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THE FINAL PHASE OF OSTIA

The final phase of Ostia seems to have begun around the middle of the third century AD. This period was characterized by political instability and an economic recession. The population of Rome had decreased, so that fewer goods were and could be imported. Obviously this had major consequences for the river harbour in Ostia. And the effects were felt even more strongly, because the commercial activities were already shifting to Portus, the harbour district a few kilometres to the north of Ostia, much safer and more convenient than the river harbour. To make things worse, Ostia and Portus were struck by several earthquakes and tsunamis in the third and fourth centuries. With fewer mouths to feed some bakeries must have been deserted, or not used to their full capacity. So, when a bakery - the Caseggiato dei Molini (I,III,1) - burned down as a result of an earthquake at the end of the third century - probably during the reign of Probus (276-282 AD) -, there was no need to rebuild it. The earthquakes and tsunamis must have destroyed many of the upper stories in Ostia, and in some cases entire buildings.

The final phase was not a single moment in time. A building could still be used partly, to be deserted completely only later. And a deserted building that was not maintained anymore could, as we will see, be used as a hull, a shelter, by the few remaining members of a society that did not have the means to contribute to the city infrastructure and architecture. Eventually the wooden beams supporting the ceilings rotted away, leading to the collapse of the buildings. And of course the buildings were plundered, before and after the collapse, another aspect of the final phase, that ends only with proper excavation. This long final phase or process of decay was reversed, so to say, by the excavators, who cleared the debris and through restorations tried to reconstruct the situation at the beginning of the decay.



A room with kneading machines for dough, in bakery Caseggiato dei Molini.
Photograph taken shortly after the excavation in 1915, SAOA B2201.