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Entrepôts et circuits de distribution en Méditerranée antique

July 2019 (123.3)

Book Review

Entrepôts et circuits de distribution en Méditerranée antique

Edited by Véronique Chankowski, Xavier Lafon, and Catherine Virlouvet (BCH Suppl. 58). Pp. 312. École française d’Athènes, Athens 2018. €30. ISBN 978-2-86958-295-8 (paper).

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The outcome of a collaboration between the École française d’Athènes, the Institut de Recherche sur l’Architecture Antique, the Centre Camille Jullian, and the École française de Rome, this volume presents a collection of exploratory papers on the theme of storage in the ancient world. The project follows in the wake of a similar collaboration targeting the politics of storage in the early Modern periodAs its title indicates, the present volume aims to write storage into the ancient economic networks that it signals, and which it in turn enabled. “Ancient” here is predominantly Hellenistic (with a particular focus on Delos) and Roman, a chronology signaled by the first papers, by Chankowski and Virlouvet. The later Roman empire is introduced by Vera but disappears from view in the remainder of the volume. While these three opening papers approach their task differently—for example, both Chankowski and Vera include analysis of a specific case, respectively Delos and Carthage—common themes and questions emerge. These topics, which continue to surface throughout the volume, are in particular: the share of public versus private agencies, the polyvalence of storage facilities, and storage as a temporally structured activity.  

Debates on the role of state intervention and private trade have primarily concerned the supply of Rome, as signaled by the massive storage facilities at Rome’s harbors of Ostia and Portus. Virlouvet argues against a state-centric perspective, and the same problem arises in Lafon’s contribution on the storage facilities of maritime villas, which suggests that the Trajanic port and storage facilities at Civitavecchia might have complemented the functioning of Portus. Tran’s epigraphic exploration of how collegiae centered in and around warehouses helped smooth interaction and collaboration between parties with often different interests offers a glimpse of what public and private relations might have looked like in practice, in the microcosm of the warehouse. The answer is that they were less amenable to categorization under the stiff headings of “public” and “private.” The paper by Andreau chimes well with Tran’s analysis, arguing provocatively that negotiatores in Early Imperial times were defined by association with a particular place and, indeed, warehouse, in contrast to mercatores, who were (supposedly) concerned with shipping and movement of goods.

What is especially refreshing about this project, and should be teased out more explicitly in the future, is the opportunity it offers for luring this debate out of its Early Imperial comfort zone and considering instead the logics and logistics of storage. Chankowski sketches changes in the Hellenistic Mediterranean toward a tributary system with larger cities, greater storage needs and capacity, and, as a result, an increasing discrepancy between storage as a public good (which may be read as redistribution) and storage as the source of, and mechanism for, private gain. She contrasts this with the classical age of Greek cities, which “n’est pas une économie du grenier” (41). For the fourth and fifth centuries C.E., in turn, Vera presents a stricter separation between the public and private segments of Rome’s grain supply, which offers an interesting sequel to Virlouvet’s piece. More could be made of these extremely important long-term reconstructions of economic structure, as seen through storage. 

Characterizing storage throughout the periods under consideration is the polyvalence of its facilities, as several papers in this volume make clear. Vocabulary for storage, its facilities, and its operators was variable in the Hellenistic period (Chankowski), a flexibility echoed in the storage facilities subjected to architectural study on Delos, by Karvonis and Malmary and by Zarmakoupi. The former examine storage spaces in shops and workshops, the latter in houses. The significant but flexible storage landscape on Delos speaks both to its role as a point of turnover and to the vibrant but ad hoc “micro-économie du quartier” (207) that this spurred. For the Roman Imperial period, Virlouvet flags the generalization of a particular form of warehouse with large, repetitive cells, which, she suggests, created a flexibility in use (59). Some such large warehouses, long associated with “state” intervention, are now shown to have been constructed on private initiative; so too, their contents are increasingly revealed to have been more diverse than previously thought: even the suspensurae (raised floors) cannot be unambiguously associated with grain storage, according to the detailed analysis by Bukowiecki et al. Cavalier points to a combination of retail and wholesale trade at work, involving a variety of products including murex and saffron, around the famous Hadrianic warehouse at Andriakè (Turkey), whose role in the annona is being decentered. The large scale and top-down design of the warehouse at Hergla (Tunisia) reported by Ghalia and Villedieu raises similar questions regarding the intersection between regional and long-distance networks, and, more specifically, who invested in and who made money from storage facilities. While polyvalence might be a general characteristic of ancient storage facilities, it can take different forms: in an eclectic survey of the Iberian Peninsula, Goffaux reminds us that warehouses in interior locations were often more singularly focused on storage and preservation, and less on trade and sale, than their counterparts in river or sea ports (this could be brought into conversation with Archibald’s preliminary observations on Adjiyska Vodenitsa in Bulgaria); and Lafon distinguishes storage of different products both in terms of location (e.g., wine cellars integrated with production facilities) and form (e.g., small cells hypothesized for ceramic products at Loupian in France).  

As always, there is a limit to what can be done in a single paper, and most of the papers do no more than nod to the book’s more general aim of tracing economic networks through storage. The key here, I would suggest, is to understand storage as both responding to and generating different temporalities. Vera understands this: based on various temporal parameters—oil does not degrade as quickly as grain or even wine; harvesting continued after the zenith of the seafaring season—he reconstructs a supply chain for the storage of oil for Rome in late fourth century C.E. Carthage with few points of turnover, with oil channeled in standardized containers that reduced the need for control, and with a large share of the oil awaiting the next year’s seafaring season. As stocks were in part carried over annually, risk of a poor harvest or loss at sea was thus spread, at minimal supervisory cost. It is hoped that more such studies, based on a combination of epigraphic, textual, and archaeological data, will be generated in the future. The present volume and the project from which it stems (including its online database, Entrepôts et lieux de stockage du monde gréco-romain antique) offer a fruitful starting point. Its rich set of papers can be read either as a collection of self-contained essays or—involving greater difficulty for the reader but also greater reward—as an exploration of continuities and changes in the practice of storage across space and time.

Astrid Van Oyen
Cornell University

Book Review of Entrepôts et circuits de distribution en Méditerranée antique, edited by Véronique Chankowski, Xavier Lafon, and Catherine Virlouvet

Reviewed by Astrid Van Oyen

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 3 (July 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1233.vanoyen

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