Ostia Antica
According to Livy and the Roman poet, Ennius, the founding of Ostia seems to be attributed to the fourth king, Ancus Martius in the second half of the 7th Century BC.


But as no traces of that town remain there is doubt about the period and the most ancient remains of Ostia date from the second half of the 4th century BC. The new town at the mouth of the Tiber dates back to 330-320 BC and the known history of the area begins in the 3rd century BC. There are references to it in connection with the ships of Scipio’s fleet leaving for battle against the Carthaginians. It was a fortified place with walls built from large tufa blocks from Fidene, to the north of Rome. Not much is known until the time of the Emperor Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD) when new buildings began to be constructed.


It continued to prosper under the more ‘positive’ and constructive of the emperors, such as Claudius, Domitian, Trajan and Hadrian, particularly the latter two, and Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius (138-161), when Rome was at its most powerful. At its height Ostia had some 50,000 inhabitants (Rome a million) but as the guide book says it gives a far better idea of a Roman city than the area of the Roman Forum. It covered a large area and was connected to Rome by the Via Ostiense It was the port of Rome at that time until the ground silted up and the river changed its course and it is now some distance from the coast. However, it is a quiet and serene place, certainly in the fresh green of spring, and there were no large groups of tourists or tour parties to disturb the searches for cipollino.


The main street, the Decumanus Maximus has turnings to left and right. In the via di Vigili, next to the Terme de Province, and near the Piazzale della Vittoria, is the big fountain basin said to be of cipollino, abandoned to the elements, leaning into the side of the path, with its traditional markings much eroded by time and weather. It stands .79 m. from the ground at one side but is probably .10 m. lower at the other. It has a diameter of 2.30 m. /7.7 Rf (Plate 2.14). The road passes arcades of shops, warehouses, and baths where there are only granite columns, arriving at the Terme di Nettuno (Baths of Neptune) with their excellent mosaics, built on top of the preceding Domitianic baths complex. This is part of the renovation of the area promoted by Hadrian, where none of the 17 standing columns is cipollino, although the one marble lined wall of the latrine complex might well be (Plate 2.15).

A little away from the main road lies the Forum delle Corporazioni (the Forum of the Corporation), with the theatre in front and the remains of a portico of cipollino columns in between. I quote from the notice provided, ‘The modern systemisation of a row of columns in cipollino marble behind the theatre is an exception; it in fact belongs to the cavea and dates from the 2nd to 3rd century AD’.


There are 12 cipollino columns standing in what remains of the portico, all of varying heights, some less than a metre high, and repaired to a greater or lesser extent. (Plates 2.16A & 2.16B) One good column of cipollino is 3.5 m. /11.8 Rf in height, measured without its Doric capital, and .44 m. /1.5 Rf diameter. Two broken ones are 2.52 m. /8.5 Rf in height and .39 m /1.3 Rf in diameter, 1.78 m. /6 Rf in height and .39 m. /1.3 Rf in diameter, and a third, lying partly buried in the grass is .74 m. /2.5 Rf long with a diameter of .46 m. /1.5 Rf (Plates 2.17A, 2.17B, 2.17C, 2.17D).

There are also three broken fragments lying in a row in the grass next to the portico. One is 1.28 m. /4.3 Rf long and .40 m. /1.35 Rf in diameter, one 1.23 m. /4.15 Rf in length and .40 m. /1.35 Rf in diameter, one 1.23 m. in length /4.14 Rf and sliced in half with a collar, and the last 1.13 m. /3.8 Rf in length and .43 m. /1.45 Rf in diameter. (Plate 2.17E)


Standing on a height above and to the west of the Forum area are two columns of cipollino, one intact with a capital measuring an estimated 7.5 m. /25 Rf high and .70 m. /2.3 Rf in diameter, the other smaller broken one an estimated 2.45 m. /8.2 Rf high with a diameter of .75 m. /2.5 Rf To the west, near a rise of 15 wide steps there is a further column with an estimated height of 2.70 m. /9 Rf and diameter of .70 m. /2 Rf (Plate 2.18).

The description of the Forum Baths in the official guide book is written in rather strange English but it does describe the ‘most important complex in Ostia’ very fully. Paraphrased, it tells us that ‘they were situated in the heart of the town and were built in different phases. The first phase, after 150 AD was under the Antonine emperors, when the main part was built, including the Frigidarium (cold water pool); the second, under the emperors of the Severian dynasty (end II C beginning III C) when restoration and additions were carried out; the third, since the 4th century, with the building of the curved wall of the Frigidarium and the creation of the next Forum della Statua Eroica, and the realisation of the rooms around the gymnasium with the late-ancient Ionic capitals’. In the baths area there are two large cipollino columns standing with Corinthian capitals (Plates 2.19A & 2.19B). The taller has an estimated height, without the capital, of 8.5 m. /28.7 Rf and a diameter of .76 m. /2.5 Rf, the shorter a height of 7.5 m. /25 Rf and diameter of .70 m. /2.3 Rf There are also three stumps, the first (from the west) with a height of 1.20 m. /4.05 Rf and diameter of .65 m. /2.19 Rf, the second with a height of 1.14 m. /3.85 Rf and diameter of .65 m. /2.19 (Plates 2.20A & 2.20B), and the third with a height of 2 m. /6.75 Rf and the same diameter. On the Via della Forica are the latrines ‘built at the end of the 4th century inside two existing shops’ and probably made of cipollino (Plate 2.21). They are very reminiscent of the latrines at Leptis Magna which are more clearly recognisable

as cipollino.

Maps and Plates

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Plate 2.14 Large cipollino fountain basin, via de Vigili, Ostia Antica

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Plate 2.15 Latrine complex at the Baths of Neptune, Ostia Antica

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Plate 2.16A Row of standing cipollino columns Forum delle Corporazioni (Forum of the Corporation - Theatre), Ostia Antica

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Plate 2.16B Row of standing cipollino columns Forum delle Corporazioni (Forum of the Corporation - Theatre), Ostia Antica

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Plates 2.17A, 2.17B, 2.17C, & 2.17D Four of the cipollino columns at the Forum delle Corporazioni (Forum of the Corporation - Theatre) Ostia Antica.

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Plates 2.17A, 2.17B, 2.17C, & 2.17D Four of the cipollino columns at the Forum delle Corporazioni (Forum of the Corporation - Theatre) Ostia Antica.

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Plates 2.17A, 2.17B, 2.17C, & 2.17D Four of the cipollino columns at the Forum delle Corporazioni (Forum of the Corporation - Theatre) Ostia Antica.

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Plates 2.17A, 2.17B, 2.17C, & 2.17D Four of the cipollino columns at the Forum delle Corporazioni (Forum of the Corporation - Theatre) Ostia Antica.

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Plates 2.17A, 2.17B, 2.17C, & 2.17D Four of the cipollino columns at the Forum delle Corporazioni (Forum of the Corporation - Theatre) Ostia Antica.

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Plate 2.18 Two cipollino columns above and west of the Forum area, Ostia Antica

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Plates 2.19A & 2.19B Two cipollino columns in the Forum baths, Ostia Antica

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Plates 2.19A & 2.19B Two cipollino columns in the Forum baths, Ostia Antica

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Plates 2.20A & 2.20B Stumps of cipollino columns, the Forum baths, Ostia Antica

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Plates 2.20A & 2.20B Stumps of cipollino columns, the Forum baths, Ostia Antica

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Plate 2.21 Latrines, Via della Forica, Ostia Antica