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Per Terram, Per Mare: Seaborne Trade and the Distribution of Roman Amphorae in the Mediterranean

Per Terram, Per Mare: Seaborne Trade and the Distribution of Roman Amphorae in the Mediterranean

Edited by Stella Demesticha (SIMA-PB 180). Pp. xxii + 298. Åströms Förlag, Uppsala 2015. €64. ISBN 978-91-7081-215-6 (cloth).

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This book explores seaborne trade through the distribution of Roman transport amphoras found in archaeological exploration by land and under the sea from the eastern Mediterranean to the western Mediterranean. Some of the papers were presented at a conference held in April 2013 in Nicosia, Cyprus, organized by the Maritime Archaeological Research Laboratory of the University of Cyprus and the research program Roman Amphorae from Cyprus.

In her introduction, Demesticha presents a résumé of previous conferences, highlighting the importance of study that combines the amphora finds from both shipwrecks and terrestrial locations. Particularly important is her mention of the problem posed by the many different, and competing, Roman amphora typologies; these may be identified by the findspot οr the place of manufacture, the geographical area, or quite often the researcher’s name—the result is confusion. Demesticha concludes by presenting a useful, but not complete, table setting out and correlating the diverse typological terms. This makes the problem readily appreciable, but the acceptance of a common typology by all the scholars remains no easy matter to achieve at the moment.

The 19 papers of the volume are organized by geographical region in four sections: eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea, central Mediterranean, and western Mediterranean. Five essays discuss the first region. Koutsouflakis and Argiris consider five shipwrecks from the South Euboean Gulf containing uniform or mixed cargoes, especially of North African amphoras dated to the second and third centuries C.E. Vidličková presents the preliminary results from the Portolafia and Tourkolimano shipwrecks. From the as yet unexcavated sites came only four Dressel 24 amphoras and one Dressel 5, from the latter half of the second to the start of the third century C.E. Theodoulou, Foley, Kourkoumelis, and Preka-Alexandri present Late Roman shipwrecks and anchorage sites in the Chios-Oinousses straits. The amphora finds are from multiple origins within the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean areas, indicating that maritime activity was intense during the sixth to seventh century C.E., a fact probably connected to the growth of the newly founded Constantinople. Demesticha’s essay deals with underwater surveys in the shallow waters around Cape Kiti, Cyprus. The best-represented set among the recovered amphora material was the Late Roman 1A/B/C wine containers. Palaczyk attempts a preliminary overview of the very limited material recovered in the Swiss excavations in Eretria that dates after the destruction of 86 B.C.E. The majority of imported amphoras dated from the second half of the first to the early third century C.E.

Three chapters concern the Black Sea. Klenina gives an overview of amphora production in the Black Sea region and Aegean amphoras attested in Chersonesos Taurica, revealing that Sinopian and Herakleia Pontika amphoras were imported after the decline of local production in the first century B.C.E. Biernacki and Klenina present amphora finds from the Roman military camp and Early Byzantine city of Novae. These wine containers come from Pontic, Aegean, eastern Mediterranean, and North African regions. Smokotina’s paper concentrates on imported Late Roman 1 amphoras and local imitations connected with a large fish-salting complex with 16 cisterns in Kerch.

Most of the book is focused on the central Mediterranean. Auriemma, Degrassi, and Quiri consider amphora imports from domestic contexts with a secure stratigraphic sequence in their investigation of trade networks and redistribution centers operating along the west Adriatic coast, mainly belonging to the first to third century C.E. The recovered materials witness a clear turn to sources in the eastern Mediterranean basin, away from Adriatic productions. Quiri looks at the amphoras in Turin (Augusta Taurinorum). The majority of the eastern amphoras here were designed for the transport of Aegean and Cretan wines, with a clear predominance of Camulodunum 184 and Dressel 2–4 amphoras. Quiri and Spagnolo Garzoli focus on the presence in Turin of amphoras from Melos containing alum, a mineral used medically as an antiseptic but mainly useful for the manufacturing, dyeing, and whitening of cloth and wool and for tanning leather. Bezecky, Berni Millet, and Gonzáles Cesteros give an overview of research on a Roman villa in Castrum Brijuni (Croatia); among the types of amphoras are a local sort, of Dressel 6B stamped with the name “Laecanius.” Royal discusses underwater discoveries from along the coast of modern Montenegro and Albania from the point of view of long-distance trade. Kourkoumelis and Sakellariou deal with deepwater Late Roman wrecks in the Ionian Sea containing African amphoras, among others. These wrecks suggest a possible new trade route, proceeding along the west coast of Corfu and not via the straits between Corfu and the mainland. Auriemma studies underwater finds from shipwrecks in Torre Santa Sabina (Italy). Amphoras found here belong to the Graeco-Italic, Lamboglia 2, Rhodian, Dressel 2–4 (probably produced on Cos), Chian, Cnidian, Thasian, and early African types. Dugonjič discusses the late Rhodian amphoras from underwater and terrestrial sites in Croatia. Taras presents different types of eastern amphoras from the Roman harbor in Zaton, a commercial port of the nearby municipium of Aenona. Most of the amphora cargo passing through the harbor was wine, fish sauce, or possibly figs in Rhodian amphoras, and the most active period was from the second half of the first to the second century C.E.

In contrast, the western Mediterranean is represented by only two papers. Pascual Berlanga and Ribera i Lacomba study imports of eastern amphoras between the first century B.C.E. and the third century C.E. from new excavations in Pompeii and Valencia. Wine production in Pompeii was very important, but Greek wine varieties from Rhodes, Cnidos, Chios, and Cos were consumed. Finally, Piccardi attempts preliminary research into the distribution of eastern amphoras along the Ligurian coast and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia.

Overall, the volume covers a wide range of marine research programs, with limited attention to terrestrial counterparts. The inclusion of more essays from those who had presented papers at the Nicosia conference would have been welcome, as this would have given a more comprehensive and balanced picture of amphora circulation in poorly represented areas. Many of these papers are concerned with preliminary results; some of the contributions did not present new material (e.g., Royal and Smokotina). The use of the Harvard citation system creates some problems in ease of reading, but the rich and updated bibliography increases our knowledge about the circulation of Roman amphoras. The book is well illustrated: the numerous black-and-white photographs and drawings are of good quality, but the color plates (only two), which are useful for fabric analysis and comparison, are sadly limited. Overall the book will be of much value to researchers interested in the distribution of Roman amphoras in the Mediterranean.

Konstantinos Filis
Ministry of Culture and Sports
Ephorate of Antiquities of Achaia

Book Review of Per Terram, Per Mare: Seaborne Trade and the Distribution of Roman Amphorae in the Mediterranean, edited by Stella Demesticha

Reviewed by Konstantinos Filis

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 1 (January 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1211.Filis

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