Ancient Portus (near Ostia), Rome’s imperial harbor

by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg

Portus, the key Roman port in emperial times


Date of first edition: 1588

Date of this edition: 1588

Dimensions (not including margins): 29,5 x 49,5 cm

Condition: Strong print image with lovely old original colors and wide margins. Two tiny wormholes on the centre fold, but outside the map.

Condition rating: A

Verso: text in Latin

Map reference: Taschen, Br. Hog., p. 335

From: Civitatis Orbis Terrarum (IV: Urbium praecipuarum totius mundi, liber quartus, first edition 1588)/Koeman B&H4

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Ancient Portus by Braun and Hogenberg

Portus was the imperial port [what’s in a French or English name] of ancient Rome, just a few km west of Ostia. This city was founded under Ancus Martius, Rome’s fourth king (reign from 641 to 616 BC). It mainly functioned as Rome’s harbor under the kingdom at the mouth of the Tiber. Ostium is Latin for mouth. However, at the end of the 1st century BC, the river was silting up, thereby landlocking Ostia. There was an urgent need for a bigger and more accessible harbor. Under the emperors Claudius and Nero an external part (the portus Claudii) was built between 42 and 62. Claudius placed an enormous lighthouse at the entrance of the port. Two canals connected the port with the river Tiber. Under Claudius the 24 km long Via Portuensis would also link Portus and Rome. In 62 (the same year as the eruption of the Vesuvius!) a storm destroyed 200 docked ships. A safer internal harbor was called for; so, Trajanus ordered the construction (from 110 to 112) of the inner basin to meet Rome’s demand of grain. At any given moment 160 ships could be handled. Most of the long buildings on this view were storage facilities. The hexagonal shape of this port is still visible in the landscape and is today called the Lago Traiano (just under the airport of Fiumicino; see picture). As for Ostia, it got city right in the 1st century AD with an estimated population of approximately 10.000 people. Isola Sacra (at the top of this map) was an island situated between Portus and Ostia.

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