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MWGrid: Medieval Warfare on the Grid | Arts and Humanities E-Science Support Centre

Medieval Warfare on the Grid (MWGrid)

The MWGrid Project, or Medieval Warfare on the Grid is using agent-based modelling and distributed simulations to explore the military-logistical context of the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. The project is based at the University of Birmingham, UK.

Research Context and Significance

The Medieval Warfare on the Grid project (MWGrid) employs e-science methods and tools to support historical research into logistics of medieval war. The battle of Manzikert (modern Malazgirt, Turkey) in 1071, between the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuk Turks, is the subject of this investigation which involves designing and building an agent-based model of this battle. The defeat of the Emperor Romanos IV at Manzikert has been recorded as ‘the terrible day’. It led to a civil war, which resulted in the collapse of Byzantine power, and paved the way for Turkish settlement in eastern Anatolia. This key event has been previously studied through comparative historical analysis based on documentary, iconographical and material evidence. Due to the limitation of sources and lack of comprehensive analytical methods, the logistics of medieval warfare has generally remained a subject of speculation. Historical research has traditionally focused on pragmatic results of military conflicts, analysing their consequences for the victors and the vanquished.

The emphasis in this research is on the developments leading to the battle of Manzikert. Using agent-based modelling and distributed simulation the project seeks to explore military behaviour and interaction, the organisation and mobility of troops and provision required. Specifically, the project is addressing the lack of consensus between historians on the number of men involved (ranging from 40,000 to the unrealistic figure of 1,000,000) and the route taken by the Byzantine Army when marching to the battlefield. The novel use of a distributed Access Grid analysis, digital terrain mapping, computer visualisation and agent-based modelling, is expected to enhance the knowledge about the ways in which medieval states collected and distributed resources to maintain armies.

This project benefits from the established co-operation of experts in different disciplines, notably History, Earth Sciences and Palaeo-environmental Science, Archaeology and Archaeological Surveying and Mapping. It integrates a number of different approaches to studying the past, using a variety of digital technologies and tools to integrate disparate datasets into a cohesive framework of analysis, with the potential for future applications in related fields.

Background

This project draws on earlier historical and technical research by its leading investigators into medieval warfare. In particular, it builds on an earlier interdisciplinary and international project run by the Medieval Logistics Research Group, supported jointly by the Institute for Archaeology and Antiquity, University of Birmingham and the History Department of the University of Princeton, NJ. The project was called 'Movement, Demography and Warfare' (http://www.medievallogistics.bham.ac.uk/) and was led by Professors Vince Gaffney and John Haldon. Vince Gaffney is Professor of Landscape Archaeology and Geomatics, and Director of the Visual and Spatial Technology Centre (VISTA) at the University of Birmingham. John Holdon is Professor of History and Hellenic Studies at Princeton, he is scholar of Byzantine history with special interest in social and economic history and warfare in late antiquity to early modern times. The project looked at the physical basis of logistics and organisational structures of medieval warfare in three regions of the former Roman Empire, exploring the potential of methods employing digital mapping based on the Geographic Information System (GIS). The project started in 2005 and received funding from the European Science Foundation and the University of Birmingham.

Research questions

The project aims to investigate

  • How the problems of studying early military logistics may be addressed directly by modelling these systems as Multi-Agent Systems (MAS). Specifically, the logistical operation undertaken by the Byzantine Empire in crossing Anatolia prior to the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 is being used as a case study. Some of the identified problems pertain to the lack of historical evidence of the size and behaviour of the armies.
  • The use of high-performance computer infrastructures for parallel architecture for investigating very large MAS simulations.

Impact of research

It is anticipated that the project will offer significant insights into logistics of the events leading to the battle of Manzikert and will thus enhance the knowledge of military history of the Middle Ages. The allocation and consumption of resources for military activities was decisive in shaping the political and economic organisation of pre-modern societies. The results are likely to have significant implications for study of pre-industrial societies in methodological and theoretical terms and will benefit academics with an interest in comparative military history, the cultural role of military organisation and the relationship of historical and modelled data. Parallel simulation computer architectures and software used in the project will be provided for use by researchers and educators, encouraging collaboration between the Humanities and Computer Science.

The results will have significant implications for study of pre-industrial societies in methodological and theoretical terms and will benefit academics with an interest in comparative military history, the cultural role of military organisation and the relationship of historical and modelled data. It will also explore new infrastructures and algorithms for constructing and executing very large multi-agent models, particularly when these models are composed of distributed data and computational components.

Project Description and Outcomes

The project provides an opportunity to re-examine and enhance historical knowledge of medieval warfare, and the Battle of Manzikert in particular, through the use and new development of e-science infrastructure and methods. The novel and experimental nature of this research required the project team to test a number of cognitive approaches and software designs in the project’s first year. Some of these have been rejected owing to identified shortcomings, and superseded by new solutions.

Historical knowledge of the Battle of Manzikert being incomplete, many hypothetical scenarios need to be investigated. Resource allocation is one of such speculative areas. Assuming that the Byzantine army consisted of some 60,000 men, in logistical terms the required provision would have been in the range of some 78,000 kg of rations per day and possibly 33,000 kg of rations for horses. It is known that the Emperor required that double rations were to be carried. Was this feasible? Was there a sufficient supply of water? Would an army of this size manage to march across a terrain whose physical characteristics are relatively well known? In order to assess this and similar questions, the project is constructing a computational simulation system in which the army is considered not as an entity, but a group of individuals (agents). Their possible movement and interaction is being simulated using geographical, meteorological, hydrological and other models. An MWGrid Application Programming Interface (API) 2.0 has been designed and implemented, to support the building of this application. The project is exploring new infrastructures and algorithms for constructing and executing very large multi-agent models, particularly when these models are composed of distributed data and computational components.

Research methods

The project employs interdisciplinary methods in historical research and Artificial Intelligence to collect, digitise, visualise and analyse environmental and behavioural data, some of which are hypothetical. The environmental data provide information, about the terrain, climate, water sources, type and distribution of settlements, infrastructure and methods of transport, production of food and industry, and sources of animal forage. Behavioural data provide information about the weight and size of personal equipment and weapons, including the Emperor’s baggage train; the organisation and composition of the Byzantine army; the health and endurance of the men and animals, as well as information about human cognition, decision making and communication.

In order to better understand these inherently complex and often ambiguous data a simplistic visualisation is used first. Subsequently, more advanced visualisation tools are used to create static and animated renderings of scenery and military scenarios. Active rendering is envisaged in the later stages of the project, using a game engine, to enable data collection and rendering in real time.

Technical research outcomes and issues

This project looks at building infrastructure for the execution of very large multi-agent models of military logistical operations on distributed-memory parallel machines, such as those available on a computational grid. The software engineering process to build and execute models of the kind required by MWGrid has proved significantly challenging. The following progress has been made in the first year of the project:

A sequential MWGrid API 2.0 along with a full manual and functional example models has been completed. A series of small-scale models which are executable in sequential mode have been developed with the aims to test the functionality of the API for realistic MWGrid models and familiarisation of the investigators with using the API for these models. A distributed engine for interface with the API has been implemented, and this was followed by the implementation of iteratively more complex models with the sequential engine. Complex models and the distributed engine were integrated using the e-science cluster at the University of Birmingham for an execution environment. The distributed engine and the models which execute successfully on it have been made ready for migration and full-scale execution on the project’s test-bed machine, the IBM-built BlueBear cluster. The BlueBear is part of the Birmingham Environment for Academic Research (Bear). It was installed in 2007 and currently comprises 1024 cores.

Doctoral research affiliated to the project, conducted by Philip Murgatroyd (http://www.ahessc.ac.uk/Philip-Murgatroyd), concentrates specifically on the behavioural processes and data structure underlying larger applications of the Access Grid. Significant training in JAVA programming has been provided to the project doctoral candidate.

In the project's first year the work involved the creation of a grid-enabled database; collating and transforming data for use within a distributed simulation framework; gathering of grid-enabling data and creation of interface to the simulation kernel; creation of model environment; development of a basic environmental model; further enriching the environment model; creation of behavioural and cognitive models; development of an initial agent-based army model; work on optimal foraging theory; work on cavalry horses and pack mules.

Project website:

http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/mwgrid

Project dates:

1 October 2007 - 30 September 2011

Project partners:

  • Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, University of Birmingham
  • School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham

Project team:

  • Principal Investigator: Professor Vincent Gaffney, Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, University of Birmingham
  • Co-Investigator: Dr Georgios Theodoropoulos, School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham
  • Project Research Fellow: Dr Rob Minson, School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham
  • Project Ph.D.: Philip Murgatroyd, Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, University of Birmingham

Funding Bodies:

The MWGrid project is funded by the UK AHRC-JISC-EPSRC e-Science Initiative (the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Joint Information Systems Committee, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council).

Publications

The project proposal and supporting material are available on the project’s pages, at http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/mwgrid/

For publications by the project team see individual pages:

Vince Gaffney, http://www.arch-ant.bham.ac.uk/staff/gaffney.htm

Georgios K. Theodoropoulos, http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/~gkt/theodoropoulos-publications.html Rob Minson, http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/~rzm/research/

Related Projects

Movement, Demography and Warfare, Birmingham/Princeton Medieval Logistics Group: University of Princeton and the Institute for Archaeology and Antiquity, University of Birmingham, UK, http://www.medievallogistics.bham.ac.uk and http://www.iaa.bham.ac.uk/research/fieldwork_research_themes/projects/logistics/index.htm

V. Gaffney, 'Who's in command here? The digital basis of historical, military, logistics', General issues in the study of medieval logistics: sources, problems, methodologies, ed. by J.F. Haldon, Leiden: Brill, 2005.

Type of project

Military History / war logistics / e-science

Keywords

Medieval warfare, logistics, Byzantium, Manzikert, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Multi-Agent Systems (MAS), High-performance Computing (HPC), Distributed Virtual Environments, visualisation, Distributed Simulations.

Application area

Comparative military history; social, economic, environmental and cultural studies; multi-agent models, data visualisation.

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This case study is based on the project reports and website. It was compiled by Anna Bentkowska-Kafel for the Arts and Humanities e-Science Support Centre (AHeSSC), King’s College London.

© MWGrid Project, May 2009.

Back to e-Science Initiative projects page


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