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The area to the south and east

The area to the south and east of Ostia was studied by Bradford (1957) and more recently, in great detail, by Michael Heinzelmann (1998).

The plain to the south of Ostia ("Pianabella"). Bradford 1957, fig. 23 (partial).

A detailed map of the area to the east and south of Ostia was published by Heinzelmann (1998, Beilage I):
  • Map of the area to the east of Ostia, and of the north-east part of the Pianabella (new window).
  • Map of the south part of the Pianabella (new window).
  • Map of the north-west part of the Pianabella (new window).
  • Legenda of the map (new window).

  • To the east the Ostian territory stretched at least as far as modern Acilia, seven to eight kilometres away. The Tiber, to the north of Ostia, continued further to the east in antiquity than it does today. The river reached the spot of the mediaeval borgo, where it turned towards the north. This arm was cut off during an inundation in 1557. It is now filled with earth ("Fiume Morto"). To the east of the Porta Romana, directly behind the entrance to the excavations, some tombs can be seen. Further to the east was a swamp (stagnum ostiense). The northern border was approximately one kilometre to the north of the borgo, the southern border four kilometres to the south. To the east it reached the Monti di S. Paolo (modern Dragoncello). In the north part of the swamp (to the north of the borgo) were salt-pans. The Via Ostiensis, leading from Ostia to Rome, traversed the swamp and therefore had to be reinforced with supporting walls and special foundations. An aqueduct ran parallel to the road. In the swamp rubble was dumped of buildings that had been destroyed by the great fire of Rome under Nero. The swamp was drained in the late 19th and early 20th century.

    The land to the south of Ostia is today called Pianabella ("Beautiful plain"). The size of the plain is approximately 1.5 x 2.5 km. In antiquity the sea was the western border of this plain, with a sand beach and dunes. The present beach is four kilometres to the west, due to silting. The location of the mouth of the Tiber in the years 14 AD, 850, 1569, 1774 and 1876 is indicated on Bradford's map above. The southern border is the present day Canale dello Stagno, that in the Roman period served as an outlet from the swamp to the sea. The salt water reached the salt beds at the north end of the swamp through narrow channels below the Via Ostiensis.

    Excavations in the 19th and 20th century, and a study of crop marks, of undulations in the terrain, and of aerial photographs have led to the discovery of an orthogonal system of many Roman roads in this area. The system consisted of five roads running north-west / south-east, and many side-streets running south-west / north-east. They seem to have been created in the Augustan period. Along the coast ran the Via Severiana, that was built in the first century AD and restored under the Severan Emperors. The roads were eventually all paved with basalt blocks, for the last time in the Severan period. Two of the north-west / south-east running roads and the Via Severiana led to a bridge across the Canale dello Stagno. It was restored in 284 AD by the Emperors Carinus and Numerianus: "pontem Laurentibus adque Ostiensibus olim vetustate collabsum lapideum restituerunt" ("they restored with stone the bridge that had collapsed a long time ago, because it was old, for the people of Laurentum and Ostia"; CIL XIV, 126). It was destroyed in 1943. Another inscription, found in this area, informs us that in 190 AD Commodus "pontem arcendae inundationis gratia fecit dedicavitque" ("made and dedicated a bridge to avoid the risk of inundation"; AE 1909, 67). This was probably not a true bridge, but rather a raising of the Via Severiana.

    One of five high ridges on the Pianabella, directly to the south of Ostia.
    In the ridges are the remains of north-south running roads. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

    The roads were flanked by villas, farms, but especially by single and multiple rows of tombs. Many sarcophagi, marble urns and hundreds of funeral inscriptions have been found here. To the south of the Porta Laurentina a small cluster of tombs has been unearthed (closed to the public). This necropolis reached the Canale dello Stagno and was even continued to the east of the swamp. In late antiquity Christians were buried in the area, but an exclusively Christian zone has not been identified. Particularly noteworthy are:

    Through the unexcavated part of regio V runs the Via del Sabazeo. At the south end was a secondary gate in the city wall. Outside the gate was found a small, rectangular

    Throughout the Pianabella farms (villae rusticae) have been found. Concentrations of luxurious villas (villae suburbanae) were found in two places. Several villas and baths were found to the south of the west half of Ostia. These include the

    To the north of the Canale dello Stagno is a row of at least five coastal villas and baths. Nearby a Severan milestone of the Via Severiana was found with the number VI. The number implies, that the milestone was in antiquity on a spot further to the south.

    The remains of baths near the Canale dello Stagno (Heinzelmann nr. 45).
    Photographs: Jan Theo Bakker.

    IMP(erator) CAES(ar)
    IMP(erator) CAES(ar)
    AVGG(usti duo) FORTISSIMI

    A Severan milestone, found in 1955/6, to the north of the Canale dello Stagno,
    along the Via Severiana (h. 1.51 m.; Helbig IV, 2996). Now in front of the museum.
    Dated to 198-209 AD. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

    The Canale dello Stagno runs parallel to the modern Via dei Pescatori, a road to the south of Lido di Ostia, starting at the beach and continuing north-eastwards. The channel was an administrative border, between the territory of Ostia and that of a city to the south: Laurentum, probably to be identified with Lavinium (Pratica di Mare). To the south of the channel is a forest, the Pineta di Castel Fusano. Here are the remains of the

    In this same area wild animals seem to have been kept, destined for the amphitheatre. Such an area is known as a

    The area to the south of the
    Canale dello Stagno.

    Along the coast to the south were many other villas, along the Via Severiana, which connected Ostia and Terracina. They are at intervals of some 500 metres. There was an Imperial villa as well, and an aqueduct. Here too a village was unearthed, the Vicus Augustanus Laurentium (not to be confused with Laurentum).

    The area to the south of the Villa della
    Palombara, or "of Plinius". Plan from Lanciani.

    Plan of the Vicus Augustanus Laurentium
    Plan from Simonazzi Masarich.

    P(ublio) AELIO AVG(usti) LIB(erto)
    NVMMVL(ariae) F(isci) F(rumentarii) OST(iensis) ORNATO ORNA
    Inscription on a base for a statue of P. Aelius Liberalis, patron of the Vicus.
    Hadrianic. Found in 1874 in the Tenuta di Castel Porziano, c. 8 km. to the south-east of Ostia.
    Now in the Museo Nazionale (Helbig III, 2419).

    [jthb - 16-Oct-2005]