Doctoral Scholarship: The deadline has been extended

The application-deadline for Theme 3 (Coins in Context) is extended

The Ostia-Forum-Project (OFP) – thanks to Stiftung-Humboldt-University (SHU) – offers a maximum three-year funding for a PhD-thesis focussed on the working-up of all coin-finds from former and coming OFP-campaigns in the centre of Ostia antica (Italy). It is funded by 1500€ monthly, per year you can additionally get up to 1000€ for travel expenses and after finishing your PhD, you could apply for up to 6000€ covering the printing-expenses of the PhD-thesis in the OFP series.

The material consists of more than 900 coins, found between 2010 and 2019 at the Forum in superficial cleaning-areas and excavation-trenches from mid Republican times to the end of Antiquity. A certain part of these coins has already been cleaned, conserved and analysed, but this is an ongoing process. The main part of these coins comes from stratified contexts in recent excavation-trenches. The unusual high number of more than 600 late-antique coins (3rd until 5th century AD) can be explained by their deposition, due to a common collapse-catastrophe in Ostia’s city-centre, which externally can be dated around the mid 5th century AD. The applicant should be interested and involved in the whole archaeological process from the finds-documentation consisting of a database, measuring, weighing, the manual cleaning and conservation until the final analysis and interpretation. The Ostian material is extraordinary in at least four regards:

a.) such a high number of late-antique coins has so far never been documented in the city-centre of Ostia,

b.) it could be paralleled with other recent coin-hoards from the periphery of Ostia, maybe underlining the theory of a major collapse catastrophe of the whole city,

c.) the latest coins could show which archaeological contexts and buildings were repaired even after this hypothetically widespread collapse of the 5th century AD, an extremely interesting approach to late antique urbanism through numismatic analysis,

d.) especially the nummi and the divided coins could give a unique insight into the circulation-process and the monetary-system of the widely unknown 5th century AD. Thus, this research can be fundamental for the history of economy of the 5th century AD, because the collapse-catastrophe has preserved the status quo of all coins being circulated at this time.

If you already have experience and/or a strong research interest in Roman coins with a focus on late antique coins of the 4th and 5th century AD and their impact on the local evolution of Ostia and the economic history in general, you are most welcome to apply for Theme 3 at OFP!

The application-deadline is extended until the 10th of November 2019.

On specific requests, it is also possible to get a personal deadline later for the full-application, if needed. Before you apply in any way, please contact the following mail for further details.

For information about the doctoral process, see following link: Doctoral positions

The Ostia Forum Project is anchored in the Stiftung Humboldt-Universität. For more information about the Stiftung Humboldt-University, click here.

The selected candidates will be enrolled into the Winckelmann-Institut at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. For more information about the Winckelmann-Institut, click here.

Campaign 2018

The Ostia Forum Project will start excavations Thursday the 16th of August and continue until Friday the 28th of September. We will not be on site in the weekends.

If you are in Ostia Antica in this period, feel free to come by. We will be excavating in the same room as the last two years – that is on your right hand side just before you enter the Forum’s plaza, when you come from the entrance (Porta Romana). You can’t miss us. We are the only one excavating in that area (the Forum area). To get an idea, you can check last year’s campaign photo-gallery here!

We will be glad to answer your questions.

Project Publications 2018

– Axel Gering. Ostias vergessene Spätantike. Eine urbanistische Deutung zur Bewältigung von Verfall. Ortwin Dally – Nobert Zimmermann (eds.) Palilia vol. 31, 2018.
(A recension has been made by Prof. Dr. Massimiliano David. To read it, click here)

– A. Gering, ‘Marble recycling-workshops nearby the Temple of Roma and Augustus: An interim report of the Ostia-Forum-Project’s working campaigns in 2013 and 2014’. In C. de Ruyt – T. Morard – F. van Haeperen (editors). Ostia Antica. Nouvelles études et recherches sur les quartiers occidentaux de la cité. Actes du colloque international. Roma-Ostia Antica 22-24 settembre 2014. Pp. 23-30.

– D. Damgaard, ‘Ostian Marble Roof Tiles – Aspects of Chronology, Typology and Function’. In Römische Mitteilungen
vol. 124, 2018, 177-203.

– A. Gering, L. Pecchioli, M. Dehner & B. Takàts. ‘3D archaeological field recording in Ostia’In L. Pecchioli – A. Galeazzi (eds.), Kermes. Restauro, Conservazione e Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale Anno XXX, Luglio – Settembre 2017, vol. 107 (2018), 26-32.

– D. Damgaard, Analysis of Skylight Illumination Using 3D: An Experimental Case of the Roma and Augustus Temple in Ostia’. In L. Pecchioli – A. Galeazzi (eds.), Kermes. Restauro, Conservazione e Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale Anno XXX, Luglio – Settembre 2017, vol. 107 (2018), 55-59.

Prof. dr. Axel Gering

Project- and field-directorSAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Axel is director of the project. He was born in Munich, Germany, which is also where he undertook his academic studies. He currently teaches at the Humboldt University in Berlin (HU), a post he took up around 12 years ago. Since 2007 he is Privat Dozent at the HU. His main interest regards the study of urbanism from the ancient Near East to the Roman West. This initially focused on the early imperial Roman period, but he has now moved on to specialise in the late antique period. His favourite archaeological find was the discovery of the street blockings at Ostia, and more recently the discovery of the previously untouched late antique Forum pavement.

Ph.d. project: The Forum of Ostia. Architectural changes in a diachronic perspective with regards to the furnishing

Ostia was founded at the mouth of the river Tiber as a walled military fort, a castrum, in the 4th century BC. The castrum area is now the city centre of Ostia, in which the forum is located. From here, the city and street-grid emanated through the centuries. However, one street already existed in the area before the foundation of the castrum, and that is the street running from the south-east to the north-west towards the Tiber mouth. This street was divided in two by the south-west corner of the castrum walls, and the two streets are  today known as the southern Cardo (the south-east street) and the Via della Foce (the north-west street).

The main area of this study is the city centre with a focal point on the forum’s area. Until now, it has not been possible to study the forum as a coherent unit put in a diachronic perspective. Recent research conducted by the Berlin-Kent-Ostia Excavations, Humboldt-Ostia-Forum Project and Ostia-Forum-Project in the period between 2008 and 2016 have provided evidence of the development of the forum. The research has been conducted through excavations, photogrammetry and geophysical analyses. Before these comprehensive analyses, excavations have never been conducted in the forum’s area since the rigorous excavations in the first half of the 20th century. It is therefore, for the first time, possible to analyse, contextualise and trace several different orientation and planning symmetries of different building layouts in the attempt to interpret the genesis of the different forum-layouts. The Roman city was not achieved overnight, but is a result of earlier accumulation and production. It is therefore even more important to analyse the hitherto unknown forum phases, due to the fact that they can provide evidence of the development of Ostia from late Republican times until Late Antiquity. Urban space and layout often reflect the society, which thus inform us about social structure, monumental access, urban economy, traffic-flow and -intensity etc.

In this project, I propose the idea of tracing more than seven centuries of urban evolution from middle Republican to late antique times in Ostia’s city centre by analysing the orientation and planning symmetries of different building-layouts based on the newest 3D-measuring techniques and geophysics applied to Ostia by the Ostia-Forum-Project (OFP) and its predecessors in 2010-2016.  The aim of this project is to interpret the genesis of the layouts and visualize their function and sequence as a “Harris Matrix”. The results will be used to analyse the urban space and urban society using the latest theories from Roman urbanism. By studying the urban space of the forum, we come to understand the social structure of the forum – also in a period previously thought to be a shortfall compared to Pompeii. The forum was the centre of activity, and all the major through-routes led to this area.


A focus on individual building histories has hindered a more complete picture of the forum and its surroundings. In the second half of the 20th century, the focal point has been on the remaining city with topics such as burials, art and architecture. This is not an isolated Ostian phenomenon. Archaeologists and historians have for decades focused on building activities as evidence for an interpretation of certain political and economic trends, rather than focusing on its built environment. However, in recent times, a shift in perception of the urban space has been inaugurated – also in Ostia. The approach of this study is to perceive the forum as an inhabited space rather than a collection of different individual buildings.

The ph.d. project is conducted by Daniel Damgaard.

2016 Chapter 2. Temple votives and kitchen equipment – an inventory of the Capitolium-Cult (and its predecessors)?

The beginning of the third week on excavation was dedicated to our Egyptian find (compare chapter 1). First step was to document our little greenish-black stone-fragment with hieroglyphs, an offering plate for sacrifices by hand-drawing and digital 3-D-modelling (see picture below).


The back-side showed an interesting detail for the interpretation: our sacrificial plate could have been part of a statue, which is proved by a partly broken fingertip from the statue-hand holding the plate (see picture below: located in the same position as our fotographer’s fingers).


The complete sacrificial tablet could have looked like one of the comparisons Gunnar showed us (see picture below left). The whole statue may have been similar to the typus of an offering person, well-fitting to a sacral context – at least in Egypt itself (see picture below right). Its find-spot in a cleared-up material-dump from a temple in Ostia (most probably the Capitolium because of its equally fragmented architectural decoration nearby the find spot) remained however open to suggestions – maybe it had been a gift from one of the rich Egyptian merchants or some kind of ambassador to the main gods of the city?

figure-18-sacrificial-plate-jpg                             figure-19-offering-statue-jpg

In the old excavations of 1861-72 – under the aegis of Pope Pius IX – the fundament of the Capitolium was freed from earth (Paschetto 1912). After the excavation back home in Berlin, Axel read the report of Paschetto regarding these previous finds from the Capitolium and suddenly realized a convenient coincidence, which of course still has to be verified or falsified based on detailed study of the early finds themselves. Does the fragment really fit to the find in 1864 of “una figura in basalto verde con geroglifici egiziani” or other Egyptian sculptures of the same find-context? In this case, we would have a safe dating-clue for the depositing-process of the complete upper part of our marble-deposit TFR 2: It could have originated latest at the same time as the deposit in the podium of the Capitolium nearby (see picture below: temple in background). This would be a terminus ante quem for both surely before 1861, the time of these excavations.


In the upper part of TFR 2, consisting only of marble-pieces, no earth or stratigraphy with dating-evidence was preserved in situ (see pictures below), so any hint can help us further to track it down in history. The first hint was already Daniel’s observation that the only complete marble roof-tiles were found on top of the marble-deposit, but none inside or underneath the pile (if at all, they were only small fragments). This suggests that the first excavators of 1801-1805, which were reported to have found big and complete parts of the Capitolium’s marble-roof, had found those and deposited them on top of an already existing marble-pile. In contrast to that, our pile itself consists of already cut fragments, which underwent deliberate fragmentation with the purpose of fitting the pieces into a lime-kiln. A simple rule was verified by that: If we find (almost) complete pieces of architectural decoration, they either come from areas, which were already covered in Late Antiquity or these pieces were re-used in late antique building-contexts (where they were needed and therefore not removed with the purpose of burning them to lime). If we find smaller fragments (mostly with clear chisel marks of destruction-processes), they come from the marble-deposits of lime-kilns, either late antique examples or medieval ones (mostly 5th to 7th centuries AD, with a smaller peak of distribution in the 10th-12th centuries AD).
Detective-work now seems to connect our new evidence with the old excavations directly. On one hand we can work up old finds scientifically even after more than 150 years, write the former excavation-history in detail and thus understand the old excavations better. On the other hand, the old diaries allow us to re-locate and understand our new finds in their original depositing-context: the temples and marble-buildings of the Forum!

figure-19a2-dsc03297     figure-19b-dsc03299


Surprises form a nice part of field-archaeological business. This can be stated as a title for the ongoing excavations in early September 2016. What we were prepared for, was to analyse a marble deposit (see pictures below top: measuring, drawing & fotographing all single fragments in 2-D and 3-D, which was done by Lydia, Johannes, Laura, Marco, Felix, Christin, Rocco, Fabian, Iannis, Helge and many others. See picture below bottom: Next step is to group the fragments according to stylistic, typological and functional categories, a job well-done by Daniel of course and to create a catalogue via QR-codes used on smartphones, a new system initiated by Laura into our excavation-workflow).

figure-19e-r0014771     figure-19d-r0014769

tfr2_big   tfr2_047tfr-2_044-snapshot05   tfr-2_044-snapshot03tfr-2_044-snapshot01   tfr2_altar



figure-19f-dsc03807dsc03020   dsc03387

What we did not expect were the massive amounts of non-marble finds in the context of an originally late antique/medieval and/or 19th century-marble-deposit. It started with “Andi’s corner” (see picture below with Andi standing to the right in ‘his’ corner).


First we have documented the room by a 3-D-model which was georeferenciated by our Hungarian colleagues (see pictures below).




In the southwest corner of the room we found an exceptional concentration of travertine blocks, well sorted as a fundament – but underneath without an own fundament (see picture below top: lower left corner, see picture below bottom: detail turned 90 degrees left).



A large fragment of a “patera”, a Graeco-Roman sacrificial plate of a specific type often depicted on altars (see picture below top), was found there (see following pictures below bottom).


figure-22b-dsc04350    figure-22c-dsc07595

It was situated at a level where stratigraphy started to be significant, that means: not being disturbed top-soil consisting of differently designed Coca-Cola-bottles or computer advertisements from the past 30 years (see picture below top). Later it became clear that an original depositing-level was reached, when the stones laid in the room were stored on plane ground at the same level as a ceramic floor of antique origin, which filled a corridor-like space between the stone-piles (see pictures below bottom). Some objects could be dated immediately, even without being removed. The majority consisted of fragments of cooking pots, plates, lits and kitchen equipment. Therefore, our deposit, originally believed to be modern, had become older and older – obviously even as old as a still-antique period after the end of the kitchen-use. The kitchen obviously underwent a complete functional change, which had occurred maybe in the later 5th and 6th centuries AD!



figure-24b-dscn6533    figure-24c-kontexting-r0014785



Notwithstanding, the history of the room did by far not end with that! The random-ceramic-floor underneath the marble-deposit presented several further surprises. Today, we see the ‘Hadrianic’ walls (of the 2nd century AD: see pictures below).



What remains completely missing however is the Hadrianic floor, probably of opus spiccatum as in the adjoining rooms to the south and to the east where probably once was the lime-kiln (until its complete excavation in 1913). What we had found instead, is on the one hand the infrastructure of a kitchen with a half-buried type of dolium (oil or wine container, see picture below), which respected the room-layout of the 2nd century AD, characterized by the fundament visible left in the picture.


On the other hand, several layers of a similar type of random-ceramic floor or filling went further back into history (Augustean times and earlier) and did not respect the layout of the Hadrianic room. So far, – without further excavation – we have documented a destruction-layer immediately before the building of the Hadrianic room (fire 117 AD?) at the same level of the room’s late antique re-use as a temple’s marble deposit (later 5th/ 6th century AD onwards).

It could be a coincidence again – but the kitchen’s last use seems to have taken place when the old Forum’s temples of Ostia were demolished and cleared up after a fire in 117 AD (?). When the temple ruins were removed and cleaned away, the oldest material from these temples could have entered our deposit. This destruction-event had sealed a well, which by construction technique can be dated to late Republican times (1st century BC). The oldest cultic deposits, which we found inside this well go back to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.

We developed the working-hypothesis that we had found a cultic kitchen connected with the Capitolium’s pagan practices, public feasts on the Forum. One clear evidence seems to be the large amounts of lits (see pictures below top), which we documented on the surface in their original context by 3-D-models (see picture below bottom).

figure-27a-img_1408   figure-27b-img_1415


As frequently found in temple-contexts of the whole Graeco-Roman world, these lits once covered little ceramic bowls in which the meat of the sacrificed animals was served to the spectators. So, it is hardly another coincidence that we have found in one room-corner a surface of a bone-deposit, which seems to have consisted of several big bones of bulls, maybe even with cutting-marks on the bones themselves (see pictures below, which show a 3-D-model of this corner. Due to reasons of conservation after fotographing we left the bones covered in their original context waiting for further specialized analysis).





The area of our room thus may have served for the preparation and cooking of the meat (an ancient ceramic-grill once fired with charcoal was found too, see the following chapters). The hot meat probably was served in ceramic-bowls to the Forum, where the guests would have been seated. These bowls are now completely missing in contrary to their lits, which obviously had been thrown away to the corner with the bones before serving and which were later found by us there in situ.


So, this kitchen was found in a state of preservation almost as in Pompeii: this exceptional fact is due to the circumstance that it was covered immediately after the fire of 117AD(?) with the 70cm higher fundament of the Hadrianic room. Later in Antiquity – after the removal of the Hadrianic floor – it again was sealed by heavy stones, which had been an equally appropriate cover for almost two millennia!

This kitchen originally had predecessors directly connected to the historical setting of Ostia’s early (and maybe even earliest) temples of the 3rd to 1st centuries BC, buried underneath the Capitolium and its surrounding porticoes. The team (see picture below) is ready for new tasks!


However, step per step: all these observations were based on the archaeological fine-cleaning of the ground-floor immediately underneath a marble-deposit once thought to have been entirely modern. Only excavation can bring further light into the complex, but most interesting building-history, which, on more or less the same walking-level, seems to represent all periods of Ostia in its most important focal point of cultic development…

Our next chapters follow soon!


2016 Chapter 1. Structural news and the first working weeks in August


A short introduction-preview: Structural news since 1st of July 2016

Thanks to the Stiftung Humboldt-Universität (SHU) and based on a very substantial private donation in 2015/16, the Ostia-Forum-Project has been given the chance to develop a 6-year-plan of excavation-, documentation- and publication-efforts until 2022 (see section 2015 “Perspectives”. For actual details, visit the webpage of the Stiftung, see picture below). Two new stipendia, one for a PhD-, another for a habilitation-project, and a new ‘Stiftungs-professorship’ as far as a budget for material, equipment and short-term-jobs (‘Werkverträge’) set a framework for the continuous and extended efforts on several aspects of the project’s evolution.

spitzenforschung-2-ausschnittAt the same time, the project’s main office has moved from Ziegelstraße 13c to the centre of the Winckelmann-Institute for Classical Archaeology, the former office of Prof. Rößler inside the library of the Winckelmann-Institute (that is in the main HU-University-building at Unter den Linden 6).

Based on an upgraded infrastructure, new perspectives and many new supporters, the summer-campaign of 2016 could begin!


The first two weeks in August: the preparation of the campaign

As in former years, the annual summer-excavation campaign remains the integral part of the project.

In late July 2016, after receiving all necessary project-funding, the first car of the excavation-team left Berlin and moved immediately towards Rome. The tasks of the first two weeks were to renew the technological equipment, install new programs, mainly 3-D-tools on our laptops, and to prepare a database for systematic documentation methods on finds and their contexts. All this had to be prepared before the middle of August (straight after the famous “Ferragosto”-holidays in Italy, where almost everything remains closed), when the main team consisting of 28 students and researchers from Berlin, Denmark, Italy and Hungary were scheduled to start the work of a huge amount of finds . There was indeed a lot of work expected: Several hundreds of high-quality decorated marble fragments from deposits consisting of several thousands, mainly non-diagnostic, stones were to be selected, measured, drawn and digitally documented based on the survey-activities of 2015.

The first half of the team arrived at Ostia at the 16th of August for the official opening of the excavation (see picture below).


On the first day after Ferragosto, a survey of previously neglected marble-deposits, often hidden under decades of modern vegetation, was begun (see picture below). Since 2012, the first non-documented marble-fragments of the Forum, remains of old excavations or even older lime-kilns, became a centre of interest for the Humboldt-team’s activities. In 2014, the first deposits with a non-disturbed late- and post-antique stratigraphy were documented (see section Campaign 2014, chapter 1-5). The campaign of 2015 continued with this same task, where mainly recent marble-deposits were scientifically documented and processed for the first time. Nevertheless, there were many more stone-deposits, either just overgrown (see picture below) or completely hidden underneath the earth, to be analysed (see plan below bottom).


Besides that, we looked very much forward to the visit of Roberta Geremia-Nucci, who already had started the documentation of the marbles connected to the temple of Roma and Augustus (TRA) in 2005 (Geremia-Nucci 2013). Again, we want to express our deepest gratitude to Roberta and of course also to the Superintendence of Rome and the directors of the Scavi di Ostia, namely Paola Germoni and Cinzia Morelli, who again allowed us to work on and work up the rich material of previous excavations (including our newer excavations since 2010) of the Forum.

Actually, we took up the work from where Roberta had stopped in 2005, and where we already had begun in 2015: In and around the fundament-area of the temple of Roma and Augustus (TRA, see pictures below).



By simply cleaning the marble pile and removing the pine needles or earth around some of the fragments (see picture below), we found some important architectural marble-elements, which seemed lost. On the excavation’s first day they were actually ‘re-found’ exactly in a position to which they had fallen from a place, where Axel last had recorded them on photos in 2007.


These elements of the temple TRA had to be recorded with several hundreds of photos from all sides in order to create proper high-resolution-3-D point clouds (a method now widely used based on a simplified workflow thanks to professional software. In earlier campaigns, our cooperation-partners and we had to do the more fundamental research on the methods on our own). By looking at all sides, working traces and dowel-holes of these fragments (for an example, see pictures below: the top picture is a cleaned point cloud and the remaining are the meshed model), it is now possible to reconstruct the exact position of the complete cornice and framing of the temple-door and the thickness of the front cella-wall in a different way than we expected in 2015 (see picture below bottom).


The first excavation week after Ferragosto ended with the complete sorting of all marbles in the temple-fundament TRA. However, sorting stones with and without decoration alone is just the beginning: After careful cleaning with water (see picture below, left), Marco and Laura had to continue the work for some weeks to record all architectural elements in detail (see picture below, right). Marco was quite enthusiastic from the beginning, because Ostia’s marble-piles offer a high density of diagnostic fragments in a very limited and dense space, especially compared to the huge stone desert of Petra, where he normally works on his PhD-thesis about architectural decoration.

figure-8    dsc03454

It is important to clean the marble fragments, and water helps, but sometimes, with the additional help of a little dust, details become clearer (see picture below)…


In the last week of August, the centre of our activities extended to a quite recent stone-deposit located underneath a staircase in the Forumbaths (see 3-D-reconstruction below). The deposit can be dated to the 1930’ies (see the plan above: PFB 1; see pictures below).


Even though the deposit is modern and quite ‘recent’, we still found lots of extremely interesting material regarding our planned reconstruction of the main marble-buildings of Ostia’s city-centre! Roughly 75% of the diagnostic architectural decoration and marble-furniture originate from the surrounding Forumbath’s area including its ‘Palaestra’ (compare the unusual gameboard with animal-graffiti, see picture above), but the remaining 25% can be attributed to the Augustan temple TRA (by simple stylistic, typological and measurement-comparisons), the Flavian Forumsbasilica, the Hadrianic Capitolium (Ostia’s main temple) and the Severan ‘Tempio Rotondo’, a round temple dedicated to the Imperial cult. Ostia’s marble-deposits show that all marble-buildings of the centre were dismantled intentionally at a certain time, but the sequence of these destruction-processes was never before analysed in detail or based on a statistically representative number of fragments.

At first, we collected all marble-fragments with a clear decoration-system which can be dated in Augustan times or later periods (see pictures below). Due to the dimensions, most of these marbles belonged to smaller architectural ensembles like altars or aediculae (small niches with little pediments), which were frequent inside the cella of a temple or inside porticoes. Based on statistics, it became clear that Augustan buildings, as the temple of Roma and Augustus (TRA), were the biggest source of material for reuse and the earliest monuments, which were dismantled intentionally for this purpose.


A systematic workflow was developed, where all fragments were registered by numbers and QR-codes, before they were photographed and documented in 3-D. The name of the deposit is characterized by three letters, followed by a room number (if the area consisted of several rooms) and the individual find’s number (see pictures below. Attention: the scale is in inches, not centimetres…). Once our catalogue will be online, you can have direct access to the fragments and their measurements via a simple smartphone, but this step will take us some more time to process!

tfr-2_045-snapshot01   tfr-2_044-snapshot07

tfr-2_094-snapshot01   tfr-2_094-snapshot03tfr-2_053-snapshot05   tfr-2_053-snapshot01tfr-2_066-snapshot01   tfr-2_066-snapshot05tfr-2_054-snapshot05   tfr-2_054-snapshot01tfr-2_050-snapshot01   tfr-2_047-snapshot05tfr-2_046-snapshot01   tfr-2_045-snapshot03
Since 2014, we have known that the majority of marbles from the temple TRA was recycled already in Late Antiquity. This is especially evident along the southern part of the Forum and along the southern Cardo, where pediment-reliefs and statues or decoration-elements from inside the temple-cella were found in shops. They were mostly placed there by the excavators of the early 20th century after they had been found on top of the southern Cardo between 1921 and 1924. However, limited excavations in 2012 and 2014 had already showed that in similar shops in the south part of the Forum and along the Cardo (as TDV) there obviously was a late 5th and 6th century AD marble-business concentrated. As for example at Sagalassos in Turkey, sorted piles of building-material were stored in shops around the Forum (around the Agora in the case of Sagalassos) for local recycling, production or simple selling as spolia. During the old and widely undocumented excavations, these marbles were obviously not moved too far from their find-spot, which therefore – based on a representative number of finds – is statistically significant to reconstruct the last phase of Ostia’s urban development from a monumental Forum to a marble-warehouse or builders’ merchant.

Thus, it is necessary to cross-check possible resembling fragments in all marble-deposits of the city-centre. One example: A newly discovered over-life-size statue-fragment from the temple TRA (see picture below, top) could be paralleled with other fragments. These consist of a marble arm (see picture below, middle) from the Forumbaths-deposit (PFB 1, see plan above) and a neck-fragment, which was originally inserted (‘Einsatzkopf’) into a statue, found by Roberta in 2005 (It is now stored in the Piccolo Mercato, see picture below, bottom). The final evidence will emerge, when we have all three fragments processed as 3-D-models, which can show if they actually fit to each other.


By the end of August, we had finished deposit PFB 1, the so-called “smelly-snake deposit” (it owes its unofficial nickname to the fact that we had a stratigraphy of 50 cm of rat-leftovers and below that, a comfortable home of snakes…). Beside the usually high amount of wall-veneers and pavement-slabs, also statue-fragments came to light (see picture below left). Another interesting group of finds were elements of architectural decoration, which still show traces of lines for cut-out. This shows that they were left in a condition not finally polished (see picture below right). It is interesting to note that there is a high number of such obviously unfinished architectural decoration, thus obviously a usual factor – or even a characteristic feature – of Roman construction.

dsc02828   dsc02902

After sufficient smelly business, we started to work at Ostia’s biggest marble-deposit hitherto detected. It is situated north of the Decumanus (see plan above and Forum-plan below: TFR 2; see the following four pictures below). Daniel had already worked superficially in this deposit in 2013, where he had sorted out some coppi (roof tiles) for the research of his master thesis. However, it soon became clear that this deposit had not been touched by other archaeologists since its origin in late antique/ medieval times and/or in the 19th or early 20th centuries. Initially we did not have a proper dating-evidence for the depositing-process. Photos from 1910 documented the existence of the marble-deposit in the room TFR 2. So we knew at least that it had already existed when a nearby lime-kiln was excavated in 1913. This lime-kiln is recorded only by old excavation-photos and was found next to the excavators’ carriage-track either east of the room TFR 2 or in the south part of the portico located just west of the room TFR 1 (see Forum-plan below).





One of the first finds in the room TFR 2 really surprised us a lot: A fragment of an unusual black stone appeared from a pile consisting of white marbles. Its surface was covered with hieroglyphs (see pictures below top)! What we definitely did not expect in this moment: It was an Egyptian original being much older than Ostia itself! Later this find turned out to be an important hint for the interpretation of the material coming from room TFR 2 as part of a temple-deposit – you can read more about this in chapter 2. Even though it is a fairly small fragment, due to the typology, we can reconstruct its type completely. It turned out to be an offering plate, which was widespread in Egypt in almost all the dynasties, but in our case of an unusual high quality in execution. Fortunately, Lena took part in the excavations again, and after a rough hand-drawing (see picture below bottom) and a short telephone-call in the evening, we had the first expertise by Gunnar, who is specialised on this subject due to his PhD.



More about this find and the following weeks of excavation, see chapter 2.

2015 Chapter 2: Plans for the future & new cooperations

1000 years of „Forum-history“: A programme for OFP’s future research
(in chronological order of the historic periods: 3rd/1st century BC – 7th century AD)

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What we plan to do the next years is basically the subsequent work-up and interpretation:
– of all our excavation-/survey-data of the Forum from the campaigns 2010-2013,
– of our supplementing survey-data & digital records until 2014 and
– of our finds (coins, ceramics, small finds, all sorts of marbles, inscriptions and large finds).

We hope to be able to continue our successful cooperation with the Superintendency in the future with the aim to:
a.) work up all 2012/2014 material in the modern finds-deposits and the new marble-deposits
b.) conduct supplementing research on site at the Forum and its surroundings with non-invasive methods (see section „Aims and Methodology) as for example geophysics and archaeological surface-documentation with laserscanning, which we have practised successfully, also in 2014
c.) assist in working up a certain part (the undocumented Forum-pavements and marble-deposits) of the world’s largest-scale excavations of Guido Calza until 1941, which are still not completely scientifically analysed.

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A few superlatives and advantages characterize the project so far:
1.) most cooperation partners involved, most high-tech cooperations for fundamental research on the improved workflow of digital documentation-methods
2.) low-hierarchy concept and maximum student-participation/-responsibility
3.) long-perspective planning, due to institutional independence and autonomous support-structure
4.) maximum efficiency due to minimized administration-structures
5.) more than 20 years of working-experience in Ostia and in Rome’s archaeological networks
6.) fastest online campaign-publication based on open-access-software, our and other webpages and selected social media (Facebook-Groups a. s. o.)
7.) flexible concept of including autonomous teams of changing international cooperation partners, adapted to every working campaign‘s changing needs.

To be able to continue our research in the centre of the world’s largest excavation-site, all further cooperations with universities and institutions are most welcome!


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Our working-programme for the next years can contain at least 7 major project-areas, based on our excavation-data, finds-material and research-interests.

Each of these areas is subdivided into several autonomous subprojects (compare chapter “Subprojects) and supplementing research-projects, also for BA-, Master- and PhD-thesis.

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Project-area 1.) The complete reconstruction of the front pediment of the Roma and Augustus temple (and other public monuments)

All marble-piles and -fragments found in MFD/TDV in 2012/2014 are waiting to be fully documented. This systematic documentation started in 2014 – its continuation is planned in a cooperation with Kiel University, Germany (Kiel-University, see 2014 Chapter 2).
Approximately 40% of the finds of 2012 from TDV were already processed in 2014 (see pictures below). A major part of these fragments clearly came from the Roma and Augustus temple – mostly from the pediment, but also from architectural decoration elsewhere (for example the door or the inside decoration). The work-up of the remaining 60% from TDV and the material from three other marble-deposits in its ‘backrooms’ and immediate surroundings, all found in 2012 and documented by laserscan in 2014, need at least two more working-campaigns (2015/2016) to be completed. Every fragment has to be drawn by hand, measured and photographed, before we can pass it on to the 3-D-documentation-process (compare 2014 Chapter 1 and 2014 Chapter 2).
The complete virtual reconstruction based on our 3-D-data of the marble-finds from 2012/2014 (see pictures below, compare 2014 Chapter 3 and 2014 Chapter 4) is planned for 2015/16, as part of the scientific work-up of Calza’s old Forum-excavations 1921-1923. A systematic documentation and virtual photografic- and 3-D-catalogue of all not previously recorded marble-fragments from the Forum could benefit our knowledge of the Forum’s topography on one hand, and the working-conditions in the (already quite full) finds-deposits on the other hand.
With these fragments, it will be possible to reconstruct the original architectural and sculptural decoration of the Forum’s plaza and the surrounding public buildings of the Forum, primarily for scientific purposes, and secondly as a digital vizualisation for broader access (which could be web-based, also for smartphones used on site).
Furthermore, a possible side-effect could benefit local tourism in Ostia by preparing a public presentation on site, or an international exhibition on recent research in Ostia, maybe partly based on small-scale reconstruction-models made with 3-D-printing-technology.

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Project-area 2.) From single-finds to urbanism – The concept and building-history of the Augustan Forum: Continuity, changes and ‘interactions’ with its Republican predecessors
The digital data of a first geophysical-survey in 2011 in cooperation with Eastern Atlas (see picture below) should be verified by a planned geophysical survey in 2015 in cooperation with the Catholic University of Hungary. Both surveys have one of the main objectives to reconstruct Ostia’s first Forum concepts based on all previous excavation-trenches (which were unearthed by former excavators, but recleaned and firstly documented by OFP, see pictures below).

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Project-area 3.) Ostia re-founded in 51 AD? An advanced Claudian/Flavian Forum-concept with two shopping-halls und a new sacred centre

All previous excavation-data should be used to reconstruct the original planning-concepts of diverse predecessors of the partly Hadrianic/Antonine and partly late antique shape of the Forum, which is visible today. A main factor of the research is based on exact measuring, supported by the virtual 3-D-Forum-model, which will be completed by external cooperation-partners as for example the German Aerospace Centre. In 2012, we found very characteristic axis-symmetries of buildings, which once belonged to the same building-phases. They partly corresponded to the ‘ideological’ centre of Rome’s first colony, the so-called mundus, which we studied in detail by building-analysis and further geophysics (compare pictures below). Analogies between several axis-symmetries have to be analysed in the whole city-centre, based on our previous and actual surveys.

Additional fine-measuring with tolerances under 1 cm can in future campaigns supplement our digital archive of 3-D-data with the aim of a complete reconstruction of the Forum’s complexe building-history and building-sequences by analysing all planning-axis-deviations and -symmetries.

This project can be subdivided into several subprojects, on one hand for technical PhD-thesis, on the other hand for archaeological PhD-thesis.

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Project-area 4.) The Forum’s building-history from the Trajanic level to the latest Forum-repairs in the 5th/6th century AD

Subproject 4a.) The Forum as a three-dimensional space-model: Looking for practical ways of visualizing diachronically by sections

This subproject will be completed with the digital material provided in cooperation with the German Aerospace Centre / Zentrum für Deutsche Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), Bernhard Strackenbrock & Birgit Tsuchyia.

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Subproject 4b.) All excavation-data combined in one “2,5-D”web-GIS (Geografical Information System)

This subproject is planned in cooperation with DLR and H. P. Thamm (Geo-sciences, Freie Universität Berlin).


Subproject 4c.) Monuments, statues and inscriptions for the Imperial Cult: Reconstructing the original „furniture“ of the Forum (1st-4th century AD)

This subproject is planned in cooperation with Astrid Fendt and Lena Kaumanns (Epigraphy, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften BBAW).

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Subproject 4d.) The (altered?) public functions of the late antique Forum – conversions and temporary installations for markets, festivals and spectacles (4th-6th century AD)
This subproject is based on new research (PhD-thesis) on wooden seating facilites, which were temporarily installed in front – or inside – the Forum’s porticoes, when important spectacles, games or festivals of the city-culture were held. The Forum, until the 5th century surely the most important public space, was an ideal finish for processions. Processions along the Decumanus are well documented, also in Late Antiquity. The arrival (adventus) of Roman city-magistrates in Ostia happened frequently – they could have had political or religious reasons. Even pagan processions were recorded until the 6th century AD in Ostia. The theatre was fully restored in the 5th century for aquatic shows: Additional or similar theatre-games or -events might be assumed in the Forum too, Ostia’s biggest open air-plaza.

The main aim of this subproject is to document and measure all postholes and similar traces of ancient use systematically. Did regular ‘modules’ for wooden-constructions exist here in Ostia too, as we know them from for example in Fregene, Paestum or other cities in middle and south Italy? Based on more than 26 postholes in the marble slabs and/or their mortar-bedding discovered in MFP alone, it should be possible to reconstruct the dimensions and the construction-technique of wooden seats, tables or market-stalls inserted temporarily into our portico-pavements of the whole Forum (see pictures below).

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Subproject 4e.) The reuse, re-erecting and collecting of statues in Late Antiquitiy – continuity and changes in the „statue-habit“ (4th-6th century AD)

The Forum’s late pavements show imprints of quite irregularly shaped spolia-bases (see pictures below). They were renovated or newly built inside the porticoes of the late 4th or 5th century AD to protect statues, which obviously had been transfered from somewhere else before. Here we have a clear evidence of one of the latest collective ‚revivals‘ of pagan statues in Antiquity. The statues were obviously covered in situ in the collapsed porticoes (later 5th or 6th century AD?) and mostly found in the early 19th century. They can be traced in several museums worldwide. The question is, whether pagan statues were „saved“ randomly as simple decoration or whether there still was a certain „programme“ regarding their collocation in the 5th century AD. The variety and completeness of the preserved statues are surprising: This seems to confirm the concept of the „dei consentes“, a concept with the aim to present (even in an advanced ‚Christianized‘ atmosphere) a ‚didactically‘ representative selection of the mythological past of the Graeco-Roman city-culture.
The finds-catalogues of 1801-1805 were published in 1912, but the information is not sufficient. The main aim of this subproject is therefore to conduct archival studies on supplementing catalogues and finds-books in the Vatican and other museums in the attempt to collect all statues from the first Forum-excavations. Additionally, the spolia-bases and -imprints found in 2010-12 have to be reconstructed fully in comparison to similar late antique statue collocations as for example at Sagalassos. Furthermore, new material (statues and bases) was found in the late 19th century-excavations and until 1924. This applies mostly to material, which is stored in the deposits at Ostia. The archives, deposits and OFP’s new finds provide enough material for several PhD-projects regarding statue contexts, partly in possible cooperation with the Freie Universität Berlin.


Subproject 4f.) The last marble-pavement of the Forum: Fine-dating of the latest repairs and re-levelling of the porticoes in the 5th-6th century AD

This subproject is planned for 2015 in cooperation with Silvia Polla (Archaeology & Archaeometry, Freie Universität Berlin). In Berlin’s laboratories, microscopic samples of the amphorae can be used for a content analysis in the attempt to answer the main question of their former use (basically: wine or oil). Based on a large quantity of material, this can be a very important source to reconstruct trade and the late antique economy of the whole Mediterranean. A side-effect of Polla‘s study for the OFP is that our ceramic-material will not only be dated and classified, but we will also get all possible archaeometric laboratory-data regarding the ceramic’s chemistry and provenance – for free. What we offer to Polla’s much more representative study in exchange is an exceptionally „sealed“ context of ceramics found underneath the last pavements of Ostia’s Forum in 2011. This context is equally important for Polla’s study (Ostia’s market is representative for Rome) and for us (MFW trench 2 is one of the most important sources for dating our mortar-stratigraphy of the latest pavements). Therefore, back in 2011 we used the maximum care to document the micro-stratigraphy of this context (including all single finds-positions in a 3-D-model). Contexting was done manually by us and digitally by Undine Lieberwirth’s subproject to OFP and Bernhard Fritsch (both Excellence-cluster TOPOI Berlin: see pictures below). For Polla’s subsequent analysis in 2015 and 2016, the involved laboratories will use tested methods of gaschromatography and mass-spectrometry. Her study is already based on a wide framework of archaeological sites, mainly in North Africa, where also the main part of our ceramics (which was found in late Forum’s contexts) comes from.

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Project area 5.) The organisation of recycling, spolia production and spolia trade: workshops, „claims“ and the selective dismantling of monuments (3rd-6th century AD)

Subproject 5a.) Late antique marble reuse in the context of OFP’s new deposit finds around the Forum: How was reworking for the spolia trade organized?

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Capitals (see pictures above), which had been converted into wells or fountains, were quite often found in late antique cities. Similar pieces were found at MFD/TDV in 1923.
Also, OFP’s new 2012/2014 finds, like thresholds from TDV and CAW or ‘random finds’ from the older excavations (see pictures below), had been reused from architectural elements (see pictures below).

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Dating evidence for similar recycling processes is provided by a terminus post quem (TPQ) for the recycling of the collapsed Roma and Augustustemple (see pictures below). Recycling from architectural elements to more basic functions seems to have been practized on large scale – maybe mainly for some decades between 450 AD and our latest stratigraphy from 500-550 AD. What were the reasons to give it up? Why did so many fragments survive half finished? When exactly and how was Ostia’s Forum deserted? And why did ‘drawings’ from architectural elements survive (see picture further below)?

The aim of the subproject would be to conduct comparative spolia research of all marble accumulations around the Forum. The finds contexts of reworked material range from late antique, medieval to modern times and from workshop deposits to lime kilns to excavator’s stone collections. First step will be the analysis of excavation history to be able to date the marble deposits. Next step is the local building analysis of all individual marble deposits as a case study. Third step is, based on the undisturbed marble deposits, the reconstruction of the material‘s original provenance. With the material from the 2012/14 marble piles of TDV, we start with the working hypothesis that several late antique workshops around the Forum obviously could have „bought“ regularly divided „claims“ in order to get the material for their production. This is verified by a few case studies, but has to be analyzed on the full representative quantity of material available. The complete working up of marble deposits and their „claims“ will provide most important evidence for spolia „business“ from the 4th to the 7th century AD, a subject of a widespread recent reserach interest. It will provide furthermore insights into the undocumented excavation history until the late 19th century and last, but not least: „claims“ may demonstrate a previously unknown evidence for strong communal controle, still in the late 5th and 6th centuries AD.

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Subproject 5b.) Flooding catastrophy or fire collapse? The evidence of coin hoards in late antique charcoal- and chalk-layers
The aim of this subproject would be the dating of the last building- and destruction-phases by the complete work up of all coins hitherto found by OFP in the latest preserved contexts underneath or above spolia pavements in MFP, MFR, MFW and MFD/TDV (approximately 200 datable coins, mostly nummi). Based on a high quantity of material evidence – in comparison with other excavation areas – it will be possible to write the destruction history of Ostias city centre more precisely. The main question would be how to define Ostia’s city-center in comparison to the areas outside, for example along the coastline. Was the center left to destruction earlier than the last luxury-seaside villas? Or can we verify the opposite hypothesis regarding the latest main restoration-phase in the center versus processes of abandonment in the suburbs?

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Subproject 5c.): Fine dating of spolia buildings by coin evidence: Was public infrastructure of the „consumer city“ maintained after the middle of the 5th century AD?
Our evidence from several building analysis until 2014 regarding porticoes, late antique fountains, toilets and „fountain houses“ or other social ‚meeting points‘ (Schmölder-Veith 2010, see Project Related Bibliography) in the context of the Forum should be center of several comparative case studies (PhD projects).
The latest newly built porticoes in Ostia are documented by finds only – in Portus at least one building inscription has survived, which documents building activities and the decoration of a „porticus of Placidia“ in the middle of the 5th century AD (see picture below).
One specific building in direct context of the entrance repair (third phase, after the middle of the 5th century AD) of the so-called Terme Bizantine (TBZ, see picture below) was cleaned in 2012 but not yet documented: 3-D-documentation of the remains and the interpretation of the 2012 finds is one of the aims for the 2015 campaign.

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Subproject 5d.) „Crisis-management“: Reuse of material from suburban pagan cemeteries inside the city for repair and public decoration
In the marble piles of the southern half of the Forum, which were archeologically cleaned in 2012 and analyzed in detail in 2014, we have found a surprising amount of material from pagan cemeteries. These cemeteries had been usually situated outside the city-walls, so the questions remains: Why did we find this material connected with specific builing-rubble from the south Forum’s area? A first interpretation of the reuse of these marbles, mostly sarcophags and “loculus-” inscriptions as late antique building-material, can be based on the systematic spolia-survey regarding the reuse of marbles from cemeteries inside the late-antique city (see bibliography: Axel Gering’s Habilitation thesis). Further discussions of statues beeing reused inside the city were based on the fundamental research of C. Murer regarding the late decoration of private houses and baths (this detailled study of C. Murer will be published soon). A closer interpretation of all material found by OFP until 2014 (sarcophags, statue fragments and decoration elements from cemeteries) is planned in cooperation with the University of Kiel (see above). Another aspect would be the study and interpretation of the previous finds until 1924 regarding material and sculptures from pagan cemeteries.

The characteristic “mixture” of marble elements in TDV (see above) shows clearly that this material was not brought from the cemeteries  inside the city to be burned to chalk here. Much more likely it had come from the secondary context of its reuse, that means: from the Forum itself. Especially the significance of late statue re-erection after catastrophic events (the earthquake of 442/ 443 AD) in the Forum will be analyzed to gain a new understanding, if former ‚funeral‘ sculpture in mythological contexts (compare Wrede 1981, see Project Related Bibliography) could have replaced the original imperial public statues (which maybe were partly demolished or robbed) in a framework of an ongoing demand for public aesthetic (ornamentum urbis) in the 5th century AD.

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Project area 6.) The end of an ancient city culture: archaeological and social patterns of the abandoning processes at the Forum of Ostia and the reasons for „des-urbanization“ (6th-8th century AD)

In 2011 and 2012 we have found and recorded many organic finds and bones too (which are stored in plastic bags in the deposit at Ostia). A cooperation with laboratories specialized in analizing organic material, animal bones & the DNA analysis of human bones is planned for the next years before the material looses its information. Wood and plants were preserved extremely well in certain mortar-layers. These mortar-layers belong to the last building-activities of the city. Because of their importance for interpretation a few microscopic wood-samples were already taken to Berlin in 2012 to be analyzed in TOPOI-laboratories under the initiative of Undine Lieberwirth (compare picture below). The extended research-project would include all our 2011-2012-finds aiming to get a broader understanding of the organic finds from previously undated mortar-stratigraphy and embedded objects. The analysis focusses on the last preserved surface-layers of street- and plaza-pavements which are every year massively reduced by erosion and mass-tourism.  The research should include all signs of a possible latest market reuse (animal-bones) or even „inofficial“ intra-urban burial contexts in these latest street- or plaza-levels too. By dating these activities more precisely even the “end” of Ostias “classical” urbanziation-patterns in the “dark” early-middle ages, the largely unknown 6th and 7th cenutries, could become historical fact beyond speculation.

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Project area 7.) The early medieval/post antique marble deposits and lime kilns around the Forum: the history of transformation, destruction and excavation (7th-20th century AD)

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Subproject 7a.) The building-, demolition- and excavation history of the Forum’s Basilica with a focus on its architectural decoration (planned PhD-thesis C. Schneider)


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Therefore: for all these projects to successfully happen, support the OFP for future research in the center of the world’s largest excavation-site!