BMCR 2020.06.31

Ricerche su Ostia e il suo territorio

Mireille Cébeillac-Gervasoni, Nicolas Laubry, Fausto Zevi, Ricerche su Ostia e il suo territorio. Collection de l'École française de Rome, 553. Roma: École française de Rome, 2019. 412 p.. ISBN 9782728313327 €69,00 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review]

This rich collection of 25 papers is the outcome of the Third Ostian Seminar at Rome (21-22 October 2015). It is subdivided into four sections: pre-Roman settlements in the region to the right of the Tiber; the Isola Sacra necropolis; the south-eastern, suburban sector of Ostia; and Ostian archaeology and inscriptions. Since all papers with summaries in Italian and English are online, I give a short account of the often detailed contents, which are mostly based on up to date, high-tech research.

F.R. de Castro and others prove that humans were already present around the lost Stagno di Maccarese (the northern lagoon) in the Eneolithic, Middle and Final Bronze Age, and in a small archaic, rural settlement consisting of artificial mounds near Rio Galeria, a tributary of the Tiber. V. Acconcia and others analyze ceramics from both areas. A site from around 1100-900 BC shows connections with the La Tolfa facies (in Southern Etruria); , the archaic, hunting and agricultural site belonged to the sphere of influence of Etruscan Veii.

I. Baldassare and others reevaluate excavations carried out between 1968 and 1989 in the western part of Portus’s necropolis in Isola Sacra, paying special attention to its development after c. 50 AD and to funeral rites. P. Olivanti and M. Spanu focus on the numerous graves in the spaces between the rows of more than 100 monumental family chamber tombs, mostly inhumations in fossae, a cappuccina, in amphorae, and in terracotta sarcophagi. L. Camilli and F. Taglietti deal with the so-called oboli Charontis placed in the mouth of the dead and with the purpose of coins found elsewhere in tombs. Their study is important in view of the lengthy circulation of small coins, often quadrantes. The same authors try to reconstruct the chaîne opératoire of building processes on the basis of 900 stamped bricks. None of the workshops involved have been found in Ostia so far. E. Borgia translates and comments on a tabella defixionis, a curse tablet found in a upright amphora that indicated a child burial, dated to c. 200 AD. Apart from the Latin name of the defigens, a certain Maximus, the inscription lists 29 Greek first names of men and women followed by the formula daimonizoo se PEROOO (‘I curse you PEROOO’). The last word is unique. It may be akin to peraoo (‘I perforate (you)’). L. Biondoli and P. Francesca Rossi show that the teeth and skeleton of a five or six years old (without earrings, therefore probably a boy) from a sarcophagus of the Muses of the Antonine period indicate that the child was already in bad health before birth. Interestingly, the inscription in the cartouche of one of two gold rings reads MYSTIK (not visible in fig. 17). The authors suggest that the deceased was initiated into the mysteries of Isis since they suppose that there was an Isaeum near the Fossa Traiana at Portus. However, S. Keay and L. Paroli (Portus and its hinterland. London 2011, 235-236) interpret the building as the schola of a collegium. In addition, the inscription may be an abbreviation of Mystikou (‘of Mystikos’), indicating the name of the owner (see Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 36, 1550).

P. Germoni and others present the results of recent geological and archaeological surveys in Isola Sacra, with the aim to protect cultural heritage. On this artificial island were discovered a north-south canal connecting the Fossa Traiana to the Tiber mouth havingthe same direction as the via Flavia to the west of it, as well as large warehouses enclosed by a defensive wall in the southern part of the island, just north of the Tiber. P. Turi deals with a peripheral cemetery in Via della Basilica di Sant’Ippolito, in use between c. 200 and 420 AD on a terrain that first harboured a Statio marmorum.

S. Pannuzi gives an extremely detailed account of the suburban region to the east of Ostia Antica, around the curve of the fiume morto (the former meander of the Tiber), along the lost Eastern Lagoon and the via Ostiense. Discovered were a cemetery, houses, workshops, stores, a furnace, and an agrarian zone. A. d’Andria and others report on geological and archaeological soundings in the southeastern suburban region. Germoni and others inform us on a section of the Pianabella necropolis (area 12). Inscriptions from there are discussed by M. Cébeillac-Gervasoni† and others, with an appendix by M. Bruno on the types of marbles bearing the texts. . A. Nava and others  anthropologically analyze the cremated remains of Larcius Felix and Onesime. The results confirm the ages mentioned in the inscriptions on their urns. It appears that in the Pianabella cemetry, besides inhumation, incineration was still practiced in the third century AD. Spoliation started in the same period, due to the economic crisis.

Fascinating is M. David’s study of the Caupona of the god Pan (built around 250 AD) in the suburban city quarter outside porta Marina. This bar was converted into the Mithraeum of the Coloured Marbles around 350 AD. It has numerous paintings and some graffiti. It was used until c. 400/420 AD and is thereby the longest functioning mithraeum of Ostia. As for structure, it is comparable to the mithraeum under S. Prisca in Rome and that of Hawarte in Syria. L. Lavan presents meticulously and humorously the results of his excavation  clearing the Palaestra in the Baths of the Forum, distinguishing eight phases between c. 200 and 450 AD and possibly a later one (including the earthquakes of AD 346 and 443 —for catastrophes in Ostia, see also BMCR 2019.09.12). R. Geremia Nucci pays attention to the marble decorations, especially the two flanking Capricorns in the pediment of the Temple of Roma and Augustus. Among other arguments, since the Capricorn was Augustus’ sign of the zodiac, the author dates the temple between 6 and 14 AD, therefore not in the period of Tiberius as formerly suggested.

F. Zevi proposes a project, called ‘one inscription per day’, with the aim to publish countless funerary inscriptions in cooperation with the École française de Rome. F. Marini Recchia connects epigraphic fragments, and presents a new inscription mentioning Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, sponsor of Ostia’s theater, dated to 27-18 BC. N. Laubry deals with the iura sepulcrorum, i.e. the rights of donation, buying, possession, concession, exclusion of heritage, violation of, and the itus, aditus and ambitus to a tomb at Ostia, with a catalogue of 120 inscriptions. Though the iura resemble those at Rome, differences have still to be explained (355). C. Bruun’s essay deals with celebrations, particularly the choice of a day (a dies ferialis or festus) for public dedications, inaugurations and other collective events, often Kalendae and Idus. The dies natalis of an emperor or the day of adoption by an emperor were important. These public events were organized in order to strengthen the bonds with Rome (cf. reviewer, Ostia’s visual connection to Rome, Analecta Praehistorica Leidensia 45 (2015) 107-111). F. van Haeperen reflects on the function of the Fasti Ostienses which, unlike the municipal Fasti, mention local events and events in Rome, particularly the celebration of (religious) rites in both cities. Evidently, they also had a memory function. It is still unknown which building displayed the inscribed Fasti marbles.

The book is carefully edited, illustrated with excellent maps, drawings and photographs, and provided with indices of literary and epigraphic sources and of places. Many papers are important in view of safeguarding the Parco Archeologico di Ostia and its environments. As for the cultural heritage strategy, see now M. Barbera, M. David, F.R. Stasolla, “Ostia. Scavare, conservare e valorizzare una città antica,” RendPontAccRomArch 91, (2018-2019) 134-172.

Let us hope that the papers of the Fourth (2016), Fifth (2018) and Sixth (2019) Ostian Seminars will be published soon and in a similar excellent way.

Authors and titles

Francesca Romana De Castro, Alessandra Facciolo, Monica Gala et al., La sponda destra del Tevere, presso la foce, prima dei Romani: gli insediamenti.
Valeria Acconcia, Francesca Romana De Castro et Chiara Morciano, I materiali.
Ida Baldassarre, Irene Bragantini, Anna Maria Dolciotti et al., Necropoli dell’Isola Sacra. Le ricerche 1968-89 : ripercorrendo un’esperienza.
Paola Olivanti et Marcello Spanu, Necropoli dell’Isola Sacra, scavo 1988-1989: alcune riflessioni su occupazione degli spazi, cronologia delle sepolture, corredi.
Luciano Camilli et Franca Taglietti, Sepolture e monete: il prezzo dell’Ade ? A proposito dei rinvenimenti monetali in tombe della necropoli di Porto all’Isola Sacra.
Luciano Camilli et Franca Taglietti, Contributi per un’archeologia di cantiere: i bolli laterizi dalla necropoli di Porto all’Isola Sacra.
Emanuela Borgia, Una tabella defixionis dalla necropoli dell’Isola Sacra.
Luca Bondioli, Paola Germoni et Paola Francesca Rossi, L’infante e il sarcofago delle Muse dall’Isola Sacra.
Paola Germoni, Simon Keay, Martin Millett et al., Ostia beyond the Tiber: recent archaeological discoveries in the Isola Sacra.
Patrizia Turi, Lo scavo preventivo in Via della Basilica di Sant’Ippolito (anno 2012): un’area sepolcrale periferica.
Simona Pannuzi, Viabilità e utilizzo del territorio. Il suburbio sud-orientale di Ostia alla luce dei recenti rinvenimenti archeologici.
Paola Germoni, Indagini preventive nel suburbio meridionale di Ostia.
Ascanio D’Andrea, Lucia De Gregorio, Paola Germoni et al., Indagini archeologiche preventive nel settore sudorientale extraurbano di Ostia Antica: nuove acquisizioni sulla via litoranea e la linea di costa antica.
Paola Germoni, Lucia De Gregorio, Carla Ninel Pischedda et al., Indagini archeologiche preventive nell’area della necropoli di Pianabella (area 12): nuove acquisizioni per la ricostruzione del paesaggio extraurbano di Ostia Antica tra I e IV secolo d.C.
Mireille Cébeillac-Gervasoni †, Maria Mimmo et Matthias Bruno, Il materiale epigrafico dall’area 12.
Alessia Nava, Paola Francesca Rossi, Alessandra Sperduti et al., Lo studio antropologico delle sepolture di Larcius Felix ed Onesime.
Massimiliano David, Il nuovo mitreo dei marmi colorati sulla via della Marciana a Ostia Antica.
Luke Lavan, Chronology in Late Antiquity: a lesson from the Palaestra.
Roberta Geremia Nucci, Un Capricorno ad Ostia (anzi due).
Fausto Zevi, Iscrizioni funerarie di Ostia. Programma U.I.G. (una iscrizione al giorno).
Filippo Marini Recchia, Un’iscrizione inedita di Agrippa e altre nuove ricongiunzioni epigrafiche ostiensi.
Nicolas Laubry, Iura sepulcrorum à Ostie: un supplément.
Christer Bruun, Celebrazioni ad Ostia: la scelta del giorno per le dediche pubbliche, le inaugurazioni e altri eventi collettivi.
Françoise Van Haeperen, Quelques réflexions sur la fonction des Fastes d’Ostie.