The newly opened Ancient Rome exhibit at the History Museum of Mobile features machines and technology taken from 2000-year-old Roman designs. Tom Rizzo, with Artisans of Florence, produced the exhibit. Tom has a keen interest in history and is a historian, not an engineer. He worked on the written content for the exhibit. “I have a passion for it.” He told me. He finds the way to take the technical information and easily communicate it to everyone. The exhibit shows Rome’s technology was the culmination of many cultures. “Science is a continuum,” Tom said.
The exhibit is not so much artifact-based as it is about machines and technology through the ages. You won’t see any like this exhibit anywhere else in the world.
The Ancient Rome exhibit focuses on the first 400 years of the Roman Empire which incorporates the reign of Julius Caesar. Taken from the original texts and drawings, the machines in the four galleries will teach you how Roman technology worked and how their machines helped to conquer, maintain, and enrich people.
To serve in the Roman legion, you had to be tough; they would march up to thirty miles a day and could not exceed the height limit of 5’7”.
On display are many busts of different emperors. Many times people placed the emperor’s bust in the anteroom of their home, so people would know who you supported politically.
The map of the Roman world depicts Rome at its largest expansion. Romans dominated the port cities because trade was important to their survival and built Roman cities in the ports. They traded with both India and China. When Rome would conquer a region, they would then give the people services. Life after Rome wasn’t so bad.
Military Genius “I came, I saw, I conquered”
Here you learn how the Romans built a bridge across the Rhine River in Germany, bringing Caesar an easy conquest. How the catapults they built could cover throw 100 pounds over a half-mile.
See the assault towers they used were mobile two to four-story constructions of over 100 feet tall. How would you fight back against that? Tom also explained that many of the legionaries were engineers.
All roads lead to Rome
You will see the World’s oldest roadmap, while used for use in the military so the soldiers could calculate the distance in Roman miles of know how long it would take a legion to get to a destination. The map squashed the topography and stretched it out, but it shows the distance from Scotland to almost to China. They used an odometer; something we rely on today calculated the distance. See how an aqueduct is used for moving water. The largest aqueduct constructed was about 60 miles in length. Many calculations went into making the flow of the water at the correct volume and rate.
How was the Coliseum built? Human hamster wheels? You will see the machine and how they placed the stones for the colossal building.
Lifestyle and entertainment
Learn about Roman attire, the games they enjoyed, and the frescos they painted.
While telling time during the day with a sundial was easy, what do you do to tell time at night in Rome? They built a water clock. The clock, fashioned out of wood, brass, and copper, was filled with water. It was the flowing of that water that indicated the passage of time. Also, Roman hours were not the same as our 60 minutes. The time varied by season, so the clock had to be recalibrated regularly. It was not unlike our Daylight Savings Time.
The Colosseum was built in only eight years and could seat fifty to eighty thousand people. It is the largest amphitheater ever built. Many seats were partially covered by the velarium or shade, which would be pulled into position by sailors who volunteered to be able to see the production at the Colosseum.
Three or four levels beneath the Colosseum, animals were housed that participated in the productions. A pulley system made it possible to get the animals up to the floor of the building.
As the Roman Empire grew and they continued conquering people, they would take the best technology from the group, implement it and build upon it.
Tom explained that people that share a technical focus may compare some exhibits to something they built or used. The exhibit “has good modern applications,” he said.
Artisans of Florence is an international tour operator for the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci in Florence, Italy. They specialize in the reconstructing lost ancient technology and develop and tour interactive scientific exhibits of artisanal experience with over 20 million visitors worldwide.
There are several video displays throughout the displays that offer more in-depth information on different aspects of certain machines and exhibits. The full video will be playing in the main auditorium of the museum for guests who want to view more information on Ancient Rome.
The Ancient Rome exhibit runs through April 5 at the History Museum of Mobile. You will be fascinated by seeing how technology developed over a millennia ago is still in use today. You can see my brief video of the exhibit here.