A research trip to Ostia

Project member Aoife Fitzgerald travelled to Ostia recently to conduct some first-hand research into the secular architecture of late antique cities. Ostia, the ancient port of Rome, is one of the best preserved examples of an urban environment from Late Antiquity; it is also a place Aoife is very familiar with, having participated in the University of Kent excavations at the site over several years. Her work is informing a paper she is contributing to the forthcoming publication on the archaeology of late antique Ostia, edited by Dr Luke Lavan. Aoife gives us an insight into what a trip of this kind entails:

Cupid and Psyche (cropped)

Statue in the House of Cupid & Psyche, Ostia

“My aim for this trip was to conduct some survey work to allow me to make comparisons between different structures of similar date from all over the site. I was in Ostia – which is very hot in August! – for only three days so I had to be well-prepared in order to get everything done. I had 31 structures (or parts of structures) to look at, and I organised these buildings by regio so that I had a systematic plan of attack. I managed to see all but four of the total 31 structures; the four I missed were either unexcavated with little or nothing left visible, or totally inaccessible. For “inaccessible”, read overgrown to such an extent I would need a machete to access them!

I wanted to look at the masonry of the structures in order to compare construction techniques and the materials used. I also took photographs first hand at the site, such as of the spacing of columns or piers, and niches, windows and doors. These will then be analysed and conclusions drawn. All of the examples I looked at are secular in nature, and included two nymphaea – the one in the Portico of Neptune, and the Nymphaeum of the Erotes.

Nymphaeum of Erotes

Nymphaeum of the Erotes, Ostia

Nymphaea were examples of public architecture which centred on ornamental fountains and would have provided somewhere cool for the citizens of Ostia to rest. I also recorded data at the Baths of the Philosopher, the latrines, and the Domus della Fortuna Annonaria which was a private residence.

On site, I was running around taking lots of pictures and making notes on the masonry and anything else that popped up while I was looking at the structures. I also had the opportunity to visit some buildings for Will, our project illustrator, so that he had more data on which to base his reconstructions. Photos are especially useful for him and I took a lot of the House of Cupid and Psyche, as this is the template for the upcoming VLAC Domus illustration.”

Floor in Hse of Cupid and Psyche

Opus sectile floor in the House of Cupid & Psyche, Ostia