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Vivarium

A vivarium was a place where wild animals were kept, waiting for transport to the amphitheatre. Such a place seems to have existed to the south of Ostia.

In the necropolis to the south of Ostia the following funeral inscription was found:

DIS MANIBVS
T. FLAVI AVG LIB
STEPHANI
PRAEPOSITO
CAMELLORVM

It mentions T. Flavius Stephanus, freedman of a Flavian Emperor, overseer of the camels. The text is accompanied by a relief of two camels on either side of an elephant. Kolendo has suggested that he worked for the procurator Laurento ad elephantos, an official in charge of elephants, in the Laurentine territory to the south of Ostia (CIL VI, 8583). This implies the existence of a vivarium in the Laurentine territory. It may be noted that Stephanus was not the only person from the neighbouring community to be buried in Ostia: several Imperial slaves and freedmen working in the ager Laurens were buried there.



The funeral inscription and relief of T. Flavius Stephanus.
J. De Grossi Mazzorin, "Cammelli nell’antichità: le presenze in Italia",
Archaeozoological studies in honour of A. Riedel, Bolzano 2006, 231-242, fig. 2.

Bones of an African elephant were found between the Canale dello Stagno and the so-called Villa of Plinius, directly to the east of the Via del Lido di Castel Porziano, a bit to the south of Viale di Castel Porziano (see A. Schiavone, Gli elefanti a Castel Fusano e i vivaria).

Also in this area may have been Ursarius, the "place of bears" where wild animals were fed, mentioned in the description of the martyrdom of Asterius in the Acta Sanctorum (January, II, p. 218). Asterius and members of his household were killed there in the third century. According to the Acta the place of bears was next to a "golden sanctuary", and the text suggests that it was identical with or near an amphitheatre (for more information see the section Ancient Texts, s.v. Acta Sanctorum). It may be significant that a little Christian church was found near the so-called Villa of Plinius, more or less in the middle of nowhere.

A bone of a camel was found by Heinzelmann in the north-west part of Ostia, near the Navalia and the small harbour to the west. He suggests that camels were used for transportation in Ostia. It is also possible that this animal suffered from the transport from Africa to Ostia, died in Ostia, and should have been taken to the vivarium, along the Via Severiana.

A relief has been preserved of a ship with cages with lions on board, and the lighthouse of Portus. About the transport of wild animals Claudianus wrote: "Boats laden with some of the animals traverse seas and rivers; bloodless from terror the rower's hand is stayed, for the sailor fears the merchandise he carries. Others are transported over land in wagons that block the roads with the long procession, bearing the spoils of the mountains. The wild beast is borne a captive by those troubled cattle on whom in times past he sated his hunger, and each time that the oxen turned and looked at their burden they pull away in terror from the pole" (On the Consulship of Stilicho III; 400 AD; translation Loeb).



A ship approaches the lighthouse. On board are lions in cages, destined for the amphitheatre.
From Pavolini 1986, fig. 27.

[jthb - 28-May-2007]