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The Piazzale delle Corporazioni (II,VII,4)

The Piazzale delle Corporazioni (Square of the Corporations) is one of the most famous monuments in Ostia. Many mosaic inscriptions and depictions are related to maritime trade, to importing goods for Rome by ship: grain, oil (used in innumerable little lamps and as soap), fish and fish sauce, animals (for the amphitheatre), marble, and perhaps metal. Rome was a major focus of the Mediterranean trade, involving especially the western Mediterranean sea.

Click on the image to enlarge. North is to the right.

The square is situated behind the theatre, from which it is separated by a long row of marble columns. Around the remaining three sides runs a double porticus, containing many small rooms. In the front and sometimes in the back rooms the many black-and-white mosaics can be seen from a modern path next to them. One marble inscription has survived (now attached to the back wall of one of the rooms), with the text NAVICVLARI AFRICANI: shippers from Africa. The mosaic inscriptions mention shippers (navicularii) and traders (negotiantes) who were united in guilds (collegia). Often these guilds had the status of corpus, a body. This status was given to a guild when it performed activities in the public interest. Many depictions can be seen of dolphins, ships and the lighthouse at Portus. Grain measures (pecks) refer to the most important commodity for the population of Rome. In the centre of the square was a temple, probably dedicated to the Imperial Annona, the personification of the food supply.

The rooms were in antiquity called stationes: stations or offices. The square was a Roman alternative for email and the mobile phone. Here the shippers and traders discussed all sorts of issues concerning the transport of goods, together with representatives of the Imperial government. What to do during a long wind calm, in case of bad weather, after jettison of the cargo, or after the sinking of ships? Should stocks from the warehouses in Portus be used? Could and should new loads depart from the ports? Should extra ships be deployed and if so, by whom? Most mosaics were installed in the late second and third century. In this period the theatre was rebuilt by Commodus and inaugurated by his successors Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla, in 196 AD.

Photo strips: east porticus; north porticus; west porticus.

You can walk along the offices, with the archaeologist Guy de la Bédoyère as your guide. Another movie, presented on the square by Sergio Rinaldi Tufi, is provided by the Parco Archeologico.

1 Introduction
2 Plans, drawings, views
3.1 The excavations and publications
3.2 The excavations by Pohl
3.3 The excavations of the lower level documented by
      Finelli, Ricci and Lauro-Ricciardi
3.4 The restorations of the mosaics and the masonry
4.1 The rooms to the east of the porticos
4.2 The rooms to the north and west of the porticos
5 The temple and the south side of the square
6 The marble inscriptions and graffiti
7.1 Masters, superintendents, shippers, traders, merchants
7.2 The shipping business in law
8.1 Visual approaches
8.2 Effects and characteristics
8.3 The ships

9 Catalogue of the stationes
10 The frames of the mosaics and the dividing walls
11.1 The dating of the oldest mosaics
11.2 The construction phases
12 The name of the square
13 The auxiliary grain fleet of Commodus
14.1 Concluding remarks: development and use
14.2 Concluding remarks: art and communication
15 Credits
16 Bibliography and abbreviations

J.Th. Bakker, "The Piazzale delle Corporazioni in Ostia Antica: description and interpretation",