could that information be mapped too?).

Be creative with it. This approach could be used for many different kind of Cicero works, not just the letters. You could easily apply the same technique to Cicero’s speeches, and even some of the philosophical works.

Resources for mapping:

  • Pleiades project. Online gazetteer of ancient places with authoritative information.
  • Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire. Digital map inspired by Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, with linked data.
  • Topos text. Indexed collection of ancient texts and mapped places relevant to the history and mythology of the ancient Greeks [note: brilliant tool but not as useful for Latinists! :)].
  • Orbis. Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Calculate how long it takes to get from one city to another during different seasons and by different means (by foot = 30km/day, vs. ‘rapid military march’ = 60km/day).
  • Sarah Bond’s collected resources on mapping.


Take a selection of text (or an image) to annotate using the platform Recogito, developed by Pelagios project (@Pelagiosproject). In the context of this class, you can use Recogito to create a dynamic commentary upon a selection of Ciceronian text. Read Recogito’s tutorial.


There are a number of different ways in which you could communicate your research on the Ciceronian corpus visually. One of the tools that we will try out (workshop in wk 6) is Gephi, which provides an interactive visualization and exploration platform for all kinds of networks and complex systems. Caitlin Marley has recently explored the entire Ciceronian corpus using the software programs R and Gephi. The images below come from a blog post written by Marley for the Society for Classical Studies (Nov. 9 2018). You can see the results of her “Digital Cicero” project on the The Big Ancient Mediterranean.

Ryan Pasco (@rympasco, PhD student in BU Classics) has been working on small batch applications of Gephi to Cicero’s letters; and a research project by Pasco with BU undergrad Joseph Salzo is currently underway looking at how a specific historical event in the beginning of 56 BCE can be charted via social relationships in Cicero’s letters.

Update: in week 6, Ryan came to class to do a workshop with the #newcicero students. Afterwards, he wrote a twitter thread recapping his presentation. Read it here:

Not all data visualization has to be done digitally (or even visually). You may wish to take a leaf out of the book of Mona Chalabi, British data journalist (known for publications in FiveThirtyEight and The Guardian), who draws her data visualizations by hand. See her twitter (@MonaChalabi) and especially instagram (@monachalabi). Is there a Chalabi-esque way to express data developed from the Ciceronian corpus?