Roman emperors - Web site is ongoing labor of love

Monday, September 10, 2001

CRANSTON, R.I. -- Throw down your sword and lower your shield, for such armor is not needed to command this Roman Empire.

Instead, the imperial realm can be yours with the mere click of a computer mouse, thanks to the painstaking research of scholars.

"De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors" contains original essays on many of the emperors who ruled from 27 B.C. to 1453. Complete with family trees, maps and hundreds of footnotes, the Web site is attracting users from the serious scholar to the curious moviegoer.

"It's evidently quite useful for all different sorts of people and it helps bring this broad, broad range of people together," said Thomas Banchich, a professor of classics and history at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. "There are a lot of people who are interested in the ancient world."

The Web site began in June 1996 as a vision of Michael DiMaio, a professor who teaches philosophy and Latin at Salve Regina University in Newport. DiMaio had the lofty goal of compiling biographies of all the Roman emperors into one resource that would be of high scholarly quality.

"It started out simply as an encyclopedia of emperors, empresses and caesars," said DiMaio, who operates the Web site out of his Cranston home and his Newport office. "It has gone beyond my expectations. ... I have no idea where it's going to go."

Now, the Web site contains an index of all emperors from Augustus to Constantine XI Palaelogus, and original essays on the lives of most emperors in between.

DiMaio beams when noting the site was listed earlier this year among the 15 best reference Web sites by Library Journal, an independent trade magazine.

While the creators of De Imperatoribus Romanis are writing with the academic elite in mind, they know the visuals are helping them reach a broader audience.

Interest in the Web site was piqued, DiMaio said, after the movie "Gladiator" was released. People around the country logged onto the site to see if the movie's depiction of the emperor Commodus was accurate.

According to the scholars, it's not. And the detailed bibliographies accompanying each essay prove these researchers know their stuff.

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