Archaeologists uncover two new fragments of the Fasti Ostienses in the Ostia Antica archaeological park

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
October 27, 2023

Two newly discovered fragments of the Fasti Ostienses, an ancient Roman calendar inscribed on marble slabs, have shed light on the political and monumental history of both Rome and Ostia, offering an unprecedented glimpse into the daily activities of Emperor Hadrian, who reigned from 117 to 138 CE.

The newly uncovered fragments, combined with another already preserved in Ostia. Credit: Italian Ministry of Culture

The Fasti Ostienses are considered an invaluable historical chronicle, meticulously drafted by the pontifex Volcani, the highest local religious authority at the time.

This discovery, the result of the second excavation campaign of the Ops – Ostia Post Scriptum project, conducted in collaboration with the University of Catania and the Polytechnic University of Bari, is set to enhance our understanding of Hadrian’s reign and the ancient Ostian civilization.

These two fragments, found in Area B of the Ostia Antica Archaeological Park, corresponding to the Forum of Porta Marina, complete the existing narrative dating back to 128 CE, during Hadrian’s rule.

Fragment of the Fasti Ostienses with the transcript. Credit: Italian Ministry of Culture

The inscription on the first fragment reveals the remarkable events of that year, including Hadrian’s assumption of the title “pater patriae” (father of his country) on January 10, alongside the elevation of his wife, Sabina, to the status of “Augusta.” To commemorate these honors, Hadrian offered a generous “congiar dedit” or donation of money to the Roman people.

On April 11, 128 CE, as indicated in the inscription, Hadrian embarked on a journey to Africa, returning to Rome between late July and early August. Before departing for Athens, the Emperor conducted a consecration, inscribed as “consecravit,” of a building within Rome itself.

Experts speculate that this building could either be the iconic Pantheon or the Temple of Venus and Roma, with August 11, 128 CE, marking a potential anniversary date of Hadrian’s accession to the throne in 117 CE.

Alessandro D’Alessio, the director of the Archaeological Park of Ancient Ostia, has described this discovery as “extraordinary,” emphasizing that it significantly contributes to our knowledge of Emperor Hadrian’s activities and underscores the historical significance of ancient Ostia.

Previously discovered fragment of the Fasti Ostienses that mentions Pharasmanes II of Iberia. PHARASMAN'[ES REX IBERORVM CVM FILIO] E ET VXORE PHR [CVI IMP (ERATOR) ANTONINVS AVG (VSTVS) REGNVM] REDDIDIT Translation: Pharasman [es, the king of Iberia with the son] and his wife Phr [to whom the emp[eror] Antoninus Aug[ustus], the kingdom] restored. Credit: Public Domain

Furthermore, Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s Minister of Culture, applauded the excavations at the Ostia Archaeological Park, which not only unveiled the Fasti Ostienses fragments but also revealed extensive portions of a mosaic floor, soon to be accessible to the public. Sangiuliano emphasized the invaluable nature of these discoveries for understanding the life in Ostia and Rome.

The Forum of Porta Marina, where these Fasti Ostienses fragments were unearthed, was a large rectangular building adorned with columns, where historical records were etched into columns.

The archaeological site Ostia in Rome. Credit: Italian Ministry of Culture

The Fasti Ostienses were maintained by the priests of the Temple of Vulcan, Ostia’s chief deity and their creation began as early as the dictatorship of Sulla in 81 BC. The earliest surviving portion records events from 49 to 44 BC, while the last extant year is CE 175.

The newly uncovered fragments, combined with previously discovered pieces, now provide a continuous chronicle of the years 126-128 CE. Some of the calendar fragments, spanning the period from CE 49 to CE 175, are on display at the Vatican Museums.

Ostia Antica Archaeological Park. Credit: Italian Ministry of Culture

Ostia Antica, situated just 19 miles from Rome, was originally established as an armed camp and later evolved into a thriving commercial center. Its strategic location at the mouth of the Tiber River made it a crucial harbor and base for Roman expansion. The site, which lay in ruins for centuries until the 19th century, boasts well-preserved structures, including a theater, Roman baths, schools, temples, and even a synagogue.