Two Roman Towns | Pompeii and Ostia | Roman Architecture | Second edition

Two Roman Towns | Pompeii and Ostia | Roman Architecture | Second edition

Two Roman Towns | Pompeii and Ostia | Roman Architecture | Second edition | (Part-01)

Two Roman Towns | Pompeii and Ostia | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The eruption of Vesuvius in ad 79 not only buried but also preserved the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, so that even food, such as eggs, cakes and nuts, have been preserved. The very bodies of Pompeians have been recovered by plaster injection, a method used for any organic matter, including wood. Household objects such as wooden shutters, screens and doors survive, as well as upper storeys, balconies and roofs, objects not usually preserved elsewhere. Much too has been learnt about Pompeian gardens, the water-system and everyday life in general.

Pompeii is situated on a lava spur on the SE slopes of Mount Vesuvius (Figure 6.1). The river Sarno ran past its south side and turned to run along its west side into the sea. In ancient times the sea was much closer than it is today and there was a sea gate on the west side of the town. In the SW corner of Pompeii is the outline of a smaller town, covering an area of 9.3 hectares (23 acres). It may represent the earliest settlement, which was Oscan according to Strabo (Geo. 5.4.8) and is usually dated to the eighth century bc. The city came under Etruscan domination in the period 600–575 bc, a time when the Etruscans expanded into Campania. Their power in Pompeii seems to have lasted until about 475 bc, to judge by the discovery of fragments of bucchero, a black, shiny pottery, with Etruscan graffiti. The first city wall, of tufa and lava and 3.2 kilometres long, was built around the entire lava plateau in the early to mid sixth century bc, enclosing 63.5 hectares (157 acres), perhaps built to defend against encroachments from Greek settlers in Campania. The second half of the sixth and early fifth century bc was a period of prosperity for Pompeii. The Temple of Hercules in the Triangular Forum, which seems to date to the period 550–530 bc, has Doric columns of the Archaic Greek type. In the first half of the fifth century bc the walls had to be rebuilt in Sarno limestone orthostates. By 475 bc the Etruscans were under increasing pressure and Pompeii once again seems to have come under Greek influence.

Towards the end of the fifth century bc the Samnites, a hardy mountain people, took over most of the Greek and local coastal towns, except Naples. The Samnites spoke Oscan, one of three main groups of Italic languages, Umbrian and Latin being the others, and in Pompeii it was still spoken until ad 79. The walls of Pompeii were again rebuilt at the end of the fourth century bc, this time of squared limestone blocks with an agger (earth mound) built against the inner face. The city gates seem to have been built at this time and the grid expanded. The first few blocks east and north of the old town were fairly irregular and the streets seem to have followed the lines of old roads leading out of the city. Presumably the wide street running between the Vesuvius and Stabian gates determined the axis of the adjacent streets, but it appears that only a dozen or so square or rectangular blocks were laid out at this early period. As the city expanded its grid plan was enlarged and extended north and east of the old nucleus, following Greek principles of town planning with long rectangular

Figure 6.1  Pompeii, general plan. 1, Triangular Forum; 2, House of the Surgeon; 3, House of the Faun; 4, Villa of the Mysteries; 5, Temple of Apollo; 6, Temple of Jupiter; 7, Macellum (meat and fish market); 8, Basilica; 9, Large theatre; 10, quadriporticus; 11, Stabian Baths; 12, Forum Baths; 13, Small theatre; 14, Amphitheatre; 15, Castellum Aquae; 16, Civic Offices; 17, Building of Eumachia; 18, Temple of Fortuna Augusta; 19, House of the Menander; 20, House of the Vettii; 21, House of Octavius Quartio; 22, Central Baths.

blocks (insulae) bounded by broad avenues (plateiai) and narrow access streets (stenopoi). The period of Samnite domination of Pompeii (c. 400–80 bc) is usually divided into two phases: the Limestone period and the Tufa period. These periods are called after the main building materials used. In the Limestone period (400–200 bc) rough, ochre-coloured Sarno limestone was the principal building material, and can be seen in the fine façade of the House of the Surgeon (VI.1.10), which belongs to the fourth/early third century bc (Figure 1.2b). In its earliest phase the house lacked an impluvium, which was not introduced until the second century bc. In the course of the second century bc a new material, hard black lava, was used in the facing (opus incertum) of walls and at the same time a strong mortar containing black volcanic sand and lots of lime came into use. Sarno limestone was usually used for the quoins. Fine examples of this technique can be seen in the façade of the House of Epidius Rufus (IX.1.20) and the quadriporticus behind the theatre.

At the time of the Second Punic War (218–201 bc), a new city wall was built behind the first. It was higher than the previous wall and a higher mound was built against its inner face. Following the invasion of Italy by Hannibal the walls were remodelled and a series of tall towers in the Hellenistic manner were built. During the second century bc Rome’s power was expanding all over the Mediterranean, which offered great opportunities for trade with Spain, North Africa, Greece and Asia Minor. It was the Italians, particularly the Campanians, rather than the Romans who took up this challenge and Italian businessmen (negotiatores) were particularly active in the Aegean and Asia Minor. The principal port of Italy at this time was Puteoli (Pozzuoli), where luxury goods and grain were imported, and wine, olive oil and wool were exported. Because of the wealth brought by the new trading opportunities Pompeii entered a period of unprecedented prosperity, as a result of which new buildings went up all over the city. Layers of stucco applied in later years conceal the fact that many of Pompeii’s major buildings are much older than they seem, and that the built environment of Pompeii is to a large extent a product of the second century bc.

Although the Classical Orders came from the Hellenistic world, most of the buildings succeeded in remaining Italic in their layout. This can be seen in the forum, which was laid out on regular lines with a fine two-storey Doric colonnade of tufa erected across its southern side (Figure 6.2).1 The Temple of Jupiter which dominated its northern end was also typically Italic in layout; it was prostyle with a porch of 4 × 6 columns facing down the forum, resting on a high podium and approached by a frontal staircase. However, in both cases the architectural details were fully Hellenistic. To the west of the forum is the old sanctuary of Apollo, which dates back to the sixth century bc. It was rebuilt in the second century bc, once again Italic in layout and enclosed in a peristyle of tufa columns. In the NE corner of the forum is the macellum (meat and fish market), a rectangular enclosure with shops on the south side and further shops to the west, accessible from the forum. There were also shops facing the street on the north side of the market where the goods were protected from the sun. Perishable items such as fruit, bread and cakes were found there. The circular space in the middle was surrounded by bases for 12 wooden poles which supported the roof. There was probably a pool underneath, used for the cleaning and gutting of fish to judge by the bones and scales found in a nearby drainage trough. The fish and meat were sold from a large room in the SE corner which has counters running around three sides.

The Stabian Baths took their present form during the second century bc, although a bathing establishment had existed on the site since the fourth century bc (Figure 2.6). Recent excavations have shown that the trapezoidal shape of the palaestra dates back to the fourth century bc, as do the row of small hip baths to the north of the palaestra. In the second century bc a complex of bathing rooms was added to the east side of the palaestra (Figure 6.3).

The northern rooms were for women and the southern for men. The entrance hall of the men’s baths leads to the apodyterium (undressing room) and from there to the warm and hot rooms. The small circular room was originally the sudatorium (sweating-room) but became

Figure 6.2  Pompeii, general view of the forum looking north. The columns in the foreground belong to the second century bc.

Figure 6.3  Pompeii, palaestra of the Stabian Baths, second century bc, rebuilt after the ad 62 earthquake

the cold room when the under-floor heating system was installed in the first century bc. As for the theatre, it was established in the second century bc, but was totally rebuilt in the Augustan period and therefore it will be discussed later. However, the quadriporticus behind the theatre belongs to the second century bc. It was a huge open area bounded on all sides by colonnades of Doric columns, 74 in all, where people could stroll. Tufa colonnades were also built along two sides of the Triangular Forum where the old Doric temple stood, but the third side, which commanded a superb panorama towards the sea, was left open.

The basilica, one of the oldest known, is dated to the period 100–90 bc, judging by Oscan graffiti and roof tiles stamped with the words ‘N. Pupie’, the name of an Oscan magistrate (Figure 2.3). Measuring 57.4 × 21.8 metres, it opened onto the SW corner of the forum. Its main entrance was on one of the short sides and the tribunal for the magistrates was at the far end. Internally the building was divided into a nave and aisles by 4 × 12 giant order Corinthian columns whose shafts were made of brick, the earliest known example of this technique at Pompeii. A row of Ionic half-columns about half the height of the giant order was engaged into the side walls. Above these is visible the lowest part of an upper order. Many fragments of free-standing Corinthian columns of the same diameter as the upper order were found near the north wall. Until recently nobody had been able to account satisfactorily for these columns and as a result no proposed elevation was fully convincing. Maiuri for a while accepted Sogliano’s theory that the nave was unroofed, but his excavations under the floor of the basilica in 1951 disproved the theory. Ohr’s reconstruction of the building solved the problem of the elevation (Figue 6.4).2 He took account of the fact that the fragments of the Corinthian columns have the same diameter as the upper order of engaged columns, and concluded that the two belong together. This would mean that for half their height they were engaged into a masonry balustrade and that above they were free standing. This solution had

Figure 6.4  Pompeii, basilica, 100–90 bc: restored elevation and section. (After K. Ohr, Die Basilika in Pompeji, [Karlsruhe: Diss. Darmstadt, 1973].)

precedents in Hellenistic building practice, for example the late fourth/early third century bc theatre at Metapontum, the upper order of the Stoa of Attalos in Athens and the columns which run around the upper part of the atrium in the Samnite House at Herculaneum. Thus the Pompeii basilica was lit by the spaces between the columns and there was no clerestory.

Until the second century bc Pompeian houses consisted of an atrium which gave access to all the rooms and perhaps a small garden behind the house, as for example in the House of the Surgeon (Figure 1.2b). As a result of contact with Greece the peristyle became fashionable,

Figure 6.5  Pompeii, House of the Faun, second century bc: plan. 1, fauces (entrance passage); 2, Tuscan atrium; 3–5, cubicula; 6, tablinum; 7–8; triclinia; 9, Tetrastyle atrium; 10, animal stall; 11, latrine; 12, bath; 13, kitchen; 14, triclinium; 15, exedra with the Alexander mosaic; 16–17, gardener’s rooms.

but it did not supplant the atrium, as can be seen in the enormous House of the Faun, which has two atria and two peristyles (Figure 6.5). Although the Romans often borrowed from others, particularly the Greeks, in their art and architecture they usually succeeded in making the borrowing their own. The Roman peristyle was derived from the Greek, but when it reached Italy it looked quite different, apart from the obvious differences in the materials used. For example, the Greek peristyle was paved and often had a mosaic in the middle; the Roman peristyle was planted as a garden, as in the House of the Gilded Cupids (Figure 6.6). The Greek peristyle was the focus of the house as a whole and the main rooms were grouped

Figure 6.6  Pompeii, peristyle of the House of the Gilded Cupids.

around it. The Roman peristyle was added to the house behind the atrium, which remained the formal and public part of the house.

In the course of the second century bc the Roman house developed into a social environment where the importance of the owner of the house and his family was put on display.3  Visitors to a great house would have had to wait outside on the benches provided. When admitted they would have been ushered into the atrium and unless invited they would penetrate no further. Even so, one of the most striking things about a Pompeian house is the vista which passes from the front door through the entire house to the back wall of the peristyle. The vista was not as open as it is today. It would have been partially screened off with shutters and curtains, so that the visitor could gain only tantalising glimpses of what lay beyond. When running water became available this vista often terminated in a mosaic fountain. Out of this poured quantities of water to cool those who inhabited the most private part of the house, an indulgence available only to the wealthy. In contrast, the atrium, such as that of the House of the Menander (Figure 6.7), was an imposing if somewhat sombre public room. Grand, formal, usually the largest room of the house, it was a room designed to impress. On display would be the things which marked the owner out as an important personage: the arca or money chest in which the wealth of the house was stored; the lararium or family shrine, a reflection of a dutiful household; and the imagines or ancestral busts, which evoked the lineage of the family. The walls of the atrium and the rooms opening off it would usually have been decorated with frescoes which reflected the taste of the master and family. In short, the atrium was a place where the owners could make a statement about themselves, visitors however humble were admitted, negotiations were conducted and petitions were received. Finally a small tip (sportula) was paid to the clientes (followers or dependents) who had come to pay their respects. The peristyle, on the other hand, encompassing perhaps a summerhouse (diaeta), a reception room (oecus), a summer dining room (triclinium aestivum), a library

Figure 6.7  Pompeii, House of the Menander, view of the atrium looking towards the front door.

(bibliotheca) and even a small bathing suite (balneum), was by invitation only. Running water, introduced at the time of Augustus, further enhanced the peristyle by making possible the fountains, pools and nymphaea which assume pride of place in houses such as the House of Small Fountain at Pompeii and the House of the Mosaic Atrium at Herculaneum.

Circulation around the house would have been controlled by servants who also had to attend to the family and minister to their needs. This posed problems of planning. The servants’ quarters had to be removed from the rooms occupied by the family and their guests; yet the servants had to be available everywhere. The House of the Menander shows how skilfully a Pompeian house was designed. The servants’ quarters were discreetly tucked away so as not to detract from the grandeur of the house, but they surrounded the main rooms so that the servants could always be on hand (Figure 6.8). Another example is the House of the Faun built in the second century bc, and from the street looking remarkably egalitarian (Figure 6.5). The Tuscan atrium to the left, (west) with its rich decoration and mosaics, belongs to the family and the tetrastyle atrium to the right (east) is part of the undecorated servants’ quarters. A glance at the plan shows that the latter rapidly disappear, the first peristyle taking up threequarters of the width of the house and the second peristyle its entire width.

In 90 bc a rebellion of Rome’s Italian allies broke out and Pompeii joined the rebel side. In 89 bc the Roman general Sulla besieged and captured Pompeii. Holes caused by missiles aimed at the walls can be seen at various points along the outer face of the circuit. Reprisals

Figure 6.8  Pompeii, House of the Menander: plan. The hatched parts are the servants’ quarters. (After E. La Rocca et al., Guida Archeologica di Pompeii [Milan: A. Mondadori, 1976], 178.)

followed and a military colony, called Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum, was established in 80 bc. Roman weights and measures were adopted, Latin became the official language and changes were made to the forum. It was paved with limestone and statues began to be erected in honour of worthy citizens in the same way as they were in Rome. Many new buildings were put up to appeal to the new colonists, such as the amphitheatre, the Small Theatre, the Forum Baths and the Temple of Venus. The amphitheatre (Figure 6.9), measuring 135 × 103 metres, was built before 70 bc and is therefore the oldest permanent amphitheatre in the Roman world. The word ‘amphitheatre’ derives from the word ‘theatre’, but the ‘amphi’ part refers to the fact that the seats run all around a central arena, where gladiatorial games and animal hunts (venationes) took place (Figure 6.9). Built in the SE corner of the

city, where it could utilise the earth embankment of the city walls, its arena was excavated 6 metres into the ground and the earth was then used to create an embankment to support the upper parts of the seating. The upper seats were for the lowest social classes and access to them was by two external staircases. In addition, four passages run from the outside down to an annular passage which separates the lowest section of seats (ima cavea) from the middle (media cavea). A number of staircases lead from this passage to the seats of either the lower or middle sections. The magistrates would have occupied bisellia (thrones of double width) close to the arena. The spectators were shaded from the sun by an awning (vela) hanging on masts and spars around the rim of the building. This awning can be seen in a wall-painting depicting the amphitheatre riot of ad 59.

The Forum Baths had facilities similar to those of the Stabian Baths but were more compactly designed. Built before there was an aqueduct, their water came from a cistern SW of the complex on the other side of the road, measuring 5 × 15 metres and supplying 430,000 litres. The bath was divided into separate men’s and women’s sections and the furnaces (praefurnia) were situated between the two sets of hot rooms (caldaria). Both these and the Stabian baths seemed quite old-fashioned in later times. Although they had hypocausts (under-floor heating) the heat rose up the walls through the spaces created by lugged tiles (tegulae mammatae), a primitive system which was replaced in the later first century ad by hollow rectangular tubes (tubuli).

The Small Theatre or theatrum tectum (roofed theatre), used as a concert hall (odeum), stood next to the Large Theatre. The juxtaposition of large unroofed and small roofed theatre is found elsewhere in South Italy, and Statius (Silvae 3.5.91) mentions the ‘twin masses of open and closed theatres’ in his native Naples. Its 16 rows of seating were enclosed within rectangular walls measuring 27.75–28.60 × 34.80 metres, and the timber roofing beams were laid across the walls. It had a much smaller capacity, 1,500–1,850, than the Large Theatre.

The orchestra, 15.3 metres in diameter, was paved in coloured marbles, and was surrounded by steps for the bisellia (thrones) of the magistrates. The scaenae frons was rectilinear and had three doorways. It was built by the same magistrates, C. Quinctius Valgus and M.

Porcius, who also financed the amphitheatre.

The Sullan colony brought new construction methods to Pompeii, in particular the introduction of opus quasi-reticulatum with brick quoining, examples of which can be seen in the Small Theatre and the Forum Baths. The so-called Second Style of wall decoration also began at this time. At its height, in the middle of the first century bc, the whole wall was dissolved into illusionistic architecture, with arches, vaults and columns, and often a tholos (circular building) set in a colonnaded court. Examples of this can be seen in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii (c. 60–50 bc), the Villa of the Poppeii at Oplontis (c. 50–40 bc) and the Villa of Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale (40–30 bc). Brick became commonly used for columns and the tufa columns of older houses were frequently covered in a thick layer of tufa and painted. By the end of the first century bc opus reticulatum came into use and was sometimes used to create interesting polychrome effects (Figure 4.8). The technique of alternating rows of cut tufa blocks and rows of tiles (opus listatum) came in at the time of Augustus and can be seen in the Herculaneum Gate.

The Augustan period which followed (27 bc–ad 14) was a period of peace and this provided an incentive for trade and industry. Already there were signs of a breakdown of the patrician household which for centuries had been a self-sufficient unit based upon a rigid master–slave relationship. With the imperial peace more grain was entering Italy from Egypt and Africa, and at the same time Gaul and Spain were producing more wine and olive oil. As a result, the old independent farm households were less viable than before. Also, as the cities developed and populations increased there was a greater demand for manufactured goods. A slave who had baked bread in the house of his patrician master could open a shop and supply an entire district. Masters saw the advantage of this and set up emancipated slaves in business in return for a percentage of the profits. Division of labour increased and certain goods were mass-produced, for example the famous Pompeian garum or fish sauce (Martial, Epigr. 13.82). These businesses made the former slaves who owned them enormously rich. The activities of emancipated slaves illustrate the profound social changes which were taking place in Julio-Claudian Pompeii. Many had become doctors, teachers, accountants, barbers, cooks, craftsmen and tradesmen. Because of their skills many became extremely wealthy and several important houses in Pompeii, like the House of the Vettii (VI.15.1), came into the ownership of former slaves.

Two Roman Towns Part 2

Two Roman Towns | Pompeii and Ostia | Roman Architecture | Second edition | (Part-02)

Housing was changing too. A large two-storey dwelling, the villa of M. Fabius Rufus (VII Insula Occidentalis 16–19), with panoramic saloons and a private bath was terraced out over the old city wall and faced the sea. The House of D. Octavius Quartio near the amphitheatre (II.2.2), an old atrium house with a large garden, was entirely remodelled at the rear (Figure 6.10). A small mosaic fountain with a biclinium in front (two banks of couches for al fresco dining), poured water into an ornamental canal which ran almost the whole width of the house. Halfway along a dining room faced onto this pleasant terraced area, decorated with delightful wall paintings and shaded by vines. Opposite, the water cascaded into an ornamental euripus (canal) which ran the entire length of the garden. Shaded walkways (ambulationes tectae) ran along each side of the canal which was edged with pots for ornamental plants and shaded by tall oak and plane trees. Houses such as these must have echoed the spacious country and seaside villas which so often form the subject matter of wall paintings. Life improved too for those who lived a more humble existence in the city. By the first century ad the Via dell’Abbondanza, now the main shopping centre of Pompeii, was lined with shops whose owners lived upstairs in comfortable apartments with balconies and loggias.

Figure 6.10  Pompeii, House of Octavius Quartio, fountain, biclinium and ornamental canal.


During the Augustan period Marcus Holconius Rufus, the most eminent citizen in Pompeii at the time, financed an extensive rebuilding programme in the Large Theatre at Pompeii (Figure 6.11).4 An inscription (CIL 10.833–5) reads: ‘Marcus Holconius Rufus and Marcus Holconius Celer built at their own expense crypta, tribunalia and theatrum’. The word crypta must refer to the annular barrel-vaulted passage built around the top of the cavea (Figure 6.11). It supported the seats of the new summa cavea and provided a façade for the theatre, with staircases and passageways leading to the new seating. Near the top of the façade wall are corbels which held the poles for the vela, the awnings which shaded the spectators from the sun. At the same time tribunalia were built over the passageways at the sides of the cavea. The word theatrum sometimes refers to the theatre as a whole, but sometimes, as here, refers to the cavea as opposed to the scene building. Explorations by Maiuri5  revealed that the cavea had been consolidated at this time by four massive curved walls mainly of lava and over this had been laid a bank of volcanic trachyte mixed with tufa and Sarno in mortar, 0.15–0.20 metres thick. New seats were built on top of this. The brick-faced scene building is not mentioned in the inscription, but it seems to have been built at this time or a little later.

At the south end of the forum the three rectangular buildings, tentatively identified as the meeting place for the decuriones (local magistrates), the offices of the duoviri (the two chief magistrates) and the tabularium (records office), belong to this period. As in Rome the forum was paved at this time, and arches built at the sides of the temple of Jupiter, echoing the arches flanking the temple of Deified Julius Caesar in the Roman Forum. The Temple of Fortuna Augusta was built, as well as the Eumachia building on the SE side of the forum which imitated the great public porticus buildings in Rome. In terms of domestic architecture it may be noted that the first century ad marks the beginning of a move away from the atrium

Figure 6.11  Pompeii, Large theatre looking SW. At bottom left is the tribunal, and higher up is the wall dividing the summa cavea from the media cavea. The wall behind is the outer wall of the theatre with the corbels for the vela masts near the top.


and tablinum.6 An example of this is the House of the Stags at Herculaneum, where the atrium has almost disappeared, and the House of the Vettii, which has no tablinum. This new pattern, already visible in the peristyle of the House of the Menander with its large reception rooms (Figure 6.8), one of them covering an enormous 87.5 metres, is particularly evident at Ostia and in the Roman provinces.


In the Augustan period a branch of the Serino–Naples aqueduct system entered the city near the Vesuvius Gate at the highest point in the city. The water distributor (castellum aquae) split the flow into three and the water was carried downhill in large lead pipes (Figure 6.12). At intervals smaller pipes took it up to lead water tanks at the top of a series of 6-metre-high water towers, which can be seen all over Pompeii (Figure 6.13). There are public drinking fountains at the foot of many of these towers, providing water for even the very poorest. Richer residents paid for water to be piped into their houses, so as to create a constant flow for the fountains in their atria and peristyles, and perhaps for private baths, 22 of which have been found at Pompeii. Running water fed the large pool in the middle of the large palaestra next to the amphitheatre. Water was also a great boost to agriculture and to the baths, particularly the Stabian Baths, where the new swimming pool (natatio) must have been a very welcome addition (Figure 2.6). Perhaps the most splendid baths in Pompeii were the magnificent Julio-Claudian Suburban Baths. The apodyterium has a shelf instead of niches for the bathers’ clothes. The 16 numbers indicating where the clothes are to be placed are accompanied by erotic images, perhaps as an aide memoire. The frigidarium with its stuccoed ceiling is particularly fine. Opening off it is a large plunge whose walls are painted with Nilotic scenes and pictures of boats and gardens (Figure 6.14). A cascade of water pours into it from a magnificent nymphaeum (fountain) high above, decorated with pumice, glass

Figure 6.12  Pompeii, water tower (castellum aquae), where the Pompeii branch of the Serino aqueduct terminated. The flow was split into three at this point.

Figure 6.13  Pompeii, one of the 6-metre-high water towers. The water flowed by gravity to a lead pipe at the top of the tower from which water was distributed locally. There is a public drinking fountain at the foot of the tower from which residents who had no running water could fill their buckets.


Figure 6.14  Pompeii, Suburban Baths, plunge in the frigidarium (cold room). The plunge itself is painted with Nilotic scenes. A cascade of water pours into it from the nymphaeum (fountain) high above.


tesserae and shells. Most astonishing of all is the covered swimming pool (natatio), at the bottom of which is a hollow circular cavity lined with brick and connected to a brick lined passage running out of the pool. A similar cavity was found at the bottom of the large warm pool of the Suburban Baths at Herculaneum although without the connecting passage. In this case the water in a circular bronze ‘samovar’ just below the floor level of the pool was heated by its own furnace.

In ad 62 Pompeii was shaken by a severe earthquake which seems to have affected most buildings. This left only 17 years for repairs to be made and most buildings were not fully repaired by ad 79. At the time of the great eruption the amphitheatre and the Temple of Isis were among the few buildings to have been completely repaired. It is interesting to note that the repairs to the Temple of Isis were done at the expense of a former slave who, because he had been a slave, could not stand for office himself and so dedicated it in the name of his young son, Numerius Popidius Celsinus. One owner who took advantage of the economic crisis following the earthquake was Julia Felix, who decided to rent out part of her huge estate near the amphitheatre (II.4.2) and use the rest for horticulture. A vestibule from the street gave access to a charming garden with an elaborate pool in the middle. On its west side the garden was enclosed by an elegant portico of marble pilasters, rectangular in section. Opening off the portico was a row of guest-chambers, the central room of which was a richly marbled summer triclinium. East of the vestibule, with a separate entrance from the street, was a small bathing suite which must have been a great attraction at a time when so many of the baths in Pompeii were still being repaired. Julia Felix herself had a self-contained atrium house beyond the guest chambers. At the time of the eruption elaborate new colonnades were being erected around the forum, but they were never finished. In the last years of the city a number of old patricians left for good and striking changes began taking place in old patrician dwellings. Many were subdivided or turned into lodgings or commercial premises.

Upper storeys were opened up to face the street and balconies and upstairs windows penetrated street façades. One might justly claim that if the eruption of Vesuvius had not occurred in ad 79 the old Pompeii, familiar to us by its fine houses and splendid paintings, might largely have been rebuilt, as happened at Ostia.

Ostia is another well-preserved Roman city, but it was not destroyed by a violent natural catastrophe like Pompeii. Instead it was gradually abandoned until its buildings collapsed one by one. Precious marbles, statues and columns were torn from decaying buildings to turn up as far away as Pisa and Salerno. For more than a millennium the site was one of almost complete desolation and abandonment, until it slowly began to be uncovered in the mid 19th century. The pace of excavation increased in the period 1938–1942, when most of the city known today was uncovered. The town and the harbour have been the subject of intense archaeological interest in the early 2000s. As Ostia was abandoned, gradually there are fewer spectacular finds than in the cities around Vesuvius, where entire painted rooms, wooden shutters and even foodstuffs regularly turn up. Yet in many ways Ostia was a more typical Roman city than Pompeii, which had deep Oscan roots and whose people never fully accepted Roman ways. Ostia was the harbour town of Rome and was thus particularly well placed to reflect the styles and tastes of the capital. Whereas Pompeii died in ad 79, a time when architectural and artistic styles were in a process of rapid change, Ostia lived on, and during the second century ad was practically rebuilt in brick-faced concrete, which had undergone much development in the course of the first century ad. The typical buildings of Ostia were not sumptuous houses and villas, but tall apartment blocks, baths and warehouses. While Pompeii is now seen as a seaside town with elegant, sprawling houses, Ostia was an imperial port, jammed with the kind of functional housing blocks which must have been a feature of Rome itself.

Ostia is situated on the banks of the Tiber near its mouth, about 25 kilometres from Rome (Figure 1.3). It began as a castrum (fort) designed to protect the coast against raiders from Etruria and Greece. Marauding bands of Gauls were still active in the area after the great invasion of 390 bc, and in 349 bc Greek fleets had ravaged the coast from Antium (Anzio) to the Tiber estuary. Colonies composed of Roman citizens were established at Antium (338 bc), Tarracina Anxur (329 bc) and Minturnae (296 bc). Ostia was probably the oldest of these forts, although according to ancient authors a settlement was established there as early as the seventh century bc. The castrum, dating perhaps to the period 349–348 bc or 338 bc, was a rectangle measuring 194 × 125.7 metres, and although the actual tufa walls have largely disappeared its outline is still visible around the forum area (Figure 6.15). Because Ostia was built around the old castrum and several streets followed the alignment of old roads the decumanus and the cardo were not nearly as regular as in a fully planned city. The eastern branch of the decumanus was quite straight and terminated at the Porta Romana, while the southern cardo, western decumanus and Via della Foce transmitted their irregularity to the surrounding districts. The northern part of the city is notably orderly in its planning because it fronted the river and was under the control of the city Praetor.

In 311 bc ships were built to patrol the coast, and quaestores italici were placed in charge of naval defences. Ostia became the seat of one of them in 267 bc. The Romans decided to build a fleet during the First Punic War and Ostia became strategically important because it was at the mouth of the Tiber, but after the defeat of Carthage the importance of the western fleet declined. Ostia soon compensated for the loss by developing a new role as a commercial port involved in the grain trade. However, it had a river harbour with limited capacity (Figure 6.16). The solution came in the second century bc when a harbour was built

Figure 6.15  Ostia: general plan.

at Puteoli (Pozzuoli), which could handle great numbers of ships of all sizes. This harbour soon became the most important in the western Mediterranean, and through it flowed goods of every description, wine, pottery, precious objects, even slaves and most importantly grain, a vital import because very little grain was grown around Rome.

There is very little archaeological evidence at Ostia for buildings made of permanent materials before the end of the second century bc. Some painted terracottas were found in the pre-Sullan levels, and these suggest mud-brick buildings with timber roofs. Timber was plentiful in the district and may have been a common building material in the early period of Ostia’s growth. Also, the area south of the theatre has a haphazard street plan which may well date back to an earlier period of uncontrolled building activity. By the second century bc the question of grain supply came to a head under Gaius Gracchus (123–122 bc), who enacted a law requiring the Senate to purchase and store large quantities of grain for distribution to the poor. At about this time a number of imposing peristyle and atrium houses were built, as well as Ostia’s first stone temple, the Temple of Hercules. It is perhaps no coincidence that the first signs of prosperity came at the time of the Gracchi when the importation of cheap grain brought prosperity to the harbour city.

In 87 bc during the civil war between Sulla and Marius the city was occupied and plundered by the Marians, and again in 67 bc by pirates (Cicero, Man. 12.33). As a result new walls were built around Ostia, probably in the period 63–58 bc, enclosing an area of 63.5 hectares (160 acres), or almost 30 times the extent of the original castrum (Figure 6.15). In comparison, Pompeii covered an area of 157 acres (63.5 hectares). However, the figure for Ostia may well rise because in the years following 1998 surveys using magnometry and excavation have revealed at least three large warehouses and a building with columns, as well as parts of the city wall, north of the Tiber (Figure 6.16).7 This means that the wall surrounding the main city on the south bank of the Tiber continued around the north as well, and therefore the Tiber bisected the city rather than running along its northern side. The new wall circuit on the south side of the Tiber was trapezoidal in shape, its line partly dictated by the coastline and the river. The three main gates are the Porta Marina through which the western decumanus runs to the seashore, the Porta Laurentina through which the southern cardo runs on its way south and the Porta Romana which marks the end of the eastern decumanus and the beginning of the Via Ostiensis.

During the last century of the Republic, atrium and peristyle houses continued to be built, and porticoes on tufa piers began to appear along some of the main streets. Perhaps the most important development of the period was the rebuilding of the area north of the decumanus. The land adjacent to the river was declared public property by the Roman praetor urbanus, and the whole area replanned on orderly lines. This area contrasts starkly with the haphazard development south of it, where private building had run amok during the late Republic. Even the four late Republican temples just west of where the theatre was later to be built were laid out in a neat and orderly fashion. Another piece of regular planning was the site of the forum which was cleared and set out as a perfect rectangle with the Capitolium at the north end. To the south Tiberius built a temple of Rome and Augustus which, like the Temple of Deified Julius Caesar in the Forum Romanum, had a rostra in front of the columns and a podium accessible by two lateral staircases. Ostia’s high status is reflected in the fact that the temple was sheathed in Carrara marble. The theatre and the large double colonnade (quadriporticus) behind it were first built by Agrippa in 18–12 bc. During the early Empire, perhaps as early as the time of Tiberius, an aqueduct was constructed bringing water from high ground 7 kilometres to the east (Figure 6.16). Under Vespasian the city wall was remodelled as an aqueduct conveying water to the southern part of the city.

The harbour basin of Ostia may actually predate the castrum and is thought to date between the fourth and second centuries bc. It is at the end of the Via della Foce and traces of

Figure 6.16  Ostia, Claudian and Trajanic harbours: plan.


it were found west of the so-called Palazzo Imperiale near the river mouth (Figure 6.16). By the first century bc the water column in the basin had dropped to between 0.50 metre and 1 metre, making it clear that the river harbour was no longer adequate for the shipping that was using the port. The Egyptian grain ships were particularly large and had to use the facilities at Puteoli. Furthermore, the Tiber brings large quantities of silt from the interior and deposits it in the estuary, producing a sandbar at the Tiber mouth (Strabo, Geo. 5.3.5). As a result, the river was often called flavus Tiber or yellow Tiber in antiquity because of this silt (Horace, Carm. 1.2.13). No dredging took place in the unsettled years of the late Republic (first century bc); Julius Caesar planned to build a harbour at Ostia but the project was never carried out; Augustus never found time for a major operation of this kind.

Finally, Claudius (ad 41–54) revived the idea. The reaction of the emperor’s architects was that the scheme would be prohibitively expensive, and they tried to dissuade him (Dio, 60.11.3). However, the emperor persisted and excavation work began in ad 42 at a spot about 4 kilometres north of the harbour mouth (Figure 6.16).

Recent studies have shown that the harbour was much larger than previously thought, covering as much as 200 hectares. A huge basin was cut out of the coastline and extended into the sea by two curving moles, built of enormous travertine blocks each weighing 6 or 7 tonnes, tied together by iron clamps. A canal north of Portus, 20–35 metres wide, connected the Tiber with the sea for flood relief. A second channel, 45 metres wide, known as the Fossa Traiana, was also built by Claudius. There was a small inner harbour to the south of the main basin linked by a short transverse channel to the Fossa. Between the two moles a great lighthouse was built on an artificial island with an entrance to the harbour each side of it. The lighthouse rested upon the hulk of the ship which Caligula had used to bring his 25.5-metre-high obelisk from Egypt to Rome. This ship is described as having carried a ballast of 800 tonnes of lentils and as having a main mast that could be spanned only by four men linking arms (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 16.76.202). It was 95–104 metres long × 20.3 metres wide with a displacement of 7,400 tonnes, suggesting that it must have been manned by a crew of 700–800 men. It was frequently depicted on coins, mosaics and reliefs and had anything up to six decks. According to Suetonius (Claud. 20) the lighthouse was a very tall tower built on piles in imitation of the lighthouse at Alexandria with a burning beacon (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 36.18.83). It is usually depicted, for example in the Torlonia relief, as rising in three diminishing storeys.

The Claudian harbour does not seem to have silted up as was previously thought. Recent studies have shown that it was 7–8 metres deep.8  Even between the third and fifth centuries ad the depth of the harbour was still about 5 metres. However, it was very large and exposed. In ad 62, the year of the earthquake at Pompeii, a storm destroyed 200 ships in it (Tacitus, Ann. 15.18.3). This was a problem for the Roman authorities because they used free or cheap grain and public entertainment, the famous bread and circuses (panem et circenses), as a means of keeping the populace both fed and content (Juvenal, Sat. 4.10.81). A port at the mouth of the Tiber became vital, so that bulky cargoes could be unloaded at Ostia rather than Puteoli, where they had to be transported to Rome along the Via Appia. The problems of providing a safe harbour for Rome and securing Rome’s grain supply were not resolved until the time of Trajan, when between ad 106–113 an enormous hexagonal basin, visible today, was excavated inland of the old harbour (Figure 6.16). The harbour, with six sides 357.77 metres across, covers 39 hectares and has a maximum diameter of 715.54 metres. Mooring blocks, 15 metres apart, and numbered columns have been found around the harbour basin. It could handle 100 ships at a time and it has been calculated that as many as 1,800 sea-going ships used the Trajanic harbour in a year. On the north side of the harbour was found an enormous building, about 145 metres long, divided into eight vaulted bays each measuring about 58 metres long × 12 metres wide. The eight vaulted enclosures, which opened onto both the Claudian and Trajanic harbours, may have been used for ship-building, ship repair and storage. A large building on the NW side of the harbour (the so-called Imperial Palace) was richly decorated and had a bath building. It may have been used by a high official or even the emperor himself. In the Severan period a large warehouse was built on the west side of the basin. The new harbour transformed the river Tiber, which was like a highway filled with boats. Goods arriving at the harbour were transferred to smaller boats and ferried up the river to warehouses beside the Tiber at the southern edge of Rome. Some of the pottery containers were recycled but amphorae which contained oil could not be used again and were dumped. The dump expanded until it became what is now called Monte Testaccio, 35 metres high, covering 20 hectares (49.5 acres) and measuring nearly a kilometre in circumference. It consists of about 53 million amphorae, each of which contained roughly 70 litres. The Tiber amazed Aelius Aristides when he visited Rome at the time of Antoninus Pius: ‘The arrivals and departures of ships never stop … it is quite amazing that there is enough room in the sea, much less the harbour, for the ships … Everything comes together here, all that is produced and grown, trade and commerce, the transportation, agriculture, and metallurgy industries, every skill which exists now and has ever existed,’ (Roman Oration 14, 200, 201).


Two Roman Towns Part 3

Two Roman Towns | Pompeii and Ostia | Roman Architecture | Second edition | (Part-03)

As no new harbour town was built at the time, Ostia remained the nearest city to the Trajanic harbour. Portus remained part of Ostia until the early third century ad, although its population grew to about 10,000 in the later second century ad, a period of enormous growth and prosperity for Ostia. Now the grain fleet from Alexandria sailed to its harbour rather than to Puteoli, and Ostia became the main harbour for goods from the whole Roman Empire. An imperial official, called the Procurator Portus Utriusque (procurator of both harbours), was put in charge of the harbour district. Because the city was crucial to the survival and growth of the city of Rome, it was practically rebuilt between the time of Trajan (98–117 ad) and Antoninus Pius (138–161 ad). Vast areas were levelled and new housing put up. As the town was limited by its walls and there were tombs all round, the buildings had to be higher and stronger than previously. Tall housing blocks (insulae) built of brick-faced concrete began to take the place of houses, which were much more wasteful of valuable space. Great use was made of brick-faced concrete in Rome following the fire of 64 ad, as can be seen by the remains of Nero’s Golden House and the Markets of Trajan, which are examples of the large-scale use of it. The new building methods did not make themselves felt at Ostia until the end of the first century ad when Domitian rebuilt parts of the forum area. The basilica and, north of it, what may be the curia were built at the end of the first or the beginning of the second century ad. However, it was not until the time of Trajan that reconstruction began on a large scale, just in time for the influx of new wealth. In the Hadrianic period radical replanning created a monumental approach to the forum from the river. The point where the cardo met the river was a landing place of importance where the Emperor or any visiting dignitary would arrive. The stretch of cardo from the river to the enormous new Capitolium at the north end of the forum was laid out as a broad, straight street, flanked by brick porticoes.

The Capitolium (Figure 6.17), built of brick-faced concrete, was 70 Roman feet high, which may suggest that the rest of the town was already reaching the full 60 Roman feet allowed by Trajan’s regulations (Anon., Epit. De Caes 13.13). The large-scale rebuilding under Hadrian was facilitated by the expansion of the brick industry and at the end of Hadrian’s reign reticulate work had entirely disappeared. Late in his reign the area north of

Figure 6.17  Ostia, Capitolium, c. ad 120–130.

the eastern decumanus was rebuilt in a very regular manner. New buildings included the barracks of the vigiles (police and fire-fighters), a brick portico along the adjacent stretch of the eastern decumanus and the Baths of Neptune. This fine complex, consisting of a somewhat rigidly planned row of bathing rooms facing a rectangular palaestra, was inscribed into a block measuring approximately 67 metres square.

The large and imposing the Forum Baths (Figure 6.18) were built at the time of Antoninus Pius. The frigidarium was the most traditional part (Figure 6.19). It was rectangular and symmetrical in its layout, with eight columns supporting a cross-vault and cold plunges on the north and south sides. In contrast, the warm and hot rooms displayed a variety of shapes and projected boldly like a series of steps. The most westerly was octagonal and its four big windows took advantage of the afternoon sun, which, in the absence of heating pipes in the walls, suggest that it was a heliocaminus (sun-room) of the type found at Hadrian’s villa. The adjacent oval room, probably a sweating room (sudatorium), had a bench against the walls, under-floor heating and heated walls. Next were two more sudatoria with big windows, and at the end a large caldarium (hot room), accessible from a tepidarium (warm room). A service corridor for the furnaces ran along the south side of these rooms. The irregular triangle to the south of the baths was left open as a palaestra (exercise yard). It was presumably one more welcome open space in an increasingly crowded city centre. It may be noted here that at Pompeii there were only four major public bath buildings. At Ostia, which was of similar size, at least 18 public bath buildings have been excavated, a reflection on the changing bathing habits of the Romans during the Empire.

Housing blocks and warehouses are perhaps the most conspicuous features of second century ad Ostia (Figure 6.20). Tall buildings had existed in Rome since the third century

Figure 6.18  Ostia, Forum Baths, c. ad 160: plan.

bc, as we know from the tale about an ox finding its way up to the third storey of a building in the Forum Boarium (Livy, 21.62.3). By the fourth century ad the number of insulae (apartment blocks) in Rome far exceeded the number of houses: 25 insulae to every house (domus). Ostia is of great importance because the buildings there probably echoed those of Rome, which are now largely inaccessible because of later structures built over them. A few insulae can still be seen; one substantial survival, 16 metres high × 30 metres wide, forms part of the Aurelianic wall near the Porta Tiburtina. Three storeys of blocked-up windows are still visible with the travertine corbels for a balcony between the first and second storeys. Another was incorporated into the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo on the Caelian, and there is the picturesque four-storey Insula dell’Ara Coeli at the foot of the Capitol.

Ostian insulae usually had a plain façade of brick-faced concrete, frequently with a projecting balcony between the second and third storeys, as in the Markets of Trajan in Rome

Figure 6.19  Ostia, Forum Baths: the frigidarium, c. ad 160.

Figure 6.20  Ostia, Insula of the Charioteers, mid second century ad.

(Figure 8.5). Sometimes pilasters or brick columns carrying a pediment gave added dignity to the main doorways, but no attempt was made to hide the brick under stucco or veneer.


Lighting was a problem which was solved by inserting large windows facing the street, often supplemented with further windows looking onto an inner courtyard (Figure 6.21a). Sometimes the windows had shutters and even if they were glazed it was mainly with selinite which cut down the amount of light entering the room. The rooms and apartments were separate but some facilities were shared, such as the cooking and eating area (medianum).

Figure 6.21  Ostia, (a) one block of the Garden Houses, c. ad 128, and (b) Insula of Diana, later second century ad.

Water could not be piped to the upper floors, so that often there was a water cistern in the central court. Lavatories were sometimes provided in better-class insulae, sometimes one on each floor. Each storey was about 3.5 metres high and there could not have been more than four or at most five storeys because of the Trajanic regulations. These restricted building heights to 60 feet (about 17.5 metres) and were in force at the time when most of the Ostian insulae were built. The number of storeys in a housing block can be roughly calculated by the thickness of the walls at ground level. For example, a wall 0.50 metre thick denotes two, 0.80 metre four and 0.95 metre five storeys. The upper-storey rooms were not necessarily secondary to those on the ground floor, although the latter were preferred. Martial had a third-floor apartment (Martial, Epigr. 1.117.7) which was cold and draughty: ‘I live in a little cell, with one window which does not even fit properly. Boreas himself would not want to live here’ (Martial, Epigr. 8.14.5). The worst places were the attic rooms, which were not only uncomfortable but also dangerous in the event of a fire: ‘Upstairs where the gentle pigeons nest, where only thin tiles protect you from the rain, you will be the last to burn’ (Juvenal, Sat. 1.3.201–202).

One of the largest apartment blocks is the Insula of Serapis, built around a courtyard and dated to the time of Hadrian. The Insula of the Charioteers to the south is an even more enormous block usually restored as five storeys high (Figure 6.20). It too was built around a central courtyard and is dated to the Antonine period. Between the two blocks is a substantial Hadrianic bathing establishment, the Baths of the Seven Sages, which was for the use of the tenants of the two blocks, but may have been available to the public as well. The baths are named after the frescoes of the Seven Greek Sages in the apodyterium which is a Trajanic building incorporated into the bathing complex. A striking feature of the baths is the circular frigidarium, once covered with a dome. Its floor, 11 metres in diameter, was paved in a mosaic of acanthus scrolls and hunters. The ground-floor rooms and corridors were vaulted in line with the regulations enforced following the great fire of Rome. The most luxurious planned development at Ostia is the so-called Garden Houses, which were clearly designed for richer residents (Figure 6.21b). They consist of two identical housing blocks set within a large garden. Each block is divided by a corridor into two halves and in each half are two self-contained housing units back to back. The Insula of Diana had only the west and south sides of the building facing the street, the rest of the block abutting against other buildings (Figure 6.21a). As the rooms could draw no light from two sides the architect has grouped the rooms around an inner courtyard to light the rooms on the north and east sides. On the street frontages there were shops on the ground floor and staircases led up to the upper floor apartments. In the centre of the courtyard was a water cistern which served all the residents.

There is a large concentration of warehouses at Ostia, mainly in the northern part of the city near the river. Their capacity is clearly greater than the needs of Ostia itself would warrant, suggesting that most of them were designed to store grain until it was required in Rome. The grain warehouses usually have raised floors for dryness and conform to two types. One has the storage rooms facing the four sides of a colonnaded courtyard (Figure 6.22a and b); the second type, which eventually superseded the first, has rows of rooms back to back, thus making more economical use of space (Figure 6.22c). A well-known example of the traditional warehouse is the mid second century ad Horrea Epagathiana with its remarkable dressed-brick doorway (Figures 4.11 and 6.22b). Not all warehouses were for grain; some were to store oil, wine and other commodities. A superbly well-planned complex, known as the House of the Lararium, contains apartments on the upper floors and on the ground floor a shopping centre of ten shops grouped around a small internal courtyard. There was a water tank in the middle and a niche of variegated terracotta on the wall, which once held small

Figure 6.22  (a) Ostia, Horrea of Hortensius, granary, c. ad 30–40: plan; (b) Horrea Epagathiana, warehouse, c. ad 145–50: plan; (c) Ostia, Antonine Horrea: plan.

statues of the protecting Lares. Among the many small shops in Ostia are two fish-shops with marble tables for chopping and cleaning, and water tanks to hold the fish. One of them has a black and white mosaic pavement showing a triton and a dolphin with an octopus in its beak. The inscription reads ‘Inbide calco te’ (‘Envious one, I tread on you’). This has been taken as a reference to the dolphin which frightens fish away or alternatively to the octopus, the enemy of humans.

As a seaport Ostia attracted a wide range of foreign traders and businessmen. The cosmopolitan nature of Ostia is reflected in the wide range of religious buildings found there. As well as a large number of conventional temples there is evidence of a flourishing Imperial cult. There are buildings devoted to the cults of Cybele and Isis and 15 mithraea, dating mainly to the later second and third centuries ad. A synagogue, dating to the time of Claudius (ad 41–54), the earliest yet identified in Europe, was discovered outside the walls in 1960– 1961, with evidence that it was still in use in the fourth century ad. Several religious and professional colleges, such as the Augustales, a college of priests instituted in honour of Augustus, and the ship-builders (fabri navales) established their headquarters at Ostia. Most were fairly simple structures, but the so-called School of Trajan belonging to the Antonine period and named after a statue of Trajan found there, is much more sumptuous with its apsidal hall and long nymphaeum (fountain complex) running the whole length of the garden. Which association the building belonged to is still unknown, but it has been suggested that it may be the headquarters of the corporation of shipping transporters (naviculari).9

Demolition and rebuilding went on in the Antonine period, but the pace had begun to slacken because the city was almost fully built up. By the end of the second century ad there were few public spaces except the public gardens behind the theatre. Even the four temples west of the theatre were surrounded by buildings. Ostia remained prosperous up to the time of the Severans, a period largely devoted to the restoration of baths and granaries. However, one major project, probably begun by Commodus, was the enlargement of the theatre from 65 to 88 metres by adding of an outer ring of 21 arched openings. It also seems that that the present 61 shops used by overseas shippers were built when the level of the square behind the theatre, the Piazzale delle Corporazioni, was raised at the end of the second century ad. On the floor in front of each shop is a mosaic explaining the nature of the business. Many of them represent the grain trade and symbols associated with Africa are common. One mosaic bears the words ‘stat(io) Sabrathensium’ and an elephant, a reference to the town of Sabratha in Tripolitania. Another has two palm trees, three fishes and an amphora marked MC, which suggests that its ships traded with Mauretania Caesariensis (Cherchel) in Algeria. Another ambitious project of the period was the Round Temple near the forum. It is difficult to explain such a scheme, which is usually dated to the period ad 222–244, a time of declining wealth. It must almost certainly have been the product of imperial patronage, either by Alexander Severus or Gordian III, whose father lived in Ostia. It is essentially a smaller version of the Pantheon, with a large rectangular colonnaded courtyard in front, providing

Figure 6.23  Ostia, House of Amor and Psyche, c. ad 300: plan.

another much-needed open space in the congested central area. As land prices dropped in the third century ad more open spaces were created such as a small square south of the eastern decumanus and east of the forum. A second square, known as Piazzale della Vittoria, was created just inside Porta Romana. As imperial trade began to run down people moved to the harbour itself, at first called Portus Ostiae, then Portus Romae, and finally Portus. As Portus grew in importance Ostia settled into being a residential town with several senatorial families taking up residence there. The houses were quite lavish in their use of space and their interior decoration, as can be seen in the House of Cupid and Psyche which was an old insula turned into a private dwelling in the third or fourth century ad (Figure 6.23). It has richly marbled rooms facing a spacious viridarium, which opens off a wide corridor whose roof is supported by five columns. Along one side water flows from the spouts of five marbled niches into a deep basin. One of the rooms which faces the viridarium contains a small statue of Cupid and Psyche, from which the house gets its name. To the north there is a large reception room with a magnificent floor of polychrome marble (opus sectile).

At the end of the fourth century ad civic authority began to break down and the poet, Rutilius, wrote in ad 414 that the only glory remaining to Ostia was the glory of Aeneas, who according to legend had landed there. By the sixth century ad only a few inhabitants lived in the ruins of the buildings, half-demolished and stripped of their marble. The dead were buried in the baths and the theatre. The road from Rome to Ostia was overgrown and the Tiber a river without boats. Little attempt was made to defend it from barbarian incursions and finally the area became malarial and was abandoned.




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