• University of Reading

Rome: A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City

Explore the architecture and history of Rome, walking around a 3D digital model of the ancient city, with this free online course.

63,997 enrolled on this course

A 3D digital model of the ancient city of Rome

Explore ancient Rome through a unique, historically accurate 3D model.

Take a guided tour around ancient Rome with expert Professor Matthew Nicholls, using his detailed and award-winning 3D digital model of the city. Explore Rome’s architecture and how it was used - how did Romans worship their gods and meet their political masters? How was drinking water supplied to the city’s million inhabitants? Moving seamlessly between footage of contemporary Rome and the digital model (including interactive elements), you’ll explore these questions and much more.

Use this insight to inform your own encounters with the eternal city and the study of ancient history more generally.

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  • Week 1

    Location and infrastructure

    • Welcome to Rome: A virtual tour of the ancient city

      Welcome! Meet Professor Matthew Nicholls, your lead educator, and learn about the topics you'll be covering over the next five weeks as you explore the old with the new in a 3D virtual tour of ancient Rome.

    • Part I: Building the ancient city

      Why was Rome’s location crucial in helping her become a dominant superpower from such humble beginnings? Explore a brief history of ancient Rome.

    • Encountering the evidence

      Each week you'll investigate the different sources of evidence Matthew used to try and get a full sense of the city to help build the digital model. Find out why a picture on a Roman coin can be worth more than a thousand words.

    • Part II: Walls, roads and building materials

      Rome's roads and walls functioned as the veins and arteries of her growing empire. What materials did the Romans use to build these structures, and allow remnants to remain standing today?

    • Part III: Aqueducts and sewers

      Aqueducts and sewers were an amazing feat of Roman engineering. They towered over and stretched across the city, supplying water to a million people. Explore for yourself by taking your very first steps into the digital model.

    • Review and reflect

      This week you looked at the importance of Rome’s location and the origins of her impressive infrastructure. Next week you'll explore political architecture within the ancient city and how it was used as a symbol of power.

  • Week 2

    Political architecture

    • Welcome to Week 2

      Welcome to Week 2. This week you'll head to the core of the Eternal City to look at the political and commercial life of the expanding empire. Let's start with a brief timeline of the kings and emperors, between 753 BC to 337 AD.

    • Part IV: The Forum

      The Forum started as an unpromising, malarial, swampy piece of land. So how did it become the centre of the Roman world? Take a virtual tour of the Forum, and see how the neighbouring imperial fora extended its space.

    • Part V: Monuments and the imperial fora

      Rome is littered with monuments including arches, obelisks and columns. But with little or no practical function, what was their purpose?

    • Texts in the city

      What can poetry tell us about ancient Rome? Watch Professor Matthew Nicholls and Dr Luke Houghton, an expert in Latin poetry, discuss the clues that have been left behind by ancient Roman poets.

    • Review and reflect

      This week you explored the heart of the Roman empire, and the monuments that celebrated the power and wealth of the emperors. Next week you'll adopt a more divine perspective and find out why Rome was known as the city of gods.

  • Week 3

    Religious architecture

    • Part VI: Roman religion and republican temples

      Rome was a city of gods. Religion permeated every aspect of public and private life, from small shrines to grand temples. But who were these dedicated to? Join Matthew to find out more in this tour around the Capitoline Temple.

    • Encountering the evidence: music and coins

      Rome’s hills were alive with the sound of music. These songs and tunes entertained but also played a central role in their worship of the gods. Listen to some audio samples and then test your knowledge about Roman gods.

    • Part VII: imperial temples

      Many Roman temples were traditional and conservative in their architectural style. What was so different about the Pantheon? Take a guided tour of this stunning monument to find out more.

    • Worshipping the gods

      The Romans were deeply superstitious and looked for signs from heaven. But what lengths did they go to to placate their gods? And why did religion play such a fundamental role in everyday life?

    • Review and reflect

      This week you looked at religious architecture in ancient Rome and took a guided tour with Matthew around some of the major sites of worship. Next week you'll investigate the buildings that enabled daily life in the city.

  • Week 4

    Life and death in ancient rome

    • Part VIII: Life

      Welcome to Week 4! There was a huge disparity between the emperors in their marble halls and the occupants of cheap, top-floor apartments. This week you'll look at life and death in the ancient city for ordinary people.

    • Encountering the evidence: the baker's tomb and Roman food

      In this activity you'll see what the tomb of a prosperous Roman baker can tell us about food supply in the ancient city. And why not try your hand at some historical recipes for a little taste of Roman life?

    • Part IX: Death

      Being remembered by the living was fundamentally important to the dead, and tombs were very significant for both the rich and the poor of ancient Rome. Reading Roman funerary inscriptions will let you discover more.

    • Review and reflect

      You looked at how the city supported its million or so inhabitants to ensure a steady flow of grain, and how the dead could speak to the living. Next week you'll move to the spectacle of the games: 'Bread and Circuses'.

  • Week 5

    Bread and circuses

    • Part X: Bread and Circuses

      Welcome to the final Week! With a growing city, teeming with people working and resting, what did the Romans do for play? Let's dive straight into the action and explore the architecture that housed the entertainments.

    • Part XI: Theatres

      Stage entertainment has a long history in Rome. Find out how the Theatre of Pompey set the scene for Roman theatre architecture and pulled out all the stops. And why not take to the stage for yourself in the Theatre of Marcellus?

    • Part XII: Baths

      Bathing was a daily ritual enjoyed by many Romans, from simple balneae to lavish imperial thermae. Take a tour with Matthew to see how the emperors competed to win the affection of the populace with their grand bathhouse designs.

    • Part XIII: Colosseum

      The Colosseum may be the grandest entertainment arena ever to be built. But there’s a dark side behind the grandeur of one of Rome's most iconic landmarks which isn’t for the faint-hearted - feeding the Romans' lust for blood.

    • Encountering the evidence: the Colosseum and entertainment venues at Rome

      The Colosseum was a magnificent venue devoted to the people's pleasure. It left a lasting imprint on the city's landscape, literary texts, and coins. Encounter the evidence one final time with Matthew and Luke to find out more.

    • Review and reflect

      Thank you for joining us on Rome: A virtual tour of the ancient city. Now you’ve reached the end of the course let’s reflect together and think about the next steps you may like to take.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

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Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore different categories of building within the city, and the functions they housed
  • Investigate a range of evidence including archaeological remains, coins, literary texts, and inscriptions to learn how we can understand and interpret the ancient past
  • Discuss the way the rulers of Rome used architecture to adorn the city and keep it functioning
  • Experience digital modelling as a way of presenting the ancient past, exploring models on screen and in videos and discussing what they can show us

Who is the course for?

This course is open to anyone with an interest in discovering more about ancient Rome. You might be: planning a visit to the Italian capital; an avid watcher of documentaries on Roman history; or considering studying archaeology, classics or history at university.

What do people say about this course?

"Diving in those marvellous virtual tours was something new for me and also very informative. Thank you very much."

"A very interesting, engaging course. Thank you, Matthew! I hope to find many of these sites when I am in Rome for the first time in October. As for the "eternal" question of which emporer had the biggest impact, my initial thought was Augustus and I'm even more sure of my answer having completed the course. He not only built many great structures but set the standard that others followed in building and growing this great city."

Who will you learn with?

Dr Matthew Nicholls is a Roman historian at the University of Reading, specialising in the 3D reconstruction of ancient spaces. He also directs the University's Open Online Course programme.

Who developed the course?

University of Reading

The University of Reading has a reputation for excellence in teaching, research and enterprise.


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