What in the Roman Republic is this Giant Pool Found Outside Rome?
A major but enigmatic discovery has been made near Rome. A huge pool, that is at least 2,300 years old has been uncovered by archaeologists. However, the role and purpose of this pool is not known. Experts have suggested that it was used for a variety of purposes, but no-one is sure, and the pool is a real Roman mystery.
The vast pool was found outside Rome and mid-way between the city and its ancient port of Ostia. It is located not far from the River Tiber. The find was made during preventative archaeology, which sought to identify and preserve any archaeological remains before a major construction project begins in the area. This discovery ‘has left us surprised’ declared Daniela Porro, who helped to oversee the dig, according to the Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma, a report written by cultural and heritage officials.
The pool is large and archaeologists are currently left speculating as to its true function. (Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma)
Mysterious Roman water pool
The pool is simply massive and has been likened to an Olympic swimming pool. It is a vast sunken area whose sides are made of large blocks of stone, with some tufa blocks marking its boundaries. It probably dates from the 4 th century BC when Rome was beginning to become an Italian power and is is approximately 150 feet long (50 m) and 40 feet wide (13.5m). It took a full year to excavate the pool. The Telegraph quotes one of the team who worked in the pool as saying that they are unsure what its purpose was, describing it as ‘an enigma’.
Typically, because of documentary evidence and past digs, archaeologists have a good idea of any constructions found in and around Rome, but not in this case. “It’s very rare to make a discovery of a structure like this and to not know what it was used for,” said Emanuele Giannini, an archaeologist working at the site, recorded the Telegraph. Adding to the enigma, a fragment of timber was found preserved in the mud bearing an inscription of Etruscan letters, which may spell a personal name. In the 4 th century BC the Romans were very much influenced by Etruscan culture.
Artifacts found at the site, including fragment of timber with Etruscan letters. (Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma)
Shipyard or fishpond?
It was assumed that the pool’s purpose was somehow connected to the River Tiber. This led to speculation that it may have been part of a shipbuilder’s yard. This view was reinforced by the fact that there was ‘a stone ramp at one end which would have allowed for easy access’ reports the Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma’. However, no channel was found that linked the pool to the river and therefore it was not suitable for any role in the construction of ships.
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The stone ramp leading into to the pool. (Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma)
Another theory was that it was used in aquaculture, the breeding of fish for consumption. The Romans were adept as fish farming and many fishponds have been found all over its former territories. However, the pool does not have the characteristics of a fishpond such as a special area for fish to spawn. It has also been speculated that the site was used for other purposes such as to ‘contain animal manure’ according to Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma.
It seems unlikely that the huge water container was used for unspecified industrial purposes. An examination of the ramp showed that it was not rutted by carts and appears to have been only used by people to exit and to enter the waters. Some suggested that it was a swimming pool. However, there was no large town in the vicinity and the floor of the pool was made of beaten earth, when typically they were made of marble and high-quality stones.
The site on the road between Rome and Ostia. (Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma)
A sacred pool for rituals
Then it was suggested that the pool was used as a part of religious ceremonies or some other ritual purposes. Sacred pools were part of Roman religion. However, it is much bigger than similar sacred pools and there was no evidence of remains of a sanctuary or temple nearby. Daniela Porro is quoted by the Telegraph as saying, “It could have had a sacred religious purpose but we are still working to try to understand exactly what it was”.
However, some facts have been established about the pool. It was on the border between Rome and Ostia which was a colony of the Romans. However, it was technically administered by Ostia because of its location. In the Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma’ it is stated that its location is, “A relevant, perhaps not accidental, position that fits into a broader, richer historical context”. It is believed that the pool was flooded by the Tiber and it was no longer in use and became buried by the 1 st century AD.
The site includes the pool, shrines, and areas for production added later in its development. (Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma)
Water system and villas
Another possibility is that it was linked to the many villas of the elite. The Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote that “his villa Laurentina was in an area suited to villas and pastures thanks to the presence of water” according to the Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma. Possibly the pool was linked to a number of aqueducts in the area, and it was part of the ancient water supply system in the region.
Yahoo reports Barbara Rossi, the director of the project as saying that, “We hope that the study of the many objects that have come to light, including pieces of wood, terracotta objects, metal artifacts and inscriptions, will reveal the secrets of this extraordinary corner of ancient Rome.”. This will help to solve the mystery of the pool, which may provide new insights into a critical period in Roman history. Ms Porro is quoted in the Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma’ as saying that the project is ‘Another success for preventive archaeology’.
Top image: The construction and location of the Roman pool has the experts stumped. Source: Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
By Ed Whelan