Ostia Antica

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HDR image of a street in Ostia Antica
Entrance to the ruins of Ostia

Ostia Antica is the excavation site of the ancient city of Ostia, the original port city of ancient Rome and possibly its first colony .

The name Ostia is derived from the Latin ostium "entrance; Estuary ”, which means the mouth of the Tiber . The name Ostia Antica (Old Ostia) is used to distinguish it from the Ostia district, which was newly founded in the 1920s . The modern district to the northeast is also called Ostia Antica after the excavations .


Ostia Antica is located in the X. Munizipium Ostia , the Roman district at the mouth of the Tiber , which keeps the name of the ancient city. It is located approx. 23 km southwest of the Roman city center and 5 km upstream of the current mouth of the Tiber between the Via del Mare ( Via Ostiense ) and the Tiber. It can be reached via Ostia Antica train station on the Roma Porta San Paolo – Cristoforo Colombo railway line .


A fragmentary inscription of honor from Ostia for King Ancus Marcius, which praises him as the founder of the city

Ostia was founded by the fourth king of Rome, Ancus Marcius , in the 7th century BC according to the ancient tradition, as is shown in an inscription from the 2nd century AD . Founded as the first Roman colony . The archaeological findings to date do not, however, extend beyond the 4th century BC. BC back; the oldest preserved buildings such as the Castrum (military camp) and the Capitol date from the 3rd century BC. Since the historicity of Ancus Marcius is also questionable, it is mostly assumed that Ostia was founded in the 4th century after the victory of the Romans over their neighboring city Veji .

Ostia was therefore probably originally a military camp from which Rome could be protected and defended and maritime trade could be controlled. With the latter, the military camp soon developed into a port city and a strong base for Rome's fleet . As early as the 3rd century BC It was one of the main ports of Rome and is mentioned in this function several times in historical reports. 217 BC The supplies for the army against Hannibal in Spain were shipped from Ostia and in 211 BC. From here Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus drove to Spain to fight the Carthaginians. In order to no longer be dependent on the immediate hinterland and small coastal ships , the "port city of Ostia was created as the only rival of importance to Alexandria and Carthage , to flourish for four centuries until it finally sank in a malaria swamp."

In 87 BC The city was sacked by Gaius Marius and his soldiers during the civil war , but was able to recover from it very quickly. Increased building activity began under Augustus . A first theater and an adjacent business area were built under him. The forum was established under Tiberius . However, the sea off Ostia silted up at the turn of the ages. A large, artificial seaport was dug under Claudius , which was inaugurated under Nero in 54. Under Trajan, the port was expanded to include an additional basin. This port, portus Ostiensis Augusti , later called Portus Romae, was about four kilometers north of the city proper. At this port there were initially only storage buildings and administrative units, while Ostia remained the actual urban center. At first Portus Romae was only a district of Ostia, but was raised to the rank of an independent colonia in 314 .

Ostia experienced its greatest heyday in the 2nd century in particular. Most of the public and private buildings still preserved today date from this period. The port city had around 50,000 inhabitants at that time. Tanners, rope makers, shipbuilders and traders all settled here. The most important commodity was grain that was imported into Rome from Africa. A certain stagnation set in at the beginning of the 3rd century. A noticeable decline began when Emperor Constantine raised Portus to colonia in 314 (giving it city rights, so to speak) and Ostia a little later, together with Portus, which now developed into an independent city, incorporated the city of Rome as Portus Romae .

The surroundings of Rome in antiquity

Ostia was the seat of a bishopric (e.g. Gerald von Ostia ) since the High Imperial Era . According to old tradition, the titular church of the dean of the College of Cardinals , the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia (see also: List of Bishops of Ostia ) is located in Ostia . The mother of St. Augustine of Hippo , Monika , died there in 387 on her way home to North Africa. In this context, Augustine gives a description of life in late antique Ostia in his Confessiones .

In the course of the 5th century, the city of Rome, which was still a metropolis of millions around 300, began to shrink for various reasons; trade declined and the ports slowly lost their importance. During the fighting for Rome between the Ostrogoths and the Eastern Roman troops under Belisarius , Ostia served again as a supply port for the Eternal City around 540. But since Rome shrank from 100,000 to 15,000 inhabitants during the fighting, there was no longer any need for a large port: after the end of the migration period was Ostia, in the vicinity of which swamps were formed as a result of the silting up of the Tiber estuary, which led to frequent malaria epidemics led, hardly inhabited.

Soon after 800 the last remaining inhabitants were resettled: A few hundred meters to the east, Gregoriopoli was built a few hundred meters to the east on the Tiber and Via Ostiense in the early 9th century under Pope Gregory IV as a new fortified suburb of Rome to guard the mouth of the river and the road a castle was strengthened, which served as a customs post for the revived trade. However, since the Tiber shifted its course during a major flood in 1557, Gregoriopoli also became meaningless. As a result, the customs office was moved to the western end of ancient Ostia. The structure called Torre Bonacina was possibly built on the remains of the ancient lighthouse of Ostia.

In 1613 the popes had the Trajan Tiber Canal ( Fossa Traiana , now called the Fiumicino Canal ), which ran via Porto , navigable again, after which Ostia finally lost all importance.

At the beginning of the 19th century, only a few hundred convicts lived in the Ostia antica area and were employed in agriculture.

The modern Ostia is due to silting about 3 km further southwest by the sea.

Political and commercial life in the city

The urban administration of Ostia was organized similarly to other cities of the Roman Empire. At the top were two Duoviri elected for one year . During the Republican and early Imperial times, a few apparently long-established families dominated the city's political life. A certain Gaius Cartilius Poplicola held in the 1st century BC 8 times the office of Duovir. In the early imperial period, the family of Publius Lucilius Gamala dominated . Several family members, some of whom had identical names, occupied the office over three generations (under Augustus, in 19, perhaps in 33 AD, and under Hadrian). In the 2nd century more and more freedmen like Marcus Licinius Privatus seem to have gained influence. Ostia had lost its city status in the 4th century, but was home to a number of important senators .

As the port of Rome, the city also had institutions of its own. One of these organizations was the Annona , whose job it was to provide Rome with food. These were private companies controlled by the state and later taken over by the state. At the head of the Annona stood the Quaestor , who was subordinate to the Prefect of the Annona of Rome. The quaestor oversaw the shipment and distribution of goods. He controlled their quality and arranged payments to private and state companies.

In the city there were also various associations (Corpora, Collegia) of craftsmen who repaired the ships, maintained the warehouses and had other tasks. However, it was not a matter of associations of the actual craftsmen, but of associations of superiors who represented their interests in these organizations. They had important meeting houses and left numerous inscriptions and monuments.

The city complex

Division of the city into regions

It is known from ancient sources that the city was divided into at least five regions. The exact extent of these regions is not certain. However, the first region was likely the center of the city and the oldest neighborhoods to the west of it. The second region is to the east of it and is largely excavated. The other regions are in the south and in the far west and have only been partially excavated. The division into regions is still used today to locate buildings, although the modern numbering does not necessarily have to correspond to the ancient one. Furthermore, the buildings have recently been counted according to the insulae within the regions and then according to door numbers.

The city's public buildings

Temples and sanctuaries

The Capitol

The city had several important temples. A distinction can be made between more state-owned places of worship such as the Capitol and more private facilities such as the numerous mithraea or a synagogue .

The most important temple of Ostia was certainly the Capitol , which was dedicated to the main Roman gods Jupiter , Juno and Minerva . It is located in the city center, north of the forum. The current building was built under Hadrian and measures 35 m × 15.5 m. Its ruins were probably always visible and therefore suffered greatly from stone robbery. There are reports as early as the 15th century that marble was carried away from there. The temple stood on a high dais. 21 steps led up to the actual temple. In front of him was a marble altar with a gun frieze.

The temple of the goddess Roma in Ostia Antica

The Tempio Rotondo ("round temple") was excavated between 1802 and 1804 and is unfortunately poorly preserved today. It consists of a large forecourt and the actual temple building, which is designed around. The temple was probably under Severus Alexander (222-235 AD) or Gordian III. (238–244 AD) erected. Its prominent location in the center of the city and its size leave no doubt that it was an important cult building in the city. There are seven niches in the round temple, certainly for statues. Sculptures of Severus Alexander and Gordian III were found in the temple. found, so that it was assumed that the building served the imperial cult .

The well-preserved Mitreo delle Terme del Mitra ("Mithräum der Mithrasthermen") was one of the sanctuaries for the mystery cult of Mithras, which came from the east . A Serapis temple was also consecrated in the city under Hadrian .

Thermal baths

Mosaic in the Baths of Neptune
Detail of the mosaic in the Baths of Neptune

As a large city in the Roman Empire, Ostia had a number of important thermal baths , some of which were richly decorated with marble, mosaics and sculptures. Some of them even seem to have been built with Imperial assistance. In many places it can be observed that thermal baths had separate areas for men and women; this has not yet been proven for any of these plants in Ostia.

The largest thermal baths, located in the center of the city, were the Terme del Foro (Forum Baths). They were built around 160 AD by the Praetorian prefect Gavius ​​Maximus and renovated several times by the end of the 4th century. The building was once richly furnished, the walls clad with marble up to a height of three meters. The floors had black and white mosaics.

The Mithras baths were built in Hadrianic times and changed in the early 4th century. The walls of the building were decorated with portrait busts, perhaps representing the people who financed the building. The underground water supply installations are particularly well preserved. A large wheel once stood here, which was connected to a second, on which buckets hung to carry water from a cistern into the bathroom. The wheel was operated by a slave, and around 1000 liters of water could be transported in one hour.

The thermal baths of Neptune in the eastern part of the city were built under Hadrian, who also financially supported this construction with two million sesterces. They replace older thermal baths in the same place. The building consists of the bathroom itself and a large palaestra . The thermal baths of Neptune are best known for their rich array of black and white mosaics.

The thermal baths of the lighthouse are in the south of the city. In one of the rooms with a pool there are still well-preserved wall paintings.

The Thermae Maritimae ("Seebad") are located just outside the city walls, near the Porta Marina . The name is the ancient one that has been passed down in this case. Construction began under Trajan and completed under Hadrian. There is evidence that these thermal baths were still in operation in the 6th century AD. The bathroom also has a palaestra and was richly decorated with black and white mosaics. A mosaic depicting athletes is particularly noteworthy.

In addition to these large thermal baths, there were numerous smaller ones such as B. the Baths of the Seven Wise Men ; some of these may only have been used privately, but this is often difficult to decide on a case-by-case basis.

The theater

The theater in Ostia
Building inscription on the theater of Ostia Antica, 196 AD

The theater stands on Decumanus Maximus in the center of the city. From an inscription it is known that a first building was built under Augustus of Agrippa . At that time the theater held a maximum of 3,000 spectators, but it was later enlarged several times. The remains of the current building date from the late 2nd century. A largely reconstructed building inscription reports that the building was renovated in 196 under the reign of Septimius Severus and Caracalla . The theater is made of bricks. The semicircular facade was based on the Decumanus Maximus. In front of it stood two nymphaeans, while behind the facade there were 16 shops in a semicircle under the rows of spectators. The auditorium and the stage area were once richly clad with marble. The orchestra had a marble floor and the stage had five niches which were also adorned with marble columns. Almost nothing of it has survived today. The theater was renovated in the late 4th century. The building in its current form was restored after the excavation and is still used for performances.

Other public buildings

Public latrine

The forum was in the center of the city. It was rebuilt mainly under Hadrian on the site of an older forum. Under Hadrian and later, the square was dominated by four important buildings. In the north stood the Capitol, in the south the temples of the Roma and Augustus, in the south-west the basilica and in the north-west the Curia. The Decumanus Maximus divided the forum in half. The whole square was once richly decorated with statues. All adjoining buildings had porticoes facing the forum.

To the west of the forum was the Curia , where the city council ( ordo decurionum ) met. It consisted of the actual assembly hall (11.50 mx 12.00 m) and a vestibule with granite columns and a staircase with seven steps. There was an open corridor on either side of the meeting room, allowing light to enter the building. The building, whose function was long disputed in research, was built under Domitian or Trajan. Plaques with the names of Ostian residents have been preserved.

Several fires that hit the city are attested by inscriptions. For this reason there was a well-organized fire brigade . The barracks of the imperial city and fire station (Caserma dei Vigili) was built under Domitian, but was completely rebuilt under Hadrian. The barracks consists of a large courtyard, which is surrounded by a portico , behind which are the rooms in which around 400 fire fighters lived, who were on standby around the clock. The facility included latrines and baths. On the west side of the courtyard opposite the main entrance was a temple dedicated to the imperial cult. It dates back to the year 207 AD and was decorated with mosaics. The barracks were abandoned around AD 250.

Mosaic in one of the offices

The Corporations Square (Piazzale delle Corporazioni (II, VII, 4) is located directly behind the theater and was built with it under Augustus. It is approx. 110 m × 80 m in size. The square is framed by a portico behind the There are again 70 small rooms. In these and in front of them there were many mosaics with references to trade. The inscriptions name corporations, shipowners and traders. In the middle of the square, a temple was built under Domitian. The function of this complex is uncertain. Perhaps it is trading they are offices of organizations in other port cities where the trade was discussed and debated, and in fact the inscriptions on the mosaics mention places like Alexandria or Sabratha .

The Caseggiato dei Triclini (I, XII, 1) was the seat of the guild of builders (fabri tignuarii) . It is a large complex built around a courtyard. The building was built under Hadrian and was close to the forum, which underlines the importance and power of this guild. Stairs occupy at least one other floor. On the west side there are four dining rooms ( triclinia ), which gave the house its name. On the south side there was a large shrine, which perhaps served the imperial cult. A satue was found in the courtyard listing 350 members of the guild.


As the main port of Rome, Ostia had a number of large storage facilities ( horrea ) in which grain, wine, oil and other goods were temporarily stored before they were shipped to the capital. The storage facilities were usually built according to the same basic pattern. There was a large courtyard with columns around which there were individual storage rooms. Some of these facilities probably had several floors.

The most important granaries, the Grandi Horrea , were located in the center of the city and were built under Claudius and renovated and expanded several times in the following period. It has been calculated that the approx. 100 m × 100 m large building could hold 5660 to 6960 tons of grain, with which one could supply around 17,300 people with grain for a year. The building is poorly preserved today, but corresponds to the above scheme, with additional storage rooms in the inner courtyard.

Horrea Epagathiana et Epaphroditiana

The Horrea Epagathiana et Epaphroditiana are clearly identified as memory, as this name is on an inscription above the entrance to the building. The building belonged to the freedmen Epagathus and Epaphroditus and dates from around 145 to 150 AD. The granary is comparatively small, but is equipped with mosaics in the courtyard and has doors with sophisticated locking systems, so that valuable goods may have been stored here. The building is still well preserved today.

Residential development

The development of Roman house architecture from the late Republic to the 4th century can be traced particularly well in Ostia.

In the late republic and early imperial period the houses in Ostia corresponded roughly to the type known from Pompeii as an atrium house and which was described by Vitruvius . The house of Jupiter the Thunderer ( Domus di Giove Fulminatore ) is one of the few examples from this period. The entrance to the house was flanked by two shops. From there you got into the atrium with a marble impluvium . All rooms of the house were arranged around the atrium. The house once also had a peristyle , which was later built over. The house was rebuilt several times, but it kept its basic plan until the 4th century.

Portico in the House of the Muses , which is probably the richest tenement house in Ostia

At the end of the 1st century Ostia experienced the beginning of its heyday and many new citizens moved to the city. This limited the land and became expensive, and new house types were required. The insula deserves a special mention here. It is a multi-storey tenement house that could accommodate a large number of residents. Most of the city's atrium houses have now been demolished and replaced by such apartment buildings. They usually consist of several floors and were made of brick and cement. While the atrium house was oriented completely inwards around the atrium and also received the light from there, the apartment buildings were characterized by large windows that looked out onto the street. The rooms were mostly arranged along a corridor, although larger residential units often had a particularly large room, which was usually at the end of a suite. Many of these tenement houses were surprisingly luxuriously furnished and point to high-income residents (e.g. Casa dei Dipinti , Domus di Giove e Ganimede ). Poor strata of the population may have lived on a mezzanine floor above their shops, which can be found everywhere, or on the upper floors of the apartment buildings. At the same time there were still single houses ( domus ) for very wealthy families. The plan of these buildings largely corresponds to the atrium houses, but the atrium has now been replaced by a peristyle.

The tenement houses in Ostia experienced their heyday in the 2nd century. In the 3rd century many residents seem to have left the city. The tenement houses fell into disrepair and were no longer repaired or rebuilt. In the 4th century, numerous new residential buildings were built again, during which time there was no shortage of space and the single house dominated again. Many of them are richly endowed and demonstrate the prosperity of their residents. These houses usually only have one or two floors and are oriented entirely inwards. Nymphaea built into the house (see House of Cupid and Psyche , Domus della Fortuna Annonaria ), which could take up almost half of the house area, are now typical .

Churches and synagogue

The city is mentioned several times in ancient sources in connection with Christianity. There are also martyr legends associated with the city. For this reason, it seems particularly surprising that there is little evidence of the new faith before the fourth century. But even from the fourth century there are only few testimonies of Christianity. There are only a few buildings that can be addressed as churches. In 1997/98 in a research project of the German Archaeological Institute, a large three-aisled basilica with atrium and baptistery was found in the interior of the city. It is most likely the Bishop's Church of Ostias mentioned in the liber pontificalis , which goes back to a foundation by Constantine. The geophysical prospecting and excavations carried out show that the church was in use from the 4th to the 9th centuries.

Outside the ancient city area, several coemeterial churches were built from the 4th century, the most important of which is the Basilica di Pianabella (this is a modern name) found in 1976 and located a few hundred meters south of the city wall. The building is 43.30 mx 16.20 m and was built at the end of the fourth century. It is a hall without aisles. 25 burials were found in the floor of the church. The building was renovated several times and used until the ninth century. Further evidence for churches is rather modest. In the Mithrasthermen z. B. some rooms seem to have served as a church and were perhaps not accidentally set up directly above the Mithraeum.

Also noteworthy is the synagogue , discovered in 1961 , located outside the city walls not far from the Terme di Porta Marina . Erected in the 1st century AD, the synagogue of Ostia is one of the oldest known Jewish prayer houses outside Palestine (probably built before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple) with well-preserved remains of the Torah shrine and an attached bakery with an oven for production unleavened bread during the Passover time. Original remains of the ornamentation of the Torah shrine with a representation of the seven-armed chandelier can be found in the open-air exhibition in front of the Museum of Ostia.


The ruined city is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Roman world. Around two thirds of the ancient city area have been excavated so far. You can visit the above-average well-preserved remains of the forum and the theater, thermal baths, latrines, graves, multi-storey tenement houses, commercial agencies, bakeries, dye works, taverns and brothels and the city wall as well as a cemetery in front of the city gate on Via Ostiense to Rome. The floor mosaics are still preserved in many buildings. However, the ruins are generally in a rather poor condition.

The museum in the excavation site shows significant finds, including the Themistocles Herme of Ostia .

See also

Individual evidence

  1. CIL XIV, 4338 , see for example Russell Meiggs: Roman Ostia . 2nd Edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1973, ISBN 0-19-814810-0 , p. 16; Also see Ennius , Annales , Book 2, Fragment 22.
  2. Moses I. Finley : The ancient economy . dtv, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-423-04277-X , p. 152.
  3. G. Calza, G.Becatti: Ostia , Rome 1974, p 23
  4. CIL 14, 00114
  5. ^ Description on Ostia-Antica .
  6. DAI research project 1996–2001 .
  7. The Church on Ostia-Antica .
  8. ^ Regio I - Insula XVII - Oratorio Cristiano delle Terme del Mitra (I, XVII, 2)
  9. ^ Maria Floriani Squarciapino : The Synagogue at Ostia. In: Archeology 16 (1963), pp. 194-203. Synagogue at Ostia-Antica .


Overview representations
Tourist guides
  • Guido Calza , Giovanni Becatti : Ostia . 6th edition. Guide to the museums and monuments of art in Italy. Vol. 1. Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, Roma 1982.
  • Sonia Gallico: guide to the archaeological site in Ostia Antica . AES Italia, 2000. ISBN 88-87654-26-3 .
  • Carlo Pavolini: Ostia . 2nd Edition. Ed. Laterza, Rome 2006. ISBN 88-420-7784-4 (Italian).
  • Angelo Pellegrino: Ostia antica. Guide to the excavations . Ed. Abete, Rome 2000. ISBN 88-7047-090-3 .
Special studies
  • Michael Heinzelmann : The necropolis of Ostia. Investigations into the burial streets in front of the Porta Romana and on the Via Laurentia . With contributions by Archer Martin and Caterina Coletti (=  studies on the ancient city . Volume 6 ). Pfeil, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-931516-85-7 .
  • Sascha Priester , Multi-storey residential buildings outside the Tiber metropolis , in: Ad summas tegulas. Studies on multi-storey building blocks with residential units and insulae in Imperial Rome , L'Erma Di Bretschneider, Roma 2002, p. 217 ff.
  • Anna-Katharina Rieger: Sanctuaries in Ostia (=  studies on the ancient city . Volume 8 ). Pfeil, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-89937-042-2 .
  • Dorothea Rohde: Between the individual and the municipality. The integration of collegia in port cities (= studies on ancient history. Vol. 15). Verlag Antike, Mainz 2012, ISBN 978-3-938032-44-2 , pp. 79-274.
  • Dirksteueragel : Cult and everyday life in Roman port cities. Social processes from an archaeological perspective (=  Potsdam contributions to ancient studies . Volume 11 ). Steiner, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-515-08364-2 .

Web links

Commons : Ostia Antica  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Coordinates: 41 ° 45 ′ 21 ″  N , 12 ° 17 ′ 30 ″  E