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June 17: Ostia Antica August 3, 2010

Posted by msmith78 in Uncategorized.

Ostia means “mouth” and it acts as the port of Rome or mouth of the Tiber for Rome. Livy’s history states that it was founded by Ancus Marcus the fourth king of Rome, but nothing the area dates before the 3rd century BC. The peak of the port was in the early imperial era, and it functioned until the 5th century AD. It was eclipsed by the Porto after Hadrian’s time. This was one of Mussolini’s excavation projects; the archeologists Casa and Block were in charge of the work. Casa was very scientific in his approach, and Block was a epigraph specialist from Harvard so together their dig was very successful. There were  over 20,000 epigraphs that they discovered. Stamps found on the bricks have revealed the periods of growth of the city; 12 percent were from Trajan, 43 percent were from Hadrian, 17 percent were from Antonius Pius, and 12 percent were from Severus.  The land that composed Ostia was divided into 15 percent for warehouses,  16 percent for streets(the same percentage as Midtown Atlanta and Madison, Wisconsin), and 50 percent for housing. There were three large baths in the town for the peak population of 80,000 people. The town hosted believers in Roman, Christian, and Jewish religions.

City Layout

The founding of a new colony first involved the laying out of the city boundaries by the auger(priest/surveyor). To start an pig or other animal would be sacrificed and their liver would be examined to ensure the merit of the location. This had scientific purposes as well because the liver of the animal would be the first place any irregularities due to the environment would be present. Then the modus or hole at the center of town would be dug and the sacrifice would be buried. The auger would use a plumb bob to project the boundaries of the city from the mondus and the plumarium would be plowed. There were always three gates.  Once the two major streets cutting through the mondus and the forum was laid out the other streets of the grid were added. Each block was called a insula. The castrum was the military camp outside of town. It was belived that the city followed the model of the military camp; the military camps in the area of a colony usually came first but the cities operated independently.  The system initiated in the 1800s to map the Midwest and which is still in use today is very similar with 36 sections per square miles with the 16th square for public spaces for the courthouse and school. The city eventually grew beyond the dimensions first lid out by the auger and the new roads forked out from the old walls.


There were three kinds of colonies in Rome: colonea, imicupium, and civitates. Colonea were official colonies of Rome. Imicupium were under the protection of Rome and had Roman institutions, but its citizens could hold no positions in Rome. The cities established by Rome range from Jerusalem, to Greenwich, to Paris, to Milan, to London, to York.


These were the grain warehouses, which were important to this as a port city for storing incoming and outgoing goods. Many of these along with the market area were added during the Trajan and Hadrian periods of construction in the city.

Marina Baths

These baths were on the Tiber and were used by the apartment complexes. The tile remaining baths sparked a conversation on patterns and how to address a plane. There are different ways to address a plane with a pattern; these include creating squares, rectangles, rhomboidal, parallelograms, and shears. To find the system used, you have to look for repetitions.

Pubic Fountains

In Roman times, only the wealthy could afford indoor plumbing. There were public fountains throughout the city for drawing water for cleaning, cooking, and drinking.  Art and utility were combined for the fountains and they provided ascetic value to the communities where they were used.

House of the Muse and Restaurant

This house took an entire block or insula. It attached to apartments that were subdivided by blocks. The restaurant followed the same form of those in Pompeii an Herculaneum with the holes in the counter for terracotta pots. This one also included indoor and outdoor seating with vegetable decorations on the walls.

Apartments and Baths of Serupus

The condominium included a master bed room, public space for company, and storage while the major garden space was shared by the apartment association that also included fountains for the associations. There were also more studio like apartments. These apartments attached to the Baths of Serupus.

Schola Del Traino

This was a guild office and school. The boys would attain a basic grammar school when they were younger, and then apply to enter a guild were they would be trained before becoming apprentices. The offices and school are organized like a domos with public spaces for business and more private spaces for the teaching and training. The specific guild we visited was the Tempo dei Fabri Navales or the ship building guild.

Basilica Church

This church is dated soon after the Edict of Milan in 312 AD. There is an epigraph in a cross beam that references the four rivers of Genesis.  It shared a party wall with a Mythraic temple. The area the church was located in was a residential area; it was more typical to find different religions represented in the more residential areas.


These were the meat and fish markets. There were built in water tanks for the fish to be kept until they were purchased.

Casa Di Diana

This apartment complex was six stories tall with a roof terrace on the top level. The roof terraces were full of potted plants. There were so many roof terraces in Rome that it was said that one could mistake the buildings for gardens. Ninety percent of the housing in Rome was in this form. The had double loaded corridors that opened to the interior and the exterior.


Mythros was the subject of a large cult movement. It was the most practiced religion between 220 to 260 AD.  The religion was for men only, and it was very popular with the army. It involved both a baptism and a ritual meal. It however was eclipsed by Christianity probably due to the availability of participation by women and the concern for the family that Christianity offered.


The Roman sculpture does not have the same balance and perfection that the Greek art possessed. The statues use obvious supports and objects incorporated as supports in order to stand. For example, there was a statue of a rider on a horse that had to have a thick support in the middle of the horse to hold it up. The later statue of Mythros was much more graceful then the horse example; the veins and tension in the bull and Mythros were much more impressive then the earlier horse on a stand.

Forum Baths

The baths sat on top of a furnace which was tended to by slaves. The furnace fed hot air into terracotta pipes in the walls that would heat the tempadarium and caldarion. The small quarters in the furnace and the intense heat meant that a worker could only stand about thirty minutes per shift before he would pass out. The walls were thick to hold in the heat and to house the pipes. The concrete used was similar to tabby. The layout of the baths used a perfect 2a=b layout with the central aisle being b and the side aisles being each a.


This theater was completely free standing with a street entrance through the center of the seating. It was inaugurated in the reign of Augustus and modified in 207 by Severus. There was no communication between the skena and theater with the market behind. The orchestra was not a full circle.

Roman Client System

Censors at the time put a limit on your amount of spending therefore it was not how much who spent but who your clients were. Like in the Godfather there were patrons who supplied services for there clients, and the higher in status your client was the higher you were.  With the collapse of Rome, the social organization moved to the feudal system were status was in land ownership and control which was only maintained by supplying knights to protect your land and leasers. Later the restructuring of guilds would place wealth in the hands of the craftsmen and traders.


The tomato comes from North America originally; it’s amazing to think about the effect the tomato has had on the Italian palate since its inception. I would say that it would be difficult to go a day without seeing a tomato on the menu. But supply chains and the transfer of goods did not start with the discovery of the new world. The markets here with their advertisements showed just how developed these chains were. However structurally speaking, I thought that the apartments were awesome with their roof top gardens and street side second floor access. They were so massive as well, and the majority of people living in urban settings lived in these types of structures is amazing. I didn’t know there were “apartments” until the inception of steel frame building, and here they are luxury quality in Ostia dating from Roman times



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