Friday, 23 January 2009

Populating Pompeii

How did Pompeians move through their city? A company called "Procedural," which seems to be based in Switzerland, has marshaled their expertise in urban modeling and computer programming to attempt an answer.

In their own words:
Pompeii was a Roman city, destroyed and completely buried during an eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius. We have revived its past by creating a 3D model of its previous appearance and populated it with crowds of Virtual Romans. In this paper, we detail the process, based on archaeological data, to simulate ancient Pompeii life in real time. In a first step, an annotated city model is generated using procedural modelling. These annotations contain semantic data, such as land usage, building age, and window/door labels. In a second phase, the semantics are automatically interpreted to populate the scene and trigger special behaviors in the crowd, depending on the location of the characters. Finally, we describe the system pipeline, which allows for the simulation of thousands of Virtual Romans in real time.

Check out their work on you tube:

You can read their paper as well:

An interesting idea, I think, but one that raises more questions than it answers. Some immediate ones: Where are the kids? Why is everyone walking alone? Why is everyone walking in the first place (as opposed to riding, leading animals, pushing something, etc.)? I'm curious about others' thoughts.


Eric Poehler said...


In addition to the problems you rightly identify in the social realm, I'd bring up the "poor area" and "rich area" of town, and the identifications these areas on opposite sides of the forum.

I'd also add a few environmental concerns. Why is the city flat? Why are the streets without sidewalks, stepping-stones, and most importantly, water? Certainly these would structure the patterns of movement throughout the city.

Generally, I'm very much in favor of such technical endeavors and I'm glad we have this one to watch and discuss. The next iteration, however, needs to consider quite a few more variables.

Jo Berry said...

Eric, I like your point about the flatness of the perspective. I've just been looking at the photomosaic of the facade of VI.1 produced by the Via dell' Abbondanza project (, and it's striking how 'bumpy' the road is. There is no way you could walk along this road without watching where you were going! I think Jeremy's point about traffic is important too. At the moment everyone seems to be out for a stroll, but in actual fact most people would probably have been out for a reason, and in many cases this would have included carrying or pushing something, or leading mules. It would make any trip even more perilous. And I hadn't thought about kids! Then you've got people working in the streets, getting in the way of others - e.g. street vendors, sign painters (unless these were always done at night), shops and bars that temporarily spill over into the street duing opening hours, and so on. The more I think about it, it seems to me that getting around town would have been a tricky business! So I agree with Eric that the whole picture needs more complexity.

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