Online Review: Book

Hispania and the Roman Mediterranean, AD 100–700: Ceramics and Trade

A.P. Souter

115.2

By Paul Reynolds. Pp. xii + 372, figs. 30, tables 34, maps 12. Duckworth, London 2010. $80. ISBN 978-0715638620 (paper).

This publication provides a hitherto unparalleled study that will be of much value to researchers interested in the production and distribution of fine wares, cooking wares, and amphoras, not only in Hispania but also at a number of key locations around the Mediterranean, including southern France, Italy, Tunisia, Albania, Greece, and the Levant. Subsequently, the in-depth analysis presented makes significant advances to our understanding of the local, regional, and long-distance trade that occurred in both the West and East. The long chronological period serves to reveal production and commercial trends during a number of historical contexts from the Early Empire to the fall of the Roman western provinces and even beyond, with the discussion also extending into the barbarian and Byzantine periods.

The study is organized into six chapters and incorporates extensive figures, tables, and maps that are used to illustrate the wide range and distribution of ceramic material, the location of production sites, and also quantified assemblages from consumer centers. An additional 70 pages worth of notes provide a wealth of information that would otherwise hinder the main flow of the text, and the extensive bibliography further demonstrates the sheer range of source material that has been consulted, much of which originates from other published research in addition to the author's own work.

Following a useful introduction in which the wider scholarly setting and aims of the study are established, Reynolds outlines the historical background and provincial landscape of Hispania so that the context of production and trade is understood. The development of the local wine, oil, and fish sauce industries are all described, in addition to the establishment of major pottery centers that served to supply the local towns with a variety of fine wares including, among others, terra sigillata hispánica tardía. While much of the focus is inevitably placed on production within Hispania, other areas are also considered, with much emphasis placed on the growth of the North African African Red Slip industry and, combined with Tunisian amphora-borne produce, the increasing dominance of this material in Mediterranean commerce, thereby explaining the competition faced by producers within the Spanish provinces. The Iberian material is placed further in context by means of detailed analysis of ceramic assemblages (both tablewares and amphoras) recovered from major consumer centers such as Tarragona, Carthage, Rome, Butrint, and Beirut, thereby allowing complex observations to be made, including those on the fluctuating rise and fall of production and the identification of pan-Mediterranean supply networks.

In addition to the discussions on the distribution of fine wares and amphoras, useful observations are also made concerning changing culinary practices. For example, while Reynolds notes the appearance of a range of smaller third- and fourth-century C.E. Lusitanian and Baetican amphoras with restricted necks used for fish products, a connection is also made with the appearance of large carinated bowls with spouts in eastern Spain (with similar vessels also appearing in Butrint), and the widespread use of small Tunisian mortaria with pressed spouts that all indicate the preparation of liquid-based food. This is particularly useful, given that fish-based products generally only receive generic references at best in other archaeological literature, often with little further commentary on the wider culinary implications of the material. However, while Reynolds describes that both Lusitanian and Baetican fish sauce amphoras generally dominate in the fourth century at Beirut, it would be useful to understand why such foodstuffs produced at the opposite end of the Mediterranean, at the Atlantic facade, appear to have found a niche market so far from their source of origin. Nevertheless, this material helps to identify the export of Iberian produce other than Baetican oil: generally, knowledge concerning the land-based distribution of Lusitanian produce has remained relatively unknown or limited despite its documented appearance amongst salvaged shipwreck cargoes that often also contained Baetican and/or North African produce.

The work is also of much interest, given the discussions on the continuity of Tunisian African Red Slip production under the Vandals in the later sixth and seventh centuries and the maintenance of trade relations around the Mediterranean despite the new political and administrative regimes following the fall of the Roman West. We learn, for example, about the targeting of western markets by producers operating in the Levant, based on the rising levels of eastern amphoras at Marseille, Naples, Carthage, and (to an extent) Tarragona, and also the relations between Visigothic Spain and Byzantine Carthage in the seventh century.

Reynolds also presents theories in the conclusion concerning supply mechanisms and identifies a pattern that links Tarragona and other cities (including Marseille, Rome, Naples, and Carthage), although with the exception of those in southeastern Spain. References are also made to Atlantic supply routes that traveled along the Portuguese coast toward Britain, thereby demonstrating trade over extraordinary distances despite the wider political fragmentation at that time. We also learn about the loss of most of eastern and North Africa to the Arabs in the mid seventh century, the final death blow to Carthage, and the commercial implications given that this area had served as such a valuable breadbasket for both Rome and Constantinople. The study is brought to an end with a commentary on the major drop in long-distance trade that occurred throughout the West in the early eighth century, including Marseille, Naples, and Rome. Specifically within Spain, Reynolds describes the fragmentation, regionalization, and increase in self-sufficiency that occurred, particularly far inland away from the coastal areas. In addition to these observations, issues are also addressed concerning methodological problems, particularly those concerning dating of ceramic material, quantitative analysis, and comparison of assemblages.

Such a complex study could potentially become overwhelming, but the material is clearly presented throughout, and, following necessarily detailed discussions, Reynolds repeatedly demonstrates his ability to summarize with lucidity and precision. Nevertheless, given the wide scope of the work, readers will inevitably want to pursue particular areas in further detail according to their own research interests. For example, while the material from Tarragona is frequently cited, it would also be useful to identify ceramic material from other important urban centers in the Spanish provinces, the Lusitanian capital Mérida being one such example, given its location far inland and occupation in both the Roman and Visigothic periods. Another example might also include Lisbon, to see whether consumers here also benefited from Atlantic shipping routes, as Reynolds suggests for the nearby settlement at Tróia, and farther to the north at Conimbriga and Braga. This would help to address the slight bias of the discussion that generally favors other areas of Iberia, particularly northeast Spain.

While it is not possible to discuss further points of interest within the space of a short review, there are some minor practical points to consider in addition to the main content. For example, while many illustrations are included to present the variety of ceramic forms, it might also have been useful to incorporate a selection of color plates to demonstrate the fabric types, particularly for those readers not familiar with the material. Furthermore, while many of the maps are clear and easy to read, the sheer range of Levantine amphora forms that are all depicted within figure 13 provides too much detail for one image: perhaps the same information arranged over two maps, by chronological period, might allow for easier interpretation. Another issue is that all the tables, maps, and figures are in the second half of the book, resulting in much searching back and forth while reading the main text.

These points, however, by no means detract from the quality and impact of the book; it will be welcome to see how future research conducted within Spain and Portugal (and indeed other areas of the Mediterranean) advance this study further. This work should certainly be of interest to all research libraries specializing in Roman and Byzantine studies, and Reynolds has undoubtedly made a vital contribution to the growing number of publications written in English on the Spanish provinces. Great efforts have been made to provide a comprehensive treatment of the material; readers should therefore be prepared to spend time digesting this work to appreciate its full significance.

A.P. Souter
souter23@aol.com

DOI: 
10.3764/ajaonline1152.Souter

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Use [fn]...[/fn] (or <fn>...</fn>) to insert automatically numbered footnotes.
  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Click "Save" to submit your comment. Please allow some time for your post to be moderated.