2017-2020 Chapter 2. The Volcanus precinct in Ostia: Ceramic Finds and Stratigraphy

Before the Hadrianic building programme transformed the whole appearance of the forum and the area around it, the TFR (Taberna Forum Rooms) area belonged to a so far undiscovered sanctuary that can be ascribed to Volcanus.[1] In the course of the Hadrianic building programme, the sanctuary was given up and torn down. In its place, the north-eastern Forum portico ‘Main Forum East’ (MFE) and the Taberna complex (TFR) were erected. Needless to say, the earliest and the latest phases of the area are of great interest to us: When was the sanctuary founded? Has the area east of the forum always been used as a sanctuary? In which period were the earliest structures built? And when exactly were the sacred structures given up and the area reused as a taberna complex? Other key questions concern the development of the sanctuary and its structures, as it is obvious that not only the temples but also the associated altars had several building phases. In this PhD-project, these phases will be examined through analysis of the associated stratigraphy with a focus on the largest find group, the ceramic finds. With the room TFR2 being the only deep excavation trench conducted by the OFP in that area, there is only limited insight into the sacred area. To gain further information about the part of the sanctuary situated below the north-eastern forum portico (MFE), an intense study of the excavation diaries from 1913 (‘Giornale degli Scavi’) has been conducted. In the report, Raffaele Finelli provides certain insight into the excavation activities, the finds and even into some stratigraphical aspects of the area. It has been possible to find commonalities between Finelli’s stratigraphical observations and the TFR2 stratigraphy, resulting into a clearer picture of the development of the area east of the main forum.

Fig. 1. Section of the area TFR2 showing several drains that are connected to an altar and associated animal sacrifice.

The analysis of the finds from the trench TFR2 suggests a long utilisation period of the whole area from the late 4th / early 3rd c BC to late antiquity. The Volcanus precinct itself most probably existed in between those earliest phases of the late 4th c BC – 3rd c BC and the Hadrianic re-design of the forum around AD 120 – 130, when the sanctuary was torn down and transformed into the portico and taberna complex. The composition of the individual layers and contexts indicates another change in use of the area TFR2: While the deepest layers (late 4th and 3rd c BC) contain mostly fine ware (black gloss), the re-design of the precinct in the 2nd and 1st c BC resulted also in a modification of the area TFR2: From there on onwards we are dealing with a lot more cooking and storage ware as well as transport amphorae, connoting food preparation activities in this particular section of the sanctuary. The reason for this development is most probably the transposition of the altar during re-design of the sanctuary in the 2nd and 1st c BC, bringing it closer to and partly even into the area TFR2.[2]

Some of the earliest black gloss ceramics from the lowest excavated layers of TFR2:[3]

Fig. 2. So-called Heraklesschale (end of 4th – 1st half of 3rd c BC)[4]
Fig. 3. Fragment of a black gloss kylix with painted-on decoration (probably 1st half of the 3rd c BC)[5]
Fig. 4. One of many small black gloss bowls with inturned rim (3rd c BC)[6]
Fig. 5. One of many black gloss bowls with inturned rim, stamped (end of 4th c BC – 1st half of 3rd c BC)[7]

[1] Forthcoming: A. Gering, Ostia Forum Project Vol. 1: The first temples of the colony and the ‘lost’ precinct of Volcanus discovered.

[2] The altar’s drain is located in the room TFR2, while the remains of the altar’s platform were integrated into the later portico’s and taberna complex’s walls. The area TFR2 is thus more so connected to the sanctuary’s second altar, not so much to the temple itself. Interpretations regarding the building phases of the temple must thus be approached with caution. The building techniques as well as the 1913 excavation reports will give more insight into the temple’s phases than the TFR2 stratigraphy.

[3] Unfortunately, there has been no opportunity to draw or professionally photograph most of the finds from the end of the 2019 campaign due to the restrictions that have been in place since March 2020.

[4] G. Olcese, Ceramiche da contesti repubblicani del territorio di Ostia (Rome 2016), stamp 128 on base cat. 203.

[5] Similar kylices with painted-on figural decoration have been found in Ostia (NSc 1950, 93. 96–97), Cosa (D. M. Taylor, Cosa: Black Glaze Pottery (Rome 1957), 78–79, cat. A1; A. Reynolds Scott, Cosa: The Black-Glaze Pottery 2 (Rome 2008), 20–21, cat. A1) and Gabii (J. P. Ballester, Las cerámicas de figuras Negras, figuras rojas y sobrepintadas de Gabii (Rome 1981), 51–52, cat. 156, 157, 158, 159).

[6] Morel 2734a–c; Olcese 2016, cat. 28.

[7] Olcese 2016, stamp Olcese 49 on Morel 2783 / Olcese cat. 38.