For Our Neighbors to the North: ‘A Mini-Colosseum’

To read more on the discovery of this small amphitheater at Portus, just north of Ostia, click on the link to a video at CNN.  Kudos to our friends at the British School of Rome who have been researching at there.


Oldest Synagogue Discovered (?)

Thanks to our one of our senior staff members, Brent Nongbri, for, um, digging up this recent post about what could be the oldest synagogue ever discovered.

Jim West, author of the post, quotes the Israel Antiquities Authority, which has recently reported:

A synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BCE-100 CE) was exposed in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at a site slated for the construction of a hotel on Migdal beach, in an area owned by the Ark New Gate Company. In the middle of the synagogue is a stone that is engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), the likes of which have never been seen. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The information is exciting, to be sure, since Ostia’s synagogue too (albeit erroneously) once laid claim to the oldest Diaspora synagogue in the Mediterranean (on the recent work challenging this earlier assumption, see the OSMAP Project Field Reports from 2005).  But the operative word here is caution, for the time being.

In fact, the OSMAP Project Director, L. Michael White, writes:

I read the IAA blurb on it, too, but they do not say why they date it to the Second Temple Period.   No mention of pottery or coins.  The only hint I get of how they might be dating it so early is the statement that the city (Migdal/Magdala) was supposedly destroyed by the Romans in the revolt (based on Josephus).   This is an interesting story in Josephus, from the section where he launches his “heroic” ruse of the naval battle (BJ 2.630’s).  Hmmmmm?

My problem is this:  what is the archaeological evidence that the city does not date any later than the period of the revolt?   Even this hint is somewhat out of sink with a statement in the IAA report that gives the date-range as 50 BCE-100 CE.  That means a 30 year window after the revolt.  So, something is not quite fitting yet for me.  But you know how I am about these things.

As for the art of the stone and the mosaics on the floors, I wonder about such an early date.

We may be left to wonder for a while.

New Life at Other Late Antique Roman Ports: Constantinople

The interest in Roman harbors during the Late Antique periods is gaining ground; and the recent media report about the discovery of the Port of Theodosius at Constantinople (modern Istanbul) is sure to accelerate that trend.

Check out the report on CNN for a summary of how the ‘lost harbor’ of the late fourth century C.E. was found in 2004.

Some of this archaeological material will prove particularly relevant to our study of Ostia during the same period, especially in light of the recent work attesting to life at the synagogue, here on Rome’s shore, during the late fourth and fifth centuries.

2009 Excavation Season Completed

As Susan said below (in her advance comment to this post), Thanks to everyone that made the 2009 OSMAP season possible.  For those of you who are following this new blog for the first time, we were especially pleased to “dig up” some new information that will make for some incredible publications.

In particular, the mid 5th century C.E. coin (of Vandalic issue) is sure to create a stir about aspects of life in Late Antique Ostia which have been little understand until now.  The additional fact that the coin was discovered in the foundation of the supporting pier on the north face of the synagogue hall now shows beyond a doubt that the building’s repairs, as we see them today, is much later than any scholar has heretofore suspected.

Stay tuned, as well, to learn more about the drainage channel [?], or possible wall foundations [?], excavated in the room next to the synagogue hall (IV.17.1.18).  We are currently exploring several possible interpretation of the substructures here, originally discovered in the 1960s, and never adequately explained.

In short, the season was a great success with lots of new data now in the process of being published.  Thanks to all the staff — both in the field and in the lab — who made it such an enjoyable experience.