Union Académique Internationale

Greek and latin inscriptions (Corpora, Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum and Cor

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Project nº49, adopted in 1993

The study of amphora epigraphy is today a vital source for our understanding of the production and commerce of food and drink in the ancient world. The amphora was the widest spread of all alimentary containers in the ancient world. Specifically, it was used to transport wine, olive oil, and dried fish.

The purpose of this project is the study and edition of epigraphic material from the amphorae of the Greco-Roman world. The subject has been excluded from the great epigraphic corpora and is now in an extremely scattered state. The project seeks to lay the foundation for systematizing the methods of study and edition of the materials, encouraging researchers to publish them according to a standardized system allowing for the comparison of results. It would be inconceivable to edit a general corpus of these materials, given their vast amount as well as the fact that they are unpublished. There are two main direc tives to this new edition. One is editing the materials by way of their center of production, the other editing them by center of reception, with reference to either one deposit or one region. This choice rests entirely on the opportunities of study that we have available to us. In either case, we are working with both published and unpublished material. Another point is that its dimension of general corpus might today be developed with a digital database and made available to the public on the Internet.

Even if at its beginning the project was only devoted to stamps, today it has a more ambitious goal as it also relates to the study of other elements that can make up an amphora: tituli picti and graffiti. It now seems unacceptable to separate epigraphic content from the object, the amphora in this case, that serves as its support. For this reason we must also make room in our work for the typological study of amphorae that possess epigraphic elements.

The final goal of this project is to encourage scientific debate about the economy of the Greco-Roman world, by the study of scattered materials that has not until now been studied as a whole. This study will reveal the economic relations established between different regions of the ancient world. In the case of the Roman Empire, it will allow study of the relations established between different regions of the Empire as well as those between such regions and the capital, Rome.

Evaluating the procuration and distribution of supplies necessary to both the Roman army and the urban plebe of Rome will allow us study the relationships between economy and politics in a new light. This will also lead to a new understanding of how the control of this alimentation was able to influence the political development. From the perspective of historical analysis, the research put forth by this project is highly reputed on an international scale. Beyond the work of each academy in its home country, the project has developed a certain amount of international research linked mainly to the Royal Academy of History (Madrid) and to the University of Barcelona, Some examples are the studies of materials from Colonia Ulpia Traiana (Xanten, Germany), Brigantium (Bregenz, Austria), and Leptis Magna (Libya). But the most important of these projects is the excavation of Monte Testaccio (Rome).

‘Monte Testaccio’ is a man-made hill at the foot of the Aventine, south of what was once the warehouse area, the horrea, of ancient Rome. Its perimeter spans about a kilometer and its height measures forty-five meters. The Testaccio is made up of the remains of millions of amphorae which arrived in Rome containing olive oil. Fortunately, not only have the stamps imprinted on the clay before firing been preserved, but the inscriptions (tituli picti) are still legible as well. These, like modern labels, inform us about the amphora’s tare weight, the weight of the oil, the name of its transporter, as well as a complex customs inspection, etc.

Furthermore, for the first time, these documents give us a seriated documentation for the study of the economy and administration of the Roman Empire (we already have ample data from between 140 and 257 CE). In summary, the Testaccio, which was a mere rubbish heap for the Romans, has become for us the best record for the study of the ancient economy. According to geological and volumetric studies on the hill, the Testaccio – which has in the intervening years lost much of its materials – preserves the remains of over 25 million amphorae.