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Ostia Antica: Nouvelles études et recherches sur les quartiers occidentaux de la cité. Actes du colloque international Rome-Ostia Antica, 22–24 septembre 2014

Ostia Antica: Nouvelles études et recherches sur les quartiers occidentaux de la cité. Actes du colloque international Rome-Ostia Antica, 22–24 septembre 2014

Edited by Claire De Ruyt, Thomas Morard, and Françoise van Haeperen (Belgisch Historisch Instituut te Rome, Artes 8). Pp. 311. Belgisch Historisch Instituut te Rome, Brussels 2018. €75. ISBN 978-90-74461-89-4 (paper).

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The scholarly community working on Ostia is notably active and collegial. Since the 1990s, various foreign institutes in Rome, in collaboration with the Soprintendenza, have organized regular meetings to share new work on the ancient port town. The present volume publishes the proceedings of the 2014 colloquium held under the auspices of the Belgisch Historisch Instituut te Rome. Twenty-one of 33 papers are published, albeit in abbreviated form averaging 11 pages each. Most are written in French and Italian; three are in English. An additional 14 contributions from a poster session are published through the BHIR websiteThe volume is organized in three sections, covering new research projects, excavation and work in the western Regiones III and IV, and epigraphic questions, although there is significant topical and thematic overlap.

The focus on Ostia’s western Regiones showcases several projects that have recently concluded, particularly that in the Schola del Traiano (IV, v, 15), the subject of four chapters, including an overview by Morard. The Schola del Traiano was built on a plot previously occupied by a peristyle house of the late first century BCE to early first century CE. The Schola’s construction was dated to the Antonine period by Calza, the original excavator, based on brick stamps. Recent analysis of the building’s decoration and newly excavated finds suggests, rather, a date in the Severan period. This is supported by an anepigraphic stamped brick bearing a motif dating to the reigns of Caracalla or Elagabalus, discussed in the volume by Aubry. This was found sealed in the foundations of the Schola’s portico; Antonine bricks used in the walls above were unused or reused stock. The ceramic finds are published on the BHIR website. This new dating disassociates the Schola from the first (Antonine) phase of the Tempio dei Fabri Navales (III, ii, 1–2) across the street and dissolves the Schola’s long-accepted identification as the seat of the shipbuilders’ guild. A chapter by Bocherens suggests instead that the Schola was used to administer the annona, which was reorganized under Alexander Severus. Mainet argues that the adjacent Caseggiato delle Taberne Finestrate (IV, v, 18), modified and remodeled when the Schola del Traiano was constructed, may have provided reception rooms and administrative spaces to support the activities of the procurator portus utriusque. Shortly thereafter, the building again became a luxurious private residence. A chapter by Waustia on the BHIR website suggests this occurred at the end of the third or first half of the fourth century, based on mosaic and masonry evidence from a suite of rooms that was installed at the rear of the peristyle. This new and convincing chronology is sure to cause a stir, as it challenges long-held beliefs about one of Ostia’s most iconic structures.     

The parcel containing the Tempio dei Fabri Navales has also seen new excavation in recent decades. De Ruyt and Van Haeperen summarize their investigations of the area fronting the Decumanus Maximus and south of the temple’s podium. The parcel was occupied in succession by a building of unknown use, a porticus, tabernae and a fullonica, and the collegial temple. Construction phases parallel the raising and widening of the decumanus in the early Julio-Claudian period, under Trajan, and during the late Antonine to early Severan periods. The authors postulate that the city owned this parcel, allowing authorities to coordinate major infrastructure projects.

Flohr studies the detailed history of the changing commercial landscape along the western Decumanus Maximus, one of the areas where excavation has extended below the second-century CE ground level. Flohr’s social, economic, and urban history is based on interpreting architectural and typological changes to reconstruct shifting commercial use and evolving relations between private property owners, municipal landlords, and shopkeepers. Other contributions here also attend to property boundaries and architectural modifications. Pensabene and Gallocchio consider the way the street network influenced the form of the Caseggiato del Temistocle (V, xi, 2) and its neighborhood, while Pavolini reconstructs the Hadrianic plan of the insula later converted into the Domus del Ninfeo (III, vi, 1–3). Medri and Falzone reassess the building phases of the Santuario della Bona Dea (V, x, 2) and its painted decoration. David summarizes his excavations in Insula IV, ix, outside the Porta Marina.

These archaeological reports are balanced by chapters examining the functions of urban spaces and structures. Stoger and Bradimante make good use of space syntax to consider neighborhood formation in Regio IV. Pellegrino and Licordari revisit the location of the epigraphically attested forum vinarium. Inscriptional evidence links the vinarii with other collegia involved in long-distance trade; a topographical assessment locates their forum along the Tiber, either near the Terme dei Cisiarii (II, ii, 3) (as proposed by F. Coarelli, “Il forum vinarium di Ostia: Un’ipotesi di localizzazione,” in A. Zevi and A. Claridge, eds., “Roman OstiaRevisited: Archaeological and Historical Papers in Memory of Russell Meiggs [Rome 1996] 107) or between the Palazzo Imperiale and Tor Boacciana. Poccardi focuses on methods of water provisioning for Ostia’s baths, while Danner attends to the display of water in the elaborate architectural nymphaea that characterize reception spaces in Late Antique domus. Such conspicuous consumption demonstrated the owner’s status and could function allegorically. Zevi continues his work on the Temple of Volcanus, epicenter of the colony’s most important local cult. Zevi reedits the text of CIL 14 4724, adding two recently discovered fragments. He suggests that the inscription graced the architrave of a building that was restored by Ostia’s duoviri in 112 CE. The panel’s dimensions suggest that this was the Tempio della Ara Rotonda (I, xv, 6), as Zevi has previously argued (“Culto ed edifici templari di Ostia repubblicana,” in L. Ceccarelli and E. Maroni, eds., Sacra nominis Latini: I santuari del Lazio arcaico e repubblicano [Naples 2012] 560–63). 

Two chapters shed light on the reuse of marble in late antiquity. Gering’s project in the Ostia forum has revealed a Late Antique pile of marble from the Tempio di Roma e Augusto. This enhances our understanding of the relief decoration of the tympanum and reveals practices of collecting and sorting marble fragments for reuse. Caldelli and Slavich trace a group of inscribed panels redeployed as seats in a Late Antique latrine in Civitavecchia, suggesting that an organized system existed to collect and warehouse material to supply projects at Ostia and farther afield.  

Scholars working on Ostia must grapple with its excavation history, as much of the site was rapidly disinterred in advance of the planned Esposizione universale of 1942 (known as "E42"). Several contributions mine the giornali degli scavi, archival photos, drawings, and plans. Falzone uses these records to put Ostia’s fragmentary and largely unpublished wall paintings into their contexts. Marano and Tomassini both employ unpublished excavation reports: the former sheds light on the early phases of Insula V, iii; the latter reconstructs two republican domus under the southwest corner of the Caseggiato delle Taberne Finestrate. Olcese analyzes and maps ceramic finds from old and new excavations. Rinaldi provides a historical sketch of conservation methods from the 1930s to the present. He notes that restoration undertaken in anticipation of E42 ignored stratigraphic relations between walls in order to make buildings more comprehensible to visitors. The effects of this are most apparent in Kockel and Ortisi’s work on the so-called Macellum (IV, v, 2), whose function was identified by an inscription found near the building. Restorations of the building in the late 1930s joined walls from disparate phases to create a structure that better resembled other known meat markets. The current authors reveal a much more complex sequence of building phases and conclude that the space was too small to serve as a macellum. Morelli, Borghese, Carbonara, and Rinaldi’s chapter on the restoration of building V, xii, 2 demonstrates the current protocols: today, careful documentation and research precede and inform conservation work.

With its bite-sized chapters, this volume provides a glorious buffet of Ostian studies. Particularly important are the new building chronologies revealed by excavations and the growing insight into the evolution of the city’s structures and its urban fabric. The chapters’ brevity, however, limits the detail that can be presented; indeed, many contributions are summaries of longer pieces that have appeared elsewhere. More editorial work could have drawn out thematic ties between chapters. At times, the volume’s structure obscures connections: chapters on the Schola del Traiano, for example, appear in different sections. Some editing inconsistencies and production decisions make this book less user-friendly. There is no index. Authors use building numbers inconsistently, provide incorrect numbers, or omit them entirely; some refer to the same building by different names. The book features many plans and illustrations, often wonderfully rendered in color, although some are small, difficult to interpret, or unlabeled. I frequently consulted I frequently consulted the website directed by Bakker, Ostia: Harbour City of Ancient Rome, to clarify topographic questions. These issues aside, the volume amply reflects the variety of approaches to this multifaceted ancient city.

Margaret L. Laird
University of Delaware

Book Review of Ostia Antica: Nouvelles études et recherches sur les quartiers occidentaux de la cité. Actes du colloque international Rome-Ostia Antica, 22–24 septembre 2014, edited by Claire De Ruyt, Thomas Morard, and Françoise van Haeperen
Reviewed by Margaret L. Laird
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 124, No. 1 (January 2020)
Published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1241.Laird

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