Architecture Planning and Preservation Ostia, Origins through Empire
Mark A. Locicero
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0074


Ostia was a city in the Roman Empire located on the west coast of Italy, approximately 25 kilometers west of Rome. Ostia acted as one of the original maritime gateways to Rome, and its strategic location at the mouth of the Tiber River, along the coast, and at the junction of pre-Roman movement corridors ensured it maintained this prominent role for nearly a millennium. From roughly the 3rd century BCE to the 6th century CE the city continually changed its appearance, composition, and ground level. Due to its intimate connection with Rome, and coupled with this longevity of occupation, Ostia has played a prominent role in understanding Roman material culture. Given the nearly 150 years of excavation and study of the site, there is a vast bibliography relating to virtually all aspects of Roman life, from high philosophy to toilets (and toilet philosophers), and from mosaics to urban planning. The excavation of the site itself in the 19th and 20th centuries offers a mirror to the contemporary history and politics of Italy, as well as shedding light on the development of archaeological methods and theories of the ancient Mediterranean world. Specialist conferences occur every few years, with dedicated research into specific topics published in numerous languages almost constantly. However, some works from the mid- to late 20th century have been included as they remain relevant to Ostian studies. The works presented below do not aim to be exhaustive but offer points of departure to begin researching certain aspects of the city.


The wealth of literary, archaeological, art historical, and geoarchaeological evidence available for Ostia makes it difficult to condense into any single work. Nevertheless, several such overviews have been undertaken by scholars with decades of experience researching Ostia. Calza, et al. 1954 is the first true synthesis of the archaeological and historical evidence for Ostia at its time of writing. Meiggs 1973 built upon Calza’s work and augmented it with the work conducted in the thirty years after his monograph. Hermansen 1982 offers a closer look at several kinds of buildings in the city. Pavolini 2006 provides a well-illustrated guidebook of the excavated areas of Ostia, while Pavolini 2016 provides a much-needed overview of scholarly work on the site. Bakker’s OSTIA website offers a wealth of photos, maps, summaries, and explanatory videos to help orient new and seasoned Ostia researchers.

  • Bakker, J. T. OSTIA: Harbour City of Ancient Rome.

    This website is a fundamental starting point for any research into Ostia. With plans, photographs, and short overviews of every building in the city, this site is useful for all levels of research. Contains an extensive bibliography of works published on Ostia, programs of Ostia-specific conferences of the last thirty years, as well as helpful videos and even historical fiction published about Ostia.

  • Calza, G., G. Becatti, I. Gismondi, G. De Angelis D’Ossat, and H. Bloch. Topografia Generale: Scavi di Ostia 1. Rome: La Libreria dello Stato, 1954.

    First archaeological publication treating the monumental excavations conducted between 1938 and 1942. Remains fundamental to any understanding of Ostia’s development, urban plan, and history of excavation.

  • Hermansen, G. Ostia: Aspects of Roman City Life. Edmonton, Canada: University of Alberta Press, 1982.

    Offers an accessible overview of social aspects of life in Ostia. This monograph has dedicated chapters on the apartments and taverns of Ostia, the city’s guilds and grain storage structures (horrea), as well as an interesting section on fire and fire protection.

  • Meiggs, R. Roman Ostia. 2d ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973.

    Essential starting point for studying Ostia. This work represents the first major assessment of Ostia in English, and brings together a nearly encyclopedic amount of information on the city, including the literary evidence for the city’s foundation, the history of excavation, and detailed discussion on Ostia’s urban development. Additional chapters explore subjects like guilds, religion, food processing, and recreation. Updated version of the initial 1960 publication with additional chapters.

  • Pavolini, C. Ostia. Guide Archeologiche Laterza 8. Rome and Bari, Italy: Archeologiche Laterza, 2006.

    While part of a series aimed at assisting visitors to the site, this guidebook (a significant update of the 1980s version) offers both general and detailed information on parts of the city’s history and individual buildings. Highly useful for intentional site visits.

  • Pavolini, C. “A Survey of Excavations and Studies on Ostia (2004–2014).” Journal of Roman Studies 106 (2016): 199–236.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0075435816001015

    This article offers a helpful summary of studies conducted at Ostia from 2000 to 2014. The continued activity of numerous projects from dozens of countries makes it difficult for any one person to be up to date on all publications to do with Ostia, so this article is much-needed.

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