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Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica
Market square of Ostia Antica
Ostia Antica is located in Italy
Ostia Antica
Shown within Italy
Location Ostia, Province of Roma, Lazio, Italy
Coordinates
Type Settlement
History
Cultures Ancient Rome
Site notes
Website .it.beniculturali.ostiaanticawww

Ostia Antica is a large archeological site, close to the modern suburb of Ostia, that was the location of the harbour city of ancient Rome, which is approximately 30 kilometres (19 miles) to the northeast. "Ostia" (plur. of "ostium") is a derivation of "os", the Latin word for "mouth". At the mouth of the River Tiber, Ostia was Rome's seaport, but due to silting the site now lies 3 kilometres (2 miles) from the sea.[1] The site is noted for the excellent preservation of its ancient buildings, magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics.

Contents

  • History 1
    • Origins 1.1
    • Sacking by pirates 1.2
    • Imperial Ostia 1.3
    • Late-Roman and sub-Roman Ostia 1.4
    • Sacking and excavation 1.5
  • In popular culture 2
  • Photos 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

History

the old entrance of the city

Origins

Ostia may have been Rome's first colonia. According to the legend Ancus Marcius, the semi-legendary fourth king of Rome, first destroyed Ficana, an ancient town that was only 17 km (11 mi) from Rome and had a small harbour on the Tiber, and then proceeded with establishing the new colony 10 km (6 mi) further west and closer to the sea coast. An inscription seems to confirm the establishment of the old castrum of Ostia in the 7th century BC.[2] The oldest archaeological remains so far discovered date back to only the 4th century BC. The most ancient buildings currently visible are from the 3rd century BC, notably the Castrum (military camp); of a slightly later date is the Capitolium (temple of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva). The opus quadratum of the walls of the original castrum at Ostia provide important evidence for the building techniques that were employed in Roman urbanization during the period of the Middle Republic.

Sacking by pirates

In 68 BC, the town was sacked by pirates.[3] During the sack, the port was set on fire, the consular war fleet was destroyed, and two prominent senators were kidnapped. This attack caused such panic in Rome that Pompey the Great arranged for the tribune Aulus Gabinius to rise in the Roman Forum and propose a law, the Lex Gabinia, to allow Pompey to raise an army and destroy the pirates. Within a year, the pirates had been defeated.

The town was then re-built, and provided with protective walls by the statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero.[4]

Imperial Ostia

Map of Ostia Antica.
insulae of Ostia Antica.
Public lavatrinae.

The town was further developed during the first century AD under the influence of Tiberius, who ordered the building of the town's first Forum. The town was also soon enriched by the construction of a new harbor on the northern mouths of the Tiber (which reaches the sea with a larger mouth in Ostia, Fiumara Grande, and a narrower one near to the current Fiumicino International Airport). The new harbor, not surprisingly called Portus, from the Latin for "harbor," was excavated from the ground at the orders of the emperor Claudius. This harbour became silted up and needed to be supplemented later by a harbor built by Trajan finished in the year 113 AD; it has a hexagonal form, in order to reduce the erosive forces of the waves. This took business away from Ostia itself (further down river) and began its commercial decline.

Ostia itself was provided with all the services a town of the time could require; in particular, a famous Ostia Synagogue, the earliest synagogue yet identified in Europe; it created a stir when it was unearthed in 1960-61.[5]

Trajan too, required a widening of the naval areas, and ordered the building of another harbor, again pointing towards the north. It must be remembered that at a relatively short distance, there was also the harbor of Civitavecchia (Centum Cellae), and Rome was starting to have a significant number of harbours, the most important remained Portus.

Late-Roman and sub-Roman Ostia

Santa Aurea church.

Ostia grew to 50,000 inhabitants in the 2nd century, reaching a peak of some 100,000 inhabitants in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.[6][7][8] Ostia became an episcopal see as early as the 3rd century AD, the cathedral (titulus) of Santa Aurea being located on the burial site of St. Monica, mother of Augustine; she died in an inn in the town. In time, naval activities became focused on Portus instead. A slow decadence began in the late Roman era around the time of Constantine I, with the town ceasing to be an active port and instead becoming a popular country retreat for rich aristocrats from Rome itself (along the lines of Brighton's relationship to London in the 18th century).

The decaying conditions of the city were mentioned by St. Augustine when he passed there in the late 4th century. The poet Rutilius Namatianus also reported the lack of maintenance of the city in 414 AD.

With the end of the Roman Empire, Ostia fell slowly into decay, and was finally abandoned in the 9th century due to the repeated invasions and sackings by Arab pirates, including the Battle of Ostia, a naval battle in 849 between Christians and Saracens; the remaining inhabitants moved to Gregoriopolis.

Sacking and excavation

Ostia housed a late imperial mint; this coin of Maxentius was struck there.

A "local sacking" was carried out by Pope Pius VII; under Benito Mussolini massive excavations were undertaken from 1938 to 1942 during which several remains, particularly from the republican period, were brought to the light. The first volume of the official series Scavi di Ostia appeared in 1954; it was devoted to a topography of the town by Italo Gismondi and after a hiatus the research still continues today. Though untouched areas adjacent to the original excavations were left undisturbed awaiting a more precise dating of Roman pottery types, the "Baths of the Swimmer", named for the mosaic figure in the apodyterium, were meticulously excavated, in 1966–70 and 1974–75, in part as a training ground for young archaeologists and in part to establish a laboratory of well-understood finds as a teaching aid. It has been estimated that two thirds of the ancient town were uncovered. In 2014, a geophysical survey using magnetometry, among other techniques, revealed the existence of a boundary wall on the north side of the Tiber enclosing an unexcavated area of the city containing three massive warehouses.[9][10]

In popular culture

  • Ostia was featured in the novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God, both written by British novelist Robert Graves. The novels include scenes set at Ostia spanning from the reign of Augustus to the reign of Claudius, including the departure of Agrippa to Syria and Claudius's reconstruction of the harbour. In the 1976 television series, Ostia was frequently mentioned but never actually seen.
  • Ostia forms the main setting for "The Roman Mysteries" series of historical novels for children by Caroline Lawrence. The first book is titled "The Thieves of Ostia" and centers on Nubia, Jonathan, Lupus and Flavia.
  • Ostia features in A War Within: The Gladiator by Nathan D. Maki. After an assassination attempt on Emperor Commodus the protagonists Antonius and Theudas escape by clinging to a barge on the Tiber, reaching Ostia, and stowing away on a trireme heading north to Ravenna.
  • Ostia appears briefly towards the end of the Roman Empire section of the 1981 comedy film History of the World, Part I, where the main characters board a galleon (bearing the El Al logo) bound for Judaea. In the film, however, Ostia is only ever referred to as simply "the port".
  • Ostia is mentioned several times in the 2005 HBO/BBC historical drama series Rome.
  • Ostia is mentioned in the 2000 film Gladiator, when the protagonist, Maximus, learns that his army is camped at Ostia and awaiting orders.
  • One of the wonders buildable in the "Rise and fall of the Roman Empire" mod for Sid Meier's Civilization III is called the "Portus Ostiae"
  • Ostia is the name of the Magic World's lost kingdom and the location of the gladiatorial games in the manga series Negima!.
  • Ostia is the name of the most important city in the also fictional Lycian Alliance, in the Fire Emblem series.
  • Ostia is mentioned in several novels in the Lindsey Davis Marcus Didius Falco series.

Photos

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