Vol. XIX, No. 3
CSA Newsletter Logo
Winter, 2007

Web Site Review: Ostia. Harbor city of ancient Rome

Marina De Franceschini (See email contacts page for the reviewer's email address.)

General Layout:

Home page: gives general information about the purpose of the site. On the left is a general index listing 8 sections, each one containing different chapters. Chapters have the name of the author and the date of appearance on the site. (Sections do not have numbers, which were added by the reviewer for the sake of this discussion.)

Section 1

1a - What's new: Here are listed recent additions and improvements to the site, with their date.

1b - The Mystery of the round building: a separate chapter concerning the "round building" on the Forum.

Section 2 - Getting started

2a - Introduction to Ostia: an historical introduction to Ostia, with an index of the different chapters. Chapters 1 to 3 are a general history of Ostia, with some pictures. The notes to the text are at the end of the page, but are clickable, so that can be immediately read; then a "back to text link" sends you back to the text you were reading (this is very useful). Chapter 4 gives information on government, economy and the inhabitants. Chapter 5 describes the decline of Ostia, while chapter 6 features a history of the studies and the excavations at Ostia.

2b - Ostia, a mediterranean port: this very interesting section unfortunately does not have a general index as the previous one does. It provides information about the Mediterranean sea and its ancient Harbours and Ports; there is a separate chapter on Roman harbours and ports. Other pages have general information on commerce, ships, and traveling time. Rome's harbours on the western coast of Italy are listed more in detail, while the final Appendix lists ancient and modern names of these harbours, with bibliography.

There are links to two different maps: a general map of the harbours in the western Mediterranean basin and a chart of the prevailing winds in the Mediterranean basin.

2c - Ostia in Google Earth: A link to a Google kmz file, showing a satellite photograph of Ostia and Portus.

2d - The excavation: there is an index of the chapters and a general map showing the different dates of the excavations. After the map, a link leads to a letter sent from the Soprintendente of Ostia, who authorized the publication of series of beautiful old pictures of the excavations in Ostia. It is possible to access the different chapters clicking on their names, using the arrow on top of the page or other arrows placed at the beginning and end of each picture.

This section presents a brief history of the excavations at Ostia: the old pictures give a vivid idea of how the excavations were done and also document the techniques and old machinery involved.

2e - Visiting the ruins: For visiting hours, a link sends visitors to the Official Site of the Soprintendenza. This chapter gives information on hotels and B&B accommodations and also on boat transportation from Rome to Ostia. There are suggestion for visitors (how they should dress, which is the best way to visit Ostia, where are bars and so on). It is a more touristic section, but is useful.

Section 3 - The archaeological remains: general description of the monuments of Ostia with different chapters.

3a - Topographical Dictionary (including topics and descriptions of the buildings): A general catalogue with brief entries for each building or structure; they can be accessed through a text menu, clickable plans or a list of topics.

The page starts with a general index listing 1 - text menu, 2 - clickable plans, 3 - topics, and 4 - tools

   1 - Text menu has a general index of Ostia, which, like Pompeii, is subdivided in Regions, each Region (and its index) containing insulae, roads, buildings, and other monuments such as those of the Forum. Each listed item is marked with dots indicating the scale of interest for the visitor, from "not to be missed" to "worth a visit" to "of minor interest."

Each Region has a list of chapters describing the different buildings, with plans and pictures.

   2 - Clickable plans: first there is a general plan of Ostia, where the different types of buildings are highlighted with colors. One can immediately see where the domus or the temples or even the bakeries were located. Clicking on the plan it is possible to reach the same catalogue entry of the building that was accessible through the text menu.

   3 - Topics: a list of topics allows the scholar or the casual visitor to find out more about several topics, including the bakeries or the mithraea. Each topic has its own table of contents, general introduction, and longer discussion. Any building discussed in this section can lead back to the catalogue entry of the text menu.

   4 - Tools: a Building glossary explaining the building techniques and wall facings. A brief Topographical dictionary lists some building types such as the domus or the shops (but it is not complete). There also is a chronological table of the Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine.

3b - Plans and 3D reconstruction: there is a general index of the buildings, the streets or the general views for which 3D computer reconstructions are available. Then there are three general maps: one of Ostia and Portus together, the second of Ostia and the third of Portus. 3D model of Ostia and 3D model of Portus show pictures of the plastic model of Ostia, showing details of the buildings.

At the end of this chapter there is a chronological index, listing the buildings according to their date of construction, with their names and their "topographical address" (for example Regio III, Is II, I, 5)

3c - Portus (the harbour district): a brief description of Portus, the harbour of Ostia. The index lists the different sections which concern the port of Claudius, the port of Trajan and the buildings surrounding the port of Trajan. Other sections show pictures and describe reliefs. A final link leads to the Museo delle Navi of Fiumicino.

3d - the Necropolis of Portus: partly under construction, it describes the necropolis of the Isola Sacra, near Ostia. The active sections are an introduction, a chapter about Ostia and a catalogue of 100 tombs.

3e - Virtual Museum (under construction): it is possible to see many pictures of objects and statues that have been found during the excavations, through a link to the General Catalogue of the ICCD (Istituto centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione) which is the Italian National Photographic Archive.

3f - Museums (old page): a series of pictures of sculptures, sarcophagi in the Ostia Museum, and sarcophagi from Ostia in other Museums of Rome. The project is to create a collection of pictures of objects found in Ostia that are in various museums, in order to regroup them together again, as if they were in one virtual museum.

Section 4 - Ancient written sources (subdivided into three sections):

4a - Texts: with an index of authors. For each one there is the transcription of the original Latin text and a translation on the side.

4b - Graffiti: it starts with a warning: " ...restricted version, from which all topographical indications have been removed - we do not wish to put a 'shopping list' on the web for thieves. If you want to see the full version, with topographical indications and references to publications, then please contact the editor of this section"

4c - Inscriptions: a list of inscriptions found in Ostia and Portus, with links to l'Année Epigraphique and C.I.L. XIV.

Section 5 - Excavations and research

5a - Bibliography: it is continuously updated, and it is possible to make a search by Keyword, Author or Date. Some titles have a comment explaining their value. A general complete list shows all titles about Ostia published since year 1800, subdivided in small groups spanning ten years (for example from 1910 to 1919). These chronological groups are also accessible from the general index.

5b - Full text books and articles: a series of books and articles published on-line, with links to Libraries such as the Bibliotèque nationale de France. And an invitation to donate texts for publication on-line.

5c - Recent research: "information about recent and ongoing research and excavations." With several links.

5d - the Ostia Colloquia: programs, abstracts and announcements made during the Ostia Colloquia, which are held every other year.

Section 6 - Varia Ostiensis

6a - Ostia in the past: "This section contains old representations of Ostia, information about the history of the excavations, and stories about the fate of some of the objects that were found." An antiquarian chapter

6b - Ostia related links: ancient and mediaeval to modern. Links to movies, to books, to pictures, all about Ostia

6c - Fiction about Ostia: several modern detective novels are situated in Ostia. Here you will find information about these books, and relevant links. Links with novels written by Caroline Lawrence.

6d - Ostia quiz: An Ostia quiz. Level: hard! For fun, gives a final score.

Section 7 - The Soprintendenza

A link to the the official web site of Ostia of the Soprintendenza

Section 8 - the Internet Group Ostia

8a - the Group and its history: The contact addresses of the members of the Internet Group Ostia (IGO) and of the advisory board; the history of the web site and of the mailing list.

8b - Join the mailing list: Here you can read how to join the Internet Group Ostia mailing list, which is meant for scientists and lay-people.

8c - Guestbook: comments sent by the visitors of the site.


This is a very interesting and useful site, which can be used as reference and starting point by scholars who study Ostia. But it is good also for tourists who want to plan their visit and in general for all people who are interested in knowing something more about Ostia.

The site is well organized and user friendly; each section has an index and a starting page which describes its function and contents. Arrows and 'back to' links allow to go back to the starting points.

From the archaeological point of view, the site is very useful because with a simple click it is possible to see the plan and have some general information of almost every building, and also to see their pictures. This is very important because most of the publications of the excavations at Ostia are quite old and dispersed in different small articles. Their small black and white pictures seldom give an idea of what the building was like. Without going to a library, with this site it is possible to access a vast documentation that is a very good starting point for a research on this topic.

A great tool is the clickable map, where the different types of buildings are highlighted using colors. Very quickly it is possible to see where domus or bakeries or temples were located, and to reach their description with a click of the mouse.

Another useful idea of this web site is to present a collection of ancient Latin text concerning Ostia with an English translation. No more excuses for ignoring the old texts...

I found it extremely important and useful the publication on-line of books and articles about Ostia. This is one of the great advantages of the web, giving easy access to documents. So much time and money saved with a simple click . . . This should be done in the (near?) future for all archaeological sites!

The collection of antique pictures of the excavation is also particularly interesting. It gives an idea of how old excavations were made, of the techniques and machinery involved. Those pictures can be seen only in the archives of the Soprintendenza, and it is a great advantage to have them published on-line. Old pictures are important because they show the modern restorations made after the excavations.

Ostia is vast and complex, but this web site makes a wealth of different information easily accessible. It also provides a series of links to libraries, institutions, and catalogues that will allow the scholar to collect a great amount of information and many references in a very short time. As I said, is a very good starting point for any study about Ostia.

If I can give a suggestion to make this web site even more complete, they could widen the "virtual museum" and photo gallery of the mosaics using the beautiful pictures that were published in volume IV of Scavi di Ostia. A wall decoration and pavement decoration glossary can also be added to the Tools section.

-- Marina De Franceschini

For an index of other CD and Website reviews from the CSA Newsletter, see the review index.

For other Newsletter articles concerningthe use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

Next Article: A Survey of Methods for Showing Missing Data, Multiple Alternatives, and Uncertainty in Reconstructions

Table of Contents for the Winter, 2007 issue of the CSA Newsletter (Vol. XIX, no. 3)

Master Index Table of Contents for all CSA Newsletter issues on the Web

CSA Home Page