All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
In the Ist century Emperor Claudius decided to build Porto, an artificial harbour a few miles north of Ostia, to ensure the supply lines to Rome were not affected by weather conditions at Ostia. Over time Porto became more important than Ostia as a terminal for goods, but it is likely that Ostia retained the lead as a centre where traders met and reached a deal.
This at least is what is suggested by the mosaics of the large square portico behind the theatre.
Each corporation (in the sense of members of a group of dealers or manufacturers) had a stall in the portico and the mosaic before it advertised the business. This was done either through an image or through an inscription with the names of the manufacturers and of what they manufactured: stuppatores, makers of ropes (in somewhat archaic English stupe is a piece of cloth or cotton wool).
The mosaics tell us how the elaborate logistics system worked: Ostia was the terminal of trade routes from Africa (today's Tunisia and Libya), Sicily, Sardinia and Spain. These routes were operated by shipping companies represented in Ostia by their agents. Due to weather conditions and the consequent risk of wrecking, few ships made their journeys during the bad season; the emperors often granted incentives to those who did travel. Roman law had provisions dealing with several aspects of transportation agreements, including the concept of force majeure. See some pages on the ports of Oea, Sabratha and Leptis Magna which had trading ties with Ostia.
Most of the goods unloaded at Ostia were shipped to the river harbour of Rome via small flat-bottomed boats. However this applied mainly to large commodities such as olive oil and cereals: other goods were shipped by land. In addition passengers arriving from or leaving for the provinces reached Ostia by land. Via Ostiense may not have seen the traffic jams which often occur today, but surely it was busy with carts. In Ostia the carters' guild had a sort of terminal near the town gate of Via Ostiense; it included small baths where they and their passengers could relax and remove from their bodies the dust of the ancient roads. The mosaics which decorated their baths show a carter with his passengers: they seem to be in a hurry!
Ostia had a very cosmopolitan population and it retains several religious buildings belonging to its various communities. The two adjoining small basilicas shown above are thought to be Christian buildings of the late IVth century: it is uncertain whether they were used as churches or as schools for the catechumens (Christians preparing for baptism): at that time there was a large conversion process ordered by Emperor Theodosius.
Ostia retains a very well conserved Mithraeum, entirely decorated with black and white tesserae. The adepts sat on benches in what seems the perfect setting for a modern self-awareness group session. Other Mithraei can be found in private houses. The believers in Mithra, a Persian god, always met in small groups: it was a cult of oriental origin and it became very popular during the Severian dynasty.
The Jews living in Ostia had a sort of community centre near the sea gate. In addition to a small synagogue they had a bakery for the preparation of unleavened bread and a hall for meetings. The decoration of the synagogue is consistent with that prevailing in Ostia: black and white mosaics showing Solomon's knots and traditional capitals to which lintels with Jewish religious symbols were added.
Return to page one or page two or move on to the next step in your tour of the Environs of Rome: Porto.
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.
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