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Caserma dei Vigili (II,V,1-2)

The first excavations in the Barracks of the Fire Brigade were conducted in 1888-1889, by Lanciani. The excavation was completed in the years 1911-1912, by Vaglieri. In 1964 a trench was dug by Zevi in the Augusteum, at the west end of the courtyard. The building as we see it today is largely Hadrianic, but Zevi discovered the remains of an older building belonging to the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD). He also found fragments of dedications by fire-fighters, to Trajan and Hadrian, belonging to the Domitianic building. The barracks were rebuilt completely at the end of the reign of Hadrian (132-137 AD; opus latericium). The fire-fighters (vigiles) in Ostia and Portus belonged to the Roman cohorts, and came to the harbour city for periods of four months. It was a vexillation of four centuries. Originally 320 men were stationed in the harbours. In 205 AD the number was doubled: 320 men were from now on active in Ostia, and another 320 in Portus.



Plan of the barracks. From NSc 1912, p. 164.

You can open a colour-coded plan of the building-phases in a new window (Sablayrolles 1996, fig. 4).

The main entrance was on the east side (room 1). Here the facade is flanked by several small rooms that have been called bars. There were also wide entrances in the north and south sides (36, 9). There are four internal staircases (5, 13, 32, 41) and one external staircase (17). Two of these staircases are flanked by corridors that connected the street and the interior (14, 31). Originally the external staircase was flanked by two rooms (16, 18), that could only be entered from the street. Later these rooms were added to the interior, and room 18 was for some time a large latrine. The main organizing feature is a rectangular courtyard (A; 21 x 40 m.), surrounded by a portico with brick piers. In the east part of the courtyard are two large basins (55, 56), that may have been used during drills of the use of pumps in the courtyard. The courtyard was paved with bipedales, as were the three vestibules.

The fire-fighters lived in rooms around the portico, and on the first floor. A row of shops to the west of the building (19-27; Caseggiato II,V,2), along corridor B, was added to the barracks after the Hadrianic period. The wide shop-entrances were blocked and doors were opened in the east walls. The officers may have lived in these rooms. At the south end of the corridor is a basin (57). In room 27 a cult niche was hacked out. In room 51 is an unusual threshold: two grooves suggest that wheeled vehicles entered the room (the distance between the centre of the grooves is 1.20). In room 44, to the south of the main entrance, a small, arched wall-niche was hacked out. It is surrounded by holes that may have supported an aedicula-facade. Also in the walls of this room are three small, shallow, rectangular niches or recesses. In room 2, to the north of the main entrance, a black-and-white geometric mosaic was found. On the walls are paintings of panels, columns and a male figure. In the south-east corner of the building is a large latrine (42), with a shrine dedicated to Fortuna. The shrine, that is next to the door in the west wall, may be called a hanging aedicula, i.e. an aedicula without a base. The excavators reconstructed it from marble fragments that had fallen on the floor. From bottom to top the aedicula consists of three consoles (starting at height 1.60 from the floor), a bottom slab, two tiny columns, a top slab, and a tympanum (the total height is 1.14). On the tympanum is the inscription:

FORTVNAE SANCT(ae)

A marble altar was found in front of the aedicula, with an inscription:

C(aius) VALERIVS
MYRON B(ene)F(iciarius) PR(aefecti)
COH(ortis) IIII VIG(ilum)
FORTVNAE
SANCTAE
V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) A(nimo)

The aedicula must have contained a statuette of Fortuna. Around 200 AD the Christian author Clement of Alexandria wrote (Protrepticus 4,45): "The Romans, although they ascribe their greatest successes to Fortuna, and believe her to be the greatest deity, carry her statue to the privy, thus assigning to her a fit temple." (translation Loeb, Butterworth). It is a cynical comment that confirms, but does not explain, the presence of Fortuna in latrines.

At the west end of the courtyard, opposite the main entrance of the building, is a large shrine dedicated to the cult of the Emperors (Augusteum). It consists of a rectangular "cella" (11.68 x 6.60), in front of which is a vestibule or "pronaos" (9.68 x 4.10), that was added in the Severan period. Between the pronaos and cella were two marble columns and a single step, in the entrance to the pronaos were two marble columns. On the floor of the pronaos is a large black-and-white mosaic depicting three phases of the sacrifice of a bull. To the left are a dead bull and a man with an axe. In the centre a man is leading a bull to an altar with a burning fire. To the left of the altar is a junior priest with a long axe (popa), to the right are two more men. One is playing a double flute, the other seems to hold a dish (patera) in his hand. The right part of the mosaic is very similar to the left part: we see a man with an axe (victimarius) and a bull.



Plan of the Augusteum. North is to the left.
NSc 1889, 78.

The remains of a masonry altar were found in the centre of the cella. On the floor is a geometric black-and-white mosaic, the lower part of the walls was decorated with marble. Against the back wall is a podium (w. 8.80, d. 1.57, h. 1.45), that was originally lined with marble. On top of the podium are two marble altars and three marble bases for small statues, perhaps made of silver. They are dedicated to, from left to right, Marcus Aurelius (a base from 140-144 AD and an altar from 162 AD), Septimius Severus (an altar from 194-195 AD), Lucius Verus (162 AD), and Antoninus Pius (138 AD). The dedication to Septimius Severus is on an erased text. Originally it was probably a dedication to Commodus, who was given a damnatio memoriae after his death. A base with a dedication from 137 AD to Lucius Aelius Verus Caesar, adoptive son of Hadrian, is standing against the right wall of the room.

In front of the pronaos are several other bases. Dedications to Septimius Severus, his sons Geta and Caracalla, and his wife Iulia Domna (all from 207 AD) were set against the columns and brick piers of the facade. The text to Geta was erased after he had been murdered in 211 AD by his brother. To the left are dedications to Caracalla (211 AD), Gordianus III (a child-Emperor, born 225 AD, Emperor 238-244 AD, dedication from 239 AD), and his wife Furia Sabinia Tranquillina (241-244 AD). In room 18 a base with a dedication to Diadumenianus (Emperor in 218 AD) was found.

Many graffiti were found on the right wall of the pronaos and in the room to the south of the Augusteum (45; now in the store-rooms). Some vigiles call themselves bucinator, that is a trumpeter who gave signals that organized the daily life of the men. Another man is exactus lanternarum, overseer of the lamps and torches. Severus Alexander, Emperor from 222-235 AD, is mentioned in this graffito: "For the safety of our lord Severus Alexander, the pious, the happy, Augustus. We, the soldiers of the first cohort of the fire-fighters, the Severan, were stationed in these barracks for 30 days". In a few other graffiti the words tutus (safe) and feliciter (in a happy way) suggest (supported by parallels from Rome), that fire-fighters thanked the Emperor for the safe outcome of their work and that of some of their comrades. The work involved not only fighting fires, but also nightly patrols and retrieving runaway slaves.

After three years of service the vigiles were entitled to free grain supplied by the Emperor, and a collection day and counter in the Porticus Minucia Frumentaria in Rome, where the grain of the frumentationes was distributed, were allotted to them. This event is recorded in the barracks, on marble inscriptions (the letters of which were painted red), and with painted texts (often in a tabula ansata; red letters on a white background, and black letters on a red background). The painted texts were found in the two rooms to the south of the main entrance (43, 44), and in the room to the south of the Augusteum (45). The inscriptions were found on the streets around the building and inside the building, some "to the right [i.e. north] of the main entrance [room 1]". They carry dates ranging from 166 to 183 AD. Many had been reused to become parts of doors or windows. The three rectangular recesses in room 44 presumably once contained such inscriptions. One (CIL XIV, 4499) begins like this:

COH(ors) III VIG(ilum)
I QVI DESCENDERVNT IN VEXILLATIONE OSTIS ID(ibus) AVG(ustis) IN
ID(ibus) DEC(embribus) PVDENTE ET POLLIONE CO(n)S(ulibus) ((centuria)) CLAVDI
Q(uintus) LIVIUS Q(uinti) FIL(ius) SALVTARIS F(rumentum) P(ublicum) A(ccipit) D(ie) VIIII T(abula) XLVIII K(ausa) C(ognita)
M(arcus) VLPIVS CELESTINVS F(rumentum) P(ublicum) A(ccipit) D(ie) VII T(abula) XLI K(ausa) C(ognita)
L(ucius) OCTAVIVS SABINVS F(rumentum) P(ublicum) A(ccipit) D(ie) VII T(abula) LVIIII K(ausa) C(ognita)
[Etc.]

The painted texts are similar to the inscriptions. One contains the phrase salvos ire salvos venire ("Leave safely, arrive safely").

In the inscriptions in front of the Augusteum, from 207 AD, Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla are called restitutores castrorum Ostiensium ("restorers of the Ostian barracks"). From other inscriptions has been deduced that they had doubled the number of vigiles in Ostia and Portus, from 320 to 640 (half of them in Ostia, half in Portus). It is not known where the extra men lived. Not much Severan masonry can be seen in the barracks. Perhaps a second, new building was erected, that has not yet been excavated. The absence of dedications to Emperors after Gordianus III suggests, that the vigiles had left Ostia in the second half of the third century. Inscriptions from Portus show that there were barracks here as well, and here the vigiles remained active. The barracks in Ostia were then used for other, unknown purposes. The latest coins found in the building are from the years 355-363 AD. To this late phase may belong some masonry in the north-east part of the building (rooms 3 and 52-54). Here two late burials were found.


Photographs and drawings



Reconstruction drawing of the building, seen from the south-east.
From A. Pascolini, Ritorno in un'antica citta: Ostia, 1978.



The east part of the interior, seen from the south-west. Note the two large basins.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



Latrine 42 shortly after the excavation,
seen from the north-east. From Notizie degli Scavi.



Latrine 42 seen from the north-east.
To the right are the altar and hanging shrine.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



Detail of the hanging aedicula in latrine 42.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



Detail of the altar in latrine 42.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



Room 44, remains of painted texts and recesses for inscriptions in the east and south wall.
Seen from the north-west. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



Room 44, remains of a painted text, a niche and a recess for an inscription in the south wall.
Seen from the north-east. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



The outer west wall of room 44, seen from the north-west. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


Room 2, remains of paintings, seen from the north-west. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


Room 2, remains of a male figure on the south wall.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



The corridor in the west part, from the north. To the right are the former shops II,V,2.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



The threshold in room 51, with grooves for the passage of wheeled vehicles.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



The shrine of the Imperial cult, seen from the east.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



The mosaic in the vestibule of the Augusteum, seen from the east.
Photograph: Bill Thayer.



Detail of the mosaic in the vestibule of the Augusteum, seen from the east.
Two men, one playing a double flute, stand to the right of an altar.
Photograph: Laura Maish-Bill Storage.



Detail of the mosaic in the vestibule of the Augusteum, seen from the east.
A man with an axe (victimarius) and a bull. Photograph: Laura Maish-Bill Storage.



Base with dedication to Marcus Aurelius on the podium in the shrine.
140-144 AD. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


M. AVRELIO CAESARI
IMP(eratoris) CAESARIS T. AELI HADRIANI
ANTONINI AVGVSTI PII FILIO
DIVI HADRIANI NEPOTI DIVI TRAIANI
PRONEPOTI DIVI NERVAE ABNEP(oti) CO(n)S(uli)
OPTIMO AC PIISSIMO



Altar with dedication to Marcus Aurelius on the podium in the shrine.
162 AD, Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


IMP(eratori) CAESARI
DIVI ANTONINI FILIO
DIVI HADRIANI NEPOTI
DIVI TRAIANI PARTHICI PRONEP(oti)
DIVI NERVAE ABNEPOTI
M(arco) AVRELIO ANTONINO AVG(usto)
PONT(ifici) MAX(imo) TRIB(unicia) POT(estate) XVI CO(n)S(uli) III
COHORTES VII VIG(ilum)



Altar with dedication to Septimius Severus on the podium in the shrine.
194-195 AD. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


IMP(eratori) L(ucio) SEPTIMIO SE
VERO PERTINACI
CAESARI AVG(usto)
PONT(ifici) MAX(imo) TRIB(unicia) POT(estate) II
IMP(eratori) V CO(n)S(uli) II PROCO(n)S(uli) P(atri) P(atriae)
COHORTES VII VIG(ilum)
||||| PRAEF(ecto) VIG(ilum) CASSIO
LIGVRE TRIBVNO PRAEPOSITO VEXILLATIONIS



Base with dedication to Lucius Verus on the podium in the shrine.
162 AD, Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


IMP(eratori) CAESARI
DIVI ANTONINI FILIO DIVI HA
DRIANI NEP(oti) DIVI TRAIANI PAR
THICI PRONEP(oti) DIVI NERVAE ABN(epoti)
L. AVRELIO VERO AVG(usto) TRIB(unicia) POT(estate) II
CO(n)S(uli) II
COHORTES VII VIG(ilum)



Base with dedication to Antoninus Pius on the podium in the shrine.
138 AD. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


IMP(eratori) CAESARI DIVI
HADRIANI F(ilio) DIVI TRAIANI
PARTHICI NEP(oti) DIVI NERVAE
PRONEP(oti) T. AELIO HADRIANO
ANTONINO AVG(usto) PIO TRIB(unicia) POT(estate)
CO(n)S(uli) DES(ignato) II



Base with dedication to Septimius Severus,
restitutor castrorum Ostiensium, in front of the shrine.
207 AD. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


IMP(eratori) CAESARI
L. SEPTIMIO SEVERO
PIO PERTINACI AVG(usto)
ARABICO ADIABENICO PARTHICO MAXIMO
FELICI PONTIFICI MAX(imo) TRIB(unicia) POT(estate) XV IMP(eratori) XII
CO(n)S(uli) III P(atri) P(atriae) DIVI MARCI ANTONINI PII
GERMANICI SARMAT(ici) FIL(io) DIVI COMMODI
FRATRI DIVI ANTONINI PII NEPOTI
DIVI HADRIANI PRONEPOTI DIVI
TRAIANI PARTHICI ABNEPOTI
DIVI NERVAE ADNEPOTI
RESTITVTORI CASTRORVM
OSTIENSIVM
SVB CN. M. RVSTIO RVFINO PR(aefecto) VIG(ilum) E(gregio) V(iro)
CVRANTIBUS
C. LAECANIO NOVATILLIANO SVBPR(aefecto) ET
M. FLAVIO RAESIANO TRIB(uno) COH(ortis) II VIG(ilum)
PRAEPOSITO VEXILLATIONIS



Base with dedication to Caracalla,
restitutor castrorum Ostiensium, in front of the shrine.
207 AD. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


IMP(eratori) CAESARI
M. AVRELIO ANTONINO
PIO AVG(usto) FELICI
DESIGN(ato) III
TRIB(unicia) POTEST(ate) X CO(n)S(uli) II IMP(eratoris) CAESAR(is)
L(uci) SEPTIMI SEVERI PII PERTINACIS
AVG(usti) ARABICI ADIABENICI PARTHICI
MAXIMI P(atris) P(atriae) FILIO DIVI ANTONINI
PII GERMANICI SARMATICI NEPOT(i)
DIVI ANTONINI PII PRONEPOTI
DIVI HADRIANI ABNEPOTI
DIVI TRAIANI PARTHICI ET DIVI
NERVAE ADNEPOTI RESTITVTORI
CASTRORVM OSTIENSIVM
SVB CN. M. RVSTIO RVFINO PR(aefecto) VIG(ilum) E(gregio) V(iro)
CVRANTIBUS
C. LAECANIO NOVATILLIANO SVBPR(aefecto)
ET M. FLAVIO RAESIANO TRIB(uno) COH(ortis) II VIG(ilum) PRAE
POSITO VEXILLATIONIS



Base with dedication to Iulia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus,
mater kastrorum, in front of the shrine.
207 AD. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


IVLIAE
AVG(ustae)
MATRI AVGVSTI
ET KASTRORVM
SVB CN. M. RVSTIO RVFINO PR(aefecto) VIG(ilum) E(gregio) V(iro)
CVRANTIBVS
C. LAECANIO NOVATILLIANO SVBPR(aefecto) ET
M. FL(avio) RAESIANO TRIB(uno) COH(ortis) II VIG(ilum)
PRAEPOSITO VEXILLATIONIS



Base with dedication to Furia Sabinia Tranquillina,
wife of Gordianus III, to the left of the shrine.
241-244 AD. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.


FVRIAE SABINIAE
TRANQVILLINAE
SANCTISSIMAE AVG(ustae)
CONIVGI DOMINI N(ostri)
GORDIANI AVG(usti)
CVRANTIBVS
VALERIO VALENTE V(iro) P(erfectissimo)
PRAEF(ecto) VIGIL(um) V(ices) A(gente) PRAEF(ecti)
PRAET(orii) E(gregiae) M(emoriae) V(iri) ET
VALERIO ALEXANDRO V(iro) E(gregio)
SVBPRAEF(ecto) VIG(ilum) ITEM
IVLIO MAGNO V(iro) E(gregio) SVBPRAEFECTO
ANNONAE V(ices) A(gente) SVBPRAEF(ecti) VIGIL(um)
COHORTES SEPTEM VIGILVM GORDIANAE

[jthb - 7-Sep-2007]