Roman Ruins

Ostia Antica, Rome’s working port city



(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Despite my misgivings about social media these days, I find it is one of the finest places to learn about ancient history and archaeology. I am now following multiple websites that showcase the civilizations of the Mediterranean from about 2,000 BC onward, particularly Rome. One of my favorites, run by Carole Raddato, covers the world of the Roman Empire in the era of Hadrian. On it, you can explore Roman life, history, and historic ruins, which can be found in Asia, Africa, and Europe.

These websites have inspired me to dig up some of my photos I took in 2006 of the ancient port city of Roman called Ostia Antica. I never published these as a series until now.

The city dates from 620 BC, lying at the mouth of the Tiber River. It was once a vital port, supplying critical goods like wheat to the mighty city of Rome. Today, it is a beloved archaeological treasure, a short trip from modern Rome by subway. It is well documented in travel guides, such as those published by Lonely Planet and Rick Steves. If you want to really work up an appetite for a trip, see this drone footage from the regional tourist agency.

I recommend using the links I just referenced to learn about its past and take a walking tour of the great Roman ruins there, reportedly the finest in Italy outside of Pompeii. You will find remnants of a great bathhouse, apartments, the market of the guilds, public bathrooms, tombs, and more. Mosaics are still intact that capture startling realistic renditions of the natural world and charismatic fauna like tigers, bears, and dolphins.

The city is referenced in the HBO miniseries Rome, which is well worth watching to catch a surprisingly accurate view of life in the once mighty empire at the time of Julius Caesar. If you do go to Rome, by all means put this on your list. Of all of the Roman ruins I have seen on three continents, it is among the best to give one a feeling for the lives of ordinary people in a working city more than 2,000 years ago.

What have the Romans ever done for us?

The discovery of a nearly 2,000-year-old wooden toilet seat by Hadrian’s Wall in England brought to my mind just how expansive the Roman Empire was, stretching from the highlands of Scotland to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to the Upper Nile in Egypt to the deserts of Iraq. They were creative, violent, organized, and pragmatic, and they left a lasting legacy in every land they conquered and administered. The toilet seat also reminded me of the famous Monty Python skit from the film The Life of Brian. One of the rebels named Reg, who is plotting to overthrow the Romans, summarizes the local grievances against their masters: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Modern-day Turkey, long at the heart of the Hellenic world, was ruled for centuries by Rome and then into the Middle Ages by the Byzantine Empire until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. You can see the Roman footprint everywhere in Turkey–Istanbul, Antakya (brilliant mosaics and ruins everywhere), Adana, Myra, Ankara, Ephesus, and countless other historic sites and ancient cities. Here are just a few of some of the pictures I took. I have never published these before until now. Thanks Python crew for reminding me of all the things the Romans never did for us. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

More pictures of my trip to Turkey can be found on my Turkey photo gallery. Skit from Monty Python below.