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The Ostia Marina Project

Author:
Massimiliano David
The Ostia Marina Project, an archaeological mission of the Department of History, Culture and Civilization at the University of Bologna, began in 2007 with the aim of deepening our knowledge of the area outside Porta Marina, a suburban zone located between the sea and the late republican walls of ancient Ostia (Fig. 1).

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The Ostia Marina Project is designed to be a teaching tool for new generations of archaeologists, and also as a place of experimentation where the most advanced documentation and restoration methods are utilized. Under the supervision of expert archaeologists, the annual excavation campaigns began in 2009. These campaigns have involved students from all over the world who are recruited through public advertisement. (Fig. 2).

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The annual influx of energetic students, combined with the knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff, makes for a dynamic and productive project. This is enhanced by the proximity of the headquarters to the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali. In the last few years, the project has concentrated on an area of great interest, Block 9 of Regio IV, located between a late antique villa known for its fine marble decoration (studied by Giovanni Becatti) and the monumental public complex of the Baths of Marciana. Located along the coast, the edges of the block were defined in the middle and late imperial periods by the construction of the so-called Via Severiana, the road network that connected all Lazio coastal centers (Figs. 3-5).

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The Baths of Silenus
The Baths of Silenus, a large public bath complex, were identified in the course of excavation. The name was derived from a fragment of a relief of Dionysian masks found onsite.

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Brick stamps indicate that this building, which consisted of only a few unheated rooms and at least one pool, was built after the 130 A.D. The natatio of the frigidarium, excavated in the baths, was filled in the mid-fourth century and covered with a marble tile flooring, as well as a large room decorated with a refined mosaic composed of octagons and stars of lozenges (fig. 6).

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The Caseggiato delle due scale (and the terme dello Scheletro)
A double-stairwell building, Cassegiato delle due scale, was discovered here in an area that flanked the via Severiana and on the road to Marciana. The period of construction is also late Hadrianic, sometime after A.D. 134, the third year of the consulship of Julius Urso Serviano, as evidenced by the brick stamps found on site. The building, (not completely excavated and still under study) saw further construction phases with even more significant changes. Originally, the ground floor was occupied by shops, the precise nature of which is unclear. It has been conventionally called “Block of The Two Stairs” because of the presence along the central axis of a wide corridor of two concrete staircases (one master and one service). These led to the upper floors and were both accessible from the east. Thousands of fragments of elegantly painted plaster, often with graffiti, have emerged from the level of preparation of the pavement here.

These fragments probably came from the demolition of buildings during the great urban modifications that occurred in Ostia between the late first and early second century A.D. In the Severan era, the building was subjected to another series of considerable structural and decorative interventions. It is possible to reconstruct here, from the limited fragments identified, a complex geometric pattern of a black and white mosaic. (fig. 7).

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During the fourth century, in the southern section of the tenement, a small bathing complex known as le Terme delle Scheletro) was constructed and by the second half of that century, the sales shops had been turned into metal workshops.

The Caupona of the god Pan
The caupona, or popina, a tavern with a well-organized kitchen – was organized around a wide rectangular hall (room no. 3), flanked to the West, South and East side from secondary, variously divided rooms. On the North side, in room no. 3, existing structures were adapted for the purpose. Access by road was allowed by a vestibule (room no. 2) and by a large passage leading in room no. 5 that was clearly visible from the outside the main interior spaces. There were public as well as private (staff) areas here. Customer access throughs the entrance, a central hall, a room with cubicle function. The building, designed expressly as a caupona, was equipped with kitchen and laundry, which made it perfectly self-sufficient in all its functions (Fig. 8).

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The Mitreo of the coloured marbles
The Caupona of the God Pan had a kind of second life after the middle of the fourth century, when it was completely occupied by a Mithraic religious sect. The walls were now almost entirely covered by a new frescoed decorative scheme, replete with wainscoting and paneling, all centered on the theme of marbling, i.e. imitation of marble coverings. The walls are marked by the presence of graffiti of a Mithraic character, encompassing the name of Mithras as well as that of the god Cronus.

The sect also created a particularly extravagant cultic hall (spelean), with a floor made up of a myriad of fragments of reused marble (fig. 10).

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It was equipped with a niche for the throne of the cultic pater; a ritual pit of real marble; a single podium and a flower bed, perhaps for a sacred plant. Its size suggests a plan for a very limited number of followers (10-12 followers, maximum). The convivial bed could hold no more than 6-7 people, but we cannot exclude that even more might be accommodated on benches that permitted other followers to attend the ceremonies. Indeed, outlines on the pavement surface suggest such an arrangement.


Bibliography

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