London, July 12 (ANI): British archaeologists have discovered a canal built by the Romans at the ancient maritime port of Portus. The 90-metre-wide canal is one of the biggest ever built by the Romans.
According to the archaeologists, from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton and the British School at Rome, the canal connected Portus, on the coast at the mouth of the Tiber, with the river port of Ostia, two miles away.
The channel at Portus - which lies close to Rome's Fiumicino airport, 20 miles west of the city - would have facilitated the transfer of cargo from huge ocean-going ships to smaller river vessels and taken up the River Tiber to the docks and warehouses of the imperial capital.
Until now, it was believed goods took a more circuitous overland route along a Roman road, the Via Flavia.
"It's absolutely massive. We know of other, contemporary canals which were 20-40 metres wide, and even that was big. But this was so big that there seems to have been an island in the middle of it, and there was a bridge that crossed it. It was unknown until now," The Telegraph quoted, Simon Keay, the director of the three-year dig at Portus, as saying.
The dig, which is being conducted in collaboration with Italian archaeologists, is providing new insights into the extraordinary trading web that the Romans spread across the Mediterranean basin, from Spain to Egypt and Asia Minor.
Prof Keay said: "What the recent work has shown is that there was a particular preference for large scale imports of wheat from North Africa from the late 2nd century AD right through to the 5th and maybe 6th centuries."
The team has also uncovered evidence that trading links with North Africa in particular were far more extensive than previously believed.
British archaeologists believe Portus and Ostia would have been home to a large expatriate population of North African trading families and commercial agents, some of whom had their names inscribed on tomb stones.
Portus was the chief port of ancient Rome for over 500 years and provided a conduit for everything from glass, ceramics, marble and slaves to wild animals caught in Africa and shipped to Rome for spectacles in the Colosseum.
Prof Keay saud: "Portus must be one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. The great thing about Portus is that most of it has been preserved and there is much more to learn about the important role it played in Rome's success." (ANI)