Back to menu

Reliefs of Portus

The Torlonia relief

The so-called Torlonia relief was found in 1863 or 1864 near the so-called Imperial Palace, between the harbours of Claudius and Trajan. It is made of Greek marble and measures 1.22 x 0.75. It is probably a votive offering from the nearby Temple of Liber Pater (Bacchus). On the sails of the ship to the left are the letters V L, meaning V(otum) L(ibero) or V(otum) L(ibens) (S(olvit)). It was made in the Severan period, as is suggested by the way in which people sacrificing on board of a ship are represented.

To the right is a ship that is tied to a mooring block (in the lower right corner). Examples of such blocks have been found around Trajan's hexagonal basin. A porter carries an amphora of wine to the quay. The person who dedicated the relief was probably a wine merchant, and of course there is an association between Liber Pater-Bacchus and wine. Above the ship is a large eye, averting evil.

The Torlonia relief. Click to enlarge.
Testaguzza 1970, p. 171.

The ship to the left has just entered the harbour. On the deck (upper left) people are sacrificing - one of them a woman -, thanking a deity for the safe journey. To the right a man may be lowering objects that will protect the ship from the quay. On the sails are two representations of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. A small boat is to the left.

Between the two ships is Neptune with a trident. In the background and to the left is the lighthouse of Claudius, with a burning fire. To the right of the fire is a statue, possibly of Claudius or Nero. On either side of the lighthouse is a statue, holding a wreath and a horn of plenty. The female figure on the left (in the upper left corner) has a lighthouse on her head. This is the personification of Portus. The male figure to the right may be the Genius (protective deity) of the harbour. To the right of the female figure are an eagle and a winged figure, presumably Victoria.

In the upper right corner is a triumphal arch. On top is a chariot drawn by elephants. The person in the chariot may be the Emperor Domitian, because he holds a sceptre ending in a human head, which is also found on Domitianic coins. To the right is Liber Pater-Bacchus, holding a thyrsus and accompanied by a panther.

A marble plan

Fragment of a marble plan of Portus (18 x 16.5 cm.). The fragment was reused in the tomb of Iulia Procula, in the Isola Sacra necropolis. The many holes were made when the fragment was reused, perhaps in the third century. The length of the facades is indicated by numbers: CLVII[..], CCXXIX, and C[....]. Two triangles represent staircases. The area that is depicted measures c. 41 x 37 metres.

Fragment of a marble plan of Portus. From Rodriguez 2002, Tav. VI.

Unloading a ship

This relief was found in Portus. Amphorae with wine are being carried from a ship to the quay. The three seated persons seem to take notes about the cargo on wax tablets, joined together like a book. The first porter seems to receive some kind of token.

Relief depicting the unloading of a ship. From Pavolini 1986, fig. 26.

Transportation of wild animals

A ship approaches the lighthouse. On board are lions in cages, destined for the amphitheatre.

Relief of a ship carrying lions. From Pavolini 1986, fig. 27.

A bar

This relief comes from tomb 90 in the Isola Sacra necropolis. To the left a ship is approaching the lighthouse. It seems to be towed by a small boat. To the right is a bar, visited by the crew after mooring the ship. The left part of the bar is reminiscent of the Caseggiato del Termopolio in Ostia. A dolphin seems to be depicted here, possibly indicating the name of the bar.

Relief with a harbour scene and a bar. From Meiggs 1973, Plate XXVI, b.

[jthb - 30-Mar-2008]