Ostia Antica History

Ostia Antica History | Unveiling Its Rich Historical Legacy

Ostia Antica is a famous archaeological site and ancient port city in Rome. According to the rich Ostia Antica history, it served as Rome's first colony and was founded in the 7th century BC by Ancus Marcius. It began as a military camp to protect Rome's coastline and evolved into a bustling port. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, it had a population of around 100,000. The strategic location at the mouth of the Tiber River made Ostia crucial for trade and naval operations.

Walking through Ostia Antica, you can get a glimpse of ancient Roman life. The main street, Decumanus Maximus is lined with the remnants of shops and homes. You can explore the well-preserved apartments, the theatre, the Capitolium and the Baths of Neptune. The city gradually became a residential retreat for wealthy Romans before being abandoned in the 9th century after an Arab pirate attack. Today, you can explore its preserved structures and learn about the daily lives of its inhabitants.

History of Ostia Antica


Ostia is believed to have been Rome's first colonia, established by Ancus Marcius after destroying Ficana, a nearby ancient town. An inscription supports the founding of Ostia's castrum in the 7th century BC, though the oldest remains date to the 4th century BC. The 3rd-century BC Castrum and Capitolium are notable structures. Initially a naval base, Ostia became a significant commercial port in the 2nd century BC, crucial for grain imports to Rome, with buildings spreading beyond the original castrum.

Civil Wars

During the civil wars of the 80s BC, Ostia became a battleground. In 87 BC, Marius, supported by generals Cinna, Carbo, and Sertorius, attacked the city to disrupt trade with Rome. Ostia fell to Marius's forces, who plundered the city during the conflict.

Sacking by Pirates

In 68 BC, Ostia suffered a devastating attack by pirates who set fire to the port, destroyed the consular war fleet, and kidnapped two prominent senators. The raid caused widespread panic in Rome, prompting Pompey the Great to push for the lex Gabinia, allowing him to raise an army and eradicate the pirate threat. Within a year, Pompey's forces defeated the pirates. The town was subsequently rebuilt and fortified, with defensive walls initiated under Marcus Tullius Cicero, as indicated by inscriptions.

Imperial Ostia

During the first century AD, Tiberius influenced the development of Ostia by commissioning its first forum. Due to the limitations of Ostia's small harbor, Claudius constructed a new port at Portus on the northern Tiber mouths. However, Portus proved vulnerable to storms, prompting Trajan to build a more secure hexagonal harbor, completed in 113 AD. Nearby, Trajan also developed the harbor of Civitavecchia (Centum Cellae). These new ports diverted trade from Ostia, contributing to its commercial decline despite reaching a population peak of about 100,000 inhabitants in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

Ostia boasted amenities like a large theatre, public baths such as the Thermae Gavii Maximi, numerous taverns, inns, and even a firefighting service. The presence of eighteen Mithraea underscores the popularity of the cult of Mithras, while the discovery of the Ostia Synagogue highlights its diverse cultural and religious landscape.

Late-Roman and sub-Roman Ostia

After Constantine the Great made Portus a municipality, Ostia's presumed decline was countered by recent excavations revealing continued vitality. Throughout the 4th and 5th centuries, numerous baths remained operational, with significant renovations seen in the Neptune Baths in the 370s. The city expanded beyond its southern walls towards the sea, with ongoing maintenance indicated by street repaving, church constructions, and residential and commercial growth. Ostia thrived as an episcopal see from the 3rd century, witnessed by St. Augustine and his mother Saint Monica, buried at Santa Aurea. Decline began post-476, exacerbated by Rome's dwindling population and culminating in its abandonment after the Battle of Ostia in 849.

Ostia Antica Today

Visitors to Ostia Antica encounter a plethora of ancient ruins, from the well-preserved Roman theatre and Baths of Neptune to temples, forums, and the oldest known European synagogue. Beyond these highlights, the site boasts a diverse array of intact Roman residences, shops, apartments, warehouses, and even a public toilet. Together, these remnants offer a vivid glimpse into daily life in ancient Rome. Additionally, a small on-site museum enriches the experience with artifacts and historical insights. Throughout the year, Ostia Antica hosts concerts and cultural events, further animating its rich historical tapestry.


What was Ostia Antica originally founded as?

Ostia Antica was originally founded as a small settlement of native peoples in the 7th century BC. According to Ostia Antica history, it was possibly established by Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome. The settlement served as a strategic military base to protect Rome's coastline and control the river's salt trade.

When was Ostia Antica founded?

Ostia Antica was founded in the 7th century BC, possibly by Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome. However, the oldest archaeological remains date back to the 4th century BC. The most ancient buildings visible today, including the Castrum and the Capitolium, date from the 3rd century BC.

What was the main purpose of Ostia Antica in ancient Rome?

The main purpose of Ostia Antica in ancient Rome was to serve as the primary port of Rome, handling the city's grain trade and acting as a commercial centre. According to Ostia Antica history, its strategic location at the mouth of the Tiber River made it a crucial hub for trade and commerce in the Roman Empire.

What important buildings are in Ostia Antica?

Ostia Antica features several important buildings, including the Capitolium (temple of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva), a large theatre, numerous public baths like the Baths of Neptune, and various temples and Mithrae. The site also includes residential buildings, bakeries, brothels, laundrettes, and the oldest known synagogue in Europe, showcasing the city's diverse and vibrant history.

How is Ostia Antica preserved today?

Ostia Antica is preserved today as a significant archaeological site. Extensive excavations, especially those ordered by Mussolini, have uncovered much of the city. The site is open to the public, offering insights into Ostia Antica history through its well-preserved buildings, mosaics, and artefacts. Continuous archaeological work ensures its conservation and educational value for visitors.


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