Portus Project

Portus (Fiumicino) was the maritime port of ancient Rome and, together with the neighbouring river port at Ostia, was the focus of a network of ports serving Imperial Rome between the mid-1st century AD and the 6th century AD.  It was established by Claudius in the mid-1st century AD, enlarged by Trajan, and subsequently modified during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.  The port began to enter a period of slow decline from the late 5th century AD onwards, although it was the scene of a major struggle between Byzantine and Ostrogothic troops during the Gothic wars (AD 535-553).

Portus was critically important for supplying the city of Imperial Rome with foodstuffs and materials from across the Mediterranean from the 1st century AD onwards.  It also acted as both a point of export for supplies and products from the Tiber Valley to the north of Rome, and a major hub for the redistribution of goods from ports across the Mediterranean. It must also have acted as a major conduit for people visiting Rome from around the Mediterranean.

Directed by Simon Keay, the AHRC Portus Project is guided by two main objectives.  Firstly, it seeks to build a better understanding of Portus itself, as well as its relationship to Ostia, Rome, and the rest of the Mediterranean.  Secondly, it aims to develop techniques that will enhance the ways in which highly complex classical sites can be investigated and recorded, and evaluate the impact of those techniques. Used in combination, non-destructive survey, open area excavation, and the computer graphic representation of excavated and graphically-simulated Roman buildings are key components to achieving these objectives.

Another aim of the Portus Project has been to use geophysical survey to gain a better understanding of the Isola Sacra—an artificial island lying between the Tiber, Portus, Ostia and the Tyrrhenian sea.  It was traversed by a road running between Portus and Ostia, and hosted a small settlement in the north with adjacent cemetery to its south.


  • Simon Keay
  • Graeme Earl
  • Martin Millett, University of Cambridge