Archeologists have discovered an ancient Roman canal, the biggest ever built during the time of the Romans, connecting the town of Portus, on the mouth of the Tiber River, to the river town of Ostia.
According to the Telegraph:
“Scholars discovered the 100-yard-wide (90-metre-wide) canal at Portus, the ancient maritime port through which goods from all over the Empire were shipped to Rome for more than 400 years.
“The archaeologists, from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton and the British School at Rome, believe the canal connected Portus, on the coast at the mouth of the Tiber, with the nearby river port of Ostia, two miles away.”
While Ostia also faced the Mediterranean, it had certain limitations as a sea port. According to the Portus Harbor District of Ostia website:
“The river harbour of Ostia had several limitations. Large ships could not enter it, because there was a sand bar in front of the mouth. Therefore goods that arrived in large ships had to be transferred to smaller ships on the sea. Shallow-draught vessels could moor at the Tiber quays, but here there was not enough capacity for Rome’s growing needs.”
Portus was first constructed by the Emperor Claudius in the 1st Century AD. It was expanded by Trajan about 60 years later. The construction of a deep-water port that could service Rome enabled the Romans to import every kind of good, including grain, olive oil, wine, glass, ceramics, slaves, garum (a pungent fish sauce Romans used as a condiment) and even wild animals for the games in the Coliseum. Portus and the nearby Ostia was part of a vast trading network that included ports like Alexandria in Egypt, Carthage in Africa, Antioch in Syria, Massalia (modern Marseille) in modern southern France, and Gades (modern Cadiz) in Spain.
According to the Telegraph:
“The British team, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, have uncovered the remains of a large Roman warehouse, a building identified as an imperial palace and a small amphitheatre which may have been used for gladiatorial fights, wild beast baiting and even mock sea battles for the private entertainment of emperors such as Trajan and Hadrian.”
The Romans were known, among other things, for the scale and grandeur of their public works. Roman roads stretched from Britain to modern Iraq. Ports like Portus were built or expanded from existing cities to facilitate commerce and travel throughout the empire. When Rome fell, many ports, such as Portus, fell into disuse. Portus itself silted over after being abandoned in the 6th Century after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
What excites archeologists, especially with the discovery of the canal, is that the Portus site is largely preserved, and therefore should yield enormous insight into how people lived during antiquity.
‘Biggest canal ever built by Romans’ discovered, Nick Squires, The Telegraph, July 11th, 2010
Ostia – The Harbor District: Portus