The Roman Way of Life and Death at Ostia, the Port of Rome


Ruins of Ostia / Dreamstime, Wikimedia Commons


By Dr. Diana E.E. Kleiner / 03.26.2009
Dunham Professor, History of Art and Classics
Yale University

Ostia: Rome’s First Colony

We spoke about architecture under the emperor Hadrian, the extraordinary emperor Hadrian. We talked about the buildings that he commissioned, and some of which he also had a hand in designing since, as we mentioned, he was an amateur architect himself. We spoke about that Greek import, the Temple of Venus and Roma, and also about the two major commissions during his principate, the Pantheon in Rome and Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli.

The main takeaway point vis-à-vis both of these buildings, is that Hadrian followed the lead of Trajan before him. What Trajan had done, and Apollodorus of Damascus had done, in the Forum of Trajan and in the Markets of Trajan, and that is to combine, in one building complex, both the traditional and the innovative strands of Roman architecture. The traditional that goes back to Greek and Etruscan architecture and is marked by the traditional elements, the traditional vocabulary of architecture, namely columns and walls and the roofs that they support; and then more innovative Roman architecture, which is predicated on concrete construction, faced with a variety of materials, from stone to what we’ll see today as the ascendance of brick as a facing, which began, as you’ll recall, after the fire in A.D. 64 in Rome.

 

Pantheon inner dome (left) and aerial of Hadrian’s Villa (right) / Wikimedia Commons

Again, looking at these two buildings as examples of what Hadrian, he and his architects, tried to do. The Pantheon, you’ll recall on the left, has a traditional porch, a porch that looks very much like a typical Greek, Etruscan or Roman temple, but then a revolutionary body, when you walk inside the building, a revolutionary cylindrical drum and hemispherical dome. And then with regard to Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, I show you a view of the Canopus, and you’ll recall that the Canopus makes use of columnar architecture. There are columns that border one end of the pool, although they are columns with a twist because you can see they support a straight and an arcuated lintel, which we saw in Second Style Roman wall painting, in painting, and then eventually it begins to infiltrate built architecture, comes to the fore under Hadrian. So that’s a playing around with those lintels in a way you wouldn’t have seen in Greek and Etruscan architecture, but still relies, in the main, on the traditional vocabulary of architecture. But then you’ll recall, on the other end of the pool, a building that was meant to conjure up the Serapeum in the Temple of Serapis in Canopus, in Egypt, but that was made out of concrete construction and that had a segmented dome, a kind of pumpkin dome that we believe that Hadrian designed himself. So this extraordinary combination of traditional and innovative Roman architecture; that we see the hallmark of Hadrianic architecture, and a gift that he gave to the future evolution of architecture.

The other major contribution of the Hadrianic period, that Hadrian himself had less to do with because it was already bubbling up after the fire in A.D. 64, is the move that we’re going to see today toward multi-storied housing. We saw that begin already at the last gasp of Pompeii and Herculaneum. You’ll remember after the earthquake of 62, and before the eruption of Vesuvius, the Pompeians and those who lived in Herculaneum began to build, began to add additional stories to their residential structures, and that meant for the most part a second story being added to their residential structures, but they never went beyond that.

What we see beginning to happen, especially under Hadrian, is an increased taste for multi-storied buildings, multi-storied domiciles, but multi-storied residences that had more than two stories, even up to as many as five stories: essentially apartment houses. And our best example for such apartment houses are in the city of Ostia, the port city of Rome, and it’s therefore to the city of Ostia that we are going to turn to today. And, in fact, we’ll spend the entire lecture on the city of Ostia, because like Pompeii and Herculaneum before it, especially like Pompeii, we have an extraordinary array of not only private domiciles, but also public architecture from the city of Ostia that gives us an outstanding sense of what this city looked like in antiquity.

Plan of Ostia in 79 A.D. / Wikimedia Commons (Click image to enlarge)

I show you a plan of Ostia in its heyday. You’ll remember that the city was actually founded very early on. At the very beginning of the semester, we looked at the town plan of Ostia, which dated to the mid-fourth century B.C., around 350 B.C. And you’ll recall–and I’ll remind you of this plan in a moment–you’ll recall that it was founded as–it was actually Rome’s first colony, although it was a colony in Italy obviously, not outside the mainland, but its first colony in Italy, or anywhere for that matter. And it was founded, as so many of these first colonies were, as a military camp. It was laid out as a castrum, as you’ll recall. And that castrum, one can see in the very center–I’m going to show you a better view of this from Ward-Perkins in a moment–but you can see that kernel of the castrum plan right here in the center of this plan.

But what this plan shows you is the way in which the city grew over time. Again, it began in the Republic, it continued to be developed during the Republic. It was under Augustus that some new buildings, some public buildings were added to the locale, including the Theater, and we’re going to look at the Theater today. And then ports were added, as you’ll remember–and I’ll review that momentarily–ports were added at Portus, by Claudius and also by Trajan. And it was after the Port of Trajan that the city really began to take off in terms of its commercial activity, and much of the building that we see in the city, as it looks still today, belongs to the Hadrianic period and into the time of the successors of Hadrian, the so-called Antonine emperors, whose architecture we’ll also be studying this semester.

Via Ostiense / Wikimedia Commons

Let me point out the so-called Via Ostiense, the route, the street that leads from Rome to Ostia; the Via Ostiense. And actually the city road becomes the town–the country road; the country thoroughfare becomes the city street, the main city street, the decumanus of the city of Ostia. You can also see in the plan the location of a place called Isola Sacra, up there, which we will see was the main cemetery for Ostia. Yes, there are tombs outside the city walls, also elsewhere in the city, but our most- best-preserved tombs are from this area called Isola Sacra; and I’ll show that to you also today. And here you can see the Tiber River, the Tevere, the Tiber River wending its way from Rome to Ostia. And it is of course along the Tiber that we’ll see warehouses were located, and where the ships went back and forth to export or import material, products from Rome to Ostia and back again.

Portus coin of Nero / Wikimedia Commons

Portus breakwater wall and rusticated column / Wikimedia Commons

Again, we talked about the building of ports at Ostia. We talked especially about the port that Claudius commissioned, at Portus, and I remind you of it on the back of a Neronian coin, a coin of Nero; obverse with Nero’s portrait, reverse representing that Claudian port. And we see it there. You’ll remember it had curved breakwaters, which you can see in that coin depiction, and a river god at the bottom; boats in the center, as well as the lighthouse. We see all of that on the coin. And you’ll remember that the breakwaters were made up of columns that partook of that rusticated masonry that Claudius so favored.

Portus, now some two miles from the Mediterranean shoreline, was built by the Romans in the 1st century A.D. to be their main maritime port. A 16th-century fresco in the Vatican Palace shows an idealized reconstruction of Portus’ grand architectural and engineering features.

Here is a painting that  is on the walls of the Vatican Museums in Rome, where you can see Claudius’ port, with its curved breakwaters and its lighthouse over here. And then the port that was added by Trajan during his reign, a multi-sided additional port right here. And it was again the construction of that particular port that really brought commerce even more–this area had been used since the mid-fourth century B.C., but it begins to really take off; there’s a real efflorescence during this period. And it is therefore not surprising that with commerce booming there was more need for residential architecture, for those who lived there, for the traders and so on and so forth who lived there, and we see this, the building of not only civic buildings but especially of private domiciles begins to move very rapidly apace. The city becomes more crowded and there becomes this need to build up vertically, as well as horizontally; and we’ll see that development today.

Lido di Ostia train station / Photo by Guybrush Threepwood, Wikimedia Commons

Tourists who go to Rome really miss the boat by not going out to Ostia in larger numbers, because most tourists don’t tend to take the trip out to Ostia. But it’s well worth it, and it’s very easy to get to. It only takes about 25 minutes to a half an hour on a suburban train, to get from Rome to Ostia. So it’s a not-to-be-missed experience. And I show you one of these trains in the upper left that takes you very easily from Rome to the site of Ostia. There are a number of stations in Ostia. One of them is Ostia Centro, the downtown of Ostia, which you see in that view in the upper left. And the other is Lido di Ostia, which means “the beach,” and I show you a view of Lido di Ostia. Now looking at that nice view of the ocean–I know you’ve all been, you’re back from spring break, but still it’s nice to reminisce about what some of you may have been doing during spring break and see this wonderful view of the scene. It looks very enticing, but I can tell you that it’s not, once you get there. It’s very polluted. This is not one of the great beaches of the world. So don’t be seduced by Lido di Ostia.

Lido di Ostia beach / Wikimedia Commons

Stay on the train and make your way to the site called Scavi di Ostia, which is the excavations of Ostia, the archaeological excavations, where you can see, as you saw, as one sees in Pompeii, an ancient Roman city, extremely well preserved. And you see a glimpse of it over here, and you can tell even just from this glimpse that we are dealing here with a city that is not unlike Pompeii. It has streets and sidewalks, and it has buildings along the side of either of those. But there is one main difference between this and what we saw at Pompeii–and you can see it very well in this image–and that is that these houses, that are along the street, look different than those did in Pompeii in that they are made out of concrete, faced with brick: a very different kind of appearance, and one that is quintessentially Ostian and makes this city well worth a visit. In fact, if we think of Pompeii as the quintessential first-century A.D. Roman city, we should think of the city of Ostia as the quintessential second-century A.D. city, the best example that we have of what a second century, a Hadrianic and Antonine city, would have looked like, and that is what makes it so important to us.

Civic Architecture in Ostia

Part of ancient Ostia wall / Wikimedia Commons

Capitolium at Ostia / Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons

Here I remind you again of the original plan that we looked at, the plan from the mid-fourth century B.C., 350 B.C., that shows you the original castrum of the first colony: this rectangular space, very regular, with its own wall surrounding the city, with the cardo, the north-south street, and the decumanus, the east-west street, intersecting exactly at the center of that city. And then at that intersection, as was Roman practice, the placement of the forum of the city, a great open rectangular space with a temple pushed up against the back wall, in this case a Temple of Jupiter, a Capitolium, dominating the space in front of it, and then other buildings around it.

Although there’s a striking difference between this forum and the forum that we saw at Pompeii, because you’ll remember at Pompeii the various major buildings, the Basilica, the Temple of Apollo, and so on, sort of radiating out from the central core of the forum. We don’t see that here. We see the buildings sort of placed separately, from that main forum space. But in every other respect very similar to the general plan of these early Roman fora. What’s also useful about this particular plan is the fact that it shows you the way, as time went by and as the city grew, it shows you the way in which the cardo and the decumanus were extended, and then the other buildings of the city were added here and there: a number of baths; lots of private residences. This is a particularly important building here at 15 and 16, which we’ll look at today: 15 is the Theater and 16 is the so-called Piazza of the Corporations, the Piazzale delle Corporazioni, which is very significant, and we’ll look at that soon.

If you go and visit the city of Ostia today, and enter at the ticket booth, what you see almost immediately is again a polygonal masonry street, looking very much like Pompeii. But once again there are no stepping stones in Ostia, unlike Pompeii — the plot thickens there in terms of why we see those in Pompeii and don’t seem to see them anywhere else. You walk along that polygonal masonry street pavement and you see both the remains up here in the upper left [correction: right] of the original Republican city wall, and it should bring back memories of opus quadratum, or ashlar masonry, that we saw at the beginning of the semester. You can see it’s consistent with the age in which it was built in the Republic.

As you make your way along on one of the main streets, you see what is characteristic of Ostia as a whole, and that is concrete construction, brick-faced concrete construction, both for the residences and also for the public buildings, and also for the religious structures, namely the temples in this city. The reason for this, of course–it takes us back to the Neronian period, the great fire of 64, when it was realized — you’ll remember the Subura, which was located back beyond the precinct walls of the Forum of Augustus, the area where the working poor of Rome lived, primarily in rickety apartment houses that were made out of wood; multi-storied houses. Those were actually multi-storied, but they were always going up in flames, and there was a recognition after the great destruction of the fire of 64 that the Romans needed to fireproof their buildings, and they recognized the fact that brick is better at protecting the structure from fire than stone is, and stone can burn, and they actually began to–as we know, we talked about this before–they began to build their houses and many of their civic structures out of concrete faced with brick. And we see that development especially well here in Ostia.

And Ostia is extremely important for us also because many comparable buildings that were put up in the city of Rome itself no longer survive. The same apartment houses that we’re going to see at Ostia did exist in Rome. We have some remains of them. There’s a very prominent one at the base of the Capitoline Hill, to the left of the hill as you climb up that hill. But we have very little evidence for this in Rome, and so we have to rely on Ostia to give us the best picture of apartment building in Rome, in Roman architecture in the second century A.D.

Aerial view of Ostia / Wikimedia Commons

Ostia city plan / Reproduced from Roman Imperial Architecture by John B. Ward-Perkins (Click image to enlarge)

Here is a spectacular view of Ostia as it looks today, from the air, and we are obviously looking down on the forum, on the great open rectangular space of the forum, with columns around it. We are looking also at the Capitolium, at the Temple of Jupiter, which is a very large structure, as you can see here, made out of concrete, faced with brick. It is a typical Roman temple, unlike Hadrian’s Temple of Venus and Roma, because we can see that it has a façade orientation; it has a single staircase; it has a deep porch, freestanding columns in that porch. So a typical Roman structure and–it’s a typical Roman temple. And then you can also see its vast scale. There are a couple of people standing here who look miniscule in relationship to this building, and only part of the building, in fact the full height of the building, is not even preserved here. So it was even larger still than what you see. The reason for its size is twofold: one, because we have already seen that this taste for larger and larger buildings has really taken off. We saw it in Hadrian’s [correction: Trajan’s] Forum in Rome. We saw it in Domitian’s Palace on the Palatine Hill. We saw it in Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, and in the Pantheon, the largest span, the largest dome ever built. So this taste for largeness, grandiosity in architecture, has really taken off. So it’s not surprising to see this Capitolium, which was built in the Hadrianic period, specifically 120 A.D., also being large in scale.

Ostia insulae ruins / Wikimedia Commons

But there’s a second and perhaps even more important reason, and that is in a city in which all of the–most of the houses are what are called insulae (singular insula), multi-storied apartment buildings, often of as many as five stories. If you want your Capitolium to stand out in that city, and be seen up above those apartment houses, you’ve got to build it very high. And that is undoubtedly the reason that they–one of the two reasons, the more important reason–that they have built this temple so large, and especially so tall, so that you could see the Temple of Jupiter from everywhere in the city of Ostia. Here’s a view of the Temple as it looks today in isolation, again, only part of its height preserved, but enough for us to get a very good sense of its concrete construction, brick facing here, and as I’ve already described, the single staircase, the columns in the porch and so on.

Theatre at Ostia / Wikimedia Commons

I mentioned already that it was under Augustus that a theater and an entertainment district was added to the city of Ostia, and that building, you see the remains of it here, along one of the major streets of the city of Ostia. It was renovated in around 200 A.D.; that is, in the early part of the third century A.D., so considerably later. It was expanded to be able to hold 2,500 spectators at that particular point, and much of the concrete and brick-faced construction belongs to that renovation. One can’t imagine a building quite like this in the age of Augustus. So what you’re seeing here is primarily the restored view, the restored version of this building. But what you can see, that does at least link it back to the Augustan period, is the fact that the design of the façade is very similar to the design of the Theater of Marcellus in Rome, with the arches, and in this case pilasters between them — that same general scheme that we saw for theater and for amphitheater architecture, used here. The main difference, of course, is the fact that we have concrete construction with brick facing, rather than concrete construction with stone facing, travertine in the case of the Theater of Marcellus.

Ostia theatre latrine / Wikimedia Commons

I haven’t yet shown you a Roman latrine, but today is the day for the Roman latrine. But you have to imagine, of course, that in any major public building, like a theater, where you’re going to have a lot of people there at the same time, you have to provide a public latrine. And when I say a public latrine, I really mean a public latrine. There was no privacy, as you can see, in this latrine whatsoever. What it is composed of, as you can see, is a bench that lines the walls, with a series of holes in it, and then just one single drain that encircles the building. So this gives you an idea of where you had to go, if you needed to go, during intermission, if you were attending the Theater in Ostia.

Plan of theatre at Ostian and Piazzale delle Corporazioni (Forum of Corporations) / Wikimedia Commons

One of the most important buildings at Ostia is connected to this Theater. I’m showing you now the plan of the Theater, which corresponds to theaters that we’ve looked at throughout this semester; a typical Roman plan. It has a semi-circular orchestra. It has a stage building or scaenae frons here. It has a semicircular cavea, the seats, which are placed on top of, of course in this case, a concrete foundation. This, like other Roman theaters, is an urban phenomenon. There was no hill to build this on, so the Romans had to build–the Ostians had to build their own hill out of concrete, and then support the cavea on top of that. But the cavea is made of stone seats; they used stone for the seats, as is traditional in Roman theater architecture.

Transacting Business at the Piazzale delle Corporazioni

But we see that this Theater is appended to a porticus. Now we’ve seen a porticus with these theaters before; it was in fact characteristic of theater design. And if you think back to the Theater in Pompeii, for example, you’ll remember that that porticus, which had little shops all around it, or small cubicles all around it, was used as a place where you could go during intermission to relax, to walk around, to buy a playbill, to pick up a souvenir T-shirt or whatever the equivalent was in those days: a souvenir of your experience that evening at the theater. And so we see that same general scheme here, this whole idea of this open rectangular space, with some columns, and then with these little cubicles all along. But in this case it was not meant to be a place for souvenirs or a place to store props.

But instead what we see is something quite fascinating, given the fact that the city of Ostia was primarily a commercial city, a place where items were exported and imported. Because it was a major port or harbor city, what this was used for instead–hence its name the Piazzale delle Corporazioni–is a series of businesses that were–the import/export business essentially is what these spaces were used for. And I’ll show you. Actually some of them are quite well preserved and I can show you indeed what they looked like.

Then in the center something we also don’t see in the Pompeii Theater, a small temple in the center, a temple that corresponds to Roman temples that we’ve looked at thus far: its rectangular shape; its flat side and back walls; some columns in the deep porch; a single staircase; façade emphasis, as you can see here; relatively small in scale, as these kinds of things go. And it has been speculated by the main excavator of this site that it was used as a–that it was dedicated to some god whose name we don’t know; we don’t know which god or goddess this was dedicated to. But the excavator has speculated that it was probably some god that had something to do with commerce, and the blessing of commerce, and that probably some trade guild, one of the trade guilds that had its businesses set up here, may have been the commissioners, may have paid for, indeed commissioned this particular temple. And I think that’s as good a theory as any, and may well be the case.

 

Theatre at Ostia cavea / Wikimedia Commons

Ostia theatre cavea and stage / Whitman College, Creative Commons

This is that cavea. We can see the cunei or wedge-shaped sections of seats. We can see the stone that has been used for those seats. We can see the semicircular orchestra, the scalloped face of the stage, and then one can imagine the scaenae frons, with its forest of columns behind; that part is not well preserved. And there also would have been–I’ll show you a restored view a little bit later where you’ll see that there was a much higher wall in between this and the Piazzale that lay beyond. The wall is no longer there, so we can see very well through these columns, the small temple that was put up by that trade guild, to some god of commerce. And then we can also see these cubicles all along the way, that were used as these import and export emporia.

 

Ostia theatre with Temple of Ceres behind / Wikimedia Commons

This is a view of the temple as it looks today. We can see that single staircase, fairly narrow staircase here; the façade orientation; a couple of the columns, including a Corinthian column, that are still preserved from that small structure. And then here a very useful view showing us again these interesting spaces, rectangular spaces along here, fronted in each case by columns. We’ll see that those columns are made out of cement, faced with brick — so shades of the Sanctuary of Hercules at Tivoli. We haven’t seen this before, I mean, since then. And that was a very unusual view. Here we’re seeing something that actually becomes more common in the second century, making concrete columns and then facing them with brick.

Ostia Forum of Corporations / ITALY magazine, Creative Commons

I’d like to show you a few views of these import/export businesses, as I’ve called them; one of them here, where we can see that the architecture itself, the walls and the columns are only partially preserved. You have to imagine that in antiquity they went up higher than this. But what is well preserved are the mosaics on the floor of each of these, or many of these spaces. And you can see they’re all done in black-and-white mosaic, just the two colors. You can see the interest that the Ostians had in geometric shapes. They have inside these very abstract, inside the shop here, these abstract patterns, although they’ve made an attempt to vary them. But then in the front, something very interesting, that we see throughout, is the use of sea imagery. Because again they were in the import and export business, they were busy sending ships back and forth, from Italy to other parts of the Roman world by sea, and so it’s almost all sea imagery. Here we see two heraldic dolphins–dolphins are particularly popular in these scenes–facing one another, as a kind of advertisement or shop sign for this particular enterprise.

 

Ostia Forum of Corporations mosaics of Cupid riding a dolphin and boats / Wikimedia Commons

The dolphin is nicely preserved and he has a wonderful serpentine tail, with a lot of flourish at the end here, as you can see. And then an image of boats; you can see it’s partially preserved. What’s wonderful about this example is it shows us that although these are fairly simple in design, and are meant essentially as advertisements for the shop, the artist and the patron have taken real care to think about what you’re going to see when you’re standing where. So that they have oriented these so that when you’re facing the shop and deciding whether you’re going to pick this one–there’s 61 of these, by the way, around the perimeter of this structure, so you had a lot of choice, in terms of which enterprise you were going to, where you were going to go to. If you wanted to ship something from Ostia somewhere else, or receive a delivery, you had a lot of choices. Although I don’t doubt some of them specialized in different parts of the world, shipping to Egypt or shipping to Asia Minor.

But you can see here the dolphin. When you’re standing, deciding whether you want to go in, the dolphin, you face the dolphin. Once you’re inside, and standing and talking to the owner, if you turn around and look back, you’re going to see the boat head on. So they’ve really–they’ve orchestrated this in such a–they’ve paid real attention; it’s not done willy-nilly, they’ve paid attention to what you’re going to see where, when you are entering and inside these spaces.

Ostia Forum of Corporations mosaic of boats, dolphin, and lighthouse / Wikimedia Commons

Lighthouse mosaic close-up / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another one, not only dolphins, but you also see in this case a lighthouse, which could either be a representation of their local lighthouse, or some lighthouse somewhere else that this particular place ships to. And then the last one, which is the one on your Monument List, with two boats. So again, how does one ship things from Ostia elsewhere? By boat, and so they tend to represent boats. So you’ve kind of seen it all; dolphins, boats and lighthouses tend to be the items that are chosen for these so-called advertisements. But this one is very useful too because you can see the shapes and the colors of the tesserae that are used here.

Close-up of ships mosaic / Wikimedia Commons

And although these are very effective, you can see that this is not the Alexander Mosaic; these are not done with that kind of skill. They use only black and white, the simplest possible scheme, no colors, and you don’t get the sense, as you do with something like the Alexander Mosaic, when you step back from it, it could almost be a painting, it’s done that well, with the cast shadows and the crumpling figures so well presented. Here it’s something quite different, more abstract, and the stones are not as fine. You can see they haven’t paid as much attention to getting them perfectly shaped. But nonetheless it’s very effective, and it really does–it does what it intended to do.

I’ve been looking at these for many years, and every time I’m there it seems that there are fewer tesserae there–these are the originals–there are fewer tesserae than there were before. I’m not saying that people take them, although I think people do take them, but just that over time, by tourists walking on them extensively, they get loose and they get spread around the site, and they haven’t done as good a job as I think they should at Ostia, in keeping these mosaics together.

The Theater and the Piazzale are connected to one another, and are part of the same scheme, and are a development, a further development in evolution, that is particularly appropriate for this commercial city of Ostia, that comes out of the orbit of that earlier theater and porticus complex at Pompeii. We can see that although they’re part of that same complex, they are distinct from one another. If you look at the Theater and the cavea up above, with the original wall of the scaenae frons preserved–we’re looking at it from the back–you can see that that was very high. So only if you were way up at the top of the cavea would you really get a sense of what lay beyond, and once you got into the Piazzale over here, with its temple, and with its various shops, you were in another world, a commercial world. Also interesting is the fact that although they’re open to the sky today, in antiquity there was a covered colonnade, as you can see here, that would have covered those shops, and you would have had to go in between the columns and back along the passageway in order to check out what the options were.

Ostia Baths of Neptune plan / Wikimedia Commons

The city of Ostia, like all Roman cities that we’ve talked about–Rome, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and so on–all obviously had a selection of bath establishments. Ostia was no exception. There are a number of baths preserved, from the Roman city of Ostia, this being one of them, the so-called Baths of Neptune, that dates to 139 A.D.; the Baths of Neptune, so called because of the spectacular mosaic, black-and-white mosaic, of Neptune, on the floor. I’ll show it to you in a moment, but go into it in more detail a bit later in the lecture. If we look at the plan of the Baths of Neptune in Ostia, I wondered if any of you can tell me whether this is a plan that corresponds to the earlier bath buildings at Pompeii–the Stabian Baths or the Forum Baths–or conforms more closely to the imperial bath type that we saw in Rome, from the time of Titus, let’s say the Baths of Titus and Trajan.

We see the palaestra on one side, with the natatio, or the piscina, that usually accompanied it, over here. And then on the other side, all aligned in a row, the typical bath, the bathing block, including the apodyterium, the tepidarium, the caldarium and the frigidarium; although the frigidarium is not a round alcoved structure at all — so in that sense perhaps influenced by some of what came in between those early baths at Pompeii and the imperial baths in Rome. But, and of course also note here the shops that line the front of it, which is also characteristic of the Stabian Baths and the Forum Baths at Pompeii.

Ostia Baths of Neptune mosaic of Neptune in Chariot / Wikimedia Commons

So they could have chosen the other, but obviously felt that this was much more appropriate to this commercial town, to use the smaller, more intimate bath type here than the imperial baths that had been developed in Rome from the first century A.D. on. Just a glimpse of the black-and-white mosaic that gives this bath its name, the Baths of Neptune; you see Neptune here. But you can also see the way in which every room in the bath–which was made out of concrete, faced with brick, as you can also tell from this view–every room was covered with these black-and-white mosaics. Ostia is the land of the black-and-white mosaic. I’ll return to that in a moment.

Residential Architecture at Ostia: The Insulae

Perhaps most importantly, of anything that I show you today, are the apartment houses of Ostia, and it’s to those that I’d like now to turn. What you’re looking at below is a model of what one of these apartment houses would have looked like. This one is the so-called Insula of Serapis, the Insula of Serapis. And we’re looking at it in a model. It gives us as good an idea as anything I could show you of what one of these apartment houses looked like in its heyday, in the time of Hadrian.

Insula of Serapis model / Wikimedia Commons

The word insula, I should mention, it can be used in two ways. An insula either refers to a multi-storied apartment house, or it refers to a block of houses in a city like Ostia. It’s used, for whatever reason, it was used interchangeably to refer to either a block or to an individual house. So pay attention to that when you read about an insula or insulae. Again, this one dates to the second century A.D., the Insula of Serapis. And it basically was like a modern condominium, and often more than one of these insulae were next, were clearly next to one another, but more than one sometimes shared a common bath. So they would sometimes build a bath building that would be used by those who lived in those two apartment houses.

Now what’s characteristic of this, especially as we think about it in relationship to early domus architecture, that we saw at Pompeii, those single-family dwellings, is the need in this teeming commercial city to accommodate a very large population in a small amount of space — people on the whole who could not afford single-family dwellings, who needed to be housed in these apartment buildings. They build up vertically, and, as you can see, they go up to as many as five stories, and we see that the Insula of Serapis was indeed a five-storied structure. It is made out of concrete. It is faced with brick.

And what is particularly interesting about the brick facing here–and this is going to be our first example of this, at Ostia–is the fact at some point the Romans realized that brick was really attractive in its own right, and it didn’t need to be stuccoed over anymore. If you think back to the Domus Aurea, even in the Domus Aurea, the building was made out of–the palace was made out of concrete faced with brick, but the façade was gilded, and inside, you’ll remember, Fabullus was commissioned to cover the entire interior of the structure with stucco, and then paint it. So you would have had no sense, when you were standing in the Palace of Nero, in Nero’s day, that it was a brick-faced concrete structure.

But somewhere along the way, and it comes to the fore in the second century A.D., they realized: “Hey, this brick is actually pretty attractive in its own right. It has texture. We can vary the color; we can use a reddish brick, we can use a slightly yellowish brick. We can add some stucco, to make some decorative effects. This looks awesome.” And we think some innovative architects got the idea, innovative designers, to “let’s leave it, let’s not stucco it over, let’s let it speak for itself.” And that was a very wise decision, because as you’ll see today, the buildings that we have remaining from Ostia, that were unadulterated brick exteriors, without stucco, are absolutely magnificent, and they became, the designers became real experts at rendering it in an extraordinary way. I think you can get a sense of that even in this model. So exposed brickwork here.

You see these arches are made of bricks that are kind of wedge shaped and look like the sort of thing we saw earlier in stone. Those wedge-shaped sections of stone that we saw, for example, in the Falerii Novi Gate, we see that sort of thing here. It may have been used, just as it was in the Pantheon. You’ll remember how they used them during the building process to keep the concrete from settling before it dried, but they realized afterwards that these could be positioned in a way that made them very attractive in their own right ultimately. We can also see that they have added moldings, usually with stucco, added moldings that make the building more attractive, sometimes even little pediments, as you can see over some of the windows over here. So they come up with strategies to make this brick look even more attractive than it was on its own.

Note also the shops in the first story. Some of these are shops, some of these are actually staircases that lead you to the uppermost stories. And once again, it’s clear that the Romans have become so adept at using concrete that they are able to open up these walls. The openings are larger than they had been even before, and so they become very good at dematerializing the wall in a way that becomes increasingly sophisticated over time.

Insula of Diana, Ostia / Photo by Dennis Jarvis, Wikimedia Commons

The most famous house at Ostia is in a sense mine, because it’s called the Casa di Diana, the House of Diana, at Ostia. And we see a view of it here, as it looks today. It was a multi-storied apartment building, a multi-storied insula. Only two of those stories are preserved now. I’ll show you a restored view of what the original looked like momentarily. But we see it here, as it looks today: concrete faced with brick, exposed brick, brick enjoyed in its own right. Very large openings that lead into–they’re either entranceways into the structure, or lead to staircases, or open up onto shops. We can see here in actuality the same sort of thing we saw in the model from EUR, and that is the use not only of exposed brick, but also of moldings that are added, either in brick sometimes, or also sometimes in stucco, of the nice overhangs that they have created above the second-story windows, up there.

We also see a lot of Italian school children in Ostia, and Pompeii also, but particularly Ostia because of its proximity to Rome, and all the schools that they have in the city of Rome; lots of kids always out in groups, and they always seem to have T-shirts of the same color. So you’ll see one red school and one yellow school and one blue school; it’s a lot of fun. And every one of them has their–it’s so funny to me, they have their cell phones and they’re all clicking, clicking, clicking, as they walk through these buildings. I’m not sure they’re looking at anything, but they’re definitely clicking, to record the fact that they were at Ostia; perhaps that’s for student papers, I don’t know.

Insula of Diana entranceway / Wikimedia Commons

But here a detail of the Insula of Diana, looking through one of these entranceways into the rest of the structure. And I’ll bet you’re as struck as I am in looking at this, that with regard to vista, the interesting panorama and vista. It doesn’t matter whether you’re building out of rubble or stone or opus incertum or concrete faced with brick, there is that aesthetic, that Roman aesthetic, of building things in such a way that wherever you’re standing in that structure you’re going to be looking from one part of the building to another, and you’re going to be struck by the wonderful scenes that you see within that building and from that building, outside of that structure.

Insula of Diana restored cutaway view / Yale University, Creative Commons

Here’s the restored view of the Insula of Diana, where you can see that originally it was a four-storied structure. It’s a cutaway and an axonometric view: four-storied structure. And this particular restored view is also extremely helpful because it shows us that these houses did not have the peristyle courts, or the hortus that we know from the domus italica or the Hellenized domus. There was no space for that in this commercial city. There is no emphasis on the greenery and the wonderful fountains and statuary that we saw in Pompeii. And keep in mind, of course, that Pompeii, in Campania, was essentially a resort town; a very different kind of feel than Ostia, this teeming commercial center.

So what they replaced those with here, in order to get more light into the structure, is a kind of a light well; and you see that light well up here, where there are also windows on multiple stories. And, in fact, I would imagine that those were the choicest apartments to have, because they would have been less noisy than what you can imagine an apartment along the street must have been, with all the activity going in and out of the thermopolia and the other shops down below; the cart traffic and so on. So again I imagine the light well apartment would have been highly desirable.

Insula of Diana thermopolium / Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of thermopolia, we have them at Ostia, as we have them at Pompeii, quite a number of them. And I show you the best preserved, which happens to be in Diana’s House, and I show it to you here, the Thermopolium of the Casa di Diana at Ostia. You can see that right at the entranceway they have put a black-and-white mosaic. You see inside just what we saw at–just exactly the same thing that we saw at Pompeii, one of these counters that would have had recesses in it. So you have to imagine, just the same as we saw there, a kind of fast food emporium, where you would take a peek at what looked good for the day, make your choice. If you go inside the thermopolium of Diana, you see hanging on the wall a painting, which it seems likely may have served as a kind of shop sign that might have been hung outside the building to advertise what you could get in this particular thermopolium.

Insula of Diana thermopolium wall painting / Wikimedia Commons

This is a still life of objects on the thermopolium wall, and we see what seems to be a pomegranate on the right, hanging on a nail, on the wall. In the center a block that supports what looks like a drinking cup that has little round things floating in it, lentils or chickpeas or something like that. And then at the far left there’s a plate that also is on a block, a plate that has a carrot and some other vegetables. So this may have been a vegetarian, I guess this was a vegetarian restaurant in Pompeii; one of the healthier places one could go, if one wanted a snack–in Ostia, excuse me.

Caffeteria degli Scavi exterior, Ostia / Wikimedia Commons

If you go to Ostia, by the way, you really do want to set aside a day to do that, because by the time you take the half an hour ride out there, get there–there’s a lot to see. And it used to be, if you’d go there for a day, which I’ve done many, many times, there was absolutely nowhere to eat. So you had to remember to bring your–and nowhere to get a bottle of water, so you’d have to remember to bring your bottle of water, and maybe a snack. But they have rectified that in recent years; the last few years they’ve finally put up the Caffetteria degli Scavi, which loosely translated is the Excavation Café, the Cafeteria of the Excavations at Ostia. And it’s actually a wonderful place. I have to say it’s very modern. It has a wonderful deck with tables and the ubiquitous Italian white umbrella where one–and the food is actually, for a cafeteria, ain’t bad; Italian pasta is always hard to make bad, it’s always good.

Caffeteria degli Scavi interior, Ostia / Wikimedia Commons

The interior of the Caffeteria degli Scavi is above. So again, very–Italians are really, they do build Ferraris after all, they are very good at design and aesthetic, and pay a great deal of attention to that, and consequently always make one’s surroundings pleasant.

The Warehouses of Ostia

Ostia warehouses model / Wikimedia Commons

Warehouses. This was a commercial port. We talked about the fact that in commercial ports one needs warehouses. We began the semester with a warehouse, in fact, the Porticus Aemilia in Rome, along the banks of the Tiber. And I remind you of that here. Here’s the Tiber, a model of the Tiber, with the Porticus Aemilia. You’ll remember that was made out of concrete. It was one of the earliest examples of concrete construction in the Republic in Rome: a series of barrel vaults linked to one another, on three tiers, as you’ll recall, with axial and lateral spatial relations inside that structure.

Horrea Epagathiana, Ostia / Wikimedia Commons

Horrea Epagathiana entrance / Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons

Ostia needed its own warehouses as well. It had them in the Republic already, but it began to add to them in the second century A.D. And it’s fascinating to see what happens when you build a warehouse out of concrete faced with brick. You get an extraordinary structure that looks very much like an insula. If I had put this up and said: “What is this?” And you said: “It’s an insula,” you would sort of be on the mark, because it looks exactly like an insula; but it is a warehouse. And this is the most famous warehouse in Ostia, the so-called Horrea–because the word horrea, is warehouse in Latin–the Horrea Epagathiana, which dates to 145 to 150 A.D. Above is the entrance to the Horrea Epagathiana.

Horrea Epagathiana / Photo by Patrick Denker, Wikimedia Commons

It is again made out of concrete, faced with brick; exposed brickwork, brickwork enjoyed in its own right, for its own aesthetic here. We can see that it is like the apartment houses in that it is multi-storied, with the large entranceways, or entranceways into the structure, down below, and then the smaller windows up above. They have monumentalized the entrance, the main entrance, to the structure, by giving it columns supporting a pediment. Very grand, in fact, and we haven’t–it’s interesting to see that even with this brick-faced concrete architecture, the Romans have not lost their interest in Hellenizing works of art and using touches of ancient Greece to monumentalize and to make more cultured, in a sense, the entranceway into this structure. So we see these columns, engaged columns, supporting a pediment above, capitals on those columns, as you can see here.

 

Horrea Epagathiana detail of brick capital and pediment / Wikimedia Commons

All of this done in concrete faced with brick. And you can see here, this is an outstanding example of the way in which they have used brick to their advantage. They have recognized that you can vary the color; you can have a reddish brick; you can have a yellowish brick. So here they’ve used red brick to face the column shaft, and then a yellow brick for the capital. So there’s a distinction between the shaft and the capital. And they have even used the most expensive material, marble, for the inscription plaque, where they identify this building at the Horrea Epagathiana, and then the pediment above.

And you can see, if you look at the pediment decoration and if you look at the volutes of the capitals, you will see they have used a small amount of stucco to enable them to create the spirals of the volutes, for example, and some of the more delicate decorative work in the pediment above. Another subtlety, another nice subtlety; it just shows you the amount of effort and time and money that went into this commission. Also this very nice pilaster that is placed right next to the column, which makes a wonderful transition from the column, the roundness of the column, to the squareness of the pilaster, to the shape of the doorway. The aesthetics very much on the mind of this particular designer, as well as the vistas; again, this idea of looking through one space, seeing another opening and wondering where that opening is going–all of that very, very carefully designed by the architect.

Horrea Epagahtiana enrtrance inscription / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another view head on of this elaborate doorway, leading into the Horrea Epagathiana, announcing with the inscription exactly where you are and what this building was used for in antiquity. A detail of the pediment, where we can see the inscription. We can also see the capitals, the use of stucco work here, and the very elaborate work that they have done to decorate the pediment above. Just a few more details of the columns, where you can see even better this capital, and the way in which they have used brick. They have used brick even for the acanthus leaves. You can see that there are acanthus leaves here. This is actually an example, one of the few we’ve seen, of the composite capital, with the acanthus leaves of the Corinthian, and the volutes of the Ionic. We saw it on the Arch of Titus in Rome. But here we see that they’ve used brick, and then only at the uppermost part, where the leaf has to curve over, do they add the stucco.

 

Horrea Epagathiana inner courtyard and niche / Wikimedia Commons

And this is just a warehouse, and yet a tremendous amount of effort has gone into making it an extraordinarily beautiful building. And it shows again that they are absolutely going over the top, in terms of their being enamored of what they can do with brick facing; that they are now able to expose. Once they can expose it, they’re much more willing to put the effort into it, to make it really attractive. And if you go into the courtyard of the Horrea Epagathiana–and by the way, behind, within these areas here, we have annular vaulting–you can see these niches that have been placed here. They don’t really need these niches in this courtyard of this warehouse. What did they use these niches for? Well perhaps they put little statuettes of gods that those who worked here favored and protected their daily toil here in the Horrea Epagathiana. But look at the attention that they’ve paid to these niches, that have no other purpose than to be attractive, and possibly again to hold these statuettes. But you can see here again, with this combination of stucco work for the pilasters and the capitals, and brickwork; brickwork creating these interestingly shaped lozenges and triangles, to create–shows an interest again in geometric form and the contrast of one geometric form to another, just as we saw in black-and-white mosaic, capitalized on by these designers.

Painted Decoration and Mosaic Floors

 

House of the Painted Vaults, Ostia / Wikimedia Commons

Now I don’t want to leave you with the impression that because brick is now exposed and enjoyed in its own right, that there are no walls that were stuccoed and painted in Ostia. That would be a misconception, because there are still painted walls in Ostia. On the insides of some of these buildings they still opted to stucco over the wall and to paint it. And I want to show you just one glorious example: the Insula of the Painted Vaults, which dates to 150 to 200, is one that has one of our best preserved ceilings, walls and ceilings anywhere in a Roman house–you can see how well preserved it is here–and it is what we call the spoked-wheel effect, because the ceiling decoration does look like a spoked wheel.

We can also see this division; in fact as you look at it, I think you’ll be as struck as I am by the fact that as we look at this spoked wheel, we really get the sense that we’re looking at one of Hadrian’s pumpkin domes in paint. Because you can see the segmented dome effect here, and also, in a sense, the octagonal effect that one also gets from this structure, as well as the effect of the ribs of a groin vault, as you can see well here. But it’s a painted version of a pumpkin dome, and it’s not surprising to see that Hadrian’s pumpkin domes took off in this way. I also just want to mention to you that while there’s a fair amount of what we call post-Pompeian painting, Roman painting after A.D. 79, almost all of it is an exploitation of the Fourth Style of Roman painting, as we know it from Pompeii. There’s actually not as much invention as one would expect, after 79, in Roman painting.

Insula of the Muses plan, Ostia / Wikimedia Commons

Insula of the Muses Room 3 / Wikimedia Commons

I want to show you very briefly the Insula of the Muses; the Insula of the Muses in Ostia, which dates to around A.D. 130, because this is one of the few single family dwellings that we see in the second century in Ostia. You can see, if you look at the plan, that it is arranged not around an atrium but around a peristyle court, here; although there aren’t columns, there are these piers, as you can see also in plan. But just as we saw in the late first-century A.D. houses in Herculaneum, from between the earthquake and the eruption of Vesuvius, the triclinium has become the most important room in the house. You enter into it here. You have a vestibule, you have this court, and then you have, on axis, the triclinium of the house. But what makes this particular house most distinctive is the fact that every single floor is covered with mosaic. So, as I said to you before, the black-and-white mosaic reigned supreme in the city of Ostia, and it’s clear that everyone who could afford it decorated every room of their house with mosaic.

House of Apuleius mosaic, Room 2, Ostia / Wikimedia Commons

Bridget Riley’s Blaze IV / Government Art Collection, Creative Commons

And although this doesn’t come from this particular house, this comes from the House of Apuleius in Ostia. It’s a marvelous example of what could be done, and was done, using black-and-white mosaic in Ostia; only black and white tesserae, with a Medusa head in the center. And then if you–this is one of those examples, illusionistic examples, that as you look at it and focus on it, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s in the foreground, what’s in the background. It’s got that like an op art effect that those of you who know Op Art of the 1960s–and I show you an example of it, a painting from the Blaze series by the Op artist Bridget Riley of the 1960s. I’ve mentioned so many times in the course of this semester that there isn’t anything that the Romans didn’t do before anybody else, and this is, and Op Art is an example of that. So we do see Op Art in Ostia, and we see it obviously also much later in more contemporary painting.

Baths of the Seven Wise Men, Ostia / Photo by Patrick Denker, Wikimedia Commons

Baths of the Seven Wise Men mosaic / Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons

Another bath structure in Ostia, this one the Baths of the Seven Wise Men or the Seven Sages; dates to A.D. 130. I show it to you only to show you this one circular room, and not because it’s a bath building, but rather because it has a wonderful mosaic on the floor; again, a circular structure, with a circular mosaic, once again done in black and white. And if you look at this, you can see that what we have represented here–I’ll show you a detail in a moment–is a flowering acanthus plant that has intertwined within its leaves hunters and the hunted, hunted animals and their hunters, in combat, as you can see here. And here’s a detail where you can see once again done entirely in black-and-white mosaic: the hunters, the animals, very carefully depicted, interspersed among these flowering acanthus plants; very effectively done.

Baths of Neptune, Ostia / Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, Wikimedia Commons

Baths of Neptune mosaic, Neptune in chariot / Wikimedia Commons

This is another view of the Baths of Neptune, in Ostia, which we looked at before, dates to 139 A.D. And this is a good view because it shows you not only the brick-faced concrete construction of these structures, but also the mosaics themselves, and how every single room of this bath was covered with black-and-white mosaic. The pièce de résistance, the finest mosaic in the complex, is this one, and it’s the one from which the bath gets it name, the Baths of Neptune, because we see Neptune himself in the center of this scene. It’s not surprising that the god of the sea was chosen as an appropriate subject for a bath building. We see him here with his trident–that’s how we know it’s him–being carried along by four horses. He’s holding the reins of those horses. His mantle is billowing up behind him. One expects to see a chariot here; one thinks of this as Neptune in a chariot, but it’s not Neptune in a chariot. You can see that these horses, by the way, aren’t fully horses but the front part is a horse and the rest is a sea creature, and you can see that the legs of Neptune are interwoven with the tail of the sea creature; he’s in fact using the tails of those sea creatures almost like skates, as he makes his way along this–or water skis, I guess is a better way of putting it; water skis, as he makes his way from right to left, across the white background.

Baths of Neptune close-up / Photo by Patrick Denker, Wikimedia Commons

One of the interesting things about this mosaic is you see the tension in the minds and work of this artist, on the one hand making these very abstract black shapes against a white background, but at the same time paying a lot of attention to the actual musculature, to what the chest of the god Poseidon would have looked like, as you look at it; there’s very pronounced musculature that’s carefully done here by the artist. Here are our friends the dolphins frolicking, dolphins with cupids on their back, some fairly–other floating figures, a female figure on the back of another sea creature, all of this going on, on the floor of the Baths of Neptune.

But what’s particularly interesting, I think, is the same sort of thing that we saw in the Piazzale delle Corporazioni, and that is that the artist has designed this in such a way that it doesn’t matter which part of the room you’re standing in. Wherever you are standing, you can look onto the floor, from where you are standing, and see at least some of the figures head on; whether you’re standing here, whether you’re standing here, whether you’re standing up there or to the right, you are always seeing some, not all but some, of the figures head on. So again this is not–this is done with great care, and orchestrated to fit the space in which it was located. Here a detail of the mosaic that we just looked at, showing Neptune and his horses and sea creatures.

Re-emergence of the Domus at Ostia and Tombs at Isola Sacra

Domus of Fortuna Annonaria, Ostia, axonometric view / Wikimedia Commons

The most important development that happens at Ostia, with regard to residential architecture, later in its history, is we do begin to see the re-emergence of the domus, already in the second century and then even more so in the third and fourth centuries A.D. And I want to show you quickly two examples of that, because they tell us a good deal about late residential architecture in Ostia, and also by association in Rome. This is the Domus of Fortuna Annonaria, an axonometric view of that house. It dates to the late second century A.D., but was remodeled significantly in the fourth century A.D., and I think we really need to think of it as more a fourth-century house than as a second-century house. And, by the way, Ostia was still thriving in the third century. By the year 400 A.D., it was abandoned, but in the third century still a thriving–and early fourth century–still a thriving city.

Domus of Fortuna Annonaria apse / Wikimedia Commons

We see this house here. It’s an axonometric view. The most important features, besides the fact that it’s a single-story dwelling, single-family dwelling, is the fact that it has an open court here, with a pool; that it has the triclinium as the most important room of the house; so that continues on in residential architecture. But there’s a particular taste for apses in these late Roman buildings. You can see that this one has an apse, not so unlike the apse that we saw in Domitian’s Palatine Palace on the Palatine Hill. It is finally starting to catch on, among others. We see that you go into that room through three arches, on columns. And this idea of supporting a triple arch on columns is also a very popular motif in domestic architecture in later antiquity.

And look also at the fact that on the left-hand side of the triclinium there is a fountain. So the incorporation of a fountain; a pool court here, a fountain there, an apsed triclinium, and then views through triple arches, supported by columns, all characteristic features of late Roman domestic architecture. This is a view obviously, through the columns, supporting that triple arch, toward the fountain on the left and toward the apse in the center of the structure. And you can see the remains of marble revetment, real marble revetment, that was used both on the floor, for the pavement, and also on the walls.

Domus of Cupid and Psyche, Ostia, plan / Wikimedia Commons

The other house I want to show you briefly is the Domus of Cupid and Psyche, the more famous of the two. This dates, without any question, to late antiquity, to around A.D. 300. The House of Cupid and Psyche, we see it first in plan, and you can see it’s very simple. An entranceway here, a long corridor, a series of cubicula on one side of that corridor. There may have been a second story on a small part of the house. You can see the stairway there. As you walk along the corridor, you eventually end up in the very large triclinium. So again, from the time of the House of the Mosaic Atrium in Herculaneum to here, the triclinium gaining in importance. As you walk along that corridor, you look through a series of columns, supporting arches, as we’ll see, customary of buildings of this time. And then look at this wall, which is scalloped for a fountain — so another one of these fountain courts that seems to be popular during this period.

Domus of Cupid and Psyche statue of Cupid and Psyche in room E. / Photo by Laura Maish-Bill, Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a view into the room with the lovers, the famous statue of Cupid and Psyche, the little young Cupid and Psyche embracing one another. That’s from that statue that the house gets its name. One of the best-preserved marble revetted rooms in the history of Roman architecture is this room here, probably the triclinium in the House of Cupid and Psyche. You can see that even marble from the walls is preserved, as well as on the pavement and on the steps and on the side, the base of the walls as well. Brick-faced concrete construction, faced with real marble. What makes this particular house especially appealing, besides that wonderful statue, is the fact that although there’s the usual touches of maroon and green that we tend to see in many of these Roman pavements, most of the color is pastel, and it makes it look particularly attractive, and it goes particularly nicely with the red and yellow of the brick construction.

Domus of Cupid and Psyche mosaic / Wikimedia Commons

The marble revetment gives you as good an idea as anything of what the original Hellenistic palaces of the kings, the palaces of Nero and Domitian would have looked like in their heyday. And a detail of the statue of Cupid and Psyche, and the room in which that found itself; it can still be seen there today. And the marble revetment once again done in pastel colors of the floor, and of the walls, giving us again an excellent sense, not only of fourth-century domestic architecture décor, but also what so many of the buildings that are no longer preserved, whose revetment is no longer as well preserved as one would wish, what they would have looked like in antiquity. A view through the corridor, through the columns, in this case grey granite columns, that probably would have supported an arcade, but then without question the fountain on the side of the wall that is scalloped, both down here and the wall itself, and then the columns there do support arches. So this whole concept of columns supporting arches, very much a part of late Roman house design.

I want to just end with saying a few words about the tombs in which the people who lived here were buried. People all up and down the social pyramid lived in this commercial center. The simplest tombs–and by the way, I mentioned to you already that there are tombs both outside the city of Ostia, on the major roads, and then a little bit further away at this place called Isola Sacra, or the Sacred Island, where one can see particularly well-preserved tombs from those who lived in Ostia of the second century.

Isola Sacra tombs / Wikimedia Commons

The working poor were buried in very simple tombs, of two types. The upper part of clay amphoras, just the upper part; they were broken and then the upper part was stuck into the ground. The remains of the person were placed below the ground, and then the spout could be used to pour wine libations into. The other simple type was tiles that were–the body was placed below, and then tiles were arranged around it, looking almost like a kind of a house that helped to protect — this idea of the houses of the living and the houses of the dead, that were meant to protect the body.

But most of the tombs are of what we call the house type. We looked at the house type on the Via Appia, in the age of Augustus in Rome; a tomb that resembles a house from the front, with a doorway, and a couple of windows, and then an inscription plaque. And note the use of the travertine jambs and lintel around it, just as we saw in the Markets of Trajan in Rome. But if you look at these, in this very good view from the side, you will see that almost all of these are barrel-vaulted tombs; which is characteristic of second-century tomb architecture, at Ostia, at Isola Sacra, these barrel-vaulted structures with facades that make them look like houses.

Isola Sacra tomb / Wikimedia Commons

Isola Sacra tomb vegetable vendor plaque / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a detail of one of them, one of these house tombs, with again the travertine jambs down below, with the touch of a pediment up above–they haven’t lost their interest in Hellenization to a certain extent; windows here, slit windows here; an inscription, a long inscription plaque that tells us who was buried there. And then very often in these wonderful tombs for this commercial center, these panels that are done in terracotta that tell us something about the profession of those who are buried here. Here’s a vegetable vendor was buried here.

Isola Sacra tomb plaque of woman giving birth and midwife / Wikimedia Commons

Here we have this woman, about to give birth. She’s got another woman holding her and giving her support. And here the midwife, instead of looking at what she’s doing–she’s reaching in, but she’s not, but instead of looking at what she’s supposed to be concentrating on, she’s looking out at the spectator, just to make sure that we don’t forget her features for posterity, on this tomb relief, from her tomb in Ostia.

Isola Sacra Tomb 19 interior / Wikimedia Commons

We saw columbaria, these underground columbaria, with these niches where they placed the cremated remains of the deceased and had inscriptions. We see the same sort of thing in the interiors of tombs at Ostia, but they are above ground rather than subterranean at Ostia. And we also see–and basically the last point I want to make today–is we also see in the interiors of these tombs at Ostia, not only those niches for the cremated remains, but it’s in the second century A.D., the time of Hadrian on, that inhumation, burial becomes the norm, largely under the influence of the spread of Christianity, the idea that the soul needs to ascend to heaven, and so you have to maintain the bodily remains. And so we begin to see in these interiors what we call arcosolia, which are these much larger niches where bodies are placed, bodies are buried, and then they are covered over with a marble slab that might have the inscription naming the deceased, or a figural scene.

Tomb of the Caetennii, Vatican Cemetery, Rome / Wikimedia Commons

And just in closing, to show you one last tomb that we’re going to look at next time, the Tomb of the Caetennii in the Vatican Cemetery in Rome, to show you that these concrete, brick-faced tombs, with windows, and with very elaborate interiors, also begin to be put up in Rome, in the second century A.D. We’ll look at those.

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