Sergius Orata demonstrates his method of oyster cultivation. From a medieval French illustration.
Sergius Orata demonstrates his method of oyster cultivation. From a medieval French illustration.

Caius Sergius Orata (fl. c. 95 BC) was an Ancient Roman who was a successful merchant, inventor and hydraulic engineer. He is credited with inventing the cultivation of oysters and refinement to the hypocaust method of heating a building to provide in addition, heated water for bathing.

Origins of his name

The writer Festus noted "The Orata", the gilt headed bream, "is a kind of fish so called for its golden color (aurata, "golden," also spelled orata)." ... "Because of this, it's said about the very wealthy Sergius that they called him orata, because he wore two big rings of gold. Some authorities assert that his nickname just comes from the commercialization of those fishes."[1]


Sergius was well known to his contemporaries for the breeding and commercialization of oysters, of which he was a noted innovator.[1] Orata wanted to take advantage of the wealthy Romans' liking for shellfish as food, so he developed many new techniques for breeding oysters. This included the practice of surrounding mature oysters with twigs, to which their young (known as "spats") could affix themselves and thus be easily transplanted wherever desired.[2] This allowed for the creation of artificial oyster beds, which he surrounded with channels and dams in order to protect them from the sea tides.

He based his business at the Lucrine Lake in Campania,[1] which was adjacent to the luxurious and popular spa town of Baiae. This brought him into conflict with the local Roman tax farmer Considius, in a dispute over his use of the public resource of the lakefront for his business. Consilius was successfully defended in the legal case by the orator Crassus.

A Roman indoor heated bathing pool. Nineteenth century painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema
A Roman indoor heated bathing pool. Nineteenth century painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Orata was also a significant developer and builder of luxury villas in the area, Crassus made a joke based on the common use of terra cotta tiles both as surfaces for artificial oyster beds and also in the roofs of structures, saying that "even if Orata were deprived of the waters of the lake, he would still find oysters on his roof-tiles".[3][4]

Orata was also credited by the writer Vitruvius with the invention of the hypocaust (underfloor heating),[5] although this is not fully established .[6] What is certain is that he invented a new type of "hanging baths" ("bal(i)nea pensilia"),[7] which were a kind of relaxing thermal spa baths; that are usually considered to be related to hypocausts.[5] He commercialized them as he had his oyster business. He claimed healing and soothing properties for the invention and this helped Orata to market it successfully. They became fashionable among the wealthy and no luxury villa was considered complete unless one of Orata's pools was installed.

Sergius Orata became rich due to his inventions; he was himself noted for his love for luxury and refinement.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Smith, William. "ORATA or AURA'TA, C. SE'RGIUS". p. 40. Archived from the original on 2012-10-28. Retrieved 2013-04-16.
  2. ^ Jacobsen, Rowan (September 2010). A Geography of Oysters. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. p. How to Grow an Oyster. ISBN 9781596915480.
  3. ^ Marzano, Annalisa (August 2013). Harvesting the Sea:The Exploitation of Marine Resources in the Roman Mediterranean. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 183–187. ISBN 9780199675623.
  4. ^ Maximus, Valerius (2004). Memorable Deeds and Sayings: One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing. p. 308. ISBN 0872206750.
  5. ^ a b Smith, William. "About Roman baths". pp. 185–186. Retrieved 2013-04-16.
  6. ^ Fagan, Garret G. (1996). "Sergius Orata: Inventor of the Hypocaust?". Phoenix. Classical Association of Canada. 50 (1): 56–66. doi:10.2307/1192681. JSTOR 1192681.
  7. ^ Karl Friedrich Kempf's edition has it with an extra i, which would also make more sense given the Greek source.