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More in this section Rome's maritime façade

The evolution of ancient Rome's maritime façade: archaeology and geomorphology at Castelporziano

Arising from questions raised by the excavations at the Vicus in the 1990s, the project is investigating the nature and chronology of physical changes affecting the litus Laurentinumbefore, during and immediately after the Roman period.

Archaeological, geophysical and geomorphological survey methods are being combined in the study of a series of transects across the ancient coastline as it is preserved within the Castelporziano estate, one to include the Vicus, which has been the object of detailed archaeological study, another a kilometre further to the south, in association with a late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age site and two fish farms of late republican date. At both points the Roman shore lies partly buried in a sequence of sand dunes and densely forested some 400 metres inland from the modern beach. A third transect, 2 kilometres to the south again, runs through an enormous harbour-villa belonging to the Antonine emperors, in the locality of Tor Paterno.

Peutinger Table Rome & Portus
Peutinger Table Rome and Portus and The Laurentine Shore

The study extends beyond the morphology of individual sites in relation to their natural environment to such wider issues as property boundaries, regional building practices, the origins and distribution of building materials, and their despoliation and recycling during and after Roman occupation. Taking advantage of the latest developments in precision dating of sand deposits by luminescence, it is also determining the extent to which the formation of the present dune landscape was episodic and whether the eventual abandonment of settlement in the 5th century AD coincided with major climatic change.

Lazio map
Modern Lazio Map

Research questions

  1. What is the significance of the differing locations, sizes, construction and phasing of Roman sites along the Laurentine Shore south of Ostia?
  2. How do the patterns of supply of building materials compare with those at Ostia?
  3. What social patterning can be deduced from the brickstamp evidence?
  4. Was the Roman land/sea interface more articulated than the present one and were there any changes during the period?
  5. Were there any natural or artificial harbours?
  6. What evidence is there for changing patterns of land drainage and vegetation and for the exploitation of coastal resources, especially oysters and fish?
  7. To what extent did the architecture of the maritime villas exploit existing terrain, including dune ridges and interdune lagoons and swamps?
  8. Where was the forest in the Roman period and what did it consist of?
  9. Is the timing of the abandonment of settlement sites connected with the phases of dune formation?

Aims and objectives

  • Definition of a broad chronological framework for the advance of the Tyrrhenian coast south of the Tiber from c. 10,000 BC to AD 2000
  • Analysis of the palaeoenvironmental changes associated with that advance
  • Investigation of the relationships between the geomorphology and the pattern of human settlement in the coastal zone during the Roman period (100 BC-AD500)
  • Creation of a GIS database for current and future archaeological and palaeoenvironmental research in the area to integrate different categories of data and provide an understanding of the spatial development of the area through time.

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