The Origins and Ancient History of Wine

By Patrick E. McGovern; Stuart J. Fleming et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 20

Wine Amphoras in Ancient Greek Trade

Carolyn G. Koehler


1.

Introduction

Transport amphoras were as much a part of the Mediterranean landscape in antiquity as they are for today's archaeologists, unobtrusive but omnipresent. 1 Their enormous numbers offer solid evidence of the traffic in wine, probably their commonest cargo, which formed a large component of international trade in the Greco-Roman period. In addition, they bear indirect witness to the importance of wine for the consumer as well as for those engaged in its production, shipping, and retail sale. The study of transport amphoras is reaching a point at which a considerable amount of data can be analyzed to answer questions about trade and production and to shape some new inquiries about wine in the ancient world. This chapter focuses on wine amphoras made in Greek-speaking regions of the classical world (although the evidence bearing upon the jars ranges more broadly than that in both space and time), and attempts to suggest the scope of current investigations. 2

Since Mycenaean times in Greece, amphora has been the generic term, occurring on Linear B tablets with an identifying ideogram, for a vessel with narrow neck and two handles. 3 Amphoras produced for transport and storage share this name with their more elegant cousins, painted table amphoras which have a flat base. Large jars with pointed bottoms, usually undecorated and made of coarser clay, were well suited for carrying liquids and such dry goods as could be poured in and out of them, but they are best known as containers for wine. 4 Their excellent design proved its practicality over three millennia, from the Middle Bronze Age almost to the modern era. While the rounded shape distributed the weight of the contents evenly all around the walls of the jar, the pointed toe actually served as a third handle to help in emptying the vessel. A broad base would have made the jar unwieldy and added significantly to its weight.

Although wine was sometimes exported in small amphoras holding about ten liters or even less, larger jars are commoner. The Hellenistic amphoras of the island of Rhodes generally held about 261 (the size also of the Roman capacity unit amphora). A jar weighing 10 kg or so empty that contained about 251 of wine would be a good load for one person; some very large specimens that

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