Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Commentary on Pleiades

 The Mycenaean Atlas Project is more than just a Bronze Age gazetteer.  It is an accessible viewer for the entire ancient world - and at every period. It accomplishes this goal by integrating several very different data sets.  Here's an example:

The city of Aigion in Achaea as displayed in the Digital Atlas

One of those data sets is Pleiades.  But how do you handle or display a dataset with as many serious defects as Pleiades?  Its deficiencies are of three kinds.  Of Pleiades' approximately 39,000 records about 7,000 have no lat/lon coordinates at all.   As a result, these points cannot be displayed at all and  why they are in the dataset in the first place is a mystery.

Pleiades next problem is the 5,000 or so sites for which the lat/lon pairs are rounded to the nearest quarter degree.  This indefensible practice (and never corrected during the entire 20-year existence of this DB) puts these sites off by about 12 km. on average.  Even worse, it creates about 400 or so 'stacks' in each of which some 10 to 20 sites have exactly the same rounded coordinates and cannot be disambiguated.  (See the example of Boreion, below.)

The remainder 26,000 sites are simply inaccurate.  They are off by about 900 m. on average because this part of the DB was intended for the Barrington Atlas - a printed product in which accuracy, at the given scales, could never be better than a km. or so.  Accuracy is expensive and you never pay for more than you need.  This practice was fine for a printed product but a disaster when moved to the digital world in which representable locations are accurate to less than a meter.  The need to develop precise and accurate data for the digital world is far more urgent than it is for the world of the printed atlas.

When showing Pleiades data in a gazetteer viewer such as the Mycenaean Atlas Project the overwhelming temptation is to correct these numerous errors by adding additional information to the Pleiades data. Providing accurate lat/lon pairs is a chief priority.  The design problem is, somehow, to add that information in a way that new versions of the Pleiades database don't write over what people external to Pleiades, such as myself, have added.  How do we best add and store supplemental and updated information for Pleiades sites and how should this new data be displayed?

What is required is a Commentary on Pleiades.

      To support this Commentary I created a new DB table that would hold any additional information or corrected lat/lon pairs.  A table that is independent of the Pleiades database would not be overwritten by new versions of the Pleiades database.  It would exist alongside the Pleiades DB. And yet the new data in this table could still be connected to the old Pleiades database through the Pleiades id no.  That way if there was an entry in the new table for any specific Pleiades site record my browser would display THAT corrected/additional data instead of the incorrect Pleiades data.  This required that I accompany my new DB table with a new browser page in .html.  This will be the new Commentary on Pleiades page which stands between my viewer and Pleiades itself.  In addition to corrected information this new page maps the Pleiades places to their correct location on a new map instead of to the incorrect rounded quarter-degree locations where they are now displayed.

Design of old and new interaction with Pleiades.

The upper half of this diagram shows the current situation; the Mycenaean Atlas Project takes information from the unmodified local copy of the Pleiades database and displays it.  That display has a button that, when clicked, takes the user back to the original Pleiades page for more information.

The lower half of the diagram shows the new design.  In addition to the local copy of the Pleiades database as before (orange), there is a brand-new table that contains my own contributed material.  On the browser map, when the user clicks the Pleiades icon for more info they don't go to the Pleiades page as before but to the new Pleiades Commentary page that shows the corrected lat/lon pair along with more info and a browser map that shows the icon in its corrected position.  A link on that supplemental commentary page will send the user to the original Pleiades page (dashed line).

This whole process is transparent to the user who will only see the new commentary page when he or she clicks on a Pleiades place for which I have created commentary. 

The new Pleiades Commentary page will look like this (annotations in red):

The new Commentary on Pleiades page (here for Belminatis, Pleiades 570152).

Now I'd like to show a situation in which this commentary is invaluable.

Mt. Boreion in Arcadia is Pleiades 570158.  Pleiades gives its position rounded to the nearest quarter degree like this: 37.25, 22.25.  This is exactly the same position as seventeen other Pleiades sites.  I list them here:

Pleiades grouping 18 sites at the very same location: 37.25 N, 22.25 E.

This sort of practice is common in Pleiades and it must be corrected.  Even a casual user does not deserve to have all these sites shown in the identical location.

I corrected the rounded position of Boreion (37.25 N, 22.25 E) to  37.429300°,  22.342900°.  On the next map I compare my position, Topostext's position, and  Pleiades position:

Placement of Mount Boreion (Attica) in Pleiades, Topostext, and Mycenaean Atlas Project.

I have not adopted Topostext's position here but the rounded Pleiades position (at the bottom of the map) is 21 km. from my proposed location and almost 19 km. distant from Topostext's. 

My Commentary to Pleiades will change all this. If you search for 570158 or 'Boreion' and display it on the digital atlas you will be shown this next page (Be sure to select 'Pleiades' layer from the (not shown) map layer selector on the top right):

Mt. Boreion (Pleiades 570158) displayed in correct position.

The top link in the info box ("Pleiades (S) 570158") will not bring the user to the main Pleiades page for 'Boreion'.  Instead the new Pleiades Commentary screen will be displayed:

Commentary on Pleiades - supplemental information page

My goal for the future is to correct all the locations whose lat/lon coordinates have been rounded.  For the Peloponnese alone this amounts to about 160 such rounded markers.  Presently there are about 150 corrected Pleiades sites (primarily for the Peloponnese) and the work of adding corrections to Pleiades will be ongoing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Pleiades' pages and how to fix them

 How Pleiades pages look:

If ever there was a mutual appreciation society that society is Pleiades.  Look at all the bloviating thank-yous and credits-given on the left side of this window.  No user cares about that and all this extraneous info should be relegated to a secondary page that users can look at if and when they want to.
The map is way too small.  I mean, the map is what it's about, right?  Unless naming the several  Pleiades honchos over and over is the actual purpose of Pleiades ... that couldn't be the real purpose could it?
With respect to the map panel (which is way too tiny to be useful) we're zoomed in so far that context is lost. What can P. do about restoring that context?   Even for a specialist it's easy to forget exactly where we are.  And don't get me started about the annoying zoom-in-from-outer-space (ZIFOS, tm) which is cool and kicky the first time you see it but is actually a time-waster and the fiftieth time makes me -like Oedipus - want to scratch out my eyeballs

How Pleiades pages should look:

In the revised version we've done away with the annoying zoom-in-from-outer-space and settled on a nice large map.   Context which is lost by being zoomed-in is restored with the new spotter map which you see on the upper right.  The spotter map is zoomed out (level 4,5?) so that you can tell at a glance where you are in the world.

All the ridiculous back-scratching, log-rolling, and mutual thank-yous are moved off to one of the tabs on the top.  Users can click on that tab if they want to see whose bright idea this site was but - spoiler alert - they won't.  I left the bibliography off of this new map but there is room for one or a button that will pop the bibliography up on a new window.  New windows for subsidiary purposes are easy to write and not enough advantage is taken of this idea.

And, in fact, now that I look at it, we should lose the right-hand side margin which is crapped up with stuff that could easily be buttons.  How about this:

The new and improved, user-forward, Pleiades page!

Lean and mean.  No wasted space.  User's needs are foremost.  The search field has been moved to where it belongs and is enlarged so as to be actually visible.  Do you see the new Credits button?  No?  Good.

Instead we have something actually useful which is a new bibliography button.  When you click on it you get a simple bibliography page (not shown).  Now if  Pleiades would just fix all the broken bibliography links and then link to something actually useful instead of a Zotero page.

Next, On to Peripleo!  If it ever works.

Monday, November 7, 2022

The Pheneos Plain and the location of Lykouria

The town of Lykouria was only ever notable for the fact that Pausanias once passed through it and there are few or no other mentions of it in antiquity.   Its isolation explains this.  It is set in northern Arcadia, surrounded by mountains, and sitting on the edge of a remarkable karst landscape (the plain of Pheneus) to which there is no easy entrance or exit.  Let's go to the map.

The area of the Pheneos Basin in N. Arcadia.

The Pheneos Basin in more detail.  Lykouria was located somewhere on the southwest edge of the valley, and just to the north of the jagged white line in the lower left that indicates a road.

The Pheneos Basin from the SE and looking NW.  Lykouria was located somewhere by the center left corner of the superimposed line map.

Here's what we know about Lykouria.  In Paus. viii.19.4 we read "One of the roads west out of Pheneos I have still to deal with, the one on the left, which leads to Kleitor, past Herakles Labour, the channel he made for the river Aroanios.  Beyond that point, the road goes down to a place called Lykouria, which is the territorial boundary of Pheneos and Kleitor."[1]

Let's look at each of the bolded names in turn:
Pheneos (ID: F7322): An ancient town of Arcadia situated in the NW corner of the Pheneos Plain.

The hill on which Pheneos was built is in the center of this image.  
Here S is to the lower left.

Kleitor is Pausanias' destination.  What geographical relationship does it have to Pheneos?

This map shows the route Pausanias takes.  He starts at Feneos and travels more or less along the blue line and reaches ancient Kleitor.  The distance is about 26 km; a day's trip perhaps.  The town of Lykouria is somewhere near the end of that first leg just before it bends to the SW and descends into a valley.  Can we be more precise?

In the very next paragraph (viii.20.1) Pausanias says this: "Six miles or so from Lykouria you arrive at the SPRINGS OF THE LADON.  I had heard that the water of the Phenean lake which drops into the pot-holes in the mountains comes up again here to form the springs of the Ladon."[2]

The Ladon is a major tributary of the Alpheios which it joins (at  37.593682° N,  21.820481° E) from the N and just above the complex at ancient Olympia.  The primary source of this river is a spring at F7315.  Here is a user-submitted photo of the Spring.

Springs of the Ladon where they emerge from underground at F7315.
Original  work of Chris Karagounis.  All rights reserved to the creator.

The Pheneos Plain forms a basin at an average elevation of about 750 m. sloping down to about 710 m. at its S end.  Any water that enters the plain (which it does from the N) exits from the south by the way of sinkholes or katavothrai.  The water that leaves the Pheneos Plain reemerges at this spring and from here it becomes one of the major contributors to the Ladon river.  This spring at F7315 has an elevation of 475 m.  The distance to the katavothrai is just about 9 km. or 5.66 miles.  In that distance the waters to the spring fall about 235 m. or 771 ft.  This is about the height of a 72-story building.

So  Pausanias says that the Spring and the town of Lykouria are about 50 stades distant from each other.  All we have to do is work backward from the Spring about 50 stadia and we should be in the region of Lykouria.  So how long is a stadion?  A stadion was a rough and ready estimation of length and it varied from about 157 m/stadion to 209 m/stadion.   I gathered various stadion equivalents from sources around the internet and put them into this table:

These values of m/stadion have a standard deviation of 14.175 m.

I could think of no better solution than to take the average of 185.4 m/stadion.  This would suggest that the distance Pausanias traveled was about 5 and 3/4 miles (9.27 km.)    To confirm that that makes sense let's look at the next photo.

Pausanias's plausible route in green (R to L)

Here we see the territory stretching from the Springs of the Ladon to the edge of the Pheneos Plain.  On this map I traced a plausible route for Pausanias in green.  This route goes to the edge of the plain and it is just a hair over 5.5 miles (8.87 km.).  So this suggests that Lykouria is north of where the green path reaches the plain and south of Louzion (F7321).  Levi suggests that 'Pausanias took roughly the track from LOUZION.' [3]

The ancient town/village of Lykouria may safely be placed somewhere on the SW edge of the Pheneos Plain where it meets the hills and between 37.865 N to 37.879 N longitude which is a distance of 0.94 miles or (1.52 km.)  The total area to search would be about 1 square km. (100 ha.) or 0.39 sq. miles.  It looks like this:

Here I removed the vector-map overlay so you can see what the country looks like.  The orange polygon encloses the 1 sq. km. search area.  The two horizontal lines are the bounds in longitude which I referred to above.

This work was undertaken to improve the guesses of Pleiades and Topostext.  Topostext has the location of Lykouria at the Ladon Springs.  This cannot be because Pausanias has already told us that the Springs and Lykouria are 50 stadia distant from one another.  Pleiades, with their usual carelessness, has placed Lykouria on the other (west) side of Mt. Dourdoubana/Pentelia at 37.90495, 22.230895.  I'm not even going to bother to plot that.

There is a modern town of Lykouria in this area which is 3.8 km. from the Ladon Springs.  It has nothing to do with the town/village of ancient Lykouria.  Frazer, when he comments on viii.19.4, says

"The modern village of Lykouria can hardly occupy the site of the ancient place of that name.  For Pausanias's description of the route to it implies that it was situated in the plain of Pheneus, lower down than the city of Pheneus, and that it was on or near the canal.  Moreover, he says (20. 1) that Lycuria was 50 Greek furlongs (5 1/2 miles) from the springs of the Ladon; whereas the modern Lykouria is only 2 1/2 miles (less than 20 furlongs) from the springs."[4]

As it was so close to the head of the valley leading to the Ladon Spring I wonder whether the business model of Lykouria wasn't primarily to provide guides down the risky descent to the Springs and then on to Kleitor.

In another post, I would like to write more about the karst landscape (or polje) of Pheneos but this is enough for today.


[1] Translation in Levi [1971] 418.
[2] Idem.
[3] Levi [1971] 418, fn. 141.
[4] Frazer [1898] 262.


Frazer [1898] : Frazer, J.G. Pausanias's Description of Greece; Translated with a Commentary by J.G. Frazer. Vol. IV, Commentary on Books VI-VIII., London, MacMillan and Co. Limited. 1898.

Levi [1971] :  Levi, Peter.  Pausanias; Guide to Greece; Vol. 2 Southern Greece.  Translated with an Introduction by Peter Levi.  Penguin Books, 1971.  ISBN: 978-0-14-044226-7.