chapter  5
30 Pages

The Insula of the Paintings at Ostia 1.4.2–4: Paradigm for a city in flux: Janet DeLaine

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The life of a city is complex and ever changing, but archaeological and particularly structural evidence by its nature often tends to represent urban development as a series of static tableaux. Ostia is a case in point, despite the fact that here, as at Pompeii, we are dealing with a city more than two-thirds laid bare by excavation. Although the city existed for some 13 centuries, the fabric is predominantly that of the 2nd century AD, with some 3rd and 4th century buildings of note and pockets of construction going back to the original castrum walls of the 4th century BC; as a result we tend to assign all aspects of its development into a very few broad phases-five or six at the most-lasting several generations, while forgetting the dynamics of change which conspired to bring it about. Thanks to Russell Meiggs’s heroic work of synthesis, the overall picture is familiar;2 what eludes us are the nuances of the changing city, the city in flux. Meiggs himself was aware that the picture he presented was painted with a broad brush on a coarse canvas; when discussing the changes in the 4th century AD, his comment that “if we were better informed we should see a more complex picture” (p. 96) could be applied to almost any aspect and almost any period of Ostian life.