The Four Small Temples were excavated in 1885-1886 by R. Lanciani. The square in front was excavated in the years 1911-1915 by D. Vaglieri and R. Paribeni. Only the lower part of the temples has been preserved. The oldest phase is a foundation of tufa and pozzolana, 0.65 high, for four wooden tempels from the early second century BC. The next phase is opus quasi reticulatum from the first century BC. Some masonry (latericium and mixtum, particularly in the easternmost temple) belongs to restorations during the Antonine period. The complex was entered from the Decumanus, through a simple corridor between shops.
The temples were built on one, large podium of opus incertum (33.50 x 11.55, 1.20 high), with a tufa cornice. They were reached from the south, by way of three staircases in front of the podium and two lateral ones. In front of the centre of the podium is a brick fountain decorated with marble. The temples are virtually identical. The vestibule (pronaos) had six columns. The cella measures c. 5.75 x 5.30. Between the temples are corridors, with a floor of opus spicatum. Travertine thresholds have been preserved in the two easternmost temples.
Plan of the temples. From Paschetto 1912, fig. 106.
- I, II, III, IV: temples
- A: podium
- B, C, D: corridors
- E: fountain
- a: tufa cornice of podium
- b, c, d, e, f: staircases
- g: pilasters
- the dotted area in the cella of temple IV indicates the position of the mosaic inscription
In the easternmost temple an altar was found with the text:
"Dedicated to Venus". It is probably from the second century AD. On the floor of the cella of the westernmost temple is a black-and-white mosaic with an inscription (2.52 x 1.15). The text mentions two duoviri ("mayors") of Ostia, C. Fabius and a famous citizen: C. Cartilius Poplicola. Their names are followed by five other names, some of freedmen. This mosaic was added in the last quarter of the first century BC.
There can be little doubt that these four temples are mentioned in an Ostian inscription (CIL XIV, 375), and therefore that they can be identified as temples of Venus, Fortuna, Ceres and Spes, built by P. Lucilius Gamala: [i]dem aedem Veneris sua pecunia constituit, [id]em aedem Fortunae sua pecunia constituit, [id]em aedem Cereris sua pecunia constituit ... [idem] aedem Spei sua pecunia [cons]tituit.
It should be noted that the temples were erected in an area that had been reserved as public ground, to be used for harbour-related buildings. The four temples must have been among the oldest constructions in the area, and the complex was probably, originally, isolated. The four gods may have been related to the river-harbour and the sea.
The easternmost temple was restored in the Antonine period by a descendant of P. Lucilius Gamala, with the same name, because an inscription (CIL XIV, 376) informs us that he aedem Veneris impensa sua restituit.
In front of the temples is a large square (c. 41 x 38 m.), with a porticus with brick piers at the south side. A porticus at the west side has disappeared. The square had a marble pavement. Four tufa altars were erected. In front of the second temple from the west is a concrete base (3.15 x 1.90), that probably supported an equestrian statue. According to Coarelli an inscription that was found nearby is related to it. It mentions the erection of an honorary monument, by decree of the local senate, for Q. Asinius Marcellus, patron of Ostia. The inscription is dated to c. 150 AD. Here lies one of the arguments for Coarelli's hypothesis that the L. Apuleius Marcellus who (as is shown by stamps on lead waterpipes) owned the adjacent Domus di Apuleio (II,VIII,5) was the famous author Apuleius of Madauros.
In Apuleius' novel "The Golden Ass" the main character, Lucius (an alter ego of Apuleius), is initiated in the cult of Isis by a priest called Asinius Marcellus. According to Coarelli this is the Q. Asinius Marcellus for whom the statue was erected. The initiative would have come from Apuleius, who had taken over control of the temples. Q. Asinius Marcellus would have been the patron of Apuleius in Rome and Ostia, and Apuleius' cognomen (Marcellus) may be a tribute to him.
In the fifth or early sixth century three people were buried in the area in front of the temples. Fibulae found in the tombs suggest that they came from Germania.
Photographs and drawings
The area seen from the south. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
The podium seen from the south. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
The central staircase in front of the podium. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
Detail of the fountain in front of the podium. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
The western temples, seen from the south-east. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
The cella of the easternmost temple, seen from the south.
Note the altar dedicated to Venus, placed on the threshold by the excavators.
Photograph: Eric Taylor.
Detail of the altar dedicated to Venus.
Photograph: Eric Taylor.
The second temple from the east, seen from the south.
In the background, towards the left, is the Mitreo delle Sette Sfere.
Photograph: Eric Taylor.
Drawing of the mosaic inscription on the floor of the westernmost temple.
Black: preserved; white: read in 1886; dotted: suggested additions.
From Scavi di Ostia III, fig. 95.
Reconstruction drawing of the temples, seen from the south-east.
From Pensabene 2007, fig. 36.