Portus: The Torlonia relief

Torlonia Relief (from http://www.vroma.org/)
Torlonia Relief
(from http://www.vroma.org/)

The Torlonia relief was found in 1863 or 1864 near the so-called Imperial Palace, between the harbours of Claudius and Trajan. It is made of Greek marble. It is probably a votive offering from the nearby Temple of Liber Pater (aka Bacchus). It was probably made in the Severan period.

To the right is a ship that is tied to a mooring block. Examples of such blocks have been found around the hexagonal basin. A porter carries an amphora of wine to the quay. The person who dedicated the relief was probably a wine merchant, and of course there is an association between Liber Pater-Bacchus and wine. Above the ship is a large eye, averting evil.

Trajanic mooring block from Portus (www.ostia-antica.org )
Trajanic mooring block from Portus (www.ostia-antica.org )

The ship to the left has just entered the harbour. On the deck (upper left) people are sacrificing and are probably thanking a deity for their safe journey. To the right a man may be lowering fenders which protect the ship when it comes alongside from the quay (Similar devices are still used today). On the sails are two representations of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, one of the legends of the foundation of Rome.

In the background and to the left is the lighthouse of Claudius with a burning fire which stood at the entrance to the inner harbour at Portus. Between the two ships is Neptune, God of the sea, with the trident, his traditional symbol and to the right of the lighthouse is a statue, possibly of Claudius or Nero (The original port was begun in the reign of Claudius and finally completed int he reign of Nero). On either side of the lighthouse is a statue, holding a wreath and a horn of plenty signifying the properity of the port and of the city. The female figure on the left (in the upper left corner) has a lighthouse on her head. This is probably the personification of Portus whilst the male figure to the right may be the protective deity of the harbour.

In the upper right corner is a triumphal arch. On top is a chariot drawn by elephants. The person in the chariot may be the Emperor Domitian, because he holds a sceptre ending in a human head, a symbol which has also found on Domitianic coins. To the right is Liber Pater-Bacchus, holding a thyrsus, his traditional staff, and accompanied by a panther.

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