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Research team makes ancient Forum speeches audible

An interdisciplinary project run by the Excellence Cluster “Bild Wissen Gestaltung” is developing virtual models of political communication methods in ancient Rome.

Akustik 4 Bild 20meter

Figure: Virtual reconstruction of a people’s assembly in the ancient Forum Romanum in Rome, with a view of the speaker at the rostrum. © digitales forum romanum, 3D-visualisation: J. Bartz, D. Mariakschk, A. Müller, S. Muth

In ancient times, the cities’ piazzas were the main stages for public communication – such as the Agora in Athens, or the Forum Romanum in Rome. Here, the public would be informed of all important and relevant state policies, news of which would then travel further into the city by word of mouth. But how could, and indeed how should we imagine such speeches being held before the people? How well could onlookers hear the politicians in those days? And how many of those at the square could hear the speech at all?

To answer these questions, scientists from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) and the Technical University of Berlin (TU) are designing a set of digital tools. The interdisciplinary research project “Analogue Memory – Auralisation of Archaeological Spaces” run by the HU’s Excellence Cluster “Image Knowledge Gestaltung” has been investigating acoustics in ancient times, with a particular focus on the Forum Romanum, since 2015.

Perceiving public assemblies in the Forum

Virtual reconstructions of both the acoustics and the visibility of the orators offer brand new insights into how daily political communication in the ancient Forum worked – and reveal very specific problems of the time, as well as subsequent attempts to overcome them.  

“With the help of simulations and auralisations of the acoustic conditions – the process of ‘making a place audible’ – we can turn the public assemblies in the Forum into something more perceptible,” explains Stefan Weinzierl, Professor of Audio Communications at the TU. At the same time, virtual simulations of public assemblies in the 3D Forum Romanum model allow researchers to reconstruct the audience’s view of the orator, so as to investigate how much the audience could see as they were listening.

A new understanding of the Forum Romanum in its everyday life

Speeches could be held in various places around the ancient Forum. The scientists compared these different locations with regards to their acoustic and visual framework, so as to gain a new understanding of the specific circumstances of ancient public speaking. With this information, they are creating the foundations upon which we can build a new understanding of the Forum Romanum in its everyday life.

“The research project proves how important and profitable combining scientific research with virtual reconstructions can be,” says HU Professor of Archaeology, Susanne Muth. “To this end, it is imperative that the virtual reconstructions do not just illustrate what we already know, but also act as instruments with which to carry out further scientific research.”

Professor Christian Kassung, a cultural scientist at HU, emphasises the aspect of shaping of the project in line with the Cluster research programme: “We do not just provide answers to current research questions; we are also creating a tool which will generate new questions for future research.”


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Exhibition “Forum Romanum 3.0”

Website of the Exhibition

Experience the acoustic and visual simulations of speeches held in the Forum at the exhibition „Forum Romanum 3.0“. The exhibition will take place in the main building of the HU until 22nd July 2016.

Further Information

Press Contact

Hans-Christoph Keller
Spokesperson of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Phone: +49 30 2093-2946