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The Tiber ferries

Near Ostia the Tiber is approximately 100 meters wide. Ferries were used on the river. Inscriptions from the second and third century AD document four services: the corpus lenunculariorum traiectus Luculli, corpus traiectus Marmorariorum, corpus traiectus Togatensium, and corpus traiectus Rusticelii. A traiectus is a crossing, for example of a river. Small boats - obviously rowing boats - called lenunculi were used by the ferrymen.

The lenunculi could take people to the Isola Sacra, where they worked in agriculture. Workers could also be taken to Portus, using a recently discovered channel running through the Isola Sacra, from south to north. The traiectus Marmorariorum probably has something to do with a marble yard that was found on the Isola Sacra, near Portus: marmorarii were marble workers. The traiectus Rusticelii was named after the Rusticelii-family. We also hear of praedia Rusticeliana, belonging to the Emperor in the Severan period.

The existence of four guilds, with names that seem to be related to places, suggests zoning. One of the ferries must have been active at the Tiber mouth near Tor Boacciana, that is near the current bridge over the Tiber, Ponte della Scafa. On the opposite side of the river began a road crossing the Isola Sacra. It is 10.5 meters wide and has deep wheel ruts. The name Via Flavia is documented, referring to a Flavian Emperor or perhaps to Constantine, who named part of Portus "Civitas Flavia Constantiniana". The road is today often called Via Severiana, suggesting that it was a continuation of a road to the south of Ostia, running along the coast. There is no evidence however that the road on the Isola Sacra also had that name.

For a long period of time archaeologists and historians have been convinced that there was at Ostia no bridge over the Tiber: it would have been an insuperable obstacle for many ships. Then in 2011 Paola Germoni published a new find in the archives (Portus and its Hinterland (2011), p. 255). It is a letter dated 23 July 1879 written by the vice-secretary of the Museo Kircheriano, Angelo Pellegrini, to the Direzione Archeologica del Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione: "I have been informed that during the building of the road between Ostia and Fiumicino, the ancient road paved with polygonal basalt blocks was discovered on the Ostia side heading in the same direction. The engineers of that side being surprised, sampled the bed of the Tiber, in which they recognized the piers of a bridge that led to the Isola Sacra. On this (Isola Sacra) side the basalt paved road continued towards the other artificial channel of the river created by Claudius, the so-called Fossa Traiana, where it is believed there existed another bridge that led to the port of Claudius, now Fiumicino as is demonstrated." Unfortunately an accompanying sketch was not reproduced in the 2011 article. Whether the observation of the engineers was correct has not and perhaps cannot be verified. Nothing is said about the date of the bridge.

One official of a ferry service, Sextus Pompeius Maximus, q(uin)q(uennalis) corp(oris) treiectus togatensium, was also "fathers of fathers" (pater patrum) in the cult of Mithras, apparently the head of the entire Ostian Mithraic community. A president of the corpus traiectus Marmorariorum, Titus Testius Helpidianus, was involved in the Imperial cult as sevir augustalis. Apparently, although the members of the ferry guilds were not very wealthy, they did play some part in Ostian society. Moreover, the guilds had patrons from important families. And there is another indication for a certain degree of wealth.

Inscriptions from the second century record donations to the corpus traiectus Rusticelii. The inscriptions most likely come from the guild seat, the location of which is not known. Examples of the gifts are a head or statue of L. Verus, donated on the birthday of Antoninus Pius (19 September 145), and a silver Imperial head, carried by a bronze Atlas (imago ex argento cum clipeo et Atlante aereo), given on the birthday of L. Verus (15 December 166). Atlas, normally carrying the globe, emphasizes the Emperor as ruler of the world, rector totius orbis terrarum. The guild may have been related in some way to the cultores Larum et imaginum dominorum nostrorum invictissimorum Augustorum praediorum Rusticelianorum, worshippers of the Lares and images of our most invincible August lords, of the Rusticelian estate. These people are documented in a reused inscription, but the place of discovery suggests that the property was in the north-east part or to the north-east of Ostia.

Imago ex argento cum clipeo et Atlante aereo.
From Herz 1982, Abb. 1.

Another guild using small boats was that of the auxiliary lenuncularii tabularii, perhaps lighters, unloading ships that could not enter the mouth of the Tiber at full sea.

[list of members]
CIL XIV, 250, from 152 AD. Capitoline Museums. Photo: Eric Taylor.

[list of members]
CIL XIV, 251, from 192 AD. Length 2.35 m., height 0.98 m. Found in Rome in the 16th century, but from Ostia.
Capitoline Museums. Photo: Eric Taylor.

[jthb - 12-Nov-2021]