Ostia, Portus, Rome: The Ports and Markets of the River Tiber

This course has no current classes. Please the waiting list.

The fate of Rome and the River Tiber were always intertwined. Rome was literally formed by the river and this relationship – one of ports, markets, bridges, religion and growing military and trading power – is the foundation of this course. Examine the archaeology of the Tiber banks of Rome herself and visit the ports of Ostia and Portus at the river’s mouth where we will explore temples, shops, baths, houses, public buildings, monuments and cemeteries in cities that were host to all the regions, races and religions the Empire had to offer. Ideal preparation for unusual sightseeing on your next trip!


  • Van der Meer, L.B., 2012, Ostia Speaks: Inscriptions, buildings and spaces in Rome’s main port, Leuven
  • Boin, Douglas, 2013, Ostia in Late Antiquity, New York
  • Hermansen, G., 1982, Ostia: Aspects of Roman City Life, Edmonton
  • Keay, S.J., 2012, Rome, Portus and the Mediterranean, British School at Rome, Rome
  • Meiggs, R., 1973, 2nd ed, Roman Ostia, Oxford
  • Ostia Antica: Tourist Guide, 2015 – available free online as an e-book at http://www.ostia-antica.org/ - this excellent website is dedicated to Ostia and is full of information, maps, primary sources, and photographs. It includes a huge and very scholarly bibliography about the site.
  • http://www.ostiaantica.beniculturali.it/en/ - the official website for Ostia Antica
  • http://www.colonia-ostiensis.com/index.php/en/home-page-en/ - Computer generated 3D reconstructions of Ostia

The city of Rome developed directly in relationship to the River Tiber which was an important regional border, transport hub, military base and trading port. As a direct result of this, early Rome was destined to rule the world and much of the city’s earliest cults, temples, bridges and infrastructure developed and grew on or near the Tiber’s Roman shores. The area at the mouth of the river Tiber had long been important in regional industry and trade and the source of dispute between the early Italian tribes in the region – as early as the 8th century BC Rome’s mythical first king, Romulus, was said to have been begun the process of bringing this area under Roman control.

As Rome’s power spread in the 4th century BC, her ports needed to be extended to the mouth of the River Tiber – first at Ostia and later, to accommodate the growing needs of the city and the hazards of the river itself, at Portus. The port areas contained temples, warehouses, shops, baths, villas, public buildings, monuments and burial grounds and were host to all the regions, races and religions the Empire had to offer. This course will walk you around some of the many intriguing attractions of Rome’s ports both in the city itself, and at the mouth of the Tiber at Ostia and Portus, and explain the importance of Rome’s trade and marketing network.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Locate the areas of the city of Rome’s earliest ports and market places – and the buildings and cults associated with them.
  2. Have a “user's guide” to visiting unusual places within the city of Rome where the archaeological remains of the earliest temples, bridges, warehouses and other buildings still can be traced amid (and under) the fascinating modern city.
  3. Explore the layering of history along the Tiber river banks and gain insights into the trade routes along the river and extending away from it.
  4. Understand the origins, layout, history and archaeological remains of the city of Ostia (and how to get there from Rome) in a way which will greatly enhance any visit to this fascinating site.
  5. Enjoy the exquisite beauty on display at the Museo Archeologico Ostiense – Ostia’s delightful site museum.
  6. Appreciate an overview of the latest excavations at the site of Portus and the Isola Sacra necropolis.
  7. Gain insights into the nature and significance of Rome’s trading networks, shipping, and the political implications of control over these aspects of Roman life.