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The Jewish Cemetery in Ostia, Rome, Italy

7 years ago

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Built by Jews who worked the barges plying the Tiber, it lay outside the city’s protective walls, even beyond the cemetery.

The Via Ostiense The ancient Roman town of Ostia was linked to Rome by this street. The town, named from the Latin “ostium” for “mouth,” was located close to where the Tiber River empties into the ocean (closer to the coast than today since the river has deposited silt thus extending the distance to the shore). The city was the port for Rome, the landing point for cargo as well as war ships. The city has a long history from Republican times until the fall of the Empire. Excavations of the ruins of this ancient city began in the mid-nineteenth century and continues yet today. The tombs, some damaged by tomb-robbers or worn by time, are outside the city walls in the large necropolis, or city of the dead, which is adjacent to the main road into the city.


  1. Cemetery (Necropolis): Find the map (30 yards inside the gate) for an orientation. Notice how the core of Ostia is a rectangular Roman military camp with two major roads crossing at the forum. One of four city gates lies ahead, and on your left is the necropolis (cemetery). Ancient Romans buried their dead outside the city walls. Detour to find family sepulchres — private open-air rooms lined with niches for ash-filled urns. Until the first century A.D., cremation was common. In the second and third centuries A.D., the Romans here buried their dead in marble and terra-cotta sarcophagi in tombs.

Map of Ostia

Regio IV – Porta Laurentina

The Porta Laurentina or Laurentine Gate belongs to the city walls of the first century BC. It received its (modern) name from the village Laurentum, to the south of Ostia. Beyond the gate was a huge necropolis, starting at a distance of c. 50 metres. The gate was excavated in 1938-1942.

Plan of the Porta Laurentina. SO I, fig. 26.
Plan of the Porta Laurentina. SO I, fig. 26.

The gate consists of a single room, made of large tufa blocks. On the south side are grooves for the wooden doors. In the east side a hole has been preserved, in which a beam that blocked the door was inserted. On either side of the gate is a square tower, with sides of 5.85 metres.

Photographs Porta Laurentina necropolis

The Porta Laurentina necropolis is situated 200 metres to the south of the Porta Laurentina. It is the small, excavated part of a huge necropolis to the south of Ostia, on the Pianabella. It was excavated by P.E. Visconti in the years 1855-1867, by Dante Vaglieri in 1911, and by Guido Calza in the years 1920-1922 and 1934-1935. The tombs flank the Via Laurentina and two side-streets. The oldest tombs have been dated to the years 50-30 BC. The tomb types are identical to those of the Porta Romana necropolis. Only in this necropolis however, the names of the deceased are sometimes inscribed on travertine cippi.


4 July 2008 – Discovery of tombs In 2006, during archaeological investigations that preceded work bij the ACEA (a water and energy company), many funerary structures were found (mausolea, colombaria, and tombs “a cupa” and “a cappuccina”). The area is situated to the south-east of Ostia. Among the objects that were found are a terracotta mask that was placed on the face of the deceased, and a gold fillet for the hair-do of a woman. The excavators also found a long stretch of a road paved with basalt blocks, an internal road of the necropolis. The excavation has been published in the book “Necropoli Ostiensi”, by Simona Pannuzi and others. It will be presented by the Superintendent of Ostia, Marina Sapelli Ragni, on July 4 2008 at 11 AM, in the Museo della Via Ostiense.
Narrow trenches were dug along the Via Ostiense / Via del Mare. A total of 71 inhumations and 5 cremations was found. Particularly interesting was the excavation of the body of a child, 4 to 5 years old. The head rested on a few bricks. On the face a terracotta mask had been placed. Another mask was found near the feet of the child. The masks may originally have been toys. A few inscriptions:

On a marble altar-ossuarium:
IDEM Q(uin)Q(uennalis) ITEM
Q(uin)Q(uennalis) ORDINIS
CORP(oris) MENS(orum) FR(umentariorum)
OST(iensium) ADIVTOR
On a marble funerary slab, found a bit to the east of the Porta Laurentina necropolis (trenches SS 4-9):
HIC SIT[i sunt]
Q. FABIVS LONGORV[m l(ibertus) —]
CANINIA LONGO[rum l(iberta) —]
MATER FABIO L[ongo f(ilio)]

We seem to read about an anonymous man and woman, a freedman and a freedwoman of Q. Fabius Longus and Caninia Longa (his wife?). Alfidia Grapte was the wife of the freedman and mother of a son, Fabius Longus. We already know a Q. Fabius Longus who was duovir c. 25 AD, 31 AD and 37 AD (see the Fasti; Meiggs 192, 199, with more on possible relations with C. Fabii, one of them consul in 148 AD). All the people mentioned in the inscription seem to belong to the Jewish community of Ostia, witness the word Iudaei, also found in an inscription found in 1906 at Castel Porziano (AE 1907, 206; Universitas] Iud(a)eorum / [in col(onia) Ost(iensium) etc.).

To Discover More:

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