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Roman Amphorae in Neuss: Augustan to Julio-Claudian Contexts

Roman Amphorae in Neuss: Augustan to Julio-Claudian Contexts

By Horacio González Cesteros and Piero Berni Millet (Roman and Late Antique Mediterranean Pottery 12). Oxford: Archaeopress 2018. Pp. viii + 136. £35. ISBN 978-1-78969-052-1 (paper).

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Roman Amphorae in Neuss is an overview of the imports that arrived at Neuss (Novaesium), one of the major military sites of the frontier in the Roman province of Germania InferiorThe publication includes both amphorae collected in fieldwork and previously published material stored in Meckenheim. This combined study offers a more comprehensive view of trade relations in the area, although the number of amphorae studied by González Cesteros and Berni Millet is slightly lower than that inventoried by A. Wegert (“Studien zu den fruhen Amphoren aus Neuss,” KölnJb 44, 2011, 7–99) due to differences in analytical methods. The authors used the Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) quantification method, based on the diagnostic fragments. The supply of products from the Mediterranean to the northern borders of the Roman empire took place along rivers via the port of Marseilles. This route especially facilitated the trade of amphorae from the Iberian peninsula as well as the Gallic provinces. Prior to the development of this route, amphorae from the Adriatic and the eastern provinces may have been trafficked through the Alpine passes.

The amphora material is presented in six main chapters according to geographical origin. First presented are the most common amphorae from the Iberian peninsula. These are mainly products from Baetica: olive oil containers, especially Oberaden 83, Haltern 71, and Dressel 20; amphorae with multiple contents such as Haltern 70 (containing defrutum, olives, fish products, wine); and wine containers of Dressel 28 and Dressel 7-11 types. Also originating from the Baetican coast are amphorae that contained imported salted fish and fish sauces (Dressel 7-11, Dressel 12, and Beltrán IIA), and wine (Dressel 2-4). Likewise, there are imported wine containers from Hispania Citerior Tarraconensis (Pascual 1, Oberaden 74 forms, and Dressel 3-2). 

The second largest group are the imports from the Gallic provinces. These are mainly flat-bottomed amphorae suitable to export Gallic products through riverine communication systems. The amphorae from the Lyon area recovered at Neuss constitute by far the largest component of the Gallic imports. These are wine containers Lyon 1, Lyon 2, Lyon 7A with defrutum, and Lyon 7B with olives preserved in defrutum or something similar. Also found are the Lyon 3A and B, which carried salted fish and fish sauce. The authors comment on the use of barrels for the wine trade. Among the Narbonese imports at Neuss, all the pieces were classified as wine vessels, amphorae that imitate Italian types (Dressel 1 and Dressel 2-4), and flat-bottomed amphorae (Gauloise 3 and Gauloise 2) with Narbonese fabrics. Gauloise 4, 5, and 1 were rarely found. The presence of amphorae from Marseille in Neuss is limited. 

In the next chapter, the authors present the imports from Gallia Belgica and the Rhineland, where workshops producing mainly flat-bottomed amphorae, from the middle of the first century CE until well into the third century CE, have been documented. This material is poorly understood, both in terms of the type and the contents they transported. 

The third largest group in the Neuss ceramic corpus consists of the eastern Mediterranean vessels. Most of these appear to have been used as wine containers, although the main function of some others, such as the Levantine containers, seems to have been the transport of dried fruit. The Aegean products are mainly late Rhodian amphorae, followed by the Koan amphorae and, in fewer quantities, Knidian and Chian. The Cretan passum, which is abundant in Italy from the mid first century CE but less common in the western Mediterranean, is barely present at Neuss. Products from the Levant (Syria-Palestine) such as the so-called “Carrot amphora” and its contemporary, the Kingsholm 117 containing wine or dried figs, are found in small numbers. The few finds at Neuss should be considered expensive imports, perhaps related to senior officers, who demanded dates or other products prepared on the Levantine coast.

Next come the Italian imports. The Adriatic imports account for one third of the Italian amphorae documented at Neuss and are mainly represented by the Dressel 6A. This is a wine container, produced on a massive scale in the central area of the Italian Adriatic region. Occasionally oil arrived in Dressel 6B and a few pieces that must be Brindisian, apparently belonging to the final moments of the production sequence. In the Neuss material, there are also fragments of Dressel 1 and of Dressel 2-4 amphorae from workshops of southern Lazio and Campania. Of special interest is a vessel classified with the so-called “Knidian amphorae” but whose fabric directly indicates a manufacturing site of southern Lazio and northern Campania. From Etruria there are imported wine containers of Dressel 1B from the workshops at Albinia and Cosa. 

Lastly, the authors present the very limited African imports from the Tunisian production area. They follow the Punic amphorae tradition because of the recognizable ear-shaped handles; it is generally accepted that these vessels were used to transport mainly salted fish. 

In the appendix (ch. 12), the authors present stamps, graffiti, and tituli picti, following a different order from the amphorae presentation, beginning with the eastern Mediterranean and ending with the southern Iberian peninsula. I think it would be more useful if these were presented by geographical origin in the relevant amphora chapters. Also, some photographs are not very clear (e.g., nos. 1, 3, 8, 18, 19, 34, and 43).

The authors end with a short chapter about the significance of Neuss amphorae for the understanding of Roman imports on the Rhine, where they essentially summarize some of what has been said in preceding chapters and reengage with the problem posed by the lack of stratigraphy. In conclusion, they briefly tackle a very important issue: the logistics of Roman territories on the Rhine and the contribution of Neuss material to the economic and social development of the northwestern provinces of the Roman empire.

The book, although a brief publication (135 pages), fulfills the purpose of the authors. The drawings are of good quality, but the absence of any photographs of the amphorae is notable. A chapter with archaeometrical data (e.g., fabric analyses) would be welcome. Also, due to the lack of organic residue analyses, the authors do not consider the possibility that at least some of these amphorae were reused, as well as the possibility they contained local products. In the case of the Rhodian amphorae, the contents were not only different varieties of wine but also included other products, such as figs (at the Museum of Grand Masters’ Palace in Rhodos there is a relevant dipinto on a Rhodian amphora; Αρχαία Ρόδος, 2400 χρόνια: Σύντομος οδηγός, A. Kokkou, ed., 22nd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities of Dodecanese, Athens 1993, 61). Similar consideration of alternative contents could be given in the case of many of the Roman amphora types discussed here. It is clear from the material presented that quite often the contents of amphorae were not strictly defined, or they could be changed over time (e.g., Baetican Haltern 70, from wine to olive preserves), or an amphora could be a multipurpose vessel. Such variability creates increased difficulties for researchers attempting to reconstruct the economic models prevailing in a region. The authors emphasize the importance of the Hispanic imports to Neuss and the other Roman camps on the northern frontier, but for me, the high percentage of the eastern Mediterranean imports is also an important indicator of consumer preferences. Additionally, one of the major problems for the authors is the absence of independent dating evidence and of securely dated layers for the amphora material, resulting in Neuss not enjoying the same chronological precision as do other military settlements on the Main and the Lippe rivers. As the authors themselves point out, another serious problem in asserting a chronology is the lack of any provenience information for approximately 40% of the material stored in Meckenheim. Moreover, although the authors state in their title that they are investigating the amphora material belonging to Augustan through Julio-Claudian contexts (ca. 27 BCE–68 CE), they also consider later material—for example, the Dressel 20 stamp collection of Neuss, which runs from the Julio-Claudian dynasty until the middle third century CE. So the chronology represented in the title could be expanded. 

Finally, I would like to mention the problem posed by the many different, and competing, Roman amphora typologies. These may be indicated by the findspot, the place of manufacture, the geographical area, or quite often the researcher’s name—and the result is confusion. At some point, this problem will need to be addressed by Roman amphora specialists, and a common language of communication will have to be found.

Kostas Filis
Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports

Book Review of Roman Amphorae in Neuss: Augustan to Julio-Claudian Contexts, by Horacio González Cesteros and Piero Berni Millet
Reviewed by Kostas Filis
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 124, No. 4 (October 2020)
Published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1244.Filis

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