The Port of Portus, Ancient Rome

The Port of Portus, Ancient Rome

Source: Engraved in 1557 in “Civitates Orbis Terrarum”.

The port of Ostia, located at the mouth of the river Tiber, was the main port serving Rome since its foundation and emergence as an imperial city. As the Roman Empire expanded and reached dominance around the Mediterreanean, a need arose to expand the shipping capabilities and connectivity of Rome. Portus was constructed in 42 CE as an addition to Ostia, which was located just 6 km away. One of the advantages of Portus was its better proximity to Rome (32 km) with the construction of Via Portuensis and a canal connecting to the Tiber. Traffic was so intensive between the port and Rome that Via Portuensis was expanded to become the world’s first dual carriageway.

Portus became an extensive facility covering more than 200 hectares and the most important hub of the Mediterranean for at least three centuries until the collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire in the fifth century. In 102 CE, it was expanded to include and hexagonal basin expanding docking space, surrounded by large warehousing facilities (the basin is still present today). Portus acted as a major commercial and distribution hub and such an important facility that the modern term ‘port’ was directly derived from its name. Because of siltation and declining activity, the port facility disappeared and is now about 2 km inland from the sea.