A new slab of the Fasti Ostienses, an ancient Roman marble calendar (extant in fragmentary form) recording imperial news, magistrates and events related to the city of Ostia, the harbour city of ancient Rome, emerged during the second excavation campaign at the Forum of Porta Marina in Ostia Antica, as part of the Ostia Post Scriptum archaeological research project, curated by the Ostia Antica Archaeological Park. The finding was made back in September 2022, when excavations began.
The new white marble fragment of seven carefully written lines mentions facts and events that took place in Rome in 128, the eleventh year of Hadrian’s principate. It perfectly joins with another already preserved in Ostia and is referable to the chronicles of the years 126 to 128. The team at the archaeological park of Ostia Antica defines it as “a find of extraordinary importance”.
Based on epigraphic, literary and numismatic sources, the team could correlate the text of the inscription with the events of AD 128. We know that in that year, Hadrian assumed the honorary title pater patriae (“Father of the Fatherland”) and his wife, Sabina, that of Augusta. The inscription reveals that to celebrate the occasion, Hadrian offered a congiarium (or donation of money) to the people (congiar(ium) dedit).
We also know from ancient literary sources that in the spring of 128, Hadrian set sail for the African provinces. Thanks to the discovery of this fragment, we can now specify the exact departure date for Carthage because there is a reference to the fourth day before the ides of April (IIII Idus April(es) reports the inscription), that is, 10 April 128. The date can only be related to Hadrian’s departure and the start of the sailing season (the sailing season ended in November and did not resume until April).
While in Africa, Hadrian reviewed the effectiveness of Rome’s army and stayed in the legionary base of Lambaesis in Numidia (modern Algeria). He observed the legion stationed there, the III Augusta, and the attached auxiliary units in various forts along the African frontier. After observing each unit in and around Lambaesis, he addressed several groups of soldiers in a set of speeches (aldocutio), offering his praise and critique. The speeches were later carved into a massive inscription on the base of a monument at Lambaesis. A substantial part of his speeches has survived (see here). According to the inscription, Hadrian was at Lambaesis on 1 July; on 7 July, the Emperor is attested 90 km to the northwest at Zarai and perhaps at Castellum Phuensium further north near Cirta (Phua near modern Constantine) on 12 or 13 July.
Hadrian then briefly returned to Rome at the end of the summer, but he would not stay in Italy very long. However, the inscription tells us that before leaving for Athens, Hadrian consecrated (consecravit reads the inscription) a building, certainly a temple in Rome, most probably, the Temple of Venus and Rome, as reported by Alessandro D’Alessio, the director of Ostia Antica. According to him, the consecration could have taken place on 11 August 128, on the day of the anniversary of Hadrian’s accession to the throne in 117.
Alessandro D’Alessio told Newsweek that “from a purely scientific point of view, the discovery of this epigraphic fragment is extraordinary, as it gives us in a few lines, or rather parts of a few lines, such a quantity of information and details about Hadrian’s reign and activity that we did not have before.” You can watch him speak about the research project and this remarkable discovery in this video (in Italian).
The newly-recovered fragment was discovered in an area of the city where other pieces of the Ostian calendar were unearthed in the excavations of 1940-1 and 1969-72 in Foro di Porta Marina. The Forum of Porta Marina, located just outside the Republican city gate near the beach, consisted of a large rectangular building (44 x 39.5 m.) with colonnaded porticoes on three sides and an apsidal hall on the fourth that was paved in opus sectile (colourful marble inlay). At the centre of the area stood a square structure of uncertain interpretation, perhaps identifiable with an altar. The whole complex is built in opus mixtum, generally dated to the Hadrianic period.
The Ostian fasti were maintained by the priests of the Temple of Vulcan, Ostia’s chief deity, who kept a running tally for two centuries. As mentioned in the Fasti, the drafting was the responsibility of the pontifex Volkani, the highest local religious authority. Their carving may have begun as early as the dictatorship of Sulla, in 81 BC, but the earliest surviving portion records the events from 49 to 44 BC. The last extant year is AD 175. However, there are many gaps, and most of the surviving years are damaged. For instance, the years 117 to 124 and 129 to 138 of Hadrian’s reign are missing. The surviving sections of the Fasti cover 79 in whole on in part.
They were carved annually on marble slabs for public erection, perhaps in the central Forum or perhaps near the suburban Forum of Porta Marina, in connection to the Temple of Vulcan and where half of the fragments of the Fasti Ostienses have been found. The fragments of the marble plaques have been found over a long period of time and were all reused for the decoration of walls and floors.
Fragments of the Fasti Ostienses have been reconstructed for only three years of Hadrian’s reign (126, 127 and 128). We learn from them a few events occurring in Rome, Ostia or elsewhere in Italy. For the year 126, they mention the completion of a major building project, the restoration of the Templum Divorum, a large sacred area, 194 x 77 meters, built by Domitian in the Campus Martius. On this occasion, he gave six days of splendid games, with 1,835 pairs of gladiators fighting in the Circus. He also held the office of duumvir quinquennalis (chief magistrate) in Ostia for the second time.
[- – – – imp. Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Aug. munuls| edidit 126 – – templum Divoru[m] | – – – – – dedicavit, ob quam] causam in circo | [- – – – – – munus editu m et consumm[at. || —– (paribus)] MDCCCXXXV. [IIvir. c(ensoria) p(otestate) q(uinquennales) imp. Caesar Traianus Hadr]ianus Aug. II |
The Fasti have also revealed a journey in Italy (ad Italiam circum) for the year 127 that began on 3 March. They recorded the Emperor’s return to Rome on 1 August, just in time for the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of his accession on 11 August. However, the same inscription indicates that it was not until 20 October that the decennial votive games (ludi votivi decennales) were held in the Circus Maximus. They lasted for ten days, with a day of thirty pyrrhicae, military dances. Also, on his birthday, 24 January, the Temple of Serapis in Ostia was inaugurated. The temple was donated to the city by a private person, Caltilius P.
V Non. Mart. Augustus profe[ct]us ad Italiam circum[circa – -] I(d.] (or K.) || Aug. reversus. XIII K. Nov. lud(i] votivi deceannale[s facti pro] | salute Aug. dieb. X. XIII K. Nov. in Circo p(yrrichae?) f(actae) XXX. VIII K. Febr. templum Sarapi quod . Caltilius P?- – – – sua pecunia exstruxit dedicatum [es]t.
Until now, the Fasti of AD 128 only had a list of consuls who entered office that year. The newly-excavated fragment sheds more light on the activities of Hadrian.
A further fragment of the Fasti Ostienses reveals that Hadrian gave shows in Rome in April and May of an uncertain year. In mid-April, the games lasted 38 days when 28 pairs of gladiators fought, and 2,246 beasts were killed. On 26 May, Hadrian gave the first games for the festival for Venus. They fought for 3 days, with 195 pairs of gladiators, and 443 beasts were killed.
[- – imp. Caesar Traianus Hadria] nus Aug. mu[nus edere. I coepit gladi]ator. (paribus) – -II. XIIII K. Maias composit[a sunt | II lusio]nibus et munere dier. XXXVIII gladiatoru[m (paria) | – -] XXVIII, bestiae confectae n. IICCXLVI. VII K. Iunias || [Augustus p]r(imam) lusionem muneris Veneri edere coepit; pugnat(um) | [diebus -]III, gladiator. (paribus) CLXXXXV, bestiae confectae n. CCCCXXXXIII.
Ostia was largely restored and embellished on Hadrian’s initiative. More than half of the ruins belong to this period, spreading throughout the town (Meiggs, 1973, p.135-144). Public Baths increased in number and scale, and new temples were built. For instance, he financed the construction of the Baths of the Marine Gate with 2,000,000 sesterces, although they were completed under his successor, Antoninus Pius, with additional money and marble. A building inscription, dug up by Gavin Hamilton and now in the Vatican Museums, records this act of generosity (CIL XVI 98). The inscription is dated to late December AD 138 or 139.
Likewise, the Hadrianic masonry of the Baths of Neptune, its size and location, suggests imperial sponsorship. A statue of Sabina in the guise of the goddess Ceres (see here) was found in the baths’ palaestra. The Capitolium of Ostia also dates to Hadrian’s reign (around AD 120). As recorded in an inscription, the colony of Ostia praised Hadrian for preserving and enlarging it with all his indulgence and liberality –colonia conservata et aucta omni indulgentia et liberalitate eius- (CIL VI 972).
The 2022-2023 excavations at Ostia Antica are taking place in two contexts of extreme interest, located respectively in the Regio II (Area A, never investigated before), behind the area of the Quattro Tempietti (Four Small Temples) and the Domus of Apuleius, and in Regio IV (Area B) inside the Forum of Porta Marina. In addition to the fragment of the Fasti Ostienses, they have also brought to light the remains of several decorations and extensive portions of mosaic floors that will soon be visible to the public.
Read more about the excavations: Ostia Post Scriptum: the results of the excavation campaigns