The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations

Since it was founded in November 2007, The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations (TOPOI) Excellence Cluster has proven the potential that interdisciplinary cooperation harbours with regard to researching the ancient world. Archaeologists and philosophers, philologists and historians, geographers and other natural scientists are all working together to research the relationship between the development of spatial orders and knowledge in antiquity. As a result of the success of Excellence Initiative 2012, the work can be continued until October 2017.

The issues range from the reconstruction of ancient landscapes by archaeologists and geoscientists and the organisation of spaces from a historical perspective and their description in images and texts to the scientific construction of spaces in ancient philosophy and mathematics. We research the cultures of the Middle East and Mediterranean region from the early high cultures to late antiquity and the early Middle Ages.

At the end of its first five-year research cycle, TOPOI presented its topics and research approaches to the general public in the “Beyond the Horizon” [“Jenseits des Horizonts”] exhibition held at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Over 100,000 people visited the exhibition.

TOPOI pools Berlin’s strengths related to research into antiquity – as the joint research association of the Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, in cooperation with the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Deutsches Archäologischen Institut, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz with the National Museums in Berlin.

In May 2011, this successful model involving interdisciplinary collaboration between the institutes received a permanent structure with establishment of the Berlin Antiquity College (BAK). The BAK’s Berlin Graduate School of Ancient Studies gives TOPOI access to a graduate school whose interdisciplinary programme introduces young scientists to cross-institutional work from the very beginning.

Participating institutions

  • Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Freie Universität Berlin
  • Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities
  • Deutsches Archäologisches Institut
  • Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft
  • Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
  • Technische Universität Berlin
  • Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Additional Information


Prof. Dr. Gerd Graßhoff (HU)
Prof. Dr. Michael Meyer (FU)