Ancient Fishing and Fish Processing in the Black Sea Region

Ancient Fishing and Fish Processing in the Black Sea Region

Ancient Fishing and Fish Processing in the Black Sea Region

Ancient Fishing and Fish Processing in the Black Sea Region


… like some blameless king, who upholds righteousness, as the monarch over a great and valiant nation: the earth yields its wheat and barley, the trees are loaded with fruit, the ewes bring forth lambs, and the sea abounds with fish by reason of his virtues, (Homer, Odyssey 19.110–114, trans. Samuel Butler)

To any reader familiar with Classical literature, lambs, fruit and ears of corn are familiar symbols of prosperity and fertility. But fish? It would seem that to the hero - and the author - of the Odyssey, an abundance of fish was a characteristic of the good city-state and a testimony to the virtue of its ruler.

The Danish city of Esbjerg boasts a fishing port as well as an equestrian statue of the virtuous King Christian IX in the main square. These two features alone, then, would qualify it as the venue for a conference on ancient fishing. In addition, the city is home to a branch campus of the University of Southern Denmark, one of the partner institutions in the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Black Sea Studies. It was at the Esbjerg campus that the papers in this volume were first presented in the course of a workshop in April, 2003. Some twenty researchers took part in two days of lively discussions ranging as widely as the travels of Odysseus.

Historians, classicists and archaeologists dealt with the question of ancient fish processing from the viewpoint of their disciplines, but in addition, we were fortunate to have an inspiring presentation on “The biochemistry of fish processing” by Hans Otto Sørensen, biochemist and laboratory manager at Triple Nine Fish Protein, Esbjerg. As the world’s second largest producer of fish protein concentrate, Triple Nine undertakes extensive research into the biochemistry of fish processing and fish spoilage. We regret that it was not possible to include Hans Otto Sørensen’s presentation in this volume.

After the conference, it was felt that it would be useful to complement the papers with a survey of the prehistory of fishing in the northern Black Sea region. Nadežda Gavriljuk kindly undertook to write a chapter on this subject at short notice.

For the ancient world, much of our information on fish in general is derived from the extensive range of sources dealing with fish as a foodstuff and, from the time of Hippokrates (c. 400 BC) onward, with the medicinal properties of fish. John Wilkins’ survey of the textual evidence reveals that among ancient . . .

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