Virtual Leicester promises Roman holiday for all

Internet users who may have posed the question "What have the Romans ever done for us?" will soon be able to answer that question for themselves with a new project to digitally reconstruct the historic town of Leicester as it appeared in the first century AD.

"Ratae Corieltauvorum", as it was known to its 2nd century inhabitants, was a crucial fixture in the Romans' annexation of England, and work under way to digitally reconstruct original features such as the Merlin Works Royal Baths and Mithraum promises to demonstrate the city's rich heritage to a new generation. Much of the work, spearheaded by the Leicester School of Architecture's Dr Douglas Cawthorne, promises to build on past academic research into the town's past; in the case of the baths for example, architectural forensics being carried out by archaeologists from the University of Leicester has revealed the original scale and appearance of the building, indicating the possibility the building was intended for use by members of the Roman military. With only a tiny fraction of the town's first and second century buildings still visible today, in the challenge to recreate Leicester as it was, the team are relying on a considerable amount of informed guesswork to construct their digital model. "If we know the diameter of a column base", lead researcher Dr Cawthorne said, "we can have a pretty shrewd guess what the column itself was like."

The end-result of the team's endeavours will be an interactive virtual reconstruction of the town, featuring virtual Roman citizens who go about their everyday business as historians expect they would have done nearly 2000 years ago. "These characters will be programmed with all the social, cultural and environmental factors that would have influenced the lives of the actual people of the period", Dr Cawthorne explains. "A game-like element will give users the opportunity to enter virtual Roman Leicester to observe, trade and interact."

The project was announced as part of the launch of the Phoenix Square film and digital media centre in the city’s emerging cultural quarter