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Ostia and the Tiber Floods Part 1

How the Tiber floods of the 16th century forever changed the landscape of Ostia.

This series of short notes by Tonnie Huijzendveld refers to the catastrophic floods that afflicted the Lower Tiber valley, peaking in the 16th century AD. We know about these floods from written sources and through geoarchaeological investigations. The floods with the highest levels ever reached by the Tiber occurred in the years 1530, 1557 and 1598. *

Ostia was founded along the Tiber river, and there it remained until the 15th of September 1557 when a massive flood…

Posted by Friends of Roman Ostia – FORO on Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Look closely at this engraving of a crumbling castle, a stagnant pond, and grazing livestock. It dates probably to the…

Posted by Friends of Roman Ostia – FORO on Tuesday, August 8, 2017


A few decades after the catastrophe, the memory of the Great Tiber Flood of 1557 was still well alive. This is…

Posted by Friends of Roman Ostia – FORO on Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Did you know that the emperor Claudius established a direct connection between the Tiber and the sea? It was reused by…

Posted by Friends of Roman Ostia – FORO on Tuesday, August 15, 2017


The small river creating a shortcut between the Tiber and the sea is still used today, but it was actually created by…

Posted by Friends of Roman Ostia – FORO on Wednesday, August 16, 2017


The 16th century has been the period of the Tiber "unleashed", with at least three devastating floods. Check out this…

Posted by Friends of Roman Ostia – FORO on Thursday, August 17, 2017


After the great Tiber flood of 1557 the lower stretch of the Roman Via Portuensis became inaccessible. The main question…

Posted by Friends of Roman Ostia – FORO on Friday, August 18, 2017




Continue with Part 2 of the Tiber Floods Series

* Several factors contributed to this particular concentration in time. It seems that in this period there was a change in the equilibrium of the land-river-sea system. The change of land-use in Central Italy in the late Medieval and Renaissance periods may have been one of the triggering factors: the clearing of land on steep slopes caused an increase in erosion, which, in turn, caused an increase in the solid charge of the rivers, and thus of flood frequency and intensity, the rise of the valley level and the progradation of the coast line.

A secondary cause of the flood intensity would have been the presence of obstacles in the river in Rome such as obstructed bridges and floating mills. A final contribution to the changed environmental balance may have been the start of a colder and rainier climate phase peaking in the 16th-19th centuries (the “Little Ice Age”). The break-through of the sharp meander of the river near the castle in 1557 was the apotheosis of the events, which forever after changed the landscape of Ostia and its surroundings.

Related articles:
Fiume Morto by Tonnie Huijzendveld

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