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The Romano-British Amphora Trade to A.D. 43: An Overview
James McKeown, January 1999
Ancient Europe was a place quite different from that which is familiar to modern Europeans. The European hinterland - Gaul (roughly modern France), the British Isles, and the vast stretches of what is now Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, etc.- was peopled by groups of tribes of varying origin which can nevertheless be grouped according to a rough ethnic label:
- throughout Gaul, the British Isles (See the Map of British Tribes) and down into northern Spain and northern Italy were a people known to modern scholars as Celts;
- farther east were the German tribes, who were to cause so much military effort by the Roman Empire;
- beyond these were the Dacians, who at the turn of the first century A.D. faced the campaigns of the emperor Trajan;
- yet farther east on the lower Danube and around the Black Sea were the Scythian and Sarmatian tribes, known to the Greeks since early times.
In contrast to the hinterland were the cultures of the Mediterranean basin. By the time of the period under discussion (ca. 100 B.C.- A.D. 43) the Mediterranean world had been drawing together under successive Hellenistic Greek, Punic-Carthaginian and then Roman influences. These cultures were urbanised, political and, especially in the case of the nascent Roman power, militarised. By 146 B.C. , Rome had destroyed her maritime rival Carthage and embarked on a drawn out process of gaining hegemony, if not direct rule, over the various Mediterranean states. Rome was a consumer economy, and like the rest of the ancient Mediterranean was dependent on the triad of grain, olives and viniculture. Grain importation became increasingly important and political, as Rome's urban population received grain handouts subsidised by the state, and more importantly as her military commitments, and therefore her army, became larger. The search for grain to feed her armies and the need for the raw materials of war, such as metals and animal hides prompted Roman traders to look to inland Europe for these materials: A Phocaean Greek colony had existed at Massilia (mod. Marseilles) since the eighth century B.C. It was a relatively simple matter for Rome to tap these markets, especially since treaty relations had existed between Rome and Massilia for some time. Rome would get raw materials, grain and slaves; barbarian aristocrats would get prestige goods like wine held in amphorae and fineware drinking accessories.
In discussing the role of the British tribes in the amphorae trade of this period, we can discern three main periods (mainly for the sake of convenience, and not based on any hard and fast scholarly divisions): The pre-Caesarian, being roughly 100 B.C. to C. Julius Caesar's military expeditions in Gaul and Britain; the post-Caesarian, extending from Caesar's British expeditions of 55-54 B.C. until ca. 10B.C., the generally accepted date for the end of the Dressel 1 form of amphora; and the pre-Claudian, corresponding to the first half of the first century A.D. before the emperor Claudius' full scale invasion of Britain.