RESEARCHERS at Southampton University will be at the forefront of unearthing Europe’s Roman ports after securing a multi-million pound grant.

The university has been awarded £2.1 million by the European Research Council to study a large network of ports stretching from Turkey to Spain.

The Southampton team will be based at the university’s faculty of humanities and will work with others from across Europe on the Roman Mediterranean Ports project, which will see archaeologists carry out fieldwork at eight of the 31 ports, including Ephesus, Pitane and Kane in Turkey, Gades and Tarraco in Spain and Portus and Putroli in Italy.

The project will be led by archeologist Prof Simon Keay and will use satellite imagery and archeological data to study the remaining 23 ports in France, Egypt, Tunisia, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Libya, Israel and Greece.

Prof Keay is leading the project in very close collaboration with ancient historian professor Pascal Arnaud from the Université de Lyon La Lumière, France, and will analyse key Greek and Latin texts to find out more about the ports. His 15 years of re-search into Roman ports has culminated in this project.

Research will last five years and will concentrate on the first two centuries AD, considering the layout, activities, hierarchies and commercial and social connections made between Roman ports.

Experts hope the study will be presented in a virtual environment online, including the university’s archaeological computer visualisations.

Prof Keay said: “We will explore the relationship between these 31 ports and look at how they integrated to form a crucial part of vast trading networks across the Roman Empire.

“They formed one of the world’s most important trading systems, operating at a time when the Mediterran-ean was a unified region.

“By studying these networks we aim to gather a wealth of knowledge about how they operated and why – also helping to set in context how trade was conducted in later historical periods and, indeed, today.

“Portus was Rome’s only real trade gateway to the Mediterranean for most of the Imperial period and vital to the survival of the Empire.”