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Roman Europe

Ancient Rome Brought Back to Life

Edited from BBC News, 12 June 2007

Ancient Rome was brought back to life in 2007 through a unique digital reconstruction project, one which was said to be the world's biggest computer simulation.

An international team of architects, archaeologists, and experts spent ten years working on a real-time 3D model of the city, with the project being known as Rome Reborn. Some seven thousand buildings were scanned and reproduced using a model of the city which is kept in a Rome museum.

Users enter the city at the time of Emperor Constantine (AD 306-337) and can see inside buildings. The simulation takes place in AD 320, which is said to be the city's peak, when it had grown to house a million inhabitants.

'We can take people under the Colosseum and show them how the lifts worked to bring the animals up from underground chambers for the animal hunts they held,' said Bernard Frischer, the project's leader who was then heading Virginia's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities.

The simulation reconstructed the interior of about thirty buildings - including the Senate, the Colosseum, and the basilica which was built by Emperor Maxentius (AD 306-312), complete with frescoes and decorations.

The project brought together experts from the University of Virginia and the Los Angeles branch of the University of California, as well research institutes in Italy, Germany, and the UK.

Technological feat

To create the simulation, digital images were taken of the vast Plastico di Roma Antica model which is kept at the Museum of Roman Civilisation, as well as laser scans of modern Rome.

A panel of archaeologists also advised on how statues and monuments would look if they had not been darkened by pollution. In addition, use was made of ancient maps and building catalogues which detailed 'apartment buildings, private houses, inns, storage facilities, bakeries, and even brothels', Mr Frischer said.

The project was to be used to carry out further research into ancient Rome's way of life and was expected to be updated as new archaeological discoveries were made.

'This is the first step in the creation of a virtual time machine, which our children and grandchildren will use to study the history of Rome and many other great cities around the world,' he said. 'For example, in scholarly literature the Colosseum has a great reputation for being a great people-mover, one in which people could find their seats very quickly. But estimates of the carrying capacity vary wildly from 35,000 to 78,000,' he said.

Talks were understood to have begun with Linden Labs to make the entire simulation available on the internet through the company's virtual world, 'Second Life'.

These 3D animations which were based on the simulation would eventually be made available to tourists to prepare them for their visit to the Colosseum, the forum, or the imperial palaces on the Palatine.

3D image of the Forum
  This is the first step in the creation of a virtual time machine, which our children and grandchildren will use to study the history of Rome and many other great cities around the world

Bernard Frischer
Virginia's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities


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