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Video transcript

When I was studying ancient Rome one of the most difficult things for me to understand is how all of these ancient ruins fit together, but luckily we have Dr. Bernard Frischer who has built an extraordinary video simulation that allows us to move through this space. The difficulty is always two-fold. First of all, that ancient cities are now in ruins so the one problem we have is how do you go from ruins to the way it did look in antiquity. Secondly, we only have random ruins, we don't have everything. So even if you can visualize what the Pantheon looks like or the Colosseum, they are a mile apart in the city . What was everything else? Most of it is missing. So the visualization is trying to put the whole city together And so let's take a look. Okay. It is just beautiful. We're now flying low over the city, over the Tibre. It's a good place to start because you know, the Tibre does divide Rome into two parts. And I see in the distance a very large temple. That's the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Jupiter, the best and the greatest, which was the main temple of the Roman state cult. And it's on top of the Capitoline Hill which because of this temple and some others, was considered the center of the state cult and the state religion. So what moment in Rome's history have you chosen? This is notionally the year 320 AD, the peak of Rome's urban development, certainly in terms of public architecture for the simple reason that the Emperor at this time was Constantine the Great and shortly after this year he moved the capital from Rome to his city of Constantinople. Ok so we're flying up the river and after the Capitoline Hill we see the Palatine Hill, another one of the seven canonical hills of Rome. And the Palatine is obvious to anybody who visits Rome. If you're in the forum, this is the great hill with the palaces. In fact, the word palace derives from the word Palatine. The Romans, as time went on in their history, said "where ever the emperor is, there the palace is," or the paletine. So, the term palace got detached from this physical hill and came to just mean "a place where the ruler lives". And actually as we're flying past what is the Circus Maximus, I see the imperial palace, it is so large. It is literally enveloped the entire hillside. We have to remember this was not only where the emperor lived, and his family with him, but it was also the center of the government. any important relationship between this enormous circus and the palace? They are in fact connected and the Emperor was a great giver of the circus games and could easily come down to the Imperial box from the palace, or if he even wanted he could watch the circus races at the Palace. So we're not talking about Barnum & Bailey, we're talking about sporting events. We're mainly talking about chariot races. Think Ben Hur, the very famous chariot race scenes. And there were also animal hunts, there were parades, religious processions, and the triumphal processions. So let's go into the city proper. We know that Rome was this mercantile culture that has real markets. How much do we know about the daily lives of the inhabitants? We know a huge amount. We know about their hundreds of trades and professions, the different social classes. We know about their diet, we know about their longevity. The scholars have really reconstructed in great detail what everyday life was like. So one of the most impressive structures that I'm seeing is this aqueduct, this highway for water. Yeah, the Romans are famous for their aqueducts. They never could have had their big city of a million or even the 2 million that we're now seeing without the aqueducts that brought water in from 20 or 30 miles away in the mountains. They kept this gravitational sytem working by getting the sources up into the mountains, bringing it down into the city and the valley which gave the force to the water. And they were able to somehow calculate a slope of even just 1 foot every 2000 feet, which is remarkable. We don't know how they could measure so accurately so that the water kept moving gently downhill but relentlessly downhill. There is this kind of ambition, this notion that man can control nature. It does not need to build a city where the water is already, but one can actually bend nature to man's will. The Romans were remarkable engineers. They used the water for drinking purposes, obviously cooking, and so on. But also a lot of these aqueducts ended at great fountains, but also in the great public baths. So this area seems to be sort of set apart from this denser, urban part of the city, and these are the baths of Trajan. Yes, these were not the first public baths, but they were the baths that gave the standard design for public baths. Block of bathing buildings in the middle of a kind of garden area, delimited by a wall. And we were talking earlier about the way in which the emperors would provide for the well- being of the city, and this is really a prime example. So now we are moving to some of the most well known monuments in ancient Rome. The Colosseum. But we're in a fairly late moment in Roman history. Before the Colosseum, wasn't there another palace here? There was. The Colosseum was built by the emperor of Vespasian, who became emperor in 69 AD. After the suicide of Nero, a very unpopular emperor. One of the reasons he was so unpopular was that after the great fire of 64 AD in which a lot of the city was destroyed, he took over 100 acres in the heart of the city and converted it from private property to his own personal use as a palace. The Golden House of Nero. And the Colosseum was actually a lake in that palace. And Vespasian, to show that he was a friend of the people, filled in that lake and built a Colosseum on top of it. The Colosseum was not originally called the Colosseum. No. That's a term that only goes back to the early middle ages. The Romans called it the Flavian Amphitheatre because the Vespasians' family name was Flavius, so Flavian. And it's an Amphitheatre, or kind of a double theatre, an oval in shape. The Romans certainly didn't call it Colosseum, but they did call this enormous statue the Colossus. It's a statue of the sun god. Now you have mentioned that this is the moment when Constantine rules Rome and has not yet moved the capital to the east. And it's interesting to look at his arch, the arch of Constantine, and realize that this is brand new. It's only a couple of years old, Constantine left Rome after he defeated Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. As far as we know, he never came back to Rome to actually see it. So we've just risen over the edge of the Colosseum and we're looking down. This is in a way, a mirror of Roman society. The best seats are the ones farthest down, closest to the arena, and that was reserved for the emperor, top office holders, priests, and so on. Then behind them were the senators. Behind them, the wealthy business men. And behind them, the free born, normal citizens. At the very top, sat women, slaves, and foreigners. So what were they coming to watch? As we can see now what's going on is the main thing that we associate with the Colosseum, the gladiatorial combats. Another thing that went on here that the Romans loved was hunts of wild animals. The third thing is the execution of criminals. Often in very colorful ways. Ways we would find very cruel. So let's make a left turn and move towards the forum. What is that enormous temple? It's the biggest temple of the state religion. It's the temple of Venus and Rome. It was built by the emperor Hadrian. It's actually interesting because it's two temples back-to-back. One part of it is dedicated to the worship of the goddess, Venus. That's the one facing the Coliseum. The other, to the goddess, Roma, that's facing the forum. And there seems to be a reason for that. Venus is looking at the Colosseum which is associated with fun and games. Otium, the Romans would say. Leisure. Whereas Roma is a more serious goddess. She's facing the forum which is the area of negotium, or business and work. Ok, so now we're moving over to the forum itself. And we'll stop first at the Basilica of Maxentius, the last of the great civic buildings built in Rome before Constantine moved the capital. This is a huge structure and the word Basilica is familiar to us. We often call churches "basilicas" now. For the Romans it was a civic building used mainly for courts, the Christians adopted the building forum because they worshipped inside, so they adopted this preexisting building forum and gave it a new content. So now we're moving into one of the most complicated parts of Rome, especially when you try to look at the ruins and understand how these buildings related to each other. I always say the forum is like the wall in Washington. It's a big open public space used for public events like parades and speeches. The buildings around that open space are also public and they are courthouses and temples. Then, on the forum plaza are, as in the case of the wall in Washington, monuments commemorating great men and important events. Adjacent to the forum, private property was increasingly bought up so that each emperor could build his own forum, the so called imperial fora of the emperors. We've made a full circle and we're now looking again at the Capitoline. We're flying over the Roman forum, we'll acutally come back to it. We're flying over the Capitoline hill, we can see the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and we're going beyond, back to the river, where we find a big flat area of Rome called the Campus Martius, the field of Mars. It was called that because in the Roman republic when there was a citizen army, the army would meet here and train. Now, we've just moved over this lovely squared pond, and we're looking at the flank of an enormously important building, the Pantheon. The rotunda, the round part, we wouldn't really see in antiquity. We would see the part that has the eight columns across the front that looks like a traditional temple. We like to say that it was built as a building with a surprise on the inside. Because it does look like a regular Greek or Roman temple but when you get inside, that's when you notice that there's actually a rotunda. I just want to spend just a second marvelling at the scale of this structure. Look at those columns, they are enormous. The ability to get stones that large upright is just a phenomenal feat in itself. It's phenomenal and even more so when you consider that this is granite, and it's all from Egypt. So it was brought from very far away. This is a building that celebrates the Roman emperors. This building we know had statues of Julius Caesar and Augustus, so we think that this building was dedicated always to the worship of the emperors. So this space opens up just magically. It does, and the magic is really remarkable, I've taken many visitors there, and I've asked them if they've had the same experience that I've had. If you stop right on the threshold, and you hold your head straight, I always say, "what can you see?" And everybody always agrees. You can see the hole in the dome up at the top, we call it the eye. You can see the floor, and you can see the two sides left and right. That is to say that this is a grandiose space. But it's right at the limit of human vision, and for me it always defines what is the classical, which is always derived from the human form, its proportions and its limitations. And by building a building that exactly corresponds to the limits of our vision it ennobles us. It makes us feel as big and great as we can feel as humans. It doesn't reduce us. Had it been ten times bigger, we would have felt ourselves reduced to the size of an ant, or something. The building is obsessively concerned with circular form. But it is also concerned with squares. We look at the floor we actually see this play of squares and circles. And then of course there are the coffers that create this beautiful sense of rhythm. Absolutely. And notice we also there get the play of squares and circles, because these are square coffers that give us a semi circular dome. But what's interesting to me about it is first of all it's painted, when you go there today, the paint has been completely lost. In a dome of heaven motifs. So the ground of the dome is painted blue. The coffers are highlighted in yellow as if radiating the light of the sun, and in the middle were probably rosettes that are supposed to be suns or stars. And even in antiquity we know from a historian who wrote only a hundred years after the building was built. People wondered, how did they build the dome? How could they do that? They marvelled at it even in antiquity. The light is very interesting. If you look at the coffering, you can get the idea that you know the light from the eye is going to direct the sunbeams to different coffers at different times of day, on different days of the year. Recent scholarship suggests that this wasn't really a sundial, but there was a play of the passage of time and a play of light on space to indicate the passage of time during the year. There is though one alignment that seems to be very intentional and that is the sunlight coming through the eye at noon on April 21 exactly illuminated the main door of the Pantheon. Remember Hadrian was the man responsible for the Pantheon in this phase. April 21 was the birthday festival of Rome, and Hadrian's very interested in the birthday festival, changed the name to the Romaea festival in honor of the goddess Roma. He seems to have aligned the building in such a way that there would be this dramatic effect at noon, and we can only imagine that there must of been some sort of birthday festival happening in the Pantheon that day. So let's move back down to the forum now. Some of the main roads going through the city met here in the forum, it's a place that the average Roman on an average day might well pass through. As the camera pulls back and we can really see the full extent of the city, you really understand how complex, how advanced this ancient world was. How many buildings were here, do we think? We have two censuses from the fourth century AD that suggest there were between eight and ten thousand buildings here. We think the population might have been between one and two million. The total surface area was about twenty-five square kilometers, so it was the biggest city in the Western world anyway until 19th Century London.