Portus Project Achieves Next Stage in Funding from the AHRC

The AHRC have awarded three years of funding to continue and develop our work at Portus. The establishment of Portus, the maritime port of Imperial Rome, under Claudius and its enlargement Trajan, refocused Rome’s economic and social relationship with its Mediterranean provinces. It helped ensure the centrality and dominance of Roman power at the City of Rome for over 500 years down to the late antique period. It is difficult, therefore, to over-estimate the significance of this port to our understanding of the Roman empire or, indeed, to the broader history of the Mediterranean. Much remains to be learned about the port, not least in terms of the relationship of the port to Rome, how it functioned, the scale of commercial activity, and the nature of the community that lived and worked there.

This new project builds upon the results of the earlier project and has been designed to address key questions about the roles that Portus played in Rome’s relationship with the Mediterranean between the 2nd and 6th centuries AD. It represents a continuation of successful and longstanding collaborations between the Universities of Southampton and Cambridge, the British School at Rome, and the Italian authorities. Its first aim is to undertake limited excavation and geophysical survey to complete our understanding of a group of seven major buildings that were focused upon the “Imperial Palace”, an enigmatic complex at the centre of the port. Attention is first directed towards using these as the basis for understanding the scale of imperial investment in Rome’s port infrastructure at Portus, Civitavecchia and the City itself. Their appearance, functions and relationships to the harbour basins and the rest of the port infrastructure are then studied with a view to making a contribution to our understanding of how the port complex worked as a whole, drawing upon a programme of innovative computer visualization.

Computer simulations of the capacity of the harbour basins for handling and berthing ships and boats will also be used to address research questions about changing scales of commerce at the port; this will be complemented by an analysis of finds from four of the buildings excavated in the course of the Portus Project which will characterize the geographical origins of the ceramics, marble and environmental material passing between Rome and the Mediterranean through Portus. Furthermore a re-analysis of earlier geophysical results will be used to define areas of residential settlement in the port, while an innovative isotope analysis of human bone, food remains and ceramic food containers will be used to establish a “food-web” and help characterize ethnic and social differentiation amongst its inhabitants.