An 8‑Minute Animated Flight Over Ancient Rome

“At roof-top lev­el, Rome may seem a city of spires and steeples and tow­ers that reach up towards eter­nal truths,” said Antho­ny Burgess of the great city in which he lived in the mid-70s. “But this city is not built in the sky. It is built on dirt, earth, dung, cop­u­la­tion, death, human­i­ty.” For all the city’s ancient grandeur, the real Rome is to be found in its broth­els, bath­hous­es, and cat­a­combs, a sen­ti­ment wide­ly shared by writ­ers in Rome since Lucil­ius, often cred­it­ed as Rome’s first satirist, a genre invent­ed to bring the lofty down to earth.

“The Romans … proud­ly declared that satire was ‘total­ly ours,’ ” writes Robert Cow­an, senior lec­tur­er in clas­sics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Syd­ney. “Instead of heroes, noble deeds, and city-foun­da­tions recount­ed in ele­vat­ed lan­guage,” ancient Romans con­struct­ed their lit­er­a­ture from “a hodge­podge of scum­bags, orgies, and the break­down of urban soci­ety, spat out in words as filthy as the vices they describe.” Lit­tle won­der, per­haps, that the author of A Clock­work Orange found Rome so much to his lik­ing. For all the Chris­tian­i­ty over­laid atop the ruins, “the Romans are not a holy peo­ple; they are pagans.”

In the video above, see an 8‑minute rooftop-lev­el flight above the ancient impe­r­i­al city, “the most exten­sive, detailed and accu­rate vir­tu­al 3D recon­struc­tion of Ancient Rome,” its cre­ators, His­to­ry in 3D, write. They are about halfway through the project, which cur­rent­ly includes such areas as the Forum, the Colos­se­um, Impe­r­i­al Forums, “famous baths, the­aters, tem­ples and palaces” and the Traste­vere, where Burgess made his home mil­len­nia after the peri­od rep­re­sent­ed in the CGI recon­struc­tion above and where, he wrote in the 1970s, antiq­ui­ty had been pre­served: “Trastev­eri­ni… regard them­selves as the true Romans.”

The lan­guage of this Rome, like that of Juve­nal, the ancient city’s great­est satirist, offers “a ground-lev­el view of a Rome we could bare­ly guess at from the hero­ism of the Aeneid,” writes Cow­an. “The lan­guage of the Trastev­eri­ni is rough,” writes Burgess, “scur­rilous, blas­phe­mous, obscene, the tongue of the gut­ter. Many of them are lead­ers of inten­si­ty, rebels agains the gov­ern­ment. They have had two thou­sand years of bad gov­ern­ment and they must look for­ward to two thou­sand more.”

As we drift over the city’s rooftops in the impres­sive­ly ren­dered ani­ma­tion above, we might imag­ine its streets below teem­ing with pro­fane, dis­grun­tled Romans of all kinds. It may be impos­si­ble to recre­ate Ancient Rome at street lev­el, with all of its many sights, smells, and sounds. But if we’ve been to Rome, or ever get the chance to vis­it, we may mar­vel, along with Burgess, at its “con­ti­nu­ity of cul­ture.… Prob­a­bly Rome has changed less in two thou­sand years than Man­hat­tan has in twen­ty years.” The Empire may have been fat­ed to col­lapse under its own weight, but Rome, the Eter­nal City, may indeed endure for­ev­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The His­to­ry of Ancient Rome in 20 Quick Min­utes: A Primer Nar­rat­ed by Bri­an Cox

What Did the Roman Emper­ors Look Like?: See Pho­to­re­al­is­tic Por­traits Cre­at­ed with Machine Learn­ing

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

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