All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
In line with Roman law the inhabitants of Ostia laid to rest their dead outside the town: the wealthiest ones were buried in monuments placed along the road leading to Rome. The tombs are in general standing only on one side of the road, because the other one was close to the Tiber and it was used as a loading area. Most of the tombs were made of bricks (there were no stone quarries near Ostia).
The excavations of Ostia have brought to light interesting aspects of everyday life, which usually one associates with Pompeii and Herculaneum, the two towns which were covered by ashes and lava and thus were preserved from decay. A bakery retains its grinding equipment: it consisted of two granite parts: donkeys made the upper one rotate on the other and this explains why the large room is paved like Romans paved their streets. The equipment shows some artistic pretension, as the upper part resembles a sack used for carrying grain (you may wish to see the tomb of Marcus Virgilius Eurysaces, a wealthy baker).
Although we tend to imagine the Romans having leisurely dinners lying on a couch, the workers at Ostia Horrea (great warehouses) did not have the time and the money to eat in this way. So they gathered for a quick lunch at this thermopolium, which provided also a take-away service: food and beverages were painted on the walls to help the customers make their orders.
The American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-70) developed a theory establishing a hierarchy of human needs. It is usually represented as a pyramid divided into five layers: the lower layers represent the needs which must be satisfied to ensure mere survival. The upper layers represent more elaborate needs attaining to happiness and eventually self-actualization, the desire of human beings to be the best they can.
In this category one can place the interest of modern affluent societies for fitness and bodybuilding.
The small baths located outside Porta Marina (Sea Gate) prove that these needs were not unknown in ancient Ostia. The mosaics which decorate these baths show how the Romans cared about their bodies. They kept fit through exercise and sports, they oiled and perfumed their bodies and then enjoyed removing the unguents with a strigilum, a tool having the shape of the letter S.
The Romans paid a lot of attention to hygiene: the meat market of Ostia had a vast basin where tools could be washed; men's facilities had a dual system of running water: one inside the rows of seats and one before them: the purpose of the upper holes does not require explanation, while those below were used to introduce a stick which pushed the faeces into the water channel. Clearly the Romans had a very relaxed and uninhibited approach to their corporal functions which were often the subject of jokes (also in literature): in a way this is still present in the Italian culture, in particular in Tuscany (Italian speaking visitors may read the very funny Inno del corpo sciolto by Roberto Benigni in this external link).
Buildings and their Decoration
Rome retains many imposing evidences of its ancient past, but relatively few ordinary houses: one insula (apartment block) was found at the foot of S. Maria d'Aracoeli and other houses are known to lie below later buildings. Ostia was abandoned for centuries and its houses were not used as foundations or quarries for new buildings: they belonged to a wealthy middle class. Casa degli Aurighi (named after some small paintings portraying charioteers - see end of the page) was part of a larger compound which included small baths for the residents. Archaeologists have identified the shape of the various apartments and of the shared facilities (courtyards and fountains).
There were no imperial palaces in Ostia or similar expensive residences, but nevertheless some houses and public buildings were decorated with marbles: in some cases one can notice the reuse of slabs which were part of a previous building.
Ostia has excellent examples of black and white mosaics mainly portraying marine creatures. Its buildings were occasionally decorated with coloured mosaics based on a geometrical design, often based on curved lines having an optical effect.
The use of frescoes was generally limited to small figures painted on a large surface, in some instances on a red background which is typical of the frescoes found in Pompeii.
The statues which one can see on a visit to Ostia are copies; the originals are kept in the museum of the archaeological area. They celebrated the emperors or the gods or some military achievements. The courtyards of private houses had smaller statues of a more sensual subject.
Return to page one or move on to page three.
Latium was enlarged in the 1920s with territories from the neighbouring regions: the map on the left shows the current borders of Latium; the map on the right has links to pages covering towns of historical Latium: in order to see them you must hover and click on the dots.
To search this site you can use