THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
THE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF
Antiquity and Christian Origins
L. Michael White, Director | 1 University Station C3450 | Austin, Texas 78712 | 512.232.1438 | 512.232.1439 fax






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History of the Synagogue Area, Ostia Antica

In 1960 construction began on a new highway serving Rome's Leondaro da Vinci Airport at Fiumicino.  The highway would pass just south of the area where the planners thought the ancient city of Ostia ended.  To their surprise, they discovered more ruins -- a series of buildings and even an ancient paved road.

1960 photo of the Roman road, the Via Severiana in Ostia 
        Antica.

Fig. 1.  The Roman road, the via Severiana, peaks through the grass and dirt, revealing its condition in 1960. To the immediate left, the excavators would find the synagogue building. Twenty-three years later and to the immediate right, excavators on the other side of the ancient road would find the complex now known as the Baths of Musiciolus. The discovery of these ruins pushed our understanding of the Ostia's limits. Until that time, the town was thought to end near the Porta Marina Baths, the massive piers in the distance that tower over the horizon.  Photo source: Soprintendenza archeologica di Ostia (SAO) Archives #D 1098.

By 1961 a preliminary excavation, the first of a series of four that would be conducted at the site over the next forty years, was underway.  As the first work commenced, however, the excavators soon realized the significance of the unexpected find: An architectural fragment from one of the buildings bore an unmistakable symbol -- a menorah.

[INSERT SYNAGOGUE-MENRORAH CAPITAL]

Fig. 2.  Above the what would later be identified as the Torah Niche, a sculpted depiction of a menorah appears, the first clue that alerted the excavators of 1961-62 that they had discovered a synagogue. The original relief sculpture has been moved closer to the Ostia Museum and lowered from its original height to facilitate easy viewing. The present fragment is a replica.

This building was the ancient synagogue of Ostia.

[INSERT PHOTO TWO]

Fig. 3.  During the season 1961-1962, Maria Floriana Squarciapino, Superintendant of Ostia Antica at the time, excavated the synagogue building. In the foreground workers clear the room now labeled IV.17.1.10. In the background runs the new airport highway. Photo source: SAO Archives #C 1 P81.

Between 1961 and 1985, excavators would make further discoveries.  The ancient road dated to the time of the Severan emperors at the end of the second C.E.-beginning of the third century C.E.  In addition to the synagogue, the excavators would also soon discover a series of street front shops that faced onto the ancient road, a nymphaeum (fountain complex), and a bath structure.

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UPDATED 8.24.2009