Archeologists working near Rome in the site of Ostia Antica, the ancient port to the capital, have uncovered evidence of astounding new ruins. Already an impressive and remarkably intact set of monuments, Ostia is now found to be at least 40 percent larger than previously envisaged. The find is a major excitement and already being spoken about as the most significant survey result, perhaps even since Pompeii.
Two British teams from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have detected an entire new section of boundary wall. This redefines all previous understandings. Before, it was thought that the River Tiber marked the natural edge of the settlement at Ostia. Now it is clear that it ran through the city. This “completely transforms” how the ancient maps have been drawn up. It also throws a whole new light on the relationship between mighty Rome, and it’s main port, Ostia, 30 miles away. Rome depended on Ostia for all supplies.
The curator of the Greek and Roman departments at the British Museum, Dirk Booms, said “Rome was completely dependent on Ostia.” The primary import was grain, as the entire society was reliant on it.
The new section of wall was discovered using magnetometry, not dissimilar to metal detectors, where the land is scanned with handheld monitors to pick up abnormal magnetic signals below. The results are transferred to computers and a model is created. The pictures that are built up resemble aerial photographs. The survey has revealed a long section of the wall, several metres thick, running to the east, dotted with towers. They have also seen evidence of four new buildings, three thought to be warehouses. One of these is the size of a football pitch.
Simon Keay, professor from Southampton and one of the study’s leaders said modestly, “It’s a pretty important discovery.” His team-mate Martin Millet of Cambridge, said the results underscore the importance of modern survey methods. Ostia is a well-known and much-studied site and yet here is startling new evidence which will redefine all understanding of this area since 1 AD.
That the Tiber bisected Ostia, rather than marking its boundary, and the presence of the huge warehouses, strongly suggests a high volume of commercial activity. The warehouses are not dissimilar to others already excavated at Ostia, but they are considerably larger. There is another building that the archeologists have not been able to decipher yet. It is composed of rows of columns but the function of it is so far unknown.
Professor Keay says that all this will lead to a “major rethink” on how the city of Ostia operated and also in its relationship to Rome, in the first two centuries. The project was called the Portus Project as the area surveyed took in another port, Portus, also 30 miles from Rome. This entire area was known as the Isola Sacra in antiquity, and was bounded by the Tyrennhian sea, a major canal, and the Tiber. It is at the southernmost tip of the Isola Sacra, in Trastevere Ostiense, that the warehouses have been detected.
The former Italian culture minister, Giancarlo Galan, was among those excited by these “great results.” The archeological office in Rome also said that the findings were “bigger than Pompeii.”
By Kate Henderson