Review of Ostia - Harbour of Ancient Rome

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Ostia - Harbour of Ancient Rome

This site, devoted to the ancient city of Ostia, aims to provide the reader with a general introduction to the city's history and its extensive excavation. In addition the author's goal is to provide a source where current research can become readily accessible for perusal. Jan-Theo Bakker acknowledges that the normal route for site publication can be a long and costly one and the web in his opinion offers a place for rapid and low or no cost publication of photographs and of recent archaelogical developments.

As a whole this website is thorough, well documented, clearly illustrated and a pleasure to use. Anyone browsing the site will readily acknowledge the care taken for its maintenance and expansion. The authors are sensitive to the needs of the web users as they include helpful hints for navigating the site. Images are clear, a good size, and, for the most part, well-integrated with the text. The authors have even graciously provided a page of acknowledgments recognizing the various contributors to the site.

The list of contents is broad and outlines topics such as: "What's new?" summarizing past updates as well as the most recent additions to the site; "Search this site"; "Introductions" which includes links to information "For First Time Visitors" and "Further Reading"; "Topographical Dictionary"; "Ancient Sources" with links to "Texts" and "Graffiti." The "Reference Material" section with links to "Bibliography," "Plans and Indexes," and the "Ostia Colloquia" is especially beneficial to the researcher. In addtion the list of contents also includes Information on how to the join the Group; and "Selected Links" and "Credits." A more detailed description of some of these links follows.

The main focus of this website is the "Topographical Dictionary" which discusses the extant buildings in Ostia and offers a forum for current research. This dictionary is clearly a work in progress as only two of Ostia's five regions have been documented to date. For example, the link to Regio I includes information on the forum and insulae IX -XII; while Region II documents only insula VII. The user can gain access to the material either by clicking on specific buildings on plans or by accessing a text menu. Various buildings at Ostia appear on this link along with text, plans, photographs and reconstructed drawings. Within the text the contributors have included standard Latin terminology accompanied by English translations.

Jan-Theo Bakker has stated that footnotes do not appear in the text. Parenthetical references would be beneficial especially since the authors have been meticulous about including a section devoted to reference materials. The dictionary also has a link to a glossary. I find the term "glossary" a bit misleading as the page only contains images and text referring to the various wall facings found at Ostia. The link to "building types" might also be better suited under the "glossary".

As far as an archaeological perspective is concerned, this site is slanted primarily toward the architectural and epigraphic evidence. Artifact analysis is virtually nonexistent. Also, photographs that coincide with stratigraphic analyses might be of use to the reader. For example, the discussion of the "Circular Structure" found in the Forum documents the presence of opus signinum (a sealant) between the mosaic floor and wall of the structure. To illustrate this point, the contributor only includes a plan and reconstruction of the structure. Here a section drawing or photograph detailing architectural features would have come in handy. Plans also lack scale indicators, another necessary tool especially since a discussion of measurements appears in the text.

In general, this is a very good resource for professors to guide undergraduate students toward, as it provides a wide avenue of research possibilities especially with the aid of the links found in the Reference Material section. For example, the plans and indices link includes color-coded plans of the city indicating the distribution of specific establishments found in Ostia. The indices are useful in that they provide an alphabetical list of all the buildings pertaining to the various regions of Ostia. Also valuable is the link to the bibliography that contains approximately fifteen hundred entries. Here, there are three convenient ways (author, years of publication, or keyword) to search for material. Finally, the authors have also included a link to the "Ostia Colloquia" which includes programs and abstracts for colloquia held in 1996 and 1998 and organized by the Soprintendenza Archeologia di Ostia, the British School in Rome, the DAI, and the Dutch School in Rome.

For those interested in acquiring more knowledge about or contributing to ongoing studies and discussions concerning Ostia, there is even a link to subscribe to the IGO mailing list.

I strongly encourage departments maintaining links on the ancient world to include Ostia - Harbour of Ancient Rome on their websites. The site as a whole would complement lectures on Ostia as it allows one to access diagrams and illustrations simply not available in textbooks. Simply put, this is a good resource to use as a springboard for learning more about Ostia.

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