Virtual Rome

Dr Matthew Nicholls of the Department of Classics has developed an ambitious digital model of the entire ancient city of Rome.

Rome from overhead, University of Reading, Department of Classic, Virtual Rome projectDrawing on his research and teaching interests in the history and architecture of the ancient city, and digital modelling expertise, the model shows the city as it appeared c. AD 315. It contains thousands of buildings, including reconstructions of all the major monuments (such as the Colosseum, bath houses, temple, Palatine hill, Forum, markets, and imperial fora) and the many square miles of ordinary housing, tombs, and commercial buildings. The model aims to give a view of the entire city, with all the buildings in their proper contexts.

Dr Nicholls is interested in the political and social history of the Romans and the way that the built environments of Rome itself, and Roman cities around the empire, expressed their values and  priorities.

He also has an interest in computer modelling as a way of exploring ancient structures and bringing them to life. This huge, detailed digital model can be used to generate images and animations of the ancient city or buildings within it from any angle, at any time of day or year.  

Aims and objectives

The research potential of the Virtual Rome model is enormous - it can be used, for example, to investigate questions of sight lines, illumination, and routes through the ancient city. For example, this recent article explains how "Roman fragments and digital modelling shed light on urban spectacle" - it shows how using the model to display the stage buildings of Rome's theatres at different times of day helps us understand how ancient shows were scheduled.Circus Maximus and Palatine - University of Reading, Department of Classic Virtual Rome project

The Virtual Rome model is already proving invaluable teaching tool, used for undergraduate and postgraduate courses within the University of Reading and further afield, including on field trips to Rome.

Dr Nicholls has also used the model to illustrate public talks and lectures, giving an insight into the appearance of the ancient city, and involves students at all levels in the research and creation of digital models - a unique opportunity.

The model has already attracted considerable interest from journalists and broadcasters; Dr Nicholls welcomes enquiries. 

Future directions

Dr Nicholls is now working on a model of the local Roman town of Silchester, to which undergraduate students of the University of Reading will be able to contribute as part of their course - a unique opportunity.

He has also worked with students from the University's Department of Typography and Graphic Communication to produce a template for a smartphone app. for Virtual Rome and is talking to publishers about books for the student and tourist markets.

 Virtual Rome - images from the project


Dr Matthew Nicholls

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