A few years ago, we featured Rome Reborn, which is essentially “a 3D digital model of the Eternal City at a time when Ancient Rome’s population had reached its peak (about one million) and the first Christian churches were being built.” Rome Reborn offers, declared Matthias Rascher, “a truly stunning bird’s-eye view of ancient Rome that makes you feel as if you were actually there.” You may also remember our posts on video analyses of great works of art by Khan Academy’s Smarthistory. Today, the two come together in the video above, “A Tour Through Ancient Rome in 320 C.E.”
In it, we not only see and move through ancient Rome reconstructed, we have our extended tour guided by renowned “virtual archaeologist” and overseer of the Rome Reborn project Dr. Bernard Frischer, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. He picks 320 C.E. as the year of the tour, “the peak of Rome’s development, certainly in terms of public architecture, for the simple reason that the Emperor at this time was Constantine the Great.” Shortly after this year, Constantine would move the capital from Rome to his city, Constantinople.
We hear Frischer in dialogue with Dr. Steven Zucker, whose voice you may recognize from previous Smarthistory videos. Zucker’s questions ensure that, while we take in the spectacle of Rome’s impressive architecture (to say nothing of its equally impressive aqueducts) as it looked back in 320, we also think about what the real flesh-and-blood people who once lived there actually did there: the jobs they did, the chariot races they watched. “When I was studying ancient Rome,” admits Zucker, “one of the most difficult things for me to understand was how all these ancient ruins fit together.” Now, with Frischer’s expertise, he and we can finally understand how the Forum, the Basilica, the Coliseum, the Pantheon and more all fit onto this early but still majestic urban fabric.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.