Online Review: Book

The Maritime World of Ancient Rome: Proceedings of the "Maritime World of Ancient Rome" Conference Held at the American Academy of Rome 27–29 March 2003

Elizabeth Fentress


Edited by Robert L. Hohlfelder. Pp. x + 341, figs. 154, tables 4. the University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2008. $95. ISBN 978-0-472-11581-5 (cloth).

This handsome volume is the publication of a conference held at the American Academy in Rome in March 2003. Although conceived as a sequel to D'Arms' volume, The Seaborne Commerce of Ancient Rome (MAAR 36 [1980]), it covers a much less unified theme, and, with one exception, does not concern commerce at all, being largely devoted to technical issues, with a few (excellent) historical papers thrown in to render its scope more general. With the exception of Gamboggi, who recounts the conservation of remains of the imperial villa at Santa Liberata, all the contributors are British or American, again a marked difference from the earlier conference that brought to the attention of American archaeologists a remarkable group of Italian and French scholars.

The volume retains the structure of the conference, divided, after fine introductions to the theme by Hohlfelder and Rickman, into three papers on "Ships and Shipping"—more properly ship sheds, with a preliminary report on deepwater survey in the area of Cosa; six on "Maritime Life and Commerce," in which papers on artifacts sit uneasily beside text-based contributions on piracy (de Souza) and harbor lowlife (Rauh, Dillon, and Davina McClain); and a session on "Harbors," of which fully three papers deal with Cosa and its immediate environs. A final contribution by Tuck examines triumphal imagery in the context of the harbors of Ostia and Lepcis Magna.

Even allowing for the delays normally associated with conference publication, the volume's appearance five years later is a problem; although the contributors were given the opportunity to update their papers in 2006, few seem to have taken advantage of this. The preliminary publication of the Portus project has been rendered out of date by its final publication (S. Keay and M. Millet, Portus: An Archaeological Survey of the Port of Imperial Rome [London 2006]), while Sidebotham's work at Berenike in Egypt came out in 2007 (S. Sidebotham and Willeke Wendrich, eds., Berenike: Report on the Excavations at Berenike [Los Angeles]). Martin's statistical examination of the provenances and contents of three phases of Ostian amphoras, while it provides a useful updating of Panella's earlier work on the subject, would have been more valuable if it had taken into consideration Bonifay's 2004 publication of his analyses of the contents of African amphoras (M. Bonifay, "Études sur la céramique romaine tardive d'Afrique," BAR-IS 1301 [Oxford 2004]), which showed that forms previously considered to have contained oil in fact carried wine or garum.

Technical issues are central to the editor's concerns. In their two papers on ship sheds, Blackman and Rankov consider the problem of identifiable Roman examples and conclude that very few have been found. Rankov skillfully demolishes the identification of ship sheds at Velsen, Haltern-Hofstatt, and Caesarea Maritima, and casts serious doubts on those in the vaults under the Temple of Castor and Pollux suggested by Heinzelmann and Martin at Ostia. Oleson revises his earlier (2000) catalogue and typology of sounding weights, providing a useful discussion of their function. McCann summarizes the largely negative results of her deep-sea search for shipwrecks in the channel between Monte Argentario and Giglio. Parker's review of the relationship between shipwreck and artifact distribution provides some statistical tools for their study. However, it is now impossible to consider the distribution of wrecks carrying Dressel 1 amphoras without reference to Poux's brilliant study of the occurrence of these amphoras in ceremonial contexts in Gaul (L'Age du Vin: Rites de boisson, festins et libations en Gaule indépendante [Montagnac 2004]).

But the subject closest to the editor's heart is Roman hydraulic concrete (RHC), on which Hohlfelder, Oleson, and Brandon have been carrying out research in a project known as the Roman Maritime Concrete Study (ROMACONS). Brandon contributes an excellent study of the use of RHC in the construction of the Herodian harbor at Caesarea, while the three directors of the project review their work between 2002 and 2005. Gazda offers a closely argued analysis of the dating of the piers in the Cosa harbor, expanding on her 1987 argument that, like the springhouse and fishery complex, they date to the 70s B.C.E., and exploring the possibility, suggested by Ciampoltrini, that they could even be Augustan ("Ricerche sui monumenti d'età traianea e adrianea del suburbio orientale di Cosa," Bollettino di Archeologia 9 [1991] 67–87). As McCann's claim that they date to the first half of the second century would make them the earliest examples of the use of RHC in port facilities, the question is hardly trivial. Gazda offers the new evidence of a radiocarbon date of 57 B.C.E.–33 C.E., taken by the ROMACONS project from a wood sample in one of the piers, and shows that the different construction technique found in the piers above the waterline is due to technical rather than chronological factors, a conclusion supported by a ROMACONS core. This allows the piers to be dated to 80 B.C.E. or later by a fragment of a Dressel 1 amphora of Will Type 4b embedded in one of them. She concludes with a discussion of the role of the Sestius family in the harbor, where a huge dump of amphoras deriving from a kiln of the Sestii was found. The Sestii and the Domitii Ahenobarbi did indeed ship untold quantities of wine to Gaul from the Cosan territory between the second and first centuries B.C.E. However, this does not make tiny Cosa a port equal in importance to Puteoli (293), nor is it obvious why the colony would have had a private family constructing its harbor facilities.

In McCann's rebuttal, the role of the Sestii features equally large; she rightly notes that the piers do not necessarily have anything to do with the fishery complex, but she fails to acknowledge the new evidence from the radio-carbon date and the coring of the pier. It might be noted that an Augustan date, while separating the known harbor facilities from the Sestii, would fit in with the refoundation of Cosa ca. 25 B.C.E., for which I argue in the publication of excavations in the town during the 1990s. What the earlier harbor consisted of we do not know, although we might look to the second harbor on the Feniglia tombola, where Fabienne Olmer has observed a major harbor mole and debris of amphora kilns covering two hectares (pers. comm. 2008).

Without the Cosan date, we should look to Puteoli itself to date the first use of pozzolana concrete. In the same way, Cozza and Tucci have undermined the old certainty that the vast concrete vaults along the Tiber can be identified with the Porticus Aemilia and thus date to 193 B.C.E. These are now identified with navalia of uncertain date, though clearly relevant to the purposes of Rankov and Blackman, whose views on the subject it would be good to hear (L. Cozza and P.L. Tucci, "Navalia," ArchCl 57 [2006] 175–202). Clearly, the whole question will benefit from the reexamination and search for hard dates that the ROMACONS project promises.

Elizabeth Fentress
Arco degli Acetari 31
Rome 00186


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