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The University of Southampton
Archaeology Part of Humanities

New discoveries at Portus, the ancient port of Imperial Rome

Published: 17 October 2012
Portus, Rome

A packed Turner Sims Concert Hall saw Professor Simon Keay describe latest developments in his lengthy excavations at Portus, the ancient port of Rome, which dates back to the Emperor Claudius.

University of Southampton Vice-Chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam chaired the lecture which was streamed live on the Internet and promoted on social media by students.

Excavations and survey work at Portus have brought new insights which could change our understanding of its purpose at different periods of antiquity. It now seems that the early port, that was established by the emperor Claudius was used primarily as an anchorage to support the nearby river port of Ostia. Its enlargement under Trajan in the early 2nd century AD may have been an attempt to control more closely the supply of food and other material to Rome as well as providing infrastructure for the repair of military or commercial ships that were central to the functioning of the port. In the lead up to the period of Byzantine domination in Italy, by contrast, the port seemed to have lost many of its commercial functions, while gaining importance as an ecclesiastical centre.

Research at Portus by archaeologists from Southampton and UK and European colleagues has involved scientific techniques including geophysics, geo-archaeology, computer-based visualisation and the study of human remains, as well as more traditional archaeological approaches.

A documentary about work at Portus “The Roman Empire: What lies beneath” will be broadcast later in the year on BBC1.

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