Archive for May 25, 2015

In the reign of Claudius, a new port was constructed 3 km to the north of the Tiber estuary and given the name Portus, which is Latin for harbour. It appears from the records that this was an area in which the only preceding activity appears to have been that of salt extraction. It is likely that any of us who have visited Rome have probably visited Portus without realising it, since the northern part of the dock complex now lies under Fiumicino airport to the west of the city. The new port complex consisted of a loading and unloading basin with wharves and warehouses together with a large artificial basin enclosed by two moles, which provided a safe anchorage for boats waiting their turn to unload at the docks.

taken from Keay, Earl and Felici 2011

taken from Keay, Earl and Felici 2011

The Claudian basin covered an area of around 200 ha and is estimated to have been around 7 m deep. It is thought that the likely loading and unloading wharves were in the south-eastern sector on the map. These facilities were linked to the River Tiber directly by canal (the Fossa Triana), which meant that the barges did not have to to go on to the open sea in order to access the route to the wharves in the city of Rome. Apart from the direct effects of the new port, the new canal system also appears to have had a marked effect on the prevention of floods within the city itself. The inner basin or Dasena covers just over 1 ha and his 3.5 m deep and it has been suggested that this was the transhipment area since it is linked directly to the Fossa Triana and onto the Tiber. The Fossa Triana became known in mediaeval times as Fiumicino which means little river and it is this that gave the modern name to the area and to the nearby international airport.
Apart from the actual docks archaeological excavation has also been able to partially reconstruct some of the buildings from this period and evidence suggests these are perhaps not quite as we might imagine dock buildings to be. For examples, the building known as the portico de Claudio was a large building hundred 80 m long, looking out onto the Claudio basin. It was known to have had a monumental façade and access to the warehouses behind. If you would like to see what these may have looked like there are reconstructions on The Portus project website at http://www.portusproject.org.

Evidence found suggests that major trade routes linked Portus to Carthage; Leptis magna; Hispania; Marseille; Alexandria and Greece. It quickly became the trading hub for the Roman Mediterranean, although the evidence from pottery, epigraphs and goods remains suggests that this trade was primarily based on the Western Mediterranean.
However despite these improvements, it seems that there was still a considerable amount of danger for shipping even whilst in the protected waters of the Claudian basin. In A.D. 62 it is recorded that 200 ships in the basin perished possibly during a storm,. In this same year there is also a record of a major earthquake in the Bay of Naples area and some historians have linked these two events together, suggesting that the earthquake resulted in a tsunami like wave, which was able to nullify the protective effects of the harbour wall. This large loss of shipping also gives us some indications of the quantity of shipping that may have been using the port at any one time.