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Regio V - Semita dei Cippi

The antique name of one Ostian street or path is known. To the northeast of the Domus delle Gorgoni (I,XIII,6), and on the east side of the road leading from the Porta Laurentina to the intersection of Via dei Molini and the Decumanus, are two stone cippi, which gave the road its modern name: Semita dei Cippi. They are probably older than the Hadrianic period. The southern one is badly damaged, but seems to record the same as the northern one (h. 0.58; w. 0.48; d. 0.14), which is a few metres away and has the inscription:

P         R         I

In SO I the inscription has been interpreted, with some hesitation, as Haec | Semita Hor(reorum) | p(---) r(---) i(---) / pri(---) | est, "This is the cross-road of the store building". Horrea is the only sensible explanation for hor. There are no parallels for P R I. The letters are far apart and can therefore not be the beginning of one word (pri(---)). They must be an abbreviation of three words, perhaps p(rincipium) r(egionis) I or p(rimae) r(egionis) i(nitium). An inscription from the third century AD (CIL XIV, 352) informs us that D. Flavius Florus Veranus was sodalis corp(oris) V region(um/is) col(oniae) Ost(iensis), a member of the guild of the five Ostian regions or the fifth Ostian region. P(opuli) R(omani) i(ussu) or i(uris) ("By order of the Roman people") has also been suggested, but it is not clear at all what the involvement of the people of the city of Rome could have been.

The reference to a specific store building causes some surprise in a city full of horrea. Clearly the name refers to one or more store buildings of special significance. The primary candidate are the very large Grandi Horrea (II,IX,7), dating back to the period of Claudius. The building is situated to the east of the northern extension of the Semita dei Cippi, today called Via dei Molini. In this store building grain was kept that was used for the distribution of free bread to the Ostians.

One of the cippi may have been brought to this place after some building activity. Here the Exedra I,XII,3 comes to mind, which according to Heres blocked the north end of the Semita dei Cippi from the middle of the fourth century onwards. In front of the Caseggiato dell'Invidioso (V,V,1) is a well made of rubble masonry and large fragments of amphorae. It may have been built in the later fifth century. The road was from now on obviously no longer used for the transport of goods.

Or is there an alternative explanation? If this was the usual way of indicating the names of streets in Ostia, then it is surprising that no other examples have been found, and that the only preserved example consists of two cippi. We may also consider the possibility, that the cippi are in their original position. In that case it is difficult to understand why they were placed next to each other. It may be noted that they flank a room of building V,I,2, of which the facade has disappeared. In the east wall of this room is a door, close to a door in a late-antique curved wall. The latter seems to have formed part of a small amphitheatre. Could it be that the cippi mark the place where corpses were dragged out of the arena?

Plan of the area. From SO I.


The cippi seen from the south-west. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The northern cippus. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The southern cippus. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The well on Semita dei Cippi, seen from the south-west.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

[jthb - 13-Sep-2009]