Winston Churchill Praises the Virtue of “Brevity” in Memos to His Staff: Concise Writing Leads to Clearer Thinking

George Orwell and Winston Churchill didn’t agree on much. For example, while Orwell wrote with deep sympathy about coal miners in The Road to Wigan Pier, Churchill, as home secretary, brutally crushed a miner’s strike in Wales. Orwell’s early years as “an apparatchik in the last days of the empire… left him with a hatred of authority and imperialism,” writes Richard Eilers. Churchill was a committed imperialist all his life, instrumental in prolonging a famine in British India that killed “at least three million people.”

Importantly for history’s sake, they agreed on the need to confront, rather than appease, the Nazis, against both the British left and right of the 1930s. “At a time not unlike today,” says journalist Tom Ricks, “when people were wondering whether democracy was sustainable, when a lot of people thought you needed authoritarian rule, either from the right or the left, Orwell and Churchill, from their very different perspectives, come together on a key point. We don’t have to have authoritarian government.”

Maybe somewhat less important—but strenuously agreed upon nonetheless by these two figures—was the need for clear, concise prose that avoids obfuscation. In Politics and the English Language—an essay routinely taught in college composition classes—Orwell describes politically misleading writing as overstuffed with “pretentious diction” and “meaningless words.” These are, he writes, signs of a “decadent… civilization.” Churchill has had at least as much influence as Orwell on a certain kind of political writing, though not the kind most of us read often.

In 1940, Churchill issued a memo to his staff titled “Brevity.” He did not express concerns about creeping fascism in bureaucratic communiques, but decried the problem of wasted time, “while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.” He ends up, however, saying some of the same things as Orwell, in fewer words.

I ask my colleagues and their staffs to see to it that their Reports are shorter.

  1. The aim should be Reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs.
  2. If a Report relies on detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an Appendix.
  3. Often the occasion is best met by submitting not a full-dress Report, but an Aide-memoire consisting of headings only, which can be expanded orally if needed.
  4. Let us have an end of such phrases as these: “It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations…,” or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect…." Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.

Reports drawn up on the lines I propose may at first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.

The message “cascaded through the civil service,” writes Laura Cowdry at the UK National Archives. A 1940 article in the Times picked up the story. But the problem persisted, as it does today and maybe will till the end of time (or until machines start to do all our writing for us). Frustrated, Churchill issued another admonition, shorter even than the first, in 1951.

Official papers are too long and too diffuse. In 1940 I called for brevity. Evidently I must do so again. I ask my colleagues to read what I wrote then… and to make my wishes known to their staffs.

These memos, Cowdry notes, “may shed some light onto government communications work of the past,” and on the Churchillian style that may have taken hold for decades in government documents, as well as—of course—far beyond them. His emphatic statements also articulate “key elements of good communication that would resonate with the thinking of any modern communicator,” whether Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, or Cormac McCarthy, who has become a sought-after scientific editor for his strict minimalism.

Churchill did not seem overly concerned with wordiness as a political problem. Orwell did not approach the problem philosophically. That task fell to the Logical Positivists of the early 20th century. In his attempt to explain the wordiness of both undergraduates and world-renowned thinkers, “neo-Positivist” philosopher David Stove goes so far as to ascribe overwriting to “defects of character… such things as an inability to shut up; determination to be thought deep; hunger for power; fear, especially the fear of an indifferent universe….”

Something to consider, maybe, when you’re looking at your next draft email, Facebook comment, or Slack message, and wondering whether it actually needs to be an essay….

via Bob Rae

Related Comment:

George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose

Novelist Cormac McCarthy Gives Writing Advice to Scientists … and Anyone Who Wants to Write Clear, Compelling Prose

Kurt Vonnegut Explains “How to Write With Style”

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Divine Decks: A Visual History of Tarot: The First Comprehensive Survey of Tarot Gets Published by Taschen

The cards of the tarot, first created for play around 600 years ago and used in recent centuries for occult divination of truths about life, the universe, and everything, should by all rights be nothing more than a historical curiosity today. Yet something about the tarot still compels, even to many of us in the ever more digital, ever more data-driven 21st century. Taschen, publisher of lavish art and photo books, know this: hence, as we featured last year here on Open Culture, products like their box-set reissue of the tarot deck designed by Salvador Dalí. (There must be a meaningful overlap between Taschen's demographic and Dalí's fans, given that the publisher more recently put out the most complete collection of his paintings between two covers.)

Dalí isn't the only artist whose interpretations of the Fool, the Hierophant, the Lovers, the Hanged One, and the other arcana have graced a tarot deck. H.R. Giger, the artist responsible for the biomechanical creepiness of Alien, designed one in the 1990s; more recently, we've featured decks illustrated with visions inspired by the novels of Philip K. Dick and David Lynch's Twin Peaks.

But all these together — even including the "Thoth deck" designed by occultist Aleister Crowley and the Sola-Busca deck, the earliest known complete set of tarot cards — represent only a small fraction of the story of tarot's place in the past six centuries of civilization. That story is told, and more importantly shown, in Taschen's new book Divine Decks: A Visual History of Tarot.

The first volume in Taschen's "Library of Esoterica," the book "gathers more than 500 cards and works of original art from around the world in the ultimate exploration of a centuries-old art form." An image gallery on Taschen's web site gives a small sampling of the range of tarot decks found within, including ones created in 1930s England, 1970s Italy, and 2010s Brooklyn. One was intended as a promotional item for an American paper company in the 1960s; another, with different purposes, announces itself as the "Black Power Tarot." This in addition to such well-known examples as Crowley's Thoth deck and the venerable Sola-Busca, both lushly reproduced in its pages. And the tarot lives on, as I'm reminded whenever I pass one of the many storefronts here in Seoul offering tarot readings. In any case, it's certainly come a long way from 15th-century Europe. You can get a copy of Divine Decks: A Visual History of Tarot on Taschen's website.

Related Content:

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H.R. Giger’s Tarot Cards: The Swiss Artist, Famous for His Design Work on Alien, Takes a Journey into the Occult

The Tarot Card Deck Designed by Salvador Dalí

The Thoth Tarot Deck Designed by Famed Occultist Aleister Crowley

Twin Peaks Tarot Cards Now Available as 78-Card Deck

Philip K. Dick Tarot Cards: A Tarot Deck Modeled After the Visionary Sci-Fi Writer’s Inner World

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

View 250,000 British Paintings & Sculptures Free Online

A little over four years ago, discriminatory and arbitrarily confusing travel bans descended on the U.S., tearing refugee families apart and leaving thousands in diplomatic limbo. This seemed nightmarish enough at the time. But it took a viral pandemic to bring travel bans and restrictions down on the entire world, more or less, with countries appearing on bulletins that vaguely look like lists of enemies on governing bodies’ websites, including the CDC's.

Likewise, almost all 27 countries that comprise the European Union are currently disallowing U.S. travelers, with the exception of Croatia,” Mary Claire Patton reports. The UK has also kept its ban on U.S. citizens in place. All this is to say, to fellow citizens and residents of any gender, that the days of traipsing around the world for Instagram impressions, or saving and scraping for that vacation honeymoon, or making even more important journeys, may be on hold indefinitely.

Fortunately, art galleries worldwide have been preparing their collections for independent lives online, with ultra-high-resolution photography; materials that rarely appear on view in any form; and more context than visitors typically get on a guided tour.

Would-be visitors keen on public art collections will find their niche online at Art UK, a charity project that is digitizing “more than 150,000 publicly owned sculptures in Great Britain by the end of 2020,” writes Mental Floss, including many sculptures living their lives out in public spaces.

Art UK seem to be lagging a bit behind on the sculpture posts, and they are light on the context, but a few big things have happened since they made the announcement in February 2019. In any case, you will not have to travel to a Nando’s eatery in Harlow to see Rodin’s Eve, originally created for his Gates of Hell in Paris. (Not that one wouldn’t want to go to Harlow, which “also displays works by acclaimed artists such as Henry Moore, Elisabeth Frink, Barbara Hepworth and Lynn Chadwick,” Mark Brown points out at The Guardian.)

The over twenty-five thousand public UK sculptures documented in the database so far are already impressive enough. Oh, and did we mention that the foundation had already previously digitized over two-hundred thousand oil paintings between 2003 and 2012? These are also all paintings owned by the UK public “from over 3,000 locations,” Katey Goodwin writes for Art UK. “This is the only project of its kind in the world to create a complete online catalogue of every oil painting in a national collection.”

These include the requisite doting and revealing portraits of lords, ladies, merchants, worthies, and bureaucrats. They also include brilliant oil paintings like David Hepher's Night Flats, whose title and faraway lonesomeness evoke Edward Hopper. Furthermore, not all portraits of British worthies fit the stereotype, as Colin Colahan's 1933 arresting likeness of English actress Marie Ney demonstrates.

You can read more about the process of bringing this work online in Goodwin’s essay, which also lists the national organizations and museums from which the collection draws. These are “located throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the crown dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.” Visit Art UK themselves here to see their photographic archive of publicly-owned painting, sculpture, and other visual media in the UK—now publicly available online around the world to people indefinitely banned from visiting the art in person.

For a wealth of other free art, visit this page on our site: Visit 2+ Million Free Works of Art from 20 World-Class Museums Free Online.

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The British Museum Puts 1.9 Million Works of Art Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Get the Ancient Roman Look: A Hair & Makeup Video Tutorial

Remember early April, when we threw ourselves into the Getty Challenge, turning ourselves into historic art recreations in lieu of climbing the walls?

Seems like ages ago, doesn’t it, that you wrapped a shower curtain around your head and rifled through the button box, rabid to make yourself into a masterpiece.

While it’s not accurate to say we’ve collectively settled into a new normal, many of us have accepted that certain alterations to our everyday lives will be prolonged if our everyday lives are to proceed.

First it was depressing.

Now it’s just boring (with the occasional thrum of anxiety).

Perhaps it’s time to shake things up a bit, and Crows Eye Productions’ tutorial on achieving an Ancient Roman look using modern hair and beauty products, above, is an excellent place to start.

While Crows Eye specializes in building historically accurate period dress from the unmentionable out, it’s worth noting that stylist Liv Free takes a few liberties, adding a bit of mascara and lipstick despite a dearth of evidence that Roman women enhanced their lips or lashes.

She also uses curling irons, ponytail holders, and a hair donut to create a crown of ringlets and braids.

If you’re a stickler for authenticity who won’t be able to live with yourself if you’re not sewn into your hair style with a bone needle, you may be better off consulting the YouTube channel of hair archeologist Janet Stephens.

But, if your goal is merely to wow your co-workers with a full-on Flavian Dynasty look during your next Zoom call, by all means grab some pale lead-free foundation, some expendable Hot Buns, and some light blush.

Don’t worry that you’ll appear too done up. Free notes that Roman women of both high and low birth were devoted to makeup, but in deference to their men, limited themselves to the natural look.

That’s a tad anachronistic, huh?

These days, anyone who wants to remake themselves in the image of Empress Domitia Longina should feel free to take a crack at it, irrespective of gender, race, or extra hands to help with the parts of the hairstyle you can can’t see in the mirror (or a Zoom window).

Once we have mastered our new look, we can see about another museum challenge. Here’s some inspiration to get us started.

Related Content:

How a Baltimore Hairdresser Became a World-Renowned “Hair Archaeologist” of Ancient Rome

Roman Statues Weren’t White; They Were Once Painted in Vivid, Bright Colors

How to Bake Ancient Roman Bread Dating Back to 79 AD: A Video Primer

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Professor Who Picked Every Election Winner Since Ronald Reagan Reveals His Prediction for the 2020 Election

The New York Times writes: "Right now, polls say Joe Biden has a healthy lead over President Trump. But we’ve been here before (cue 2016), and the polls were, frankly, wrong. One man, however, was not. The historian Allan Lichtman was the lonely forecaster who predicted Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016 — and also prophesied the president would be impeached. That’s two for two. But Professor Lichtman’s record goes much deeper. In 1980, he developed a presidential prediction model that retrospectively accounted for 120 years of U.S. election history. Over the past four decades, his system has accurately called presidential victors, from Ronald Reagan in ’84 to, well, Mr. Trump in 2016.

In the video Op-Ed above, Professor Lichtman walks us through his system, which identifies 13 “keys” to winning the White House. Each key is a binary statement: true or false. And if six or more keys are false, the party in the White House is on its way out"

No spoilers from us. You have to watch until the end.

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Roald Dahl Gives a Tour of the Small Backyard Hut Where He Wrote All of His Beloved Children’s Books

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryThe BFGThe WitchesMatilda: Roald Dahl wrote these and all his other beloved children's books in a hut. Just fifteen feet long and ten feet wide, it served him for 35 years as an office in which no meetings were held and no calls taken. For four hours a day, broken into two-hour morning and afternoon sessions, it was just Dahl in there — Dahl and his paper, his pencils, his sharpener, his coffee, his cigarettes, his increasingly eccentric collection of artifacts from his own life, and here and there the occasional spider web and goat dropping. It was all part of an effort, explains Dahl's biographer Jeremy Treglown, "not only to recreate his own early childhood but to improve on it."

"As a boy in the 1920s," Treglown writes, "Roald used to hide up in a tree in order to write his diary." But the hut, constructed right behind his Buckinghamshire home, "was a more substantial place to work, where he could commemorate, and fantasize about, his past."

On his side were items like "his father's silver and tortoiseshell paper knife," a "tablet fragment with a cuneiform inscription found in Babylon" — a souvenir from his time in the King's African Rifles — and, "saved from operations," pieces of his own femur and spine. In his hut, Dahl wrote "surrounded by these fetishes, snugly wrapped in a sleeping bag, sitting in an old armchair, his feet on a trunk which was filled with blocks and tied to a leg of the chair, to prevent it from slipping."

"I couldn't possibly work in the house, especially when there used to be a lot of children around," says Dahl in the 1982 clip at the top of the post as he approaches his hut. "Even when there aren't children, there are vacuum cleaners and people bustling about." He then goes in to demonstrate his writing routine, which involves the pouring of coffee, sharpening of precisely six pencils "to a fierce point" (a step that had its own procrastination value), the brushing away of the previous day's eraser dust (onto the floor, where it has remained ever since), and the situation with the armchair and sleeping bag. "Finally you get settled, you get into a sort of nest, you get really comfortable," Dahl says. "And then you're away."

The footage also includes views of Dahl's much more traditionally well-appointed main house, including its billiards table around which he and his local friends would gather for a twice-weekly session. The game had its influence on Dahl's writing life, and indeed his writing hut. Among his "snooker pals" was builder Wally Saunders, whom Dahl hired to put it up in the first place (and whose formidable stature and ear size would, nearly thirty later, inspire the title character of The BFG). As he explains on the British Children's program Going Live, he even covered his handmade wooden writing surfaces, which he placed across the armrests of his chair, with green baize, a material he found easy on the eyes.

When Dahl died in 1990, his writing hut went untouched for two decades. But eventually, as explained in this ITV News clip, the simple building couldn't withstand further exposure to the elements. So began the project to move the interior of the hut, eraser dust and all, to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire. Luckily for Wes Anderson, this happened after he came to Dahl's home to seek permission to adapt The Fantastic Mr. Fox from the writer's widow Felicity. So compelling did she find Anderson's vision that she even allowed him into the "hallowed writing hut," the ideal space in which to commune with Dahl's spirit. The hut may now no longer be whole, but that same spirit continues to course through the imaginations of generation after generation of young readers.

Related Content:

Read a Never Published, “Subversive” Chapter from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

When Roald Dahl Hosted His Own Creepy TV Show Way Out, a Companion to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone (1961)

The Recipes of Iconic Authors: Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, the Marquis de Sade & More

Roald Dahl, Who Lost His Daughter to Measles, Writes a Heartbreaking Letter about Vaccinations: “It Is Almost a Crime to Allow Your Child to Go Unimmunised”

The Daily Habits of Famous Writers: Franz Kafka, Haruki Murakami, Stephen King & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A Physicist Examines the Scientific Accuracy of Physics Shown in Major Movies: Batman, Gravity, Contact, Interstellar, Star Trek & More

Ever had a friend who cannot bring themselves suspend disbelief? It’s not a moral failing, but it can be a tedious quality in situations like, say, the movies, or the cinema, or whatever you call it when you’ve paid your day’s wages for a giant tub of carcinogenic popcorn and a three-hour distraction. (These days, maybe, an overpriced streaming new release and Grubhub.) Who doesn’t love a big-screen science fiction epic—science be damned? Who wants to listen to the seatmate who mutters "oh, come on!,” “no way!,” “well, actually, that’s scientifically impossible”? You know they never passed intro to physics….

Dominic Walliman, on the other hand, is a physicist. And he is not the kind of person to ruin a movie by going on about how goofy its scientific ideas sound, though he’s likely to express appreciation for films that get it right. He doesn’t get bent out of shape by artistic license and can appreciate, for example, the creative use of visual effects in Interstellar to represent a black hole, which would otherwise appear onscreen as, well, a black hole. “I’m okay with bad physics in movies,” he says, “because the job of a movie isn’t to be a science documentary, the goal of a movie is to tell an interesting story.”

Even so, if you sit him down and ask him to talk specifically about science in movies, as a friend does in the video above, he’ll tell you what he thinks, and you’ll want to listen to him (after the movie’s over) because he actually knows what he’s talking about. Over the years, Walliman has mapped various domains of science, like chemistry, computer science, biology, mathematics, physics, and his own field, quantum physics. His visual explanations make the relationships between difficult concepts clear and easy to follow. In this video, he comments on some of your favorite science fiction and fantasy films (standouts include the first Batman and Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons) in ways that are equally illuminating.

Big winners for relative accuracy, in Walliman’s opinion, are no surprise. They include Gravity, Contact (written by Carl Sagan), even a clip from the incredibly smart Futurama. It is soon apparent that the use of a folded piece of paper to represent spacetime through a wormhole has “become a bit of a cliché,” although a helpful-enough visual aid. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is “boring” (with apologies), a judgment that might disqualify Walliman as a film critic, in many people’s opinion, but does not tarnish his scientific reputation.

One of the biggest science-in-film fails: 2009’s Star Trek, whose villains have discovered a substance called “red matter.” A single drop can destroy an entire planet, and the idiots seem to have enough onboard their ship to take out the universe with one careless oopsie. Walliman is maybe not qualified to weigh in on the paleobiology of Jurassic Park, but Jeff Goldblum’s explanation of chaos theory fits within his purview. “So, this is not a good description of chaos theory,” he says, “at all.” It is, however, a fabulous plot device.

If you’re interested in more engagingly accessible, non-cinema-related, surveys of scientific ideas, visit any one of Walliman’s many Domain of Science videos here.

Related Content:

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The Map of Quantum Physics: A Colorful Animation Explains the Often Misunderstood Branch of Science

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Seriously Awesome Ukulele Covers of “Sultans of Swing,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Thunderstruck,” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

The ukulele has gotten a bad rap, thanks to some well-meaning musicians who turned the small, guitar-like Hawaiian lute into a novelty instrument. Chief among the offenders is Tiny Tim. Exploding into fame in the early sixties with his ukulele version of the ‘20s ditty “Tiptoe Thru’ the Tulips,” he became so famous, wrote Roger Ebert, “The Beatles asked him to sing ‘Nowhere Man’ on a bootleg Christmas recording. He did a night at Royal Albert Hall.” His marriage to Vicki Budinger on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show is “still one of the top-rated TV shows of all time.”

Tiny Tim played the guileless manchild, the Pee Wee Herman of his day. He was not a serious spokesperson for the instrument he popularized. He died in 1996, doing what he loved, playing his hit to a Women’s Club in Minneapolis. “The last thing he heard was the applause,” his widow said.

Tiny Tim had a good run, but it may not be mere coincidence that since he tiptoed thru’ his last tulip, the ukulele has seen a major pop culture revival, from indie folk singer/songwriters to TV theme songs, an orchestra, and Jake Shimabukuro, “a genre-demolishing artist,” writes NPR, “who plays jazz, blues, funk, classical, bluegrass, flamenco and rock” on his four-string axe.

Joining the ranks of serious ukulele artists are Overdriver Duo, who interpret songs with some very challenging guitar riffs and solos, like Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing,” and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” One thing these songs all have in common is their melodies in the upper register, where the ukulele, and their vocals, really shine. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” on the other hand, depends on power chords and pounding drums for its impact. Leave it to these accomplished players to turn their tiny-bodied instruments into a convincing alt-rock rhythm section.

Contemporary players have more than earned the ukulele the respect it deserves. That’s not to say ukulele lovers of the past, like devoted life-long player George Harrison, did not appreciate the instrument. Harrison played a mean jazz uke, and took it seriously. But even he declared “you can’t play and not laugh!” Players like Shimabukuro and Overdriver Duo tend to inspire more awe than comedy.

Related Content:  

Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” Shredded on the Ukulele

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The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain Performs Stunning Covers of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Food As Pop with Prof. C. Thi Nguyen (Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #55)

Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Utah philosophy prof and former food writer C. Thi Nguyen to talk food as art, foodies, elitism, food TV, cooking vs. eating, and how analyzing food is like analyzing games.

Read Thi's work at, including the article on "outrage porn" we talk about that he co-wrote with Bekka Williams, and his general account of "the arts of action." Also, check out his blog posts about cookbooks and his new book. Purchase Games: Agency As Art. Follow Thi @add_hawk.

Other sources we looked at include:

Learn more at This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

A Virtual Tour of Ancient Rome, Circa 320 CE: Explore Stunning Recreations of The Forum, Colosseum and Other Monuments

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’re likely familiar with the simulation hypothesis, the idea that conscious experience is nothing more than a computer program. This concept has many sci-fi implications, from Matrix-like scenarios to the radical idea that everything in the universe is software, run by incomprehensible beings who might as well be gods. One of the more plausible versions suggests that we are living in an “ancestor simulation,” designed by future human societies to recreate their past.

Presumably, simulated ancestors would create their own ancestor simulations and so on, ad infinitum. There’s no way to know where on the continuum we fall, but wherever it is, ancestor simulations are on the way… maybe. They’re rudimentary at the moment, consisting of immersive video games and VR recreations of ancient cities.

Each iteration, however, is better than the last, as we have seen in the case of Rome Reborn (or Rome Reborn®), a 3D digital modeling project designed to recreate the city’s architecture as it was in 320 CE, through expert renderings informed by architectural historians and "virtual archaeologists" like Dr. Bernard Frischer, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia.

Back in a 2012 Open Culture post, Matthias Rascher explained the significance of this year, “when Rome’s population had reached its peak (about one million) and the first Christian churches were being built.” Historians will also recognize 320 as following directly on the heels of the Donation of Constantine that gave the city to the Pope. We can tour the virtual streets of this rapidly changing ancient city, though the burgeoning population is nowhere in evidence. Nothing moves, grows, or changes in Rome Reborn. In that sense it is still like so many previous representations of antiquity.

Now in version 3.0, Rome Reborn began as a 3D model in 2007, and was first owned by the Regents of the University of California. It now operates, under the auspices of the University of Virginia, as a private company called Flyover Zone. They have other such digital recreations in their product line, including “Athens Reborn®, Hadrian's Villa Reborn®, Baalbek Reborn®, Egypt Reborn®, and Historical Games®.” Rome Reborn’s designer, Danila Loginov, has released increasingly detailed promos of the project over the years, and you can see these many videos here.

To fully experience this simulated Rome, you’ll need a Virtual Reality headset. The third version of the 3D model has been made publicly available. “You can immerse yourself in the ancient city and even enter into some of its most famous buildings while listening to the commentary of highly qualified experts,” the Rome Reborn site promises. Famous buildings one might explore include the Roman forum and the Basilica of Maxentius. It is not an experience based in realism. In some of the simulations “you can opt for a whirlwind  flyover tour of the city,” notes Meilan Solly at Smithsonian.

This roughly two-hour tour is like nothing any ancient Roman ever experienced. “Comparatively, the two site visits place users in the driver’s seat,” Solly writes, “affording them freedom to roam through reconstructed streets and halls.” It’s not quite the stuff of a simulated universe just yet, but it may not be too far in the future before Rome Reborn® fully lives up to its name. Learn more about ancient Rome, circa 320 CE, in the videos here, and learn more about Rome Reborn at their official site.

Related Content:

Explore Ancient Athens 3D, a Digital Reconstruction of the Greek City-State at the Height of Its Influence

An Animated Reconstruction of Ancient Rome: Take A 30-Minute Stroll Through the City’s Virtually-Recreated Streets

French Illustrator Revives the Byzantine Empire with Magnificently Detailed Drawings of Its Monuments & Buildings: Hagia Sophia, Great Palace & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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