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Seminar 2 - Ostia

Week 7: Archaeology and the Roman Economy: the case of Ostia

Study Skills: How to utilise different academic resources

Seminar debate:

Was Ostia a good place for Rome to develop a major harbour? 


Your overall task this week is to assess the character and extent of economic activities that occurred at the mouth of the river Tiber. Think about the following questions, focusing upon the period from the first century BC to third century AD:

  • What does archaeology add to the picture we would have if we depended solely upon literary sources?
  • Does archaeology give a false impression of the significance of some aspects of the town’s economy?
  • Why was Portus built? Does the Trajanic basin solve previous problems of the Claudian harbour and Ostia?

Ostia rejoices in having a wonderful web-site, maintained by a group of international scholars. This week, everyone should use the web to supplement materials in books, particularly to look at pictures, computer reconstructions, and movies, but also to read the texts provided. You can be sure of a high level of accuracy on this site. I have included the addresses of specific webpages. If pictures are rather small, try clicking on them to enlarge. As you use the website and books from the library, consider the pros and cons of the different types of content and forms of presentation.


  1. Everyone should work through Section A.
  2.  Those NOT who are making presentations (half of each seminar group) should go to Section B and focus on one of the topics from Section C (you may choose which topic, but be sure all 3 topics are covered between the 11/12 of you in the group) and in the general reading & the questions (in Section B).
  3. Those making presentations should go directly to Section C (feel free to use the biblography in Section B for additional reading) and answer the questions (in Section C) in a powerpoint (or prezzie) presentation (handout is optional)* which you will give in the seminar.

SECTION A - using the website

Section B - using the library

EVERYONE should read at least ONE of the following:

  • G. Calza & G. Becatti, Ostia (Rome) pp.9-12, 17-18 [DG 70 08]
  • P. Garnsey, and R. Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture (London: Duckworth 1987) chaps 3-5 [DG 276.G2]
  • M. Goodman, The Roman world 44 BC-AD 180 (London: Routledge 1997) chap. 14 [DG 209.G6]
  • K. Greene, The Archaeology of the Roman Economy (Batsford: London 1986) chap.1 [DG 85.G7]
  • P. Jones & K. Sidwell, eds. The World of Rome (CUP) chapter 6 [DG 77 W6]
  • N. Lewis & M. Reinhold Roman Civilization sourcebook Vol. 2 chap. 3 [DG 13 L3]
  • *R. Meiggs, Roman Ostia (2nd ed. 1973: Oxford University Press: Oxford), chapters 2, 13 [DG 70.08 + e-book]
  • *N. Morley, Metropolis and Hinterland (CUP 1996) intro., chaps. 1, 4 [DG 63.M6 + module online bibliog]
  • J-A. Shelton, As the Romans did: a sourcebook in Roman social history (2nd ed., New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press 1998) chap. 7 [DG 78.S4]
  • *J.E. Stambaugh, The Roman City (John Hopkins University Press; Baltimore and London 1988) chap. 18 [DG 82 S8]


  1. What did the website contribute to your understanding of your chosen topic?
  2. What did broader scholarship add to our understanding of the same topic?
  3. Do these resources work well together? What if any problems emerge? What changes would you make?


Section C - Making a presentation

For those making a presentation, try to divide the work evenly while utilising your groups skill sets. While the research should be conducted by everyone, you could easily divide the case studes and the presentation elements (collecting images, designing the powerpoint, presenting it).

*D. Mattingly & G. Aldrete 'The feeding of imperial Rome: the mechanics of the food supply system', in Ancient Rome: the archaeology of the eternal city, eds. J. Coulston & H. Dodge (2000) [NB a copy of this is in Learning Grid + 4 standard loans + 1 short loan] DG 65.A6

Topic 1. Warehouses at Ostia

Account for the location and character of warehouses at Ostia.

Topic 2. The imperial harbours

Why did Trajan decide to create a new harbour near Ostia, at Portus?

What do we know about Claudius’ harbour there? Why was it unsatisfactory?

Primary sources:

Secondary discussions:

  • Ostia: Guide to the Excavations pp.54-58 [DG 70 08]
  • L. Casson, ‘Harbour and river boats of ancient Rome’, Journal of Roman Studies 55 (1965) 31ff
  • R.P. Duncan-Jones, ‘Giant cargo-ships in antiquity’, Classical Quarterly 27 (1977) 331-34
  • S. Keay, et al., Portus: an archaeological survey of the port of Imperial Rome (2005) [DG 70.P73]
  • B. Levick, Claudius (Batsford: London 1990) pp.109-110 [DG 284.L3]
  • *R. Meiggs, Roman Ostia (2nd ed. 1973: Oxford University Press: Oxford), chapter 4, 8 [DG 70.08 + e-book]
  • G.E. Rickman, ‘Portus in perspective’, in Roman Ostia Revisited, eds A. Gallina Zevi & A. Claridge (British School at Rome: London 1996) 281-91 [DG 70.08]
  • *M.K. Thornton & H.L. Thornton, Julio-Claudian building programs (1989: Waucanda: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers) chap. 6 [DG 69.T4]
  • The Harbour District at Portus (follow through left-hand links)


Topic 3. The Square of the Corporations (Piazzale Corporazioni)

How did the Harbour shape economic space in the town of Ostia?

What image of Ostia as a port emerges from this marketspace?

Ostia Website: Piazzale Corporazioni *please note the images and inscriptions from this context.

  • L. Bouke van der Meer (2012) Ostia Speaks: Inscriptions, buildings and spaces in Rome's main port [CN537.08 M44].
  • R. Laurence and D.J. Newsome (2011) ROme, Ostia Pompeii: movement and space [DG 77.R6]
  • G. Calza, G. Becatti (2005) Ostia [DG 70.08]
  • P. Curtin, (1984) Cross Cultural Trade in World History [HF352 C.87]
  • R. Meiggs, (1973) Roman Ostia [DG.70.08 and Ebook]
  • J. Stambaugh (19880 The Ancient Roman City, pp 260-270. [DG.82. S8.]
  • P. Temin (2013) The Roman Market Economy (Chapter 5) [HC39.T46.]
  • e-article Piazzale Corporazioni reconsidered