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Dr Matthew Nicholls


Matthew Nicholls

Ancient Roman architecture and Roman imperial history, ancient books and libraries, 3D reconstruction.

Matthew is now Senior Tutor at St John's College Oxford, after many years at Reading, but retains a connection to the department at Reading to host his research and outreach activities in Classics. These reflect his interest in the political and social history of the Romans and the way that the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities. In particular, he has developed a huge 3D digital model of ancient Rome, which he uses in publications, teaching, public talks, TV, and his popular free online course on ancient Rome, which has reached over 32,000 people around the world. He has also published widely on books, intellectual culture, and public libraries in the Roman world. He is a keen public speaker who has appeared in numerous radio and TV documentaries, and given innumerable outreach, tourist, and schools talks. He has directed Reading's unique City of Rome MA programme for over a decade.

Matthew has won numerous national teaching and research awards including the Guardian/Higher Education Academy Most Innovative Teacher of the Year award, a prestigious National Teaching Fellowship, and a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award.

Matthew believes that it is important for students to encounter the ancient world first-hand, and has therefore helped to organise and lead very successful departmental study trips to Rome. To find out more about my Virtual Rome research project, please visit

Matthew is working on a book on public libraries in the Roman world for Oxford University Press. He is interested in exploring both how these libraries functioned as buildings and as book collections, and also their wider role in disseminating imperial and local ideas of literary culture and political or social identity.

He is also interested in the second century AD doctor and medical writer Galen; a newly-discovered treatise that he wrote on the inadvisability of grief contains wonderful details of the location, contents, and use of library buildings in imperial Rome. Matthew has enjoyed working on this exciting text and hopes to organize a conference where medical and library historians can collaborate further. He has been invited to speak on the subject around the UK and overseas.

More broadly, his research interests include Roman architecture, cities, settlement, and monuments, and the way that emperors and other patrons made use of them.

Matthew has developed an interest in computer modelling as a way of exploring ancient structures and bringing them to life. He began by working on some of 'his' library buildings, such as that at Ephesus (pictured below), and has moved on to an ambitious recreation of the city of Rome in the age of Constantine. This model is constantly evolving, and Matthew uses images taken from it to illustrate various lectures throughout the year. He has been successful in receiving funding to develop the model for possible commercial applications, and has been pleased to see media interest in the project, such as an article in the BBC History Magazine (Feb. 2011).

Outside the lecture hall, Matthew enjoys talking about the ancient world to a variety of audiences including schools, museums and history societies around the country, yacht tours of the Turkish coast, and, last Easter, Radio 4's In Our Time with Melvyn, Lord Bragg (Library of Alexandria). In February 2011 he was delighted to be selected among the AHRC's and BBC Radio 3's 'New Generation Thinkers'.

He also co-teaches the British School at Rome's annual undergraduate summer school, to which Reading undergraduates are encouraged to apply (British School at Rome).


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