Two new fragments of Roman calendar found in Ostia

Two new fragments of the Fasti Ostienses, an ancient Roman marble calendar recording imperial news, magistrates and events, have emerged in an excavation at Ostia Antica, ancient Rome’s principal seaport. They record details from the reign of the emperor Hadrian.

The fasti originated in Republican Rome as a yearly calendars of days when religious requirements allowed or forbade the conducting of civil, legal and political business. The names of the annual consuls were listed on the fasti, which is how years became known by the names of the consuls rather than by a numerical date. These calendars were large marble bulletin boards, basically, mounted in public with carved and painted inscriptions.

The Fasti Ostienses were maintained by the priests of the Temple of Vulcan who kept a running tally for hundreds of years. The earliest fragment chronicles the years 49 to 44 B.C.; the last one covers events from 175 A.D. It lists the consuls of Rome, Ostia’s most important local magistrates, events involving the emperor, deaths of important people, the dedication of new temples and the appointment of new priests of Vulcan.

The recording of fasti fell out of favor during the Severan dynasty (193-235 A.D.), and Ostia itself declined as the port silted over in the 3rd century. Barbarian invasions in the 5th century led to the abandonment of the city and over time its structures were used as sources of building material. The great marble calendar was broken up and used for scrap too.

The newly-recovered fragments were discovered in the Forum of Porta Marina, an area of the city where other fragments of the Fasti Ostienses were unearthed in the excavations of 1940-1 and 1969-72. The Forum site consists of a large rectangular building with porticos on three sides and an apsidal hall on the fourth that was paved in opus sectile (colorful marble inlay). The Fasti were carved on the curved surfaces of columns in this building.

One of the two newly recovered fragments, which experts say matches perfectly with another previously found at the site, dates to AD128, during the reign of Hadrian. The inscription refers to events that took place that year, including 10 January, when Hadrian received the title pater patriae, or father of his country, and his wife, Sabina, that of Augusta. According to the inscription, Hadrian celebrated the occasion by offering a congiar dedit, or donation of money, to the people.

Another date, 11 April of the same year, refers to Hadrian’s trip to Africa before he returned to Rome between July and August. Before a subsequent trip to Athens, he consecrated (the inscription reads “consecravit”) a building in Rome that experts believe could be either the Pantheon or the Temple of Venus and Roma, possibly on 11 August. This would have marked his 11th anniversary as emperor.