This video provides a virtual tour of several important seaports in Italy during the height of the Roman empire in the 1st century A.D. Several coastal cities along the Italian peninsula became large trading centers as Romans found benefits in using ships for transporting goods. Other coastal cities became vacation spots.
A Roman’s-Eye View: Italian Seaports and Resorts
As Rome came to depend more and more on trade across the Mediterranean Sea, they discovered its benefits. Sea trade was sixty times less expensive than trade over land, using roads designed for soldiers’ sandals and cavalry hooves—not wagon wheels. It was also speedier, taking only a month to sail from Gades in Hispania (modern Cadiz, Spain) to Alexandria in Egypt, stopping in Ostia along the way. In order to support the widespread maritime trade, several port cities developed on the Italian Peninsula.
One of these, Ostia, was the acting seaport of Rome. Since the City was situated 15 miles inland along the banks of the Tiber River, direct trade on the Mediterranean was impractical. Instead, the Romans sent cargo along the Tiber to the harbors at Ostia, where they would be shipped across the sea.
Brundisium and Tarentum were other port towns on the Italian peninsula. Brundisium was a common point for jumping-off into the eastern half of the Mediterranean. The Appian Way connected this port to Rome. The Spartans first established Tarentum as a colony in 706 B.C. Centuries later, Romans obtained control.
Not all coastal cities served as major port, however. The Bay of Naples was home to the resort town of Baiae, where wealthy Romans would come to vacation from the city during the hot summer months. Volcanic activity in the area (such as Mt. Vesuvius) provided mineral-rich thermal springs—saunas, essentially. Ill Romans found some relief bathing in these hot springs.
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