Old World Trade Routes (OWTRAD):
Notation System

V. 4.95 (Jan 2004)

Dr T. Matthew Ciolek,

Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies,
Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia

Document created: 7 Jul 1999. Last updated: 28 Jan 2004

This document describes notation used in data sets linked to the Old World Trade Routes (OWTRAD) pages.

|| OWTRAD Home Page || Research Rules || Notation System || Data sets || Gazetteer || Relevant Maps || Trade routes' notebook || Sources and Bibliography ||

work in progress - tmc

This version of the document supersedes recommendations of all earlier OWTRAD notations (see below) and the pilot scheme first suggested in Ciolek, T.M. 2000. Digitising Data on Eurasian Trade Routes: An Experimental Notation System (www.ciolek.com/PAPERS/pnc-berkeley-02.html).

The OWTRAD notation gratefully acknowledges advice and critique of (in alphabetic order): Dean Blarer (Idaho State University, USA), Jack B. Owens (Idaho State University, USA),
and the students of J. B. Owens' fall 2002 upper-division undergraduate and graduate course, History 360/560, The Spanish Empire.

The OWTRAD notation system - introduction

The OWTRAD Notation is a set of standard procedures and symbols for systematic extraction of geo-referenceable information present in historical and contemporary sources.

These sources may include written accounts of various length and detail, as well as graphic materials such as maps, drawings, plans and situational sketches. The sources used by the Notation may be very general or very detailed. They may distort geographical distances, or they may represent such information correctly. However, the OWTRAD Notation does not depend on the precision and accuracy of the materials it deals with. The OWTRAD methodology is focused on topological and logistical relationships between various named and unnamed points and locations mentioned in the sources. The Notation captures and records these relationships in a standardised and succinct way. It does so in order to subject the collected information suitable for the subsequent geocoding and mapping.

This version of OWTRAD notation summarizes data about 21 variables. These are:

The current issue of the OWTRAD notation includes latest addenda, modifications and clarifications. These are marked by the red colour.

The OWTRAD notation system - example

The notation handles information about nodes, routes, and users and commodities and a number of other variables, including specialised meta-data ones. For instance, a brief expression referring to one of the lines drawn on a map entitled "The economic life of the Roman Empire" (Stone 1989:91), which forms a part of the "'Times' Atlas of World History":

Carthago,TN,Ostia,IT,nkn,trd,sl,maj,AF00,B000,C000,nkn,d000dd,shp,p004d, 150,230,QC4,Stone 1989:90-91,P000,tmcXMEm0200_030a

identifies and describes

The OWTRAD notation system - format

The objectives of the notation presented below are four-fold. The following OWTRAD terminology intends to capture information originally expressed in a variety of verbal (remarks, descriptions) as well as graphic formats (maps, plans, situational charts) and convert it into a simple, but still intelligible to human eye standardised written expression.

1,2,3 & 4. Departure/Arrival Nodes

Place identifiers

Variable names: NODE1, COUNTRY1, NODE2, COUNTRY2
Meaning: a node, place or other reference point in the terrain which identifies a beginning and end of a given length of road or other communication link.
Example: Arabia Eudaemon,YE : a place in contemporary Yemen, referred to by the source as 'Arabia Eudaemon'.
No of characters used: several chars.
Further details:
This helps to distinguish nodes with identical names: e.g.: When nodes within the boundaries of the same country have identical names, they too need to be clearly distinguished, e.g. Ruda1,PL; Ruda2,PL; Ruda3,PL (please note that for in thic context arabic numerals are less ambiguous, and easier to read than roman numerals: RudaI,PL; RudaII,PL; RudaIII,PL)

Handling of the missing data

Sometimes the source [usually a map, but occasionally a text] suggests existence of a node, but does not name it. This makes subsequent identification of the place and determination of its long/lat coordinates difficult, but impossible. All such unnamed nodes, may be (or not) inhabited places.

In order to keep track of occasional nameless nodes the following system of description and unique numbering should be used

Example: loc04-tmc010213 (= un-named location no 4, abstracted from the source by 'tmc' on an unique date, say, 13 Feb 2001).
No of characters used: 15 chars.
Format: type of node, sequence number, hyphen, 3chars initials, date in YYMMDD format.
Further details:
  • The three lower case characters (e.g. 'iii') are used to indicate the person or data-production center. This is to help to distinguish between various unnamed locations' data collected by various people exactly on the same date, say, 15 Aug 2003, that is on 030815. The date YYMMDD, the time-stamp, is used to generate in a systematic manner unique id numbers for each unnamed node. The three chars 'address space' can accommodate simultaneous input from 17,576 (26 chars * 26 chars * 26 chars) individual researchers.

  • All unnamed land nodes of a given type and consitituting a data set, regardless of the country in which they are located, are to be numbered consecutively, e.g.:
  • All un-named sea nodes (i.e. the sea waypoints) are to use a prefix "sea", and numbered consecutively, e.g.: It is assumed that one data set will no more than 99 unnamed locations, unnamed road-forks, etc. Should, for some reason, the number of unnamed locations be higher, this would mean that the dataset itself is excessively large, and that it should be split in two (at least) smaller parts.

    For further details see the DATAID variable.

    5. Geographical detail of the link

    Variable name: DETAIL
    Meaning: Information about the layout, course of a particular link, or about the identity of one or both of the nodes in question.
    Example: along R.Seine : between staring and terminating node the communication link follows the course of the river Seine.
    No of characters used: several chars. Multiple details are separated by semi-colons ";". A comma "," is never used as a separator.
    The range of values:

    Geographic details of un-named nodes

    Unnamed nodes are annotated, in terse but meaningful manner, observing the usual NODE,COUNTRY,DETAIL sequence of variables e.g. meaning: an unnamed road junction (identified here as frk01-abc000915) in a country called Poland. According to the source data, a node called Milcz is situated NE of the junction in question, Wroclaw is SW of it, and the third node (another unidentified node, this time the node no 7 [i.e. loc07-abc000915] which is NW of the road fork in question.

    6. Usage details

    Variable name: USES
    Meaning: The use of the link in question, the reason why people are navigating it.
    Example: plg : a route used by pilgrims.
    No of characters used: 3 chars.
    The range of values: These distinctions are important. Messengers and traders are, by definition, inclined to select the shortest or speediest routes, whereas pilgrims select the most meaningful (socially, religiously) ones, and explorers (again by definition) are motivated to select the least known and the most challenging ones.

    7. Type of the link

    Variable name: TYPE
    Meaning: Distinction between natural and artificial structures.
    Example: rd : a beaten path, a road, a highway.
    No of characters used: 2 chars.
    The range of values:

    8. Importance of the link

    Variable name: ROLE
    Meaning: Importance or the role of the link, for the particular time-frame, as recorded by the source
    Example: loc : local communication link
    No of characters used: 3 chars.
    The range of values: Note: When a source describes a network of communication links and does not indicate the hierarchy of their importance, it is assumed that all of the stretches of road rank as "maj". When there are two levels of importance of communication links, use "maj" and "sec" terminology. For three levels, use "maj", "sec" and "min" terminology. Use "loc" only when the source is clear that the given road/trail/passage is used solely in the context of a navigation in the vicinity of a given village, city or a valley. E.g. Fuller (1957:231-233) [following Aurel Stein' s field investigations from 1935-36] describes a hidden mountain path taken 331/330 BCE by Alexander the Great, and a portion of his troops, to stealthily bypass defences of the Persian army which blocked the route through the "Persian Gates" (a mountain defile NW of Aliabad). Obviously, such a path should be rated as "loc". Finally, when in doubt, use the "nkn" value.

    9,10,11. Transported Commodities

    Variable names: GOODS1, GOODS2, GOODS3
    Meaning: Main goods which are shipped along the link in question.
    Example: AFDB, BLSG, CIBM : a route used mainly for transport of the dry foodstuffs in bulk (=FDB), but it is also used for movement of silver & gold bullion (=LSG), and construction materials (=IBM).
    No of characters used: 3 times 4 chars each (plus a possibility of the use of an additional 3 digit code to indicate the exact category of the commodity in question)

    The first character indicates which of the transported commodities is the most important one, next comes a three-letter code (or the three-letters plus a three number code) which identifies/describes the commodity itself.

    Commodity/Goods - importance Commodity/Goods - contents The scheme explained below follows, to some extent, K. Polanyi's (1975:145-146) typology of the kinds of goods involved in trade.

    The range of values:
    See also : Superseded codes which were used in the earlier versions of the notation.

    12. Direction of the link

    Variable name: DIR
    Meaning: Information about the direction of flow of the listed commodities or travellers. For instance, medieaval pilgrims travelled from Paris to Tours to Ostabal to Santiago de Compostela, but they did not necessarily take the reverse route on the way back home.
    Example: nkn (i.e. for a route linking a pair of nodes NNNN1 and NNNN2, there is no information on direction in which goods were transported.
    No of characters used: several chars.
    The range of values:

    13. Distance, length of the link

    Variable name: DIST
    Meaning: Information of the physical dimension of the link.
    Example: r017km : 17 kilometres, real measurement.
    No of characters used: 1+3+2(or more) chars.
    The range of values:

    14. Travel Mode

    Variable name: TRAVMODE
    Meaning: The means of transport
    Example: wlk : walking.
    No of characters used: 3 chars.
    The range of values:

    15. Travel Time

    Variable name: TRAVTIME
    Meaning: Time needed to travel a given stretch of distance.
    Example: e008d : estimated measurement, 8 days.
    No of characters used: 1+3+1 chars.
    The range of values:

    16 & 17 Chronological context

    Variable names: EARLYDATE, LATEDATE
    Meaning: The earliest and latest time that given communication link was known by the source to be in use.
    Example: -300 : 300 BCE; 423 : 423 CE
    No of characters used: 3-4 chars.
    The range of values:

    18. Data Quality Tag

    Variable name: DATAQLTY
    Meaning: Overall trustworthiness of the information in the opinion of the collator, a way to rank credibility and precision of various sources. Better data and better sources suggest that a given set of variables should be taken more seriously than one which is a less trustworthy.
    Example: QA1 : information comes from a publication which gives ample (A) detail of its methodology and its own sources; the reported data pertain to a terrain which is under 100 kms across.
    No of characters used: 3 chars.
    The range of values:
  • Letter Q ('q' for 'quality'), followed by a 2 digit alphanumeric code

    Sources vary in terms of the amount of detail they provide about their data (see Table 3).
    Table 3
    Four levels of generality in scholarly and popular publications
    Level of                 Range of                      Type of
    generality              information                  publication
    1st        data + source + context + methodology	   research papers, journal articles
    2nd        data + source + context	                   monographs
    3rd        data + source  	                           overviews, text books
    4th        data 	                                   syntheses, maps, encyclopaedias
    							     [also, newspapers & propaganda]
    For further discussion of issues of information quality and reliability
    see Ciolek 1999.

    Hence the following scheme:

    At the same time, data vary in terms of the amount of detail their offer, that is, in terms of their granularity. Hence the following scheme: These seven values, if intersected, create a twelve-fold matrix
    				QA1 QA2 QA3 QA4
    				QB1 QB2 QB3 QB4
    				QC1 QC2 QC3 QC4
    In the above matrix lower values (i.e. A & 1), both for the sources and provided data, signal information of better quality. The coding scheme has a handy mnemonic function, the digit represents a number of zeros following a kilometer value for the overall size of the study area.

    19. Source of data

    Variable name: SRC
    Meaning: The publication from which information has been extracted. A short reference to the author's name, date and page of publication is given. The reference pertains to the bibliography associated with a given data set. Location of this bibliography is explicitly stated in the set's meta-data section.
    Example: Runciman 1978:184
    No of characters used: several chars.
    Further details: all bibliographical details are provided in the meta-data section of the data-set

    20. Data problems flag

    Variable name: PROBL
    Meaning: A marker indicating whether a particular record is known to contain errors, ambiguities, illogicalities, anachronisms and other complications.
    Example: P004
    No of characters used: 4 chars.
    Further details:

    21. Record and data-set identifier

    Variable name: DATAID
    Meaning: The name of the data set is the name of its file in a particular subdirectory.
    Structure: Author:Geography:Chronology:[SubsetNumber]:RecordSequentialNumber
    Example: pltXMEm0200_001a
    No of characters used: 3+5+(3 to 5)+1 chars.
    Further details: The above procedure generates standardised records with factual information exctracted from historical and other sources. Such records then need to be linked to information about the geographical coordinates (longitude and latitude values, expressed in decimal degrees) of nodes they are identified by. These values are obtained by consultation either with specific raw data and/or by looking up gazetteers listed in this site's section called OWTRAD Gazetteer (www.ciolek.com/OWTRAD/gazetteer-00.html)

    The End

    Return to OWTRAD home page.
    Maintainer: Dr T.Matthew Ciolek (tmciolek@ciolek.com)

    Copyright (c) 1999-2004 by T.Matthew Ciolek. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for use of this document for non-commercial purposes as long as this Copyright notice and a link to this document, at the URL listed below, is included. Information about the uses of the "OWTRAD" material is requested. For commercial uses, please contact the author.

    URL http://www.ciolek.com/OWTRAD/notation.html