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THE LIME-KILNS

A document from 1191, issued by pope Celestinus III, mentions a spot in Ostia called Calcaria: ... extra portam eiusdem civitatis [= Gregoriopolis] non longe ab eadem Hostiensi civitate, sita in loco qui vocatur Calcaria. This is a reference to a lime-kiln, in which marble (floors, statues etc.) was burned for mortar. The kilns were studied recently by Paolo Lenzi, whose work is summarized below. Twenty-five kilns have been excavated. Today remains can be seen of only five. It is not surprising that they are located near sites where much marble could be found and near roads. Marble dumps were created near the kilns. Sometimes the people in search for marble dug horizontal and vertical tunnels, witness large holes in walls.

Fortunately some objects or parts of objects, stored near or apparently on their way to a kiln, were not burned. This partly explains why so many funeral inscriptions and fragments of sarcophagi were found in the city (these same objects were, as we have seen, sometimes also reused for the decoration of buildings in later antiquity). Often objects from a single location or fragments of a single object were found at a great distance from each other. As a result, during the last decades, Fausto Zevi has been able to join fragments of inscriptions that were found at different locations, at different moments. Consider the following example, the lid of a sarcophagus: one fragment was found in 1953 in the necropolis to the south of Ostia; two other fragments were found in 1909, in a shop in front of the Terme di Nettuno and in the south part of the porticus of the palaestra of the same baths; the fourth fragment was found in 1939 near the theatre.

Without paying proper attention to these activities it is easy to wrongly identity a building. This happened in the case of the so-called Sede degli Augustali. The building was identified as the seat of the Augustales by Guido Calza, on the basis of statues and inscriptions found in and near the building. Margaret Laird, after a first warning by Paolo Lenzi, has shown convincingly, that these objects were dumped in the building, to be taken to nearby lime-kilns. The entrance corridors and holes high up in the walls were used for the transport.

Unfortunately it has proven impossible to date the lime-kilns. The percentage of lime in mortar is one of the few criteria for dating the destructive activity. It seems to have started already during the fourth century, is documented again at the end of the sixth and in the early seventh century, and probably continued in the ninth. The toponym Calcaria, documented in 1191, suggests that lime-kilns had been present for a long time. And the activities continued. In 1427 they are documented in relation to a temple (the Capitolium?), and the absence of inscriptions is lamented: nam templum illud quod isti pro calce demoliuntur est sine epigrammata. As late as 1831 Carlo Fea, then in charge of the excavations, had to prevent that a certain Giuseppe Vitelli threw marble decoration of the Capitolium in the kiln.



The distribution of the lime kilns. From Lenzi 1998, fig. 1.



A huge, conical lime kiln in Via della Calcara, to the east of the
Caseggiato del Serapide (III,X,3). Seen through the entrance.
Diameter 4.45, height 6.00 meters.
Portraits of Trajan and Hadrian were found here.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.




Statues found in the Sede degli Augustali (V,VII,1-2), collected here to be taken to a
nearby lime kiln. From Lenzi 1998, fig. 4.




Holes of tunnels used by people in search of marble, in the
Caseggiato dei Triclini (I,XII,1). From Lenzi 1998, fig. 3.