Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 12 secondsWelcome to the city of Rome. This beautiful city behind me has been inhabited by humans for three millennia. And on this course, we're going to be looking at Rome at its pomp, at its height about 2000 years ago when the emperors here ruled a vast swathe of territory from Hadrian's Wall to the Nile Delta. And the resources, the materials, the ideas from around that empire allowed its rulers to the transform it from a city of brick into a city of marble.

Skip to 0 minutes and 38 secondsYou might well think of Rome as a city of monuments the Colosseum, the Fora, the arches, the columns, these grand statements of power and wealth. And, of course, we're going to be looking at those. But while we're doing that, we should remember that this city was also a place where up to a million people lived and died, work, ate, drank, and slept. So we're going to be looking at it as a working city, a living city, trying to tease out the evidence for those non-grand monuments the aqueducts, the sewers, the street fountains, the apartment blocks, the warehouses, all the stuff that sustained the life in the city, that made possible that lovely veneer of grand monuments on the top.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 secondsNow, to do that, of course, we're going to start with the remains of the buildings. But let's think, too, about the other evidence we can use around that to build up a full picture, the testimony that Romans wrote down and that survives for us to read, the pictures they put on the coins, inscriptions on the buildings themselves, pictures, statues, poems, everything we can get to get a sense of how this city worked, functioned, appeared, resonated in antiquity and down to the modern era.

Skip to 1 minute and 43 secondsAnother tool that we'll be using in this course is a huge 3D digital model of the ancient city that I've built over the last few years at the University of Reading for teaching my students. And by flying around this model or walking through it, we can maybe get a glimpse or a sense of how the city may have appeared all these years ago.

Welcome to the course

Hello and welcome to ‘Rome: A virtual tour of the ancient city’, a five week course produced by the Department of Classics at the University of Reading.

I’m Dr Matthew Nicholls, Associate Professor of Classics at the university and I’m delighted to share with you my virtual model of ancient Rome which I’ve been developing over the past ten years. If you’d like to learn a little more about why I became fascinated in the Romans and their buildings in particular, you’re welcome to read my biography for details.

You may think of Rome as a city of grand monuments, home to the Forum, Colosseum or Pantheon – buildings which held thousands of Romans cheering gladiatorial combats, where celebrated and feared emperors plotted the expansion of their empire, and where their subjects worshipped the gods. But behind these spectacular structures, Rome was also a living, breathing, working city. Join me as you visit these famous monuments, along with the housing, aqueducts and sewers that supported ancient Rome’s million or so inhabitants.

Course content

Over the next five weeks, you’ll explore the structures of the ancient city through real-life footage of the archaeological remains in modern Rome, to ‘digital reconstructions’ of how these magnificent buildings would have looked around 1700 years ago. Each week is designed around a thematic area:

Week 1: How Rome was built

Week 2: Political architecture

Week 3: Religious architecture

Week 4: Life and death in Rome

Week 5: Entertainment architecture

Throughout the course you’ll come across Dr Andrew Souter who wrote several of the articles on Roman religion in Week 3. Andrew and I will also be joined by course mentors, Bunny Waring and Jamie Heath, who both have a particular interest in how digital models can be used to present the past.

It’s worth following us (you can do this by clicking the link to our profile and then the pink button under our biography) to view our responses to common queries within the course. By following other profiles, any comments we make will appear in your activity feed on your profile, which you can filter by ‘Following’.

The experts

As well as meeting Dr Andrew Souter, you’ll also get the chance to hear from several of my colleagues from the Department of Classics at the University of Reading, who will be sharing their expertise through interviews with me:

  • Dr Luke Houghton

  • Professor Annalisa Marzano

  • Professor Peter Kruschwitz

And you’ll also see my conversation with Professor Christopher Smith, former Director of the British School at Rome, on the pervasiveness of religion in everyday ancient Rome.


Now you’ve met the team and know what to expect from the course, we’d really like to meet you.

What interests you most about the city of ancient Rome? What are you hoping to gain from the course?

If you’re mentioning the course on social media let us know by tagging us with #FLVirtualRome on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Rome: a Virtual Tour of the Ancient City

University of Reading