Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

iPhone app brings Roman London to life

  • This is Londinium, a new app, brings Roman London to life
  • Users can trace sites across Roman London using Google maps
  • Features augmented reality scenes of sacrifices and fighting at key London sites
  • Aim is to make history come alive; take it out of the museum

London (CNN) -- The Romans may have left Britain in the 5th century A.D., but they left their mark on the country after nearly four centuries of occupation.

The settlement of Londinium, now the thriving city of London, was built by the Romans around the middle of the first century A.D., and is one of the enduring legacies of the Roman invasion.

Some sites, such as the ruins of the ancient roman wall, are still standing but much of the city's ancient history remains buried. Now, a new -- and free -- application for iPhone and iPad is unearthing Roman London and bringing it back to life virtually.

The app, called Streetmusuem:Londinium, is a joint venture from the London Museum of Archaeology and the TV channel History.

With the app, users can hold up their phone around London and activate video vignettes of Roman scenes against the modern backdrop using an augmented reality feature.

If you walk down the street, you're in it, you're in the historic landscape, and it's all around you
--Roy Stephenson, London Museum of Archaeology

They can virtually excavate a patch of soil by rubbing their fingers on the screen to reveal items from the Museum of London's core collection as well as bring up key information about the items.

Roy Stephenson is Head of Archaeological Collections and Archive at the Museum of London and was responsible for creating content for the app.

"I really want people to absorb history, that there's more to it than the museum or gallery," he said.

"If you walk down the street, you're in it, you're in the historic landscape, and it's all around you," he continued.

His hope is that users will be intrigued to further explore the items in the museum's collection.

"It's a minor representative of all the stuff that we have in the collection, the pinnacle of the iceberg," he said.

The History channel was responsible for filming the vignettes of Roman life, using professional actors and so-called "re-enactors" to act out scenes of ancient Romans shopping, worshipping and fighting.

Steven Allen from the History channel was tasked with recreating nine Roman scenes, sets and cast. "We knew where the forum was, we knew where they made pottery, we knew where they duelled, so we had to work out how to illustrate these," he explained.

In a scene at the London forum, he said, a market vendor tries to sell a stale fish to a customer, who then throws it at a banker walking past; in another scene at the old roman wall, a guard is caught slacking off by his superior.

"They fit in with a younger audience we're aiming for, injecting some humor into the scenarios," he added.

(It's) like a time tunnel looking back, allowing you to compare old with new
--Kevin Brown, Brothers and Sisters

Streetmuseum: Londinium was developed from a previous app which used open source software and augmented reality to superimpose images of historic London over the contemporary vista, seen through the camera view on an iPhone.

"(It was) like a time tunnel looking back, allowing you to compare old with new," explained Kevin Brown from creative agency Brothers and Sisters, who developed the app for the Museum of London.

The innovations to the new app, he said, include the video vignettes, as well as a map of Roman London overlaid on a Google map of the city now, with a slider to increase or decrease the transparency of the Roman map.

Soundscapes can be activated, giving a sense of what the Roman streets might have sounded like, in addition to the vignettes.

The excavation feature is also new, as is a walking tour marked on the Google map of London that starts at the museum and moves through the city to key Roman sites, giving users, according to Brown, "a very tailored, curated experience."

Stephenson of the Museum of London explained that the majority of sites are located in the centre of the city but that he included at least one item of interest in each of the 33 boroughs in London.

So if you wanted to extend the tour to Croydon in South London, for example, the app would show you where a stash of Roman gold coins was once discovered; or, further north in Highgate, where an ancient pottery kiln was unearthed.

"(It's really) an educational resource," said Brown.

"If you knew nothing about Roman London and you spent 20 or 30 minutes with the app, you'd gen up pretty quickly," he continued.


Most popular Tech stories right now