Rome Reborn is an international initiative whose goal is the creation of 3D digital models illustrating the urban development of ancient Rome from the first settlement in the late Bronze Age (ca. 1000 B.C.) to the depopulation of the city in the early Middle Ages (ca. A.D. 550). With the advice of an international Scientific Advisory Committee, the leaders of the project decided that A.D. 320 was the best moment in time to begin the work of modeling. At that time, Rome had reached the peak of its population, and major Christian churches were just beginning to be built. After this date, few new civic buildings were built. Much of what survives of the ancient city dates to this period, making reconstruction less speculative than it must, perforce, be for earlier phases. But having started with A.D. 320, the Rome Reborn team intends to move both backwards and forwards in time until the entire span of time foreseen by our mission has been covered.
Since 1997, the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory of the University of Virginia (VWHL), the UCLA Experiential Technology Center (ETC), the Reverse Engineering (INDACO) Lab at the Politecnico di Milano, the Ausonius Institute of the CNRS and the University of Bordeaux-3, and the University of Caen have collaborated on a project to create a digital model of ancient Rome as it appeared in late antiquity. The notional date of the model is June 21, 320 A.D.
The primary purpose of this phase of the project was to spatialize and present information and theories about how the city looked at this moment in time, which was more or less the height of its development as the capital of the Roman Empire. A secondary, but important, goal was to create the cyberinfrastructure whereby the model could be updated, corrected, and augmented. Spatialization and presentation involve two related forms of communication: (1) the knowledge we have about the city has been used to reconstruct digitally how its topography, urban infrastructure (streets, bridges, aqueducts, walls, etc.), and individual buildings and monuments might have looked; and (2) whenever possible, the sources of archaeological information or speculative reasoning behind the digital reconstructions, as well as valuable online resources for understanding the sites of ancient Rome, have been made available to users. The model is thus a representation of the state of our knowledge (and, implicitly, of our ignorance) about the urban topography of ancient Rome at various periods of time. Beyond this primary use, the model can function in other ways. It can be used to teach students or the general public about how the city looked; it can be used to gather data not otherwise available, such as the alignment of built features in the city with respect to each other or to natural features and phenomena; and, it can be used to run urban or architectural experiments not otherwise possible, such as how well the city or the buildings within it functioned in terms of heating and ventilation, illumination, circulation of people, etc. Finally, a digital model can be easily updated to reflect corrections to the model or new archaeological discoveries.
The digital model reflects the sources of our knowledge about ancient Rome. These are, broadly speaking, of two kinds: (1) archaeological data about specific sites and features ("Class I"); and (2) quantitative data about the distribution of building types throughout the fourteen regions (or wards) of the city ("Class II"). Features in Class I are known from archaeological excavations and studies; coins; inscriptions; ancient literary sources; and artists' views from the Renaissance until the nineteenth century. Buildings in Class II are known from two regionary catalogues (the Curiosum and the Notitia) dating to the fourth century A.D.
The digital model thus also consists of two types of materials: (1) highly detailed models of buildings that can be reconstructed on the basis of reliable archaeological evidence (examples: the buildings in the Roman Forum and the Forum of Julius Caesar; the Flavian Amphitheater; the Temple of Venus and Rome; etc.); and (2) buildings and other features that are known only by type and by frequency in the particular regions of the city. It has been estimated that there are approximately 200 buildings of the first type; and there are an estimated 7,000-10,000 in the second category (assuming, as seems reasonable, that in the regionary catalogues, the term insula refers to apartment units, not to entire apartment buildings).
To date, the Rome Reborn Project has modeled 40 buildings and monuments of the ca. 200 in Class I. These include the 22 buildings and monuments in the western part of the Roman Forum; the Tabularium, the Forum of Julius Caesar; the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine; the Temple of Venus and Rome; the Arch of Titus; the Arch of Constantine; the Flavian Amphitheater; the Ludus Magnus; the Septizodium; and the Circus Maximus. These buildings have been created with the help of scientific advisory committees of experts. This means that there are still ca. 170 buildings of Class I that can be added to the model. At present, these buildings are represented in the model by placeholders reconstructed in only a schematic way similar to that used for the Class II structures.
Class II buildings have been modeled digitally by a procedure entailing: (1) the digitization of the Plastico di Roma Antica, created under the direction of Italo Gismondi from 1933 to 1974; (2) the substitution of the scan data gathered from the Plastico di Roma Antica with geometrically simplified forms textured by surface features such as doors, windows, columns, roof tiles, etc.; (3) the etching of detailed architectural geometry (doors, windows, balconies, etc.) onto the faces of the simplified forms; and (4) the correction of the known errors of the Plastico di Roma Antica such as the exaggerated heights of the hills (intentionally increased by 20% to facilitate viewing).
When, as is generally the case, evidence is completely lacking, the following features have been omitted from the model: interiors of buildings; furniture; statues; small honorary monuments; inscriptions posted on buildings; polychromy of buildings; decorative sculpture on buildings. It goes without saying that the human beings, animals, movable objects, etc. present in the city at the time modeled have also been omitted owing to a complete lack of evidence.
The project is called "Rome Reborn" in homage to the founding text of the field of Roman topography, the De Roma instaurata of Flavio Biondo (1444-46). The goal of "Rome Reborn" is to create a digital model illustrating the development of ancient Rome from the earliest settlement in the late Bronze Age (ca. 1000 B.C.) to the beginning of the medieval period. The latter date has been set (inevitably, in the arbitrary way typical of most periodizations) at 552 A.D., or the end of the Gothic Wars.
The first version of "Rome Reborn" had the version number 1.0. This reflects the fact that the model currently illustrates one of many phases in the long urban history of Rome. When this or any future version is corrected or improved in some way, the version number will change after the decimal point (1.1, 1.2 etc.). Substantial improvements or additions of new phases will be reflected in changes of the number before the decimal point (1.0, 2.0, etc.).
The roles of the five participating institutions were divided as follows. VWHL manages the project, creates the user interface and new Class I models, is in charge of defining the rules for the procedurally made models in Class II. Thirty-one hand-made models were made at UCLA, first at the CVRLab and then at its successor, the ETC. Nine other hand-made models were created by our partner institutions, the University of Bordeaux-3 and the University of Caen. Data capture of the "Plastico di Roma Antica" and creation of a new geometrically simplified, textured model based on those data were the responsibilities of the INDACO Lab. The etching of architectural detail onto the facades of these simplified models according to procedural rules was done by VWHL (responsible for the rules) and Procedural, a commercial company based in Zurich, Switzerland (responsible for creating the CityEngine, procedural urban modeling software).
Starting on June 11, 2007, when the model of ancient Rome was first shown publicly at a ceremony in Rome, a number of video fly-throughs and static images of the model were posted for free public viewing online. In August, 2008, the alpha version of Rome Reborn 2.0 was demonstrated at SIGGRAPH held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. In November, 2008, the latest version of Rome Reborn 1.0 was published to the Internet as "Ancient Rome 3D" in Google Earth.
The leaders of the project agree that while continuing to create digital models of specific monuments, they should also vet and publish models made by other scholars. In this way, the vision of Rome Reborn can be realized more quickly as scholars around the world contribute their components to the larger edifice of the complete digital model of ancient Rome from the late Bronze Age to late antiquity. Scholars wishing to publish their work are therefore urged to contact the director of the project, Prof. Bernard Frischer.