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Ostia 'fuori le mura': current projects and recent research in the Ostian territories

The 106th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America
Boston, Massachusetts
January 7, 2005

Colloquium Overview Statement

Joanne M. Spurza, Hunter College, The City University of New York
Session organizer

Ostia was Rome's port city; much past scholarship and recent studies have been devoted to links between imperial capital and harbor town (cf. C. Bruun and A. Gallina Zevi, eds., Ostia e Portus nelle loro relazioni con Roma, ActaInstRomFin 27 (2002)). Rome was 25 km upriver from Ostia, however. Ostia's immediate surroundings made it, more locally, the nerve center of a nexus of harbor facilities, coastline settlements, extramural developments and transport-communication lines. These are the areas, all currently under study through the auspices of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici di Ostia, addressed in this colloquium session. This panel is conceived of as sequel and counterpart to the session "Ostia, Port City of Imperial Rome: Current Projects, Recent Research," presented at the January 2004 Annual Meeting. No single toponym identifies the entire region under discussion, hence the ad hoc terminology "Ostian territories, fuori le mura"; but this title does point to the extra-urban focus of the papers, and to the shift from urban archaeology, strictly speaking, to topographical history and regional development.

The first two papers are a linked pair, presenting results of a large-scale geophysical survey of the harbor complex north of Ostia at Portus: the first deals with the Port of Claudius; the second, that of Trajan and the later period. The territory due south of Ostia along the litus Laurentinum (Castelporziano/Capocotta) has been the subject of another large-scale, long-term study that encompasses an imperial harbor-villa, a small town, a dozen maritime villas, as well as the changing morphology of the shoreline and hinterland. The fourth paper moves in closer to the city (still outside the walls), examining the growth of the suburbanum beyond the Porta Marina gates: its mausolea and a related peristyle building with public uses, the Domus Fulminata. The final paper again views the region comprehensively, through its network of roadways and waterways. Responses to the presentations are offered by the panel discussant, an authority and active scholar in the field of Roman ports, who has worked especially on the subjects of shipping and storage at Ostia and Portus.

Taken together, these papers put the port city of Ostia in its regional context. They observe the evolution of a broad coastal/riparian landscape, shaped by mighty imperial projects, by ambitious private enterprise and by the forces of nature. The methods used range from excavation and architectural analysis to geophysical and geomorphological survey; the periods covered, from the Early Iron Age to Late Antiquity.

A new survey of Portus (1). The Porto di Claudio

Martin Millett, University of Cambridge

Since 1998 a geophysical survey has been completed covering 128ha of the port complex at Portus. This, together with a re-assessment of previous work, provides new insights into the development of the imperial harbours. This paper reviews its implications for understanding the siting, layout and functions of the phase of construction initiated by Claudius. It suggests that the extent of the complex was greater than has previously been understood and that various elements of its plan are preserved in the layout of the later settlement. Analysis of the layout provides new information about the character of the site and the ways in which the harbour functioned in relation to Ostia.

A new survey of Portus (2). The Trajanic and later period

Simon Keay, University of Southampton

Since 1998 a geophysical survey has been completed covering 128ha of the port complex at Portus. This, together with a re-assessment of previous work, provides new insights into the development of the imperial harbours. This paper reviews its implications for understanding the development of the complex under Trajan and its subsequent evolution. New information is presented about the area between the Trajanic hexagon and the Tiber. Details of a newly discovered canal are discussed, together with the evidence for a building complex beside the Tiber. The implications of these structures for the functioning of the port are considered. Further evidence presented shows how the complex developed into the Late Antique period.

Mapping the Laurentine Shore: archaeology and geomorphology at Castelporziano

Amanda Claridge, Royal Holloway University of London

Combined archaeological, geophysical and geomorphological survey is currently investigating the history of Roman settlement along the litus Laurentinum, the territory immediately south of Ostia, legendary location of Virgil's Aeneid book VII and the Laurentine villa of Pliny the Younger. The study area comprises a four-mile length of the ancient shoreline and its hinterland, now several hundred metres inland, partly buried in a sequence of sand dunes and densely forested but otherwise uniquely preserved from modern development, within the confines of the Castelporziano/ Capocotta estate. The most visible remains are those of an enormous harbour-villa belonging to the Antonine emperors and a small town called Vicus Augustanus, both probably to be associated with the adjacent imperial estate of Laurentum. Other sites include shellfish middens of the Early Iron Age, two possible fish and oyster farms of the 2nd or 1st century BC and at least twelve maritime villas of differing sizes and shapes built during the first four centuries AD. The study extends beyond the morphology of individual sites and their assemblages to such wider issues as property boundaries, regional building practices, the origins and distribution of building materials, and their despoilation and recycling during and after Roman occupation. Taking advantage of the latest developments in precision dating of sand deposits by luminescence, it is also determining the extent to which the formation of the present dune landscape was episodic and whether the eventual abandonment of settlement coincided with major climatic change.

Domus Fulminata: The suburban House of the Thunderbolt: context, date, founder and function

L. Bouke van der Meer, Leiden University

The suburban area outside of Porta Marina was not a cemetery. It is, however, the location of two mausolea, one of C. Cartilius Poplicola and one of an anonymous VIP, both dated to the Augustan period. Both tombs have an enclosure wall. This means that they were intended as public memorials, even when the ground level was raised later on. Connected with the anonymous mausoleum is the peristyle building, the Domus Fulminata (III, vii, 3-5), built after AD 69. In all probability, the mausoleum belonged to P. Lucilius Gamala (`senior') who died around 30 BC. He provided money for a naval war, and the marble rostrum found near the mausoleum may attest his generosity. P. Lucilius Gamala, duovir in AD 71, may have built Domus Fulminata in order to honour his famous ancestor. The peristyle with its biclinium, aedicula, altar and water basin(s) obviously had a religious function. The courtyard may have been used for festivities in honour of the famous ancestor. The aedicula with its unique low niche may also point to an ancestral cult. Though the building was furnished with marble elements after the second century, it kept its original appearance to the end, probably also due to the presence of a buried, divine thunderbolt. A similar conservatism is visible in the Domus di Giove Fulminatore (IV, iv, 3).

The urban development of Ostia: town, territory and communications

Janet DeLaine, University of Reading

Set at the junction of river and sea, at a point where two ancient routeways met, communications were clearly key to Ostia's longevity and success as the most important entry-point to Rome. Sea, river and roads also linked Ostia east to her hinterland, south to the facade maritime of luxury villas and, from the time of Claudius, north to the new harbour facilities at Portus. This paper assesses Ostia's changing relationships with these areas and the varying importance of different means of communication, and their impact on the development of the city itself, based on the wealth of new archaeological and geological data which has become available over the last 15 to 20 years. It focuses on the impact of three critical events: the implantation of the early third-century BC castrum, the contemporary formalisation of the via Ostiensis and the establishment of the naval base, in relation to the occupation and organisation of the agricultural landscape north-east of Ostia; the Augustan reorganisation, which not only led to the first development of the north (right) bank of the Tiber at Ostia, but also affected the territory south of Ostia and its links with the maritime villas along the Laurentine coast; and the re-organisation of communication routes with the creation of the new harbours at Portus, providing an alternative mouth to the river, creating the Isola Sacra, and changing the hydraulic regime of the city which led to Ostia's most intense period of redevelopment.

Geoffrey E. Rickman, Emeritus Professor of Roman History
University of St. Andrews
Session Discussant