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Regio IV - Insula II - Portico e Caseggiato dell'Ercole (IV,II,2-4)

This complex is centered around a paved square. Building 2 is the Porticus of Hercules along the southern Cardo, building 3 the House of Hercules, flanking the square. Nothing has been written about building 4, to the south-west. Excavations were carried out on the square in July 1940, when an inscription was found that does not belong to the building (mentioning a cryptam and calchidicum; Giorn. Scavo III, pp. 134-6, nn. 431-32-35; ArchCl 1984, 350; cf. an inscription found in the Terme Bizantine).

Buildings 2 and 3 were erected during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD; opus latericium). At a later date reinforcing brick piers were added in the south-east part of the porticus and the building. The complex was named after a small tufa relief of Hercules with club and lion-skin, that was found amongst the rubble of the collapsed porticus. It can today be seen in modern masonry. Originally it may have been a keystone of one of the arches along the Cardo Maximus.

Plan of the complex. After SO I.

In the piers of the porticus along the Cardo are small, travertine blocks with holes, some of which contain metal. Inside the porticus there seem to have been a few wooden structures: there are three horizontal grooves in the wall between rooms 2 and 3, and two grooves and two square holes between rooms 6 and 7. The piers that were added later in the porticus and in the rooms, and cracks in the walls of some rooms may testify to earthquake damage and subsequent reinforcements.

The main entrance of the internal square is a covered vestibule (25) reached from Via della Caupona. In the south-west wall is a semicircular wall-niche for a small statue of a deity. It forms an entity with the masonry of the first building period. On the south part of the square is a large, covered basin (lacus). To the east are shops, partly facing the square and partly behind the porticus. On the floor of the shops is opus spicatum. They are covered by cross-vaults. Three corridors (4, 9, 12) lead from the Cardo Maximus to the square. Two of these are flanked by staircases. The corridors have barrel vaults. In the northern corridor are a large and a small relieving arch, painted red and white: red paint on the bricks, but also on the mortar, white paint on the mortar. The paint creates the illusion of very narrow layers of mortar.

In three of the shops behind the porticus bars were installed: in rooms 3, 10 and 13. Bar 13 has been described with the Terme del Faro (IV,II,1). In the east corner of bar 3 is a brick base, set against the south-east wall, next to the main entrance. It has a shallow opening in the front (d. 0.17) and supports three stepped shelves. There is no water basin, but that was not necessary in this case: to the right of the base is a floor-niche with a vaulted opening, containing a well. In the west corner is a base with four masonry steps, leading to a platform for a ladder. On the floor of the room is opus spicatum.

The counter of bar 10 is in the back of the room, in the south corner. Above are two shelves of marble slabs. The counter was decorated with marble and contains a water basin. On the floor of the room is a mosaic of white circles on a black background. It was damaged when the conduit leading to the counter had to be repaired. The tesserae where replaced at random, without any pattern. In front of the counter is a drain hole with a marble cover. On the walls are remains of red and yellow paintings. In the back wall is a wide opening. There is no threshold. The mosaic continues, which suggests that the back room formed part of the bar. This would explain why the counter is not near the main entrance of the front room, which is the rule. On the floor of the back room is opus spicatum.

In the building many paintings were found, figurative and with architectural motifs. Photographs and descriptions of some of these can be found below. Most of these paintings have been detached from the walls, and are now in the museum and store-rooms. There are reasons to think that at least the western half of the building was a showroom of the Ostian painters.

See also a photo album from 2008.


The relief of Hercules from the porticus (h. 0.40).
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The porticus seen from the Cardo, from the south. Note the travertine blocks with holes.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The square seen from the north-west, through the vestibule. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The cult niche in the vestibule. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The covered basin on the south part of the square, seen from the west.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The painted relieving arches in the northern corridor,
seen from the west. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Detail of the upper painted relieving arch.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Detail of the lower painted relieving arch.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The base with stepped shelves in bar 3, seen from the west.
To the right is the niche with the well. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The counter in bar 10, seen from the north. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
A judicial scene from room 16 (c. 250 AD). To the left is a high podium on top of which the lower part of a seated person can be seen. To the right are two gesticulating men. The left one is raising his right arm, the right one holds a finger near his eye. On the floor between them is an amphora, broken in two parts. To the right is a large bowl.
Pasini 1978, Pl. 59 is a photo of this fragment and the one below in room 16 (room identified by me in 2008). They were next to each other in a corner of the room, this fragment on the wall between rooms 16 and 17, the one below on the wall between 16 and 11.
Mielsch 2001, fig. 145.

A judicial scene from room 16 (c. 250 AD). To the right is a high podium on top of which is a seated person. Another person seems to be standing behind him. In front of the podium are two persons. The right one is preserved badly. He (?) is emerging from behind the podium. His right arm is stretched out towards the lid of a vessel that is standing on the floor. To the left stands a person with long hair and a chain around the neck.
Floriani Squarciapino 1962, Tav. 136, fig. 3.

The Judgement of Solomon? From room 16 (c. 250 AD).
To the left is a child, to the right a man about to strike the child.
Floriani Squarciapino 1962, Tav. 134, fig. 1.

The paintings with judicial scenes in situ. They were in the north corner of the room, on the north-west and
north-east wall, at a fairly great height. The paintings end abruptly at the bottom. Below the paintings is a
thick layer of plaster (h. 1.80) with two vertical grooves, that were later filled in. Pasini 1978, Pl. 59.

A painting with vegetative motifs from the building. Baccini Leotardi 1978, Tav. XIII.
Fragment of a painting with Fortuna, brown and yellow, wearing a pallium and a chiton (max. h. 1.02; max. w. 1.36; h. of Fortuna 0.51). In her left arm is a cornucopiae, in her right hand a rudder. She is standing on a green floor and framed by red and yellow bands. To the right and above Fortuna the fragment ends with a diagonal red band, sloping upwards from right to left. First half of the third century.
Ostia neg. B1285.

Fragment of a painting with three figures (max. h. 0.55; max. w. 1.52). The upper part of the figures is missing (preserved h. 0.45, 0.46 and 0.46). The figures are standing on a green and beige band. Below that is a dark-red band. To the left is a male figure resting on his right leg, wearing high shoes or low boots and a long mantle. A flap of the mantle is between his legs. He holds another flap of the mantle with his right hand. His left hand is near his belly. The mantle is dark-red. The shadow of the legs is depicted. Jupiter? In the centre is a female figure wearing a long mantle. Her right arm is not visible, in her left hand is the lower part of an object (stick with knob), that must have been running across her left shoulder. Minerva? To the right is a male figure. His legs are naked. He is resting on his left leg. The lower part of a sceptre or lance, apparently held in his left hand, stands on the ground. Mars? Late second century or c. 200 AD.
ICCD neg. E40753.

[jthb - 6-Jun-2008]