Ostia Antica - History and Facts | History Hit

Ostia Antica

Rome, Lazio, Italy

The site of Ostia Antica contains the ruins of the port of ancient Rome and visitors can view some amazingly well preserved remains of the settlement.

Peta Stamper

14 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica is an extraordinary Roman site in Italy that contains the ruins of the ancient port town that served as the gateway to Rome. Tracing its roots back to at least the 4th century BC, Ostia Antica served as Rome’s principle port for hundreds of years: a witness and monument to the rise of the ancient superpower, its dominance and eventual decline.

Just half an hour from central Rome by train, Ostia Antica has all the inspiration of Pompeii without the throngs of tourists. If you want to examine well preserved Roman ruins in peace and quiet with time to contemplate the ancient world, you will be hard pressed to find better. Resultantly, this impressive site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Italy.

Ostia Antica history

Ostia may have been Rome’s first colonia, possibly established by the fourth king of Rome, Ancus Marcius. Nonetheless, the ancient harbour town saw the evolution of the Roman Empire, and therefore featured a 3rd century military castrum, later temples to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, as well as fortifying walls.

During the 1st century BC as Gaius Marius and Sulla fought a bitter civil war when Marius’ ambition grew too great, Marius attacked Ostia to cut off trade to Rome via the Tiber, plundering it before further destroying Rome’s food stores. Ultimately, however, Marius fled to Africa to escape execution.

Ostia Antica is most notable in ancient history for an attack by pirates in 68 BC leading to unprecedented powers being handed to Pompey the Great. The town was set on fire and the consular war fleet destroyed. Pompey arranged for the lex Gabinia law to allow him to raise an army and defeat the pirates – which he did within the year. However, the law set a dangerous precedent which damaged the foundations of the Republican system.

Under Julius Caesar’s dictatorship, Ostia became the focus of imperial development to improve Rome’s grain supply. Tiberius, Claudius and Trajan all sponsored harbour projects in the town, although repeated silting up of the harbour meant commerce shifted to Centum Cellea nearby.

As the landscape changed over the centuries, Ostia Antica was slowly abandoned: the sea gradually encroaching to only a couple of miles away.

Ostia Antica today

Today, visitors can view a great many ruins from the ancient town including a well preserved Roman theatre, the Baths of Neptune, remains of the military camp, temples to ancient deities, the forum and even Ostia Synagogue, which is the oldest known synagogue site in Europe.

Yet Ostia Antica is so much more than these notable elements: it contains a huge range of well-preserved typical Roman dwellings, shops, flats and warehouses – even a Roman public toilet. These remains combine to provide visitors with a vivid picture of an ancient Roman town and allows you to get a real feel for day-to-day life in ancient Rome.

There is also small museum on site which has a number of artefacts and further information on the history of Ostia Antica. At certain times during the year Ostia Antica is also the venue for concerts and other events.

Getting to Ostia Antica

Getting to Ostia Antica by car from the airport, head for the Via del Mare or Via Ostiense and follow signs to Ostia Antica. If using public transport – which is very affordable – catch the Roma-Lido train towards Cristoforo Colombo and get off at Ostia Antica. Use the pedestrian blue overpass (which takes around 5 minutes) to reach the ancient town.

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