New technologies have made it possible to advance studies on the ancient port of Ostia. Referred to as ‘the gateway to the Empire’, this coastal area is fundamental to a better understanding of Roman civilisation and its foreign trade.
By Giulia Barjona / 03.03.2023
First of all, the importance of the discovery of the port of Ostia encompasses both modern, contemporary and Renaissance history. In particular, it is an aid to the advancement of sociology, economics, engineering and even naval and geographical studies.
In the first place, the recently obtained confirmation of the hypotheses born and developed over the centuries is an overcoming of the technological limitations that have always prevented the attainment of knowledge of that part of European origins that derives from Latin culture. Humanity and science have walked together, the overcoming of one on the other and vice versa. After the discovery of the port, engineers and archeologists once again strengthened their ties. Furthermore, another type of engineering has found an answer: naval technology. It now has the opportunity to benefit from traces found under the sea.
In addition, researchers now have the opportunity to verify how the relationship between geological and economic conformation evolved during different periods of human history. In particular, the height of the sea, the length and the course of the river give the opportunity to understand what happened on the mainland, where the Tiber originates. Namely, that the mountains, too, change. We know that the rapid modification and stratification of debris hides a natural microbiological treasure trove of prehistoric man in the rocks of the Apennines. Similarly, following the course of the water in its geographical bed there is the possibility and probability of advancing with the transformations of human beings and ‘epochs’, due to the stratification of sediments. In particular, this journey of the Tiber takes us from the foundation of Ostia, to its life and its abandonment of the Romans. A true time-travelling machine.
Thirdly, the social point of view is the most important issue for the French-Italian team working on the project. Indeed, we also have the opportunity to formulate hypotheses on the evolution of society based on a place, values or the changes an object has undergone over the centuries. These ideas are offered to us through the observation of the place. In addition to this, the differences found between regions of the same nation are the most interesting for verifying or discovering influences with neighbouring countries. However, other cultures are certainly not the only ones to influence tastes, mentality and cuisine: the lay of the land, the altitude, the presence of a river or the sea, a forest or a mountain have inevitably influenced the customs of a certain place. By analysing these numerous connections between different aspects, we can discover explanations of the origins of the traditions and customs of a place. Recovered objects speak more if the morpho-geological condition is far removed from the past; finding an unexpected object in a certain type of landscape offers researchers the possibility of understanding how different life was in the past, even more so if the territory had a very different conformation from the present one.
In conclusion, one discovery can answer all our questions. Sometimes we have to search for years before we can identify a new port or a new city. The reflection we have developed is a comprehensive analysis of three areas of contemporary research and offers important answers to ancient questions, such as that of the port of Ostia Antica
On the other hand, many questions remain unanswered; much research and discovery has yet to be done. Some questions have not yet been formulated and others are waiting for technology to invent appropriate tools and for libraries to provide answers, perhaps from ancient, as yet unread, books with detailed, accurate and significant clues to as yet unknown details. All we can do is wait, but time can be a good ally in offering us the chance to move forward with hypotheses and new questions. For instance, what happened during the 25 years between the decommissioning of the Ostia port and the creation of the new one in the Portus area? Only socio-engineering developments can give us an answer.