A reappraisal of the Roman Adriatic ports in their Mediterranean context: a new reading of their scales, scopes and identities.

Portus Limen Seminar Series

19th may 2015 5:00 pm

University of Southampton, Sara Champion room, building 65a, Avenue Campus

 

A reappraisal of the Roman Adriatic ports in their Mediterranean context: a new reading of their scales, scopes and identities.

By Federico Ugolini – King’s College London. Classics Department – federico.ugolini@kcl.ac.uk

 

The 'mosaic of the ships' from Palazzo Diotallevi at Rimini (part of the wider mosaic known as Mosaic of Hercules Bibax), today exhibited in the Museo della Città di Rimini (photo Federico Ugolini)
The ‘mosaic of the ships’ from Palazzo Diotallevi at Rimini (part of the wider mosaic known as Mosaic of Hercules Bibax), today exhibited in the Museo della Città di Rimini (photo Federico Ugolini)

 

From the 1950s–1960s at least, the origin of the Roman Adriatic ports and their spatial organisation in Imperial period have been the subject of extensive debate amongst historians and archaeologists. Most of the enquiries have concerned whether the harbours of the Upper and Central Adriatic Sea were temporarily created in pre-existing lagoons, or at the river mouths, as was long argued by local scholars, or instead exploited well-established structures, as some evidence would suggests. Among these, Trieste, Aquileia, Ravenna and Ancona harbours, despite the fragmented scholarly context of the recent decades, represent the focus of my research. My attempt to reunify fragmented evidence has shown a different scenario that sheds new light on these structures, on their form and character and scope of their interactions in a wider setting. The need to understand their scales, functions and legacies has elucidated details of these Roman structures, basing the enquiry on the creation of an updated database of the Adriatic harbours’ archaeological evidence. This talk, based on my on-going PhD project, offers a more detailed picture of Roman ports of the Northern and Central Adriatic Sea, proposing a new reading that, through an alternative approach applied to the study of controversial evidence, aims to address unanswered questions on these harbours’ archaeology.

Mapping evidence through QGIS allows integration of the fragmentary evidence of port features, layout and interaction with local urban settings and allows us to comprehend, at least preliminarily, the character of the port structures. This approach guarantees, first, a general understanding of the evidence; second, through a comparative analysis with other Roman Mediterranean harbours, it partially demonstrates the scale of the Adriatic structures and their position in the wider Mediterranean context. From their locations and dimensions we may also move forward the enquiry to the analysis of the scope of the structures, since some evidence of a rich hinterland economy implies relationships between port structures and villas, workshops, centres of farming and ceramic production; this evidence also demonstrates how Adriatic harbours played, at least for a circumscribed period of time, a significant role as interface with the nearest regions. Their decline is partially confirmed by the rapid abandon of the structures in Roman time, but their significance did not fully end since, after the Renaissance, ancient Adriatic ports regained a certain fame as attested by sketches, accounts and chronicles. Antiquarian and archival documentation from the 1600s to the 1800s allow insights into the the first attempts to document the remains of the ports and reconstruct their form. This not only reveals fascinating evidence for the ports but also reveals the previously hidden (or unappreciated) social and political implications of their legacy.

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