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Archaeology of Portus – A Glossary

A glossary of terms related to the archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome
Brick stamp found at Portus
© University of Southampton
This article provides a glossary of terms, locations and other information relating to the archaeology of Portus.



An oval structure that was added to the eastern side of the Palazzo Imperiale in the early 3rd c and which has been identified as an amphitheatre. (First present on Period 4 map #18).

Ancient Coastline:

The ancient coastline in c. AD 100 lay much further inland than it does today, close to the western side of the Isola Sacra cemetery, and has been identified by means of excavated trenches and geological cores. (First present on Period 1 map).


Quay on the western facade of the port next to to the Portico di Claudio and adjacent warehouses, that was intensively used between the mid 1st and 7th c AD. (First present on Period 1 map #1).


Scholars in the past who studied history by examining ancient sites, objects and manuscripts.

Archaeogenetics Specialists:

Use human genetic material to reconstruct population patterns from the past, in particular in relation to migrations and other population movements. (Learn more in Week 5)

Architects, Architectural Historians and Engineers:

Help us understand the principles of historical building design, from formal urbanism to construction methods; their insight helps us interpret features that we observe and reconstruct missing elements of structures (Learn more in Week 4)
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Building Five:

see Navalia.

Burials (in Period 6):

Sporadic burials within early and mid-imperial warehouses. (First present on Period 6 map).
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Campus Salinarum Romanarum:

A flat area of salt pans to the east of Portus that was exploited during the Roman Republican and early Imperial periods. (First present on Period 1 map).

Canale di Comunicazione Traverso:

A canal that ran southwards from the pool of the harbour to provide access to the entrance to the Darsena and the Fiumicino Canal.

Canale di Imbocco al Porto di Traiano:

The main channel for ships entering the inner Trajanic basin from the outer Claudian basin. (First present on Period 1 map).

Canale Romano:

The Canale Romano was built under Trajan, and ran from the Fiumicino Canal to enable river craft to run past the transhipment area of the hexagonal basin and across flat land to intersect with the Tiber.
See Trajanic Canal under T

Capo Due Rami:

The tongue of land that lies at the junction of the Fiumicino canal and the river Tiber, to the south-east of Portus. (First present on Period 1 map).

Cemetery (east of Portus):

An extensive cemetery that lies in the flat ground between the Trajanic basin and the Tiber, and which may have focused upon churches during the Late Antique period. (First present on Period 5 map #20).

Centumcellae: see Civitavecchia.


A port constructed ex novo by the Emperor Trajan prior to his enlargement of Portus. It was linked to Rome by the Via Aurelia and to Portus by the sea.

Claudian Aqueduct:

An aqueduct that carried water from a source in the vicinity of the modern Ponte Galeria to Portus, running along the west bank of the river, before turning in a south-westerly direction to head towards the core of the Claudian port in the vicinity of the later Basilica Portuense. (First present on Period 1 map).

Claudian Basin:

A large 200 Ha artificial outer harbour basin defined by an estuarine landscape to the east, concrete quays to the north and south and a lighthouse to the west: the principal entrance was from the west. (First present on Period 1 map).

Claudian Quay:

A large concrete quay found by us in 2007 that defined the southern edge of the Claudian basin. (First present on Period 1 map #5).

Commercial Building (Foro Olitorio):

A large complex of storerooms that opened on to a central courtyard. (First present on Period 2 map #12).

Computer Scientists:

Archaeological computing specialists conduct a variety of computer-based research, from data recording, integration and management, animation and digital simulation of built environment to three-dimensional analysis of space and spatial experience; at Portus we have integrated computer methods into many aspects of our work, particularly relating to research and documentation, and many of these techniques and applications will be discussed later (Learn more in Week 4)


Help preserve archaeological materials once they have been excavated. Using a variety of scientific techniques these expert treat objects ranging from the smallest find to entire buildings; these interventions ensure that the material suffers no further deterioration and might involve a certain degree of restoration (Learn more in Week 4)
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Its function isn’t entirely clear but may have been related to loading of grain and other goods from the adjacent warehouses onto the river craft for transporting by canal and the Tiber up to Rome.


Dating via tree growth rings – at Portus the tree rings from contexts dated via other means have helped enhance our dendrochronology sequence for the region and the period. In turn samples of wood at Portus and elsewhere may help to date contexts that would otherwise be unknown.
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Early River Port:

A series of structures detected by geophysics and visible in aerial photographs that lay close to the banks of the river Tiber, to the east of the main area of Portus. (First present on Period 1 map #6).

Emporium at Rome:

The principal commercial district of Rome, located on the banks of the Tiber south of the Aventine and filled with warehouses and, of course, Monte Testaccio


Study remains of writing from the past, be it formal stone monuments or shipping labels painted on a container designated for trade – Roman archaeologists are particularly fortunate as a variety of sources at their disposal is truly rich, in a number of media and languages spoken across the Empire, and at Portus such finds have helped us understand the development of the port better, date structures more precisely and identify people linked to its activities (Learn more in Week 2 in the section on the Written Record and in Week 2 in the section on Brick Stamps)
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Fiumicino Canal:

A wide canal that connects the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Tiber, but which was originally established as part of the Claudian harbour. (First present on Period 1 map).

Foro Olitorio:

see Commercial Building.

Fossa Traiana:

see Fiumicino Canal.
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Geologists and other Earth Scientists:

Study soils and sediment, and help us understand regional environmental changes and physical processes that influenced the site formation. Here at Portus they helped us reconstruct the ancient coastline, water level changes and the process of siltation of various parts of the harbour (Learn more in Week 3)

Geophysicists and Remote Sensing Experts:

Use a variety of scientific methods to identify and record sub-surface archaeological structures, without the need for a destructive method such as excavation; such methods have allow us to gain an idea about the entirety of the site and its surroundings within a couple of years, something that would have never been possible through excavation alone (Learn more in Week 3)

Grandi Magazzini di Settimio Severo:

A large complex traditionally identified as a warehouse consisting of at least two storeys and situated in such way as to overlook the pool of the port to the south, the Trajanic Basin to the east and the Claudian basin to the north. (First present on Period 3 map #17).

Grandi Magazzini Traiani:

A massive double complex of warehouses that were initially constructed during the reign of the Emperor Trajan and were used for the storage of grain, and which underwent phases of rebuilding during the later 2nd and 3rd c AD. (First present on Period 2 map #13).
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Harbour (of Ostia):

see Ostia (Harbour).
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Isola Sacra:

A large island lying between Portus and Ostia that was defined by the Tiber to the east and south, the Tyrrhenian sea to the west and the Fiumicino canal to the north. (First present on Period 1 map).

Isola Sacra Cemetery:

a large cemetery comprising hundreds of tombs of relatively high status individuals that was in use from the later 1st c AD until the 3rd/4th c AD. (First present on Period 2 map).
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Small lighthouse on the end of the Molo della Lanterna. (First present on Period 1 map).


Lithics include mica, whetstones and fragments of small imported stones such as amber and carnelian, and also construction materials such as marble, tufa (used as brick shaped blocks or as cone shaped pieces in the style of walling called Opus Reticulata) and silex, a form of basalt.
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A monumental tomb belonging to a high status individual that was located in a cemetery area in the flat land lying between the Trajanic basin and the Tiber. (First present on Period 1 map #4).

Metal Experts:

Study metal tools found on the site – depending on the material such finds usually come out of the ground heavily corroded or concreted and require specialist care before they can be analyzed for composition and manufacturing techniques. At Portus we mostly find nails, fittings and chain links for both ornamental and structural use (Learn more in Week 4)


A large solid structure on a shore serving as a pier, breakwater, or causeway.

Molo della Lanterna:

A long concrete quay that ran from west to east and acted as the northern side of a channel that provided passage for ships heading towards the Trajanic basin; it was surmounted by a lantern and some baths. (First present on Period 1 map #3).

Monte Arena:

A large and enigmatic sandy prominence on the northern quay of the Claudian basin. (First present on Period 1 map).

Monte Giulio:

The eastern quay of the Claudian basin. (First present on Period 1 map).

Monte Testaccio:

A large artificial hill of sherds of amphorae from southern Spain, and to a lesser extent Tripolitania, close to the Tiber in the Emporium district of Rome.

Mura Costantiniane:

Substantial fortifications that enclosed the Trajanic basin and other key parts of the core of Portus in the late 5th c AD. (First present on Period 5 map).
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A large building that formed part of the same architectural conception as the Palazzo Imperiale and which has been interpreted as navalia, shelter for warships, but which may also have been used for the repair or construction of other kinds of ship. (First present on Period 2 map #8).

Northern Canal:

A long irregularly shaped canal of probably Claudian date that ran in a north-westerly direction from the Tiber to the east of Portus, into the Tyrrhenian Sea at a point just to the north of Portus. (First present on Period 1 map).

Northern Entrance (to Claudian Basin):

A possible entrance in the northern side of the Claudian basin close to the intersection of the northern and eastern quays, identified by geo-archaeological coring. (First present on Period 1 map).

Northern Quay:

The northern quay of the Claudian basin was uncovered during clearance work for the building of Fiumucino International Airport in the 1960s. It was built from opus caementicium (hydraulic concrete) and can be traced for well over a kilometre from a point just west of the northern point of the eastern quay (where there was a narrow entrance) as far as the main runway of the airport, but continued onwards to a point a short distance to the north of the Pharos. There is good evidence for a number of structural phases in the surviving concrete. (First present on Period 1 map).


Study coins and other related objects that served as currency at different points of human history. Roman world produced a wealth of coin material that is an incredibly rich source of information , and we have been fortunate to find quite a number of coins at Portus, allowing us to date some of the phases of the site more precisely (Learn more in Week 4)
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Opus Sectile:

A type of floor decoration that consisted of an arrangement of irregularly shaped coloured stone pieces to form geometric or figurative images. The coloured stone used was mostly marble, making this the most expensive form of floor covering available.


A major river port lying c. 16m to the south-west of Rome that was established by the late 4th BC and developed into a major urban community that, in tandem with Portus, the Emporium at Rome and the port of Centumcellae (Civitavecchia) was a key element in the network of ports serving the Capital. (First present on Period 1 map).

Ostia (Harbour):

A harbour basin c. 2 Ha in area that originated during the Republican period and was used well into the Imperial period. (First present on Period 1 map).
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Palaeobotanists or Archaeobotanists:

Study plant remains from the past. Their research allows us to better understand the environmental context of the site though its flora, but also human actions as reflected though plant cultivation and use (Learn more in Week 2)

Palazzo Imperiale:

Large three storey administrative complex built under Trajan at the heart of the port and overlooking both the Claudian and Trajanic basins. (First present on Period 2 map #7).


A large lighthouse built by the Emperor Claudius in the mid 1st c AD that imitated the great Pharos at Alexandria, that guided ships into the Claudian basin and symbolised Roman power in the Mediterranean. (First present on Period 1 map).

Physical Anthropologists:

Study human remains – preserved skeletal evidence can be used to determine sex, age and stature of the person, but can also provide information on their health and diet, type of work they did in life; their work is invaluable for learning more about people who were buried at Portus (Learn more in Week 5)

Ponte di Matidia:

The site of a Roman bridge over the Fiumicino Canal (Fossa Traiano) that carried the principal road connection between Portus and Ostia. (First present on Period 2 map #15).

Portico di Claudio:

Monumental colonnade of mid 1st c AD date on the western facade of the port that afforded views over the Claudian basin. (First present on Period 1 map #2).

Porticus Placidiana:

A structure of 5th c AD date known to us from epigraphic evidence. (First present on Period 5 map #21).

Portus to Ostia Canal:

This was a very large feature identified by geophysical survey, probably of Trajanic date, that was traversed by a bridge in the north of the Isola Sacra, incorporated an island, and extended southwards in the direction of Ostia. (First present on Period 2 map).

Possible Road (on the route of the Via Flavia):

There is no evidence for a road preceding the Via Flavia connecting Portus and Ostia, but it is very unlikely that there was no road between the ports; but the earliest actual archaeological evidence for the road is a late 1st c. AD coin in its foundations. (First present on Period 1 map).
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River Port:

A series of warehouses, a possible temple and other buildings. (First present on Period 2 map #16).
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S. Hippolito:

An early Medieval church that developed within the small Roman settlement on the south side of the Tiber in the Isola Sacra.


Sherding is the process of counting the numbers of sherds of different types of pottery in different locations. This can give you an indication of the activities, and the dates and concentrations of occupation associated with given locations. It is one aspect of what is commonly called “field walking”. A variety of statistically-based sampling strategies are often used, rather than recording everything we find across a whole landscape.


A process where sediments settle at the bottom of the basin, reducing its depth and making it more difficult for large ships to navigate. Many harbours require regular dredging to keep them navigable.

Stagno di Ostia:

A salt-water lagoon lying to the east of Ostia. (First present on Period 1 map).

Stagno Maccarese:

A salt-water lagoon set back from the coast to the north of the main area of Portus. (First present on Period 1 map).

Statio Marmorum:

The marble yards at Portus, which lie immediately to the south of the Fiumicino canal on the northern edge of the Isola Sacra. (First present on Period 1 map).

Stone or Lithics Experts:

Study human-shaped stone finds from the site, which they can provenance stone and explain which tools and techniques have been used to shape it; at a Roman period site they mainly study architectural stone fragments, which at Portus are mostly marbles (Learn more in Week 3)
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Temple (overlooking the Trajanic basin):

A large temple that is situated on axis to the entrance to the Trajanic basin, and in front of which stood a colossal statue of the Emperor Trajan. (First present on Period 2 map #11).

Terme della Lanterna:

A set of baths on the narrow quay on the north side of the Canale di Imbocco al Porto di Traiano, and which continued in use well into the Late Antique period. (First present on Period 2 map #14).

Terme Horrea:

A small complex of uncertain date that it situated at the southern point end of the Monte Giulio, the eastern mole of the Claudian basin. (First present on Period 2 map #9).

Terrazza di Traiano:

The monumental colonnaded façade of the Palazzo Imperiale, built under Trajan.


One of the major rivers of Italy, and the route of communication between Rome and the Sea was c. 19km to the north-east of Portus, and flowed into the sea just ti the west of Ostia. Its course has changed since antiquity following a major flood in the 16th c. A sand bar at the mouth of the Tiber made it hard for ships to reach Rome. (First present on Period 1 map).

Tombs (by the Tiber):

A series of monumental tombs lining the western bank of the Tiber just north of the intersection of this with the Trajanic canal from Portus. (First present on Period 2 map).

Trajanic Aqueduct:

An aqueduct that represented a re-routing of the line of earlier Claudian Aqueduct following the creation of the hexagonal basin under Trajan.

Trajanic Basin:

A 32 Ha six sized inner basin established by the Emperor Trajan and surrounded by warehouses, a temple and the Palazzo Imperiale. (First present on Period 2 map).

Trajanic Canal:

see Canale Romano under C

Transhipment Canal:

see Canale Romano under C

Transtiberim district of Rome:

The region of Rome that lay on the west bank of the Tiber, that was frequented by merchants, and which boasted port facilities like that at Ripetta Grande.

Trastevere Ostiense:

A predominately commercial area comprising warehouses and other major buildings on the northern side of the Tiber opposite the main built up area of Ostia; recent research by the Portus Project has shown that it was defined by a major wall to its north. (First present on Period 1 map).
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Via Campana:

A major road that was established in the Roman Republican period and which ran from the Campus Salinarum Romanarum in the vicinity of Portus to the Pons Sublicius at Rome. (First present on Period 1 map).

Via Ostiense:

A major consular road established in the 4th BC and which ran from Ostia to Rome along the eastern bank of the Tiber. (First present on Period 1 map).

Via Portuensis:

A major road that was built in the 1st c AD and which diverged from the Via Campana two miles from the centre of Rome, before rejoining it in the vicinity of the modern locality of Ponte Galeria. (First present on Period 1 map).

Via Severiana:

A coastal road that ran from Ostia to Laurentinum and other settlements and other settlements to the south. (First present on Period 1 map).
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Warehouse (on eastern quay of Claudian Basin):

A number of large rectangular buildings on the eastern quay of the Claudian basin. Since they have been revealed by geophysical survey, little is as yet known about their development or what they might have contained. (First present on Period 1 map #10).

Warehouse (surrounding the Trajanic Basin):

Large warehouses for the storage of a range of commodities that were probably initially constructed under Trajan, but many of which were used until some time in the Late Antique period. (First present on Period 2 map #10).

Water Cisterns:

Buildings north of the Terme Horrea on the Claudian Basin have been interpreted as a large complex of water cisterns. (First present on Period 1 map).
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Study animal remains found at the site, from skeletal remains of large mammals to tiny shells and molluscs. (Learn more in Week 2)
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Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome

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