February 23, 2004

Ostia: Aspects of Roman City Life

This highly readable monograph collects several fascinating studies that extend our knowledge of Roman city life by bringing together all sorts of scattered data. We know a little about Roman real estate law and fire regulations; this tells us some fascinating things about the guilds of Ostia -- for example, the guilds usually owned the shops that faced the streets of their headquarters, because the wall construction would have been illegal unless the shops and the guild hall were part of the same property. The fire brigade of 19th century Constantinople, described by condescending British travelers, explains precisely what the Ostian vigiles did and how they might have been organized: like the Roman baths that became Turkish baths, the Roman fire department survived in Constantinople for a very long time. Best of all, perhaps, is a study of all the bars of Ostia. Want to know where business is done? Hermansen has a brilliant solution: find the bars -- which we can recognize because they needed special water arrangements and because the bar and the bar shelves were often built in stone -- and the offices and shops cannot be far away.