Servicing Ostia: transport logistics and deliveries in Rome’s imperial port

British School at Rome
via Antonio Gramsci 61

Data evento
3 April 2024

This lecture is inspired by two key aspects of Geoffrey Rickman’s interest in Roman antiquity: a fundamental desire to understand how the ancient world really worked, however banal the subject matter might appear to be at first sight; and a long-standing and deep engagement with Rome’s port city of Ostia.

One of the many new ways of interpreting/investigating ancient cities in the 21st century is the shift from looking at cities just in terms of static spaces to experiencing them in terms of movement through the city, both pedestrian and, for bulk or heavy materials, by means of wheeled vehicles. Busy modern cities like London have deliveries and servicing plans, in an attempt to mitigate problems of congestion during travel, to the potentially even greater difficulties caused by loading and unloading. A key concept is ‘last-mile’ logistics, which reflects the difficulties and increased costs of the last-leg of a supply chain, which in the modern world can count for over 50% of total transport costs.

This approach has much to offer the study of Ostia. As a very large city in Roman terms, and with the added complication of being the busiest port in the empire, Ostia must have faced many similar challenges, particularly in the ‘boom’ period of the second century AD. By making some estimates of the quantities involved in moving goods including foodstuffs, fuel and construction materials, around the city, this paper explores the size and nature of the problems that the city would have experienced, and some of the solutions it developed to mitigate the impact of servicing Ostia.