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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsHOLLY WALKER: Hi I'm here with Simon. And I'm going to ask him about some of the finds from Portus. So this is a brick stamp, and it has a picture on it. I was wondering what the pictures are for.

Skip to 0 minutes and 15 secondsSIMON KEAY: OK, Holly. Well, look. If you look carefully here, you can see this circular feature. And this is called an orbiculus. And what this brick stamp tells us is it's essentially a control mark on a brick, and of which there were millions produced in the great brick factories of the Tiber Valley during the Imperial Period, with many of the factories being owned by the emperor or some of his officials or people close to him.

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 secondsAnd why they're important to us are they actually have very important information written down, which allow us to actually date these bricks, the moment that they were made, to a particular year or a couple of years sometimes, and sometimes maybe a little bit more generally in each case. And so if you look very carefully here, you've got writing around the edge, more writing here, and then an image in the middle. Now, there are thousands of these different kinds of stamps. And this one, as you can see, says Marcus or M-R-L-L-M-E-I Veteri. And how that translates is Marcus Rutilius and then Lupus, L, R-L-L. And then it's got Lamiae et Veteri Consulibus.

Skip to 1 minute and 43 secondsAnd so what that tells us is that this particular brick, and probably thousands like it, were made in the workshop of Rutilius Lupus during the consulship of Lamiae and Veteri. And we know from other sources what that date was. So if you imagine, if you build all that up, you get quite an interesting picture of how bricks are being produced, that were used to build the buildings at Portus and nearby Ostia as well.

Skip to 2 minutes and 13 secondsHOLLY WALKER: So if not every brick is stamped, are there a lot of them around? Is it, like, 1 in 10, or--?

Skip to 2 minutes and 18 secondsSIMON KEAY: Very good question. It's very hard to tell. But what is clear is that at Portus and indeed at Ostia, we find hundreds of these bricks with stamps on. And we've, I think, found-- we must be getting on for well over 200 of these now. But as you walk around the site, as you've probably both seen, there are thousands and thousands of bricks across the site. So inevitably, it's only a small proportion that are stamped.

Skip to 2 minutes and 47 secondsBut enough for us to-- when we find these, particularly when they're built into part of the wall, parts of piers and so on, what's really important to us is that as we know the date that they were made, if it's built into a wall, that gives us a terminus, what we call a terminus post quem, which means it's a time after the making of that brick that the wall that it was built into was made. So it's a really crucial piece of dating evidence for us. Even more important than coins and pottery, which we'll no doubt talk about.

Skip to 3 minutes and 27 secondsHOLLY WALKER: Yeah. So how would they actually do the stamp then?

Skip to 3 minutes and 30 secondsSIMON KEAY: Well, they'd have a large bronze sort of negative, which is carved, which is created in the lost wax process probably. And then they just have the damp brick shortly after it's been made and before it's fired. And they just stamp it. Then they fire this along with thousands of others. And then what happens is they're put into big barges. And then they come down the river Tiber, right the way down through the city of Rome, out the other end, down south. Then they would come all the way back down to the Roman canal that's just over there, linked to the Tiber.

Skip to 4 minutes and 10 secondsThen they'd come all the way here, be unloaded, and then as buildings are put up, they're then presumably assigned to different parts of the site. And the interesting thing is that there are different kinds of stamps that date to the same kind of period. And these different stamps often come from different workshops, different contractors. So if you study the range of different stamps, you get an idea of the sheer complexity of organisation required to build something like this. You could have 20 or 30 different contractors supplying the buildings at any one particular time.

Find of the Week - Brick Stamp of Marcus Rutilius Lupus

So in this video Simon gave me a detailed introduction to the brick stamp. You’ve had a reminder of what a brick stamp was created for – essentially, a control mark made on bricks when they were produced in the factories. It is hard to know what proportion of the bricks were stamped. After this discussion our architecture expert Christina Triantafillou gave me some further information, that I have repeated below.

As you will know, Portus was built very largely from brick-faced concrete, a technique that was characteristic of Imperial Rome. As the pace of building in the City blossomed in the course of the 1st and into the 2nd c AD, there developed a demand for the large-scale production of the millions of bricks needed for public and private monuments and buildings.

This was met by a large number of workshops in the Middle Tiber valley in the vicinity of the port of Ocriculum (Otricoli) and Horta (Orte), the products of which were shipped by barge down the Tiber to Rome in the first instance, with large numbers going on to Portus for use in building projects there. Each of these workshops can be identified by a characteristic stamp, at least down until the later 2nd c AD, on which it is possible to read such information as the name of the brick yard (figlina) and owner (or a symbol representing him) and the date when the brick was made expressed in the name of the current annual consuls. These were probably used as some kind of control mark.

Studying the brick stamps today has given us a great idea of how the manufacture and movement of building materials was managed, and which workshops/contractors were responsible for supplying the different building projects at Portus.

We now suspect that barges will have been used to transport the bricks downriver from Rome, presumably as a return cargo after having earlier carried imported foodstuffs etc. upriver to Rome from Portus. Also as Simon says there were different manufacturers involved, and some of their workshops may have been owned by wealthy families with ties to the Emperor.

The stamp Simon showed me translated as Marcus Rutilius Lupus Lamiae Et Veteri Consulibus. Can you find out what date this is from?

Thanks to Simon for another reminder of Terminus Post Quem too! Can you think of any items in your own home that could similarly be used to provide a Terminus Post Quem date to the archaeologists of the future?

Holly Walker – Portus Student Guide

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Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome

University of Southampton

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