Monday, August 17, 2015

Various Vices in Old Ostia

Ostia is a must see site if you are in Rome and fascinated by things Ancient.  It was Rome's main port in Republican and early Imperial times and became a thriving city of perhaps 50,000 people.  Floods, earthquakes, banditry all took their toll, and eventually when Rome atrophied after the Fall there was no need for Ostia.  It silted up and became a largely forgotten ghost town.

There was periodic scavenging of course, at first just for the stone, later for statuary and other marketable antiquities.  But the real boom in excavating at Ostia did not come until the 20th century, specifically when Mussolini took an interest in the place.  He was planning a sort of "World's Fair" not far from this site - it was supposed to happen in 1942 - and wanted as an attraction something similar to Pompeii, but with less aura of doom and death.

You would be, and will be, surprised how much Fascist archaeologists can get done in a short time! Perhaps not always with acceptable scientific technique, but they sure created an awe inspiring site.

Today it is a short train ride out from Rome.  In our case short and interesting due to some odd characters in our train car.

Now I have written on more than one occasion about how archaeologists seem to be fascinated by the baser aspects of human life.  But at Ostia I kept running into reminders that Ancient times really were rather naughty!

Ostia has a lot of mosaics, most of them as in this case just black and white. This one reads:

"Fortunatus says, drink wine from the vessel because you are thirsty"

Presumably this was a wine shop, although it is possible instead to detect a crypto-Christian message in this...

Now, here we have a proper tavern!

For the record I am just drinking water on a sizzling hot day in May.  The broken vessel on the top of the bar was found on site.  Here and there you can see panels that preserve bits of painted plaster that once adorned the walls.  I think a good weekend of tidying up could have this pub ready to reopen without much trouble!

Here is a decorative element from the 4000 seat theater.  This guy has seen it all.

Septimus Severus was once recorded as chastising the members of the Senate.  He said, presumably in reference to events at this theater, "...yet at Ostia only the other day one of your number, an old man who had been consul, was publicly sporting with a prostitute who imitated a leopard".

The theater later saw darker emotions released.  In 269 AD a group of 18 Christians were martyred here. Like many such structures it became a fortress in post Roman times, a secure place for the last of the Ostians to take refuge until the menace of Saracen pirates finally drove them out in the 9th century.

In the seldom visited back streets of Ostia we ran across The Ninfeo della Eroti.  Now, a Nymphaeum, to use the English version, is a religious structure usually built around a fountain or water source.  Eroti are saucy little imps, something like our concept of Cupid but more, well, Erotic. As to what actually went on in a place like this I profess no knowledge, but if you look down at the pavement.....

Somebody was keeping score.

1 comment:

Borepatch said...

I loved Ostia, and have a picture of me in that very taverna.