The river harbour at Ostia
The double port cities of Ostia and Portus formed a complex functional unit, which became the largest Mediterranean center for transshipping goods in the 2nd century AD. Until then, however, there was a complex history of development. For a time after its founding in the 4th century BC, Ostia served to guarantee the safety of the mouth of the Tiber and in the 3rd-1st centuries BC played the role of a subordinate transit port. Rome’s main port was at Puteoli on the Bay of Naples. Only from the Augustan period with the gradual construction of the river port and horrea did Ostia reach a certain importance as an autonomous transshipment center for goods. The great leap forward in development took place, however, only after the Trajanic phase of construction at Portus. Portus should not be seen as the port of Ostia, though, but rather as an independent port city, which served under imperial control for the transshipment of certain bulk goods destined for Rome. Only as a consequence of the volume of shipping arriving at Portus did Ostia undergo the incomparable economic boom that revolutionized the city and the society in the 2nd century. Unlike at Portus, this upswing was primarily in private hands and concentrated on other groups of goods. Contrary to Portus, Ostia seems thus to have gained a role as a central point in Mediterranean trade, aside from its functions in the supply of Rome.
Surprisingly, precisely the economic heart of Ostia, the river harbor, has until today been little investigated. In the framework of a research project lead by the applicant in the unexcavated areas of Ostia (1996-2002), it was possible by means of geophysical surveying and small-scale excavation to identify for the first time a large river harbor basin flanked by a port temple and possible ship-sheds. A now silted-up stretch of the river bank north of the theater was also seen. These two areas represent today the only potential places in which to investigate the former river harbor of Ostia.
Because of the different goals of the earlier project, the harbor could be investigated only summarily, and many questions had to remain open. The goal of the present application is to gain detailed insights into the formation, development and urbanistic associations of the original river harbor of Ostia by means of geophysical surveys, geoarchaeological investigations and targeted stratigraphic excavations in the two afore-mentioned areas (river harbor basin and river bank north of the theater). There should also be for the first time an investigation of the structural history and a documentation of the probable lighthouse at the former mouth of the Tiber. Through exchanges with the English project at Portus, the project should lead to a better understanding of the division of roles between the two ports.