Antiquity and Christian Origins
L. Michael White, Director | 1 University Station C3450 | Austin, Texas 78712 | 512.232.1438 | 512.232.1439 fax


OSMAP Home > Preliminary Results > 2002

Report of the 2002 Field Season

In 2002, an OSAMP team comprising 14 student workers returned to the synagogue area to conduct a masonry analysis of the buildings located at IV.17.1-3. 

At the time of its discovery, for example, the first phase of synagogue (IV.17.1) was dated to the second half of the first century C.E., in part, on the basis of its earliest masonry typology: opus mixtum A (reticulate blocks of tufa with tufa quoining).  At Ostia, this technique has traditionally been dated to the first century C.E.  More recent studies, however, have challenged that view. The goal of the season was, therefore, to gather both quantitative and qualitative data that would refine our understanding of the construction phases of the buildings.

Working in teams of two or three, the OSAMP field staff assembled a detailed catalogue of all wall segments in the rooms for which they were responsible. This analysis included measurements and descriptions of the following: all wall lengths, heights, and widths (differentiations were made between ancient and modern sections of the extant walls); a representative sample of tufa blocks, clay bricks, and mortar beds from each wall; all visible quoining, framing, or bonding techniques which characterized individual wall sections, where appropriate; and all features, such as thresholds, windows, benches, etc., which formed part of the ancient phases of the building. A ‘5+5 modulus’ (five courses of tufa or brick plus five courses of mortar, measured in 1 m increments) was also recorded, where evidence permitted. Once completed, each team then provided an assessment of the relative chronology of construction techniques used in their assigned rooms.  

This study has yielded the following preliminary results: A total of 10 masonry techniques were employed in the construction and repair of the buildings in the OSMAP survey area.  Nevertheless, modulus measurements of the purported earliest type, opus mixtum A, are entirely consistent across the survey area; these measurements vary no more than ± 0.05 m.  This data suggests that the exterior walls of rooms 7, 9-10, and 14 were most likely constructed at the same time and may have constituted one part of the earliest building on site.  It is equally clear, however, that no partition walls have survived from this first construction phase.  This fact suggests that the interior space of the original building may have seen significant modifications during its subsequent phases.  

Unfortunately, an absolute chronology, corresponding to the phases of this construction and repair, cannot as yet be determined from the available evidence for two reasons.  First, techniques like opus mixtum are now known to have been used at Ostia into the mid and late second century with some examples extending into the third.  The walls located to the west of the sacellum at 3.2.11 and the walls of the caseggiato at 1.4.1 are two such examples. Second, no stratigraphic data exists from the site’s earlier excavation, either in print or in the Ostian archives.  Although members of the OSAMP were granted permission in 2002 to reopen a previously excavated but unpublished trench, located in IV.17.1.9, the absence of any stratified ceramic or numismatic evidence has thus cautioned against assigning an absolute date to the first phase of the buildings at this time.  

As a result, further data, acquired through more scientific excavation, will now be needed to refine the individual phases of all three buildings in the survey area. 


Synagogue Area Numbered
Plan of the Buildings at IV.17.1-3

Synagogue Top Plan
Plan of the buildings at IV.17.1-1


L. Michael White, Susan Gelb, Darius Arya, Alan Stearman, Darius Arya, Joanne Spurza.  Field Team: Brandon Beck, Douglas Boin, David Gibson, Grant Ingram, Lea Kline, Amanda Krauss, Jackie McCollum, Jess Miner, Brent Nongbri, Nayla Muntasser, Katie Ronstandt, Milton Torres, Bronwyn Wickkiser, Valerio Caldesi Valeri.


L. Michael White, Susan Gelb, and Douglas Boin (2002).


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UPDATED 4.20.2010 | DRB