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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Comments (4)
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  • Pei says:

    While it looks great, I don’t believe it’s accu­rate. Rome was built on hills, not flat land.

  • dakota fletcher says:

    I do agree, Rome was built on hills and not flat land.

  • Nesslyn Sweger-Haith says:

    This web­site is absolute trash maybe you should upgrade to the um, you know 2022 style! I’m not 77 bro I’m try­ing to learn as an 11-year-old not to go back to 1709. pls pls pls pls pls pls pls upgrade this place is absolute trash! trash trash trash trash!!!

  • M. Geldermans says:

    Why not make a real dig­i­tal twin based on actu­al pho­to’s and videos. Nowa­days there is great soft­ware with ai to cre­ate a more real expe­ri­ence.

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