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Regio III - Insula XVII - Serapeum (III,XVII,4)

This temple was connected with the Domus del Serapeo to the south and the Caseggiato di Bacco e Arianna to the north, through passages and via a corridor behind the buildings. The three buildings were excavated in 1939-1940 and 1946-1953.

The Serapeum was a temple dedicated to Serapis, an Egyptian deity, resulting from syncretism between Osiris-Apis (hence the name Serapis) and Jupiter. Brick stamps show that the building was erected between 123 and 126 AD. Most likely this temple is mentioned in the Fasti Ostienses, the official calendar of the city. In that case it was donated to the city by a private person, Caltilius P..., and inaugurated 24 January 127 AD, the birthday of the Emperor Hadrian:

VIIII K FEBR TEMPLVM SARAPI QVOD [.] CALTILIVS P[? ---]
SVA PECVNIA EXSTRVXIT DEDICATVM [es]T

A dedication to Isis Bubastis has been found in Ostia, the initiative of a woman from the same family (Caltilia Diodora). It may come from the Serapeum, or from the temple of Isis, which has not yet been found.

The Ostian temple complex was made of opus mixtum. In the centre of the facade was a porch, perhaps from the end of the second century AD. The bases of two columns have been preserved, and two niches, lined with marble. In the porch is a black-and-white mosaic of the bull Apis (a relief of Apis was found in the neighbourhood). A triangular inscription with the words:

IOVI SERAPI(di)

"(Dedicated to) Jupiter Serapis", was probably on top of the porch (broken in two, it had been reused as pavement in the building).

To the right of the entrance, in the north-east corner of the building, is a water basin. It is a distribution reservoir, from which water was taken to a simple basin on the street, and to the House of Bacchus and Ariadne and the House of the Serapeum.

Behind the porch is a courtyard (c. 8 x 11 metres) with a porticus with brick piers (replacing columns) to the left and right. In the courtyard is a mosaic with Nilotic scenes, the porticus has a floor of opus sectile. To the north was a passage to the House of Bacchus and Ariadne. It was blocked by an exedra (in the late third or early fourth century?). The walls and floor of the exedra were decorated with marble, in the entrance were two columns. In the same period a passage to the House of the Serapeum was blocked.

The actual temple was behind the courtyard. It was on top of a brick podium, and was reached along a wide staircase with marble steps. In front of the staircase is a large altar, decorated with marble (1.80 x 1.50). In the pronaos were two granite columns, and a mosaic combined with pieces of marble and alabaster, dated to the third century. In the back of the cella were high podiums. Remains of the decoration were found: thin sheets of precious material, such as agate and mother of pearl. At a later date the sides of the pronaos were closed, thus creating an extension of the cella.

In and near the temple two bases were found with dedications to Hercules, the Dioscures and I(upiter) O(ptimus) M(aximus) S(erapis), from the late second or early third century AD. Note that the Dioscures were worshipped in Ostia as protectors of ships.

I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo) S(erapidi)
CASTORIBVS
MMMM (= Marci quattuor) IVLI(i) CHRY
SOPHORVS SEVIR
AVG(ustalis) IDEM Q(uin)Q(uennalis) CVM
AELIANO QVI ET SA
RAPIONE FIL(io) ET ZOSI
MO ET PHILIPPO FIL(io)
V(oto) S(uscepto) R(eddiderunt)

[I(ovi)] O(ptimo) M(aximo) S(erapidi)
HERCVLI
MMMM (= Marci quattuor) IVLI(i) CHRYSO
PHORVS SEVIR AVG(ustalis)
IDEM Q(uin)Q(uennalis) CVM AELIANO
QVI ET SARAPIONE FIL(io)
ET ZOSIMO CVM PHI
LIPPO FIL(io) VOTO SVSC
EPTO REDDIDERVNT

Inscriptions testify to the existence of a Serapeum in Portus. Here most inscriptions referring to his cult are in Greek, contrary to Ostia, where Latin is the language used most often. In Portus there is a clear link with the Alexandrian grain fleet, and it is possible that the building of the Ostian Serapeum was related to the first arrival of the Alexandrian grain fleet at the mouth of the Tiber (having used Puteoli in the Bay of Naples as the final port before).

In the later second century the family of the Titi Statilii payed particular attention to the temple. The inscriptions of the members of this family are both in Latin and Greek. One was a freedman and doctor (iatros). Another added architectural elements to a statue. On the fragments of a small architrave we read:

T. STATILIVS OPTATIO STATVAM COLVMELLIS
ET AETOMATE ORNAVIT

According to Zevi it belongs to the exedra mentioned above, that blocked the passage to the House of Bacchus and Ariadne. Zevi also suggests that another, large architrave belongs to the exedra. It records the building of a [schol]am or exedr[am] with the permission of T. Statilius Taurinus, who was the highest religious official in Ostia (pontifex Volcani et aedium sacrarum).

In the Severan period the family of the Umbilii is documented. A base for a statue was found with the inscription:

M(arco) VMBILIO M(arci) F(ilio) ARN(ensi)
MAXIMINO
PRAETEXTATO C(larissimo) P(uero) PATRONO C(oloniae)
SACERDOTI GENI COL(oniae)
P(ublius) CALPVRNIVS
PRINCEPS EQVO PVBL(ico)
OMNIBVS HONORIBVS FVNCTVS
EDVCATOR

DEDICATA K(alendis) MARTI(i)S
SEVERO ET VICTORINO CO(n)S(ulibus)

(1 March 200 AD). The educator was probably a high official and teacher in the cult of Serapis. The title is not otherwise known.

Plan of the temple

Plan of the temple. After SO I.

Photographs



The temple seen from the east.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



The temple seen from the east, shortly after the excavation.
Photograph: Sopr. Arch. di Ostia, neg. D 1598.



The north-east part of the complex, seen from the south. To the left is the exedra, behind which
is a modern shed on top of the unexcavated part of the House of Bacchus and Ariadne (top left).
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



The dedication to Jupiter-Serapis.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



Base for a statue in the courtyard.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



Depiction of an Ibis in the courtyard.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.



Depiction of the bull Apis in the porch. SO IV, Tav. CI.


The floor of the pronaos of the temple, seen from the south.
From Pensabene 1996, fig. 24.

[jthb - 30-Oct-2006]