THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
THE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF
Antiquity and Christian Origins
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History of the Synagogue Site, Ostia Antica

From the 2nd century B.C.E. to its decline in Late Antiquity, Ostia (later Portus) was the principal port for wheat and other goods coming into Rome.  It was a lively and cosmopolitan port city with large ocean going vessels offloading cargo onto the busy wharf before being loaded onto barges to be sent up to Rome.  With this bustle of commercial activity came growth, wealth, and a diverse mix of peoples from all over the Roman world.  Located on the western side of Ostia, along what would have been the ancient shoreline, a new area of suburban sprawl began to grow up beginning in the late 1st century C.E.  With the building of a new Roman "superhighway" (called the via Severiana) at the end of the 2nd century C.E., this area grew further and apparently took on new importance in the life of the late Roman city.

Survey Site

It was in this stretch that a startling new discovery was made in 1960, when another new highway was being built, this time to serve Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport at Fiumicino. When they began to dig out the roadbed, far from where they thought the ancient city ended, they discovered more ruins. The area received preliminary excavation between 1961-1962 under the direction of Maria Floriana Squarciapino, then Superintendent of Ostia Antica. As excavations began the significance of this unexpected find was quickly realized, as a carved corbel from the building bore an unmistakable symbol: a menorah. This building was the ancient synagogue of Ostia.  It is without doubt one of the oldest synagogues of the Graeco-Roman world now known from archaeological remains.

More excavations were performed on site in 1977-79 under the direction of Carlo Pavolini; they revealed the facade of another line of buildings along the northern side of the via Severiana streetfront.  Finally, between 1983-1985 a bath complex was also partially excavated.
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UPDATED 8.27.2009 | DRB