World History Sources Logo
Finding World Histoy Heading Graphic

Keyword Search Graphic

Advanced Search GraphicAdvanced Search Go Button

Aquae Urbis Romae: The Waters of the City of Rome

Katherine Wentworth Rinne, Project Director
Printer-Friendly Version

Reviewed by:
Jack Cheng
Independent Scholar
February 2004

This website presents the natural waterworks of Rome, as well as those built by humans, in a flexible viewing environment. Dozens of hydrologic features—the Tiber River, springs, fountains, imperial baths, bridges, aqueducts, and more—can be plotted by date and mapped as flat charts or in 3-D, with or without the modern street grid and topography. Historic sources detailing the creation of each feature are summarized in maps of 16 distinct periods between 753 BCE and 312 BCE. The site will eventually map the changes in Roman waterworks over the last 2,800 years. By selecting different variables, users can create hundreds of unique maps. This ambitious project offers a unique way to present history, through geography, geology, and engineering and will be a model for academic work on the web when completed. In its current state, however, the site is more impressive as a technological achievement than as a historical source.

The maps themselves are to be presented in three formats: JPEG (a common format for digital pictures), VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language), and Colada (a feature not yet online). The JPEGs are clear and passing the cursor over various elements brings up labels for each feature. Clicking on these same features should bring up more information—descriptions, photos, archival images, and a bibliography—but this was not working.

The VRML format requires a plug-in for your Web browser (the site helpfully points to a few places where free versions can be acquired. I used Cortona Viewer from Parallel Graphics). The 3-D image that VRML brings up is impressive in a bells-and-whistles way, but ultimately not as useful as the JPEG maps for browsing. The VRML “Go to” feature that zoomed in on a particular spot kept zooming past giant pixels and into the background color. There are a number of visually interesting preset VRML images for browsing.

“Journal” offers access to several primary sources, with more to come. One primary source, by Sextus Julius Frontinus, is represented by an English translation in HTML. Original pages from two secondary sources—by Fabretti (1680) and Narducci (1889)—including plates, have been scanned and are available for viewing. The journal also publishes peer-reviewed articles: currently one article by a Harvard professor is available. Unfortunately, the presentation of the article—full screened Courier font—is difficult to read, especially given the long paragraph style of academic writing.

As a teaching tool, Aquae Urbis Romae is somewhat limited since knowledge of the city and history of Rome is something of a prerequisite. In addition, the “Search” link does not work and the link for a Map Legend brings up the legend in a new window, making it impossible to examine a map with the legend at the same time.

The site will eventually be an invaluable supplement to a syllabus on Roman history, especially a course that spends time on Roman architecture and engineering. Currently, screen shots of maps might be useful for class presentations, but the website as a whole needs further development before students can profit from it. That said, the mapping technology, scanning of archival materials, and online journal establish a visionary goal for any academic website.

finding world history | unpacking evidence | analyzing documents | teaching sources | about

A project of the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University,
with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation
© 2003-2005 center for history & new media