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Ostia Antica
Market square of Ostia Antica
Ostia Antica is located in Italy
Ostia Antica
Shown within Italy
Click on the map to see marker.
LocationOstia, Lazio, Italy
Coordinates41°45′21″N 12°17′30″E / 41.75583°N 12.29167°E / 41.75583; 12.29167
Area150 hectares (1.5 km2)[1]
Abandoned9th century AD
CulturesAncient Rome
Site notes
Public accessYes

Ostia Antica (lit.'Ancient Ostia') is an ancient Roman city and the port of Rome located at the mouth of the Tiber. It is near modern Ostia, 25 km (16 mi) southwest of Rome. Due to silting and the invasion of sand,[clarification needed] the site now lies 3 km (2 mi) from the sea.[2] The name Ostia (the plural of ostium) derives from Latin os 'mouth'.

Ostia is now a large archaeological site noted for the excellent preservation of its ancient buildings, magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics. The city's decline after antiquity led to harbor deterioration, marshy conditions, and reduced population. Sand dunes covering the site aided its preservation. Its remains provide insights into a city of commercial importance. As in Pompeii, Ostia's ruins provide details about Roman urbanism that are not accessible within the city of Rome itself.[3]



Ostia may have been Rome's first colonia. According to legend, Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome, was the first to destroy Ficana, an ancient town that was only 17 km (11 mi) from Rome and had a small harbour on the Tiber, and then proceeded with establishing the new colony 10 km (6 mi) further west and closer to the sea coast. An inscription seems to confirm the establishment of the old castrum of Ostia in the 7th century BC.[4] The oldest archaeological remains so far discovered date back to only the 4th century BC.[5] The most ancient buildings currently visible are from the 3rd century BC, notably the Castrum (military camp);[6] of a slightly later date is the Capitolium (temple of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva). The opus quadratum of the walls of the original castrum at Ostia provide important evidence for the building techniques that were employed in Roman urbanisation during the period of the Middle Republic.[7]

Ostia probably developed originally as a naval base, and in 267 BC, during the first Punic war, it was the seat of the quaestor Ostiensis in charge of the fleet. During the 2nd century BC its role as a commercial port gradually became prevalent for the imports of grain for the city of Rome, and buildings began to spread outside the castrum.

Civil wars

Ostia was a scene of fighting during the period of civil wars in the 80s BC. In 87 BC Marius attacked the city in order to cut off the flow of trade to Rome, aided by his generals Cinna, Carbo and Sertorius, and captured the city and plundered it.[8]

Sacking by pirates

In 68 BC, the town was sacked by pirates during which,[9] the port was set on fire, the consular war fleet was destroyed, and two prominent senators were kidnapped. This attack caused such panic in Rome that Pompey the Great arranged for the tribune Aulus Gabinius to pass a law, the lex Gabinia, to allow Pompey to raise an army and destroy the pirates. Within a year, the pirates had been defeated.[10]

The town was then re-built and provided with defensive walls started under Marcus Tullius Cicero according to an inscription.[11][12]

Imperial Ostia

See also: Portus

Map of Ostia Antica
View of the Forum from the Theatre
The Ancient Roman theatre

The town was further developed during the first century AD under the influence of Tiberius, who ordered the building of the town's first forum.

Due to the small size of the harbour at Ostia, a new harbour at Portus was built by Claudius on the northern mouths of the Tiber (Fiumara Grande). This harbour was not sufficiently protected from storms, and needed to be supplemented by the hexagonal harbour built by Trajan and finished in 113 AD.[13] Also at a relatively short distance was the harbour of Civitavecchia (Centum Cellae) developed by Trajan. These ports took business away from Ostia and began its commercial decline.[13]

Nevertheless, Ostia grew to a peak of some 100,000 inhabitants in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.[14]

Ostia itself was provided with all the services a town of the time could require; a large theatre, many public baths (such as the Thermae Gavii Maximi, or Baths at Ostia), numerous taverns and inns and a firefighting service. The popularity of the cult of Mithras is evident in the discovery of eighteen Mithraea.[15] Ostia also contained the Ostia Synagogue, the earliest synagogue yet identified in Europe.[16]

Late-Roman and sub-Roman Ostia

Via di Diana

Although it used to be thought that the city entered a period of slow decline after Constantine the Great made Portus a municipality, indicated by some apartment blocks being replaced by houses of the rich, recent excavations show that the town continued to thrive.[17] Numerous baths are recorded as still operating in the 4th and 5th centuries with major repairs of the city's Neptune Baths in the 370s. During the 4th century, the city spilled over the southern walls to the sea south of Regions III and IV.

The poet Rutilius Namatianus reported the lack of maintenance of the city ports in 414 AD.[18] This view has been challenged by Boin who states Namatianus' verse is a literary construct and inconsistent with the archaeological record.[19]

Prosperity in the 5th century is indicated by repairs on baths (26 remained in operation during the 4th century), public buildings, church construction, street repaving, residential and business expansion beyond the perimeter of the south wall (the presence of a small harbour, the Porta Marina on the sea, is attested). A huge 4th century villa east of the Maritime baths was built. The river port on the western edge of the town was expanded with the navalia, a squarish basin built in from the river. A warehouse on the east side and, behind it, a large bath complex were built.[20]

It became an episcopal see as part of the Diocese of Rome as early as the 3rd century AD. The city was mentioned by St Augustine when he passed there in the late 4th century.[21] On their way back to Africa after Augustine's conversion to Christianity, Augustine's mother, Saint Monica, died in 387 in Ostia.[22] The church (titulus) of Santa Aurea in Ostia was built on her burial site.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, Ostia fell slowly into decay as the population of Rome, 700–800,000 in AD 400 contracted to 200,000 or less in 500 AD. A naval battle, the Battle of Ostia, was fought there in 849 between Christians and Saracens; the remaining inhabitants moved to Gregoriopolis a short distance away.[13]


Map of Roman villas between Ostia and Laurentum (Lanciani 1903)

South of Ostia many rich villa-estates were developed from the Republican era along the coast road to Laurentum.[23] Pliny described the route towards his villa there: “There are two different roads to it: if you go by that of Laurentum, you must turn off at the fourteenth mile-stone; if by that of Ostia, at the eleventh. Both of them are sandy in places, which makes it a little heavier and longer by carriage, but short and easy on horseback. The landscape affords plenty of variety, the view in some places being closed in by woods, in others extending over broad meadows, where numerous flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, which the severity of the winter has driven from the mountains, fatten in the spring warmth, and on the rich pasturage”.

Today several well-preserved Roman villas south of Ostia have been excavated in the area of Castel Fusano, including the Villa della Palombara excavated in 1989–2008.


Ostia housed a late imperial mint; this coin of Maxentius was struck there.

The remains were used over the centuries as a quarry for marble for the palazzi built in Rome.[24]

The Papacy started organising its own digs for sculptures with Pope Pius VII.[citation needed]

Under Benito Mussolini massive excavations were undertaken from 1939 to 1942[5] during which several remains, particularly from the Republican Period, were brought to light. These were interrupted when Italy became a major battlefield of World War II.

In the post-war period, the first volume of the official series Scavi di Ostia appeared in 1954; it was devoted to a topography of the town by Italo Gismondi and after a hiatus the research still continues today. Though untouched areas adjacent to the original excavations were left undisturbed awaiting a more precise dating of Roman pottery types, the "Baths of the Swimmer", named for the mosaic figure in the apodyterium, were meticulously excavated, in 1966–70 and 1974–75, in part as a training ground for young archaeologists and in part to establish a laboratory of well-understood finds as a teaching aid.

It has been estimated that two-thirds of the ancient town are as yet unexcavated.

In 2014, a geophysical survey using magnetometry, among other techniques, revealed the existence of a boundary wall on the north side of the Tiber enclosing an unexcavated area of the city containing three massive warehouses.[25][26]

Modern day

The site of Ostia Antica is open to the public. Finds from the excavation are housed onsite in the Museo Ostiense.



See also


  1. ^ "History - Ostia Antica". www.ostiaantica.beniculturali.it. Archived from the original on 13 July 2017. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  2. ^ Ostia-Introduction http://www.ostia-antica.org/intro.htm Archived 2017-09-03 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Gates, Charles (2011). Ancient cities: the archaeology of urban life in the ancient Near East and Egypt, Greece and Rome (2nd ed.). London [u.a]: Routledge. pp. 367–370. ISBN 978-0-203-83057-4.
  4. ^ "Ancus Marcius, the fourth of the kings from Romulus after the founding of the city [Rome] founded this first colony" (Anco Marcio regi quarto a Romulo qui Ab urbe condita primum coloniam --- deduxit).
  5. ^ a b "Ostia - Italy". britannica.com.
  6. ^ "Ostia - Introduction". www.ostia-antica.org. Archived from the original on 2017-09-03. Retrieved 2006-12-05.
  7. ^ White, Michael. "OSMAP Building Types". www.laits.utexas.edu. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  8. ^ Appian, The Civil Wars, 1.8, ed. Horace White, 1899
  9. ^ Cicero, On the Command of Cn. Pompeius, 33
  10. ^ Cicero, Marcus Tullius. "To the citizens on Gnaeus Pompeius's command" – via Wikisource.
  11. ^ EDR031435, EDR031505
  12. ^ "Topographical dictionary - The city walls". www.ostia-antica.org.
  13. ^ a b c "Ostia - Italy". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  14. ^ Garwood, Duncan (24 September 2018). Mediterranean Europe. Lonely Planet. ISBN 9781741048568 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ Griffith, Alison. "Topographical dictionary - Mithraism". www.ostia-antica.org. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  16. ^ L. Michael White, "Synagogue and Society in Imperial Ostia: Archaeological and Epigraphic Evidence" The Harvard Theological Review 90.1 (January 1997), pp 23-58; Anders Runesson, "The Oldest Original Synagogue Building in the Diaspora: A Response to L. Michael White" HTR 92.4 (October 1999), pp 409-433; L. Michael White "Reading the Ostia Synagogue: A Reply to A. Runesson", HTR 92.4 (October 1999), pp 435-464.
  17. ^ Ostia in Late Antiquity, Douglas Boin, 2013, Cambridge University, p. 65 ISBN 978-1-316-60153-2
  18. ^ "RUTILIUS NAMATIANUS". www.ostia-antica.org. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  19. ^ Ostia in Late Antiquity, Boin, 2013, pp. 22, 25. The poet was lamenting the lost greatness of Rome after the sack of 410.
  20. ^ Ostia in Late Antiquity, Boin, 2013, pp. 21, 24, 52-53, 56, 57-65, 165, 231-236
  21. ^ "St. Augustine at Ostia". celt.ucc.ie. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  22. ^ Augustine, E. (1977). Confessions. London: Penguin. pp. 196–197. ISBN 014044114X.
  23. ^ Carta degli insediamenti del litorale laurentino da Lanciani 1903, cit. a nota 5, tav. XIII, fig. 3.
  24. ^ Angelo PELLEGRINO, Ostia Antica: Guide to the Excavations Paperback, 2000 ISBN 978-8870470918
  25. ^ Thomas, Emily (17–19 April 2014). "Archaeologists Unearth New Areas Of Ancient Roman City". huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
  26. ^ Earl, Graeme (16 April 2014). "New city wall discovered at Ostia". University of Southampton. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
  27. ^ "The Archaeology of The Talos Principle". archaeogaming.com. Retrieved June 17, 2024.
  28. ^ "Rome Adventure, Filming Locations". IMDB.com. IMDB. Retrieved January 25, 2017.


Archaeological reports