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FROM LATE ANTIQUITY TO THE MIDDLE AGES
The situation changed dramatically after the first quarter of the fifth century. In 410 AD Alaric with Goths, Huns and Alans sacked Rome. He also captured Portus, but ignored Ostia. In 455 AD Gaeseric and the Vandals sacked Portus. An inscription informs us that they burned the church of S. Hippolytus on the Isola Sacra. Perhaps they also plundered Ostia. In 537 Vitigis and the Goths laid siege to Portus. Belisarius defended Portus, but also Ostia, that was now used as harbour because Portus was held by the Goths. Procopius now notes that "the Tiber remains navigable on both sides [of the Isola Sacra]" (De Bello Gothico V,26,7).
At the end of the fifth century the Ostian aqueduct stopped functioning. In the fifth or sixth century the arches of the first level of the theatre were blocked, so that the building could be used as a fortress. To the south of the theatre a chapel of Cyriacus - the Oratorio Cristiano (II,VII,1) - was built in the sixth century, at a very high level. At the end of the fifth century some building activity took place in the Basilica di Pianabella, and in the years 493-526 some activity is documented in the Terme di Porta Marina (IV,X,1-2), near the sea. A few walls in a building opposite the Caseggiato di Annio (III,XVI,2) and in the Domus della Fortuna Annonaria (V,II,8) have been dated to the sixth century. But these are sporadic activities. Probably in this period many people were buried in the city, in simple graves in buildings, such as the Caserma dei Vigili, the block to the north of the Caserma dei Vigili (II,XI), Terme di Nettuno (II,IV,2), Horrea Antoniniani (II,II,7), Horrea di Hortensius (V,XII,1), Quattro Tempietti (II,VIII,2), Terme del Mitra, and Terme Marittime (III,VIII,2). One grave contained a bronze fibula of Germanic origin. A tomb near the chapel of Cyriacus still exists, below a block of masonry.
A slight revival took place in the early mediaeval period, when there was again building activity in the Basilica di Pianabella, in the late sixth or early seventh century. The theatre-fortress may have been the nucleus of early-mediaeval Ostia.
In the early ninth century Ostia was captured by the Saracens. In response pope Gregorius IV (827-844) built a new town to the east of Roman Ostia: Gregoriopolis (the "city of Gregorius"), at the spot of the modern village Ostia Antica (aliam civitatem a fundamentis noviter, quoniam ea quae priori tempore aedificata fuerat, longo quassata senio, tota nunc videtur esse diruta; Liber Pontificalis II, 81-82). Here the church of S. Aurea, a martyr from the third century AD, had been built. In the second half of the seventh century the church was distecta vel disrupta, and therefore restored by pope Sergius II (687-701; Lib. Pont. I, p. 376). In the middle of the ninth century the Saracens returned, and took the fortress and Portus. Pope Nicholas I (858-867) reinforced the town. No activity is documented in Roman Ostia after this period.
The distribution of post-classical evidence. From Lenzi 1998, fig. 6.
The interior of the theatre in the late 19th or early 20th century, before the restorations.
Photograph provided by Michael Heinzelmann.
The interior of the theatre as it appears today.
Photograph: Bill Storage.
Restorations of the facade of the theatre, early stages (1938-1939). Photograph: SAOA B2726.
Restorations of the facade of the theatre, almost completed (1938-1939). Photograph: SAOA B2885.