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.
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.