The excavation of the Roman ruins at a site called Portus has revealed that the site may turn our previous understanding of Rome on its ear:
University of Southhampton archaeologists have just this summer uncovered the remains of an amphitheater, a Roman warehouse and the ruins of an Imperial palace even though archaeologists have been digging at this site since the 19th Century.
"It's true I think also to say that we have kind of rediscovered it because the great Italian archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani reported the discovery of a theater in the 1860s but nobody could actually find it," says Professor Simon Keay, a leading expert on Roman Archaeology at the University of Southhampton.
Here is a look at a graphical representation of the amphitheatre that was found:
BK [Bija Knowles]: Why do you think the site of Portus hasn't been fully excavated until now?
SK [Simon Keay]: A lot of scholarly attention has always been captured by Ostia, the river-port of Rome, which is a very short distance from here. Ostia, in many ways, tells us so much in terms of the port of Rome, the officials that congregated there, the families that lived there, houses, places where merchants struck up contracts – and that in a sense has often been enough to answer many scholarly questions. But it seems to me that Portus offers more – it's the place where the big cargo ships came in, where imports were stored, before they were transported to Rome. It just hadn't been much in vogue, but I think our work, along with that of our Italian colleagues at other parts of Portus, shows that, when we look at Portus together with Ostia, we finally start to get an idea of the scale and complexity of Rome's trade with the Mediterranean.
BK: Are more discoveries at the site likely?
SK: We've been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a three-year period. Our phase of work at this stage is finished, but we very much hope that our Italian colleagues like our work and that we'll be able to come back and continue it at a subsequent date, hopefully not too far in the distant future, provided we can win more funds.
BK: You mentioned in a press release that this site is as important as Stonehenge or Angkor Wat – why is that?
SK: There was only one imperial Rome – and imperial Rome only had one maritime port. Also because Portus can tell us so much about the development of Rome as an imperial capital, in terms of its decoration, its population, the food that was consumed, the architecture and so on. So much of that can be explained by the existence of Portus, so clearly, understanding more about it means we can understand Rome better. Therefore it must be important - it must rank highly because it's unique. There's nowhere else like Stonehenge. There's nowhere else like Angkor Wat. There's nowhere else like Portus!
The images included here are a graphical representation of what Portus would look like, based on what has been excavated so far, and when you consider how wealthy and sophisticated Roman society was, there is no doubt that the site at Portus could yield items of material value as well as cultural value.
The advantage of doing this work now means that the excavation will be based on seeking information, not treasure hunting or celebrating the nightmare of fascism. Current methods will preserve much more of what is found.
Anyway, it makes me want to go to Italy, and I don't recall ever having a desire to go to Italy.