A Tale of Two City Blocks from Ostia, the Port-Town of Imperial Rome

Hanna Stöger


Neighbourhoods and the social use of urban space are areas of growing interest that concern both contemporary city planners and archaeologists. Based on a detailed examination of the archaeological remains of two distinct city blocks (IV ii and iv) from Ostia (Imperial Rome’s principal port city), the proposed paper explores the spatial properties of these urban quarters and seeks to identify spaces which potentially fostered social cohesion and community building. By combining archaeological and syntactical methods of spatial analysis (space syntax), novel insights have been generated regarding the physical environment in which Roman city dwellers lived their daily lives. The shared courtyards and passage spaces of Block IV ii suggest a continuity of community focus over a period of almost four hundred years. In contrast, Block IV iv appears to lack shared spaces and revealed a spatial organisation of self-contained buildings focused on individual access to public space. Block IV ii is characterised by internal courtyards suggestive of collective use within its own perimeter; Block IV iv looks outward toward external community building with activities centred on the street confining the block. The space syntax tools allow us to reconstruct the generative processes active in neighbourhood development. The combined archaeological and syntactical analyses reveal insights into the flexibility of ancient Roman urban structures and offer several suggestive glimpses into the urban community that sustained these blocks and the wider city in the long-term.