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The links to other ports

Materials like pottery, glass and marble show us that Portus was a hub connected to the other major ports of the Mediterranean.
MEAGHAN CARLEY: So what was the relationship between Portus and the Roman Mediterranean as a whole?
SIMON KEAY: Well, it’s very difficult to underestimate that, the importance. One of the things that we’ve found in huge abundance over the years here at Portus has been lots and lots of pottery
of different kinds: fine wares; amphorae; coarse wares. We’ve also found glass. We’ve also found a lot of marble. And careful analysis of this is the best way of understanding the relationship between Portus and the rest of the Mediterranean. And what that tells us is that there are a number of major connections between Portus and some of the big ports of the Mediterranean. One thinks, for example, the port of Carthage in modern Tunisia, Africa Proconsularis. One thinks of Leptis Magna in Libya. One thinks of Gades in southern Spain. One thinks of Tarraco, Marseille, Massilia. And there’s good evidence that all of these ports had connections with Portus.
And one can also, using our evidence from the ceramics and so on, think of connections with ports in the eastern Mediterranean too, Alexandria, Seleucia Pieria, Piraeus. The list is endless. But at the same time, I think one has to recognise that Portus was essentially a hub. And through Portus, goods from all of these different ports came, from all these provinces, sometimes coming on direct routes, sometimes coming via intermediary routes. And one can therefore see a whole network of ports supplying Portus from across the Mediterranean.
But at the same time, if you’re kind of trying to evaluate the balance of which parts of the Mediterranean were perhaps more important to Portus or which areas was it served better by, the evidence that we’re beginning to accumulate suggests that for much of its life, it seems that Portus is primarily a western Mediterranean port. Not entirely because of course all the marbles tend to come from the east, but primarily a western Mediterranean port and that it has particular links with places like North Africa and so on. So that’s what the ceramics and the marble tell us. But we also have good epigraphic evidence.
We have epigraphic evidence for merchants and shippers from different parts of the Mediterranean both here at Portus and at Ostia, because of course Portus and Ostia were closely linked. So Portus is very much a hub of ports serving Rome and connected in almost a kind of capillary way to ports across the Mediterranean Basin. So it’s really hard to understate this.
We have looked at the establishment of Portus, and now its connections to other ports. Materials like pottery, glass and marble show us that Portus was a hub connected to the other major ports of the Mediterranean, with some suggestion that this was oriented primarily towards the west. Looking at evidence from Ostia, the Piazzale delle Corporazioni or “square of the Corporations” shows many different rooms with mosaics illustrating scenes of trade from around the Mediterranean. These rooms may have been used to discuss trade transactions to different Mediterranean ports.
The video mentioned “epigraphic evidence”. Dragana will talk more about this next week but for now think of it as any writing that is carved or scratched into an object. So, a gravestone is an example of epigraphy. You might also know the term “palaeography” which usually relates to ancient handwriting.
Now you’ve listened to Simon’s discussion of the links you can move on to hear Meaghan’s feelings on the significance of this information, and then you can have your say!
Remains of the Greek and Roman port at Marseille
Remains of the Greek and Roman port at Marseille – Simon Keay © University of Southampton
Discussion topic:
As you went through the video you may also have wondered about the map. How accurately do you think we can pinpoint the ancient port sites named in documentary sources? And do you think that the routes shown on the map are accurate? How could we know?
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Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome

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