The Romano-British Amphora Trade to A.D. 43: An Overview

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Pre-Caesarian Trade

Since 121 B.C., with the establishment of the Roman province of Gallia Transalpina (in southern Gaul), Roman traders had been able to bypass the Straits of Gibraltar and look west via the River Garumna (mod. River Garrone) in search of commodities such as British tin. The distribution of Dressel 1A (See plate 1) amphorae along this corridor soon after Publius Crassus' reconnaissance expeditions (late 90s B.C.) is testament to the growing importance of the trade (Cunliffe in McCready & Thompson (eds.) 1984: pp 3-4).

Falernian and Caecuban wines from the wine growing areas of Latium, Campania and Etruria in Italy would have embarked from Italian ports such as Ostia and made for the Transalpine colony at Narbo Martius, or for Arelate. From here, it was a short haul to the West Coast via arterial rivers (Galliou in McCready/Thompson, '84 : pp 26-27). Both Caesar in his commentaries on the Gallic campaigns and the Roman geographer Strabo mention the Armorican tribe of the Veneti as controllers of this trade to Britain (hence Caesar's war against them in the 50s B.C.). However, archaeological finds of Armorican coins in southern Britain reveal the presence only of their near neighbours, the Coriosolites and Venelli (Galliou, McCready/Thompson '84: pp 28). Daphne Nash posits that the Veneti were only actively in control of the southern half of this western trade route (McCready &Thompson '84: pp 102)

The major concentration of Dressel 1A amphorae in this period in Britain is around Hengistbury Head, Dorset, in the territory of the Durotriges tribe. This site was conveniently close to the Coriosolitan port at Alet in northern France (Collis 1984: pp 162)and is well sheltered and recognisable from the sea (Cunliffe 1978: p67). At least twelve Dressel 1A have been identified at this site, while other examples have been found at Knighton, Isle of Wight, at Poole Harbour, Dorset and at Carn Euny, Cornwall (D.F. Williams in Howard and Morris (eds.) B.A.R.120, 1981: p125)

For Cunliffe (1978: p67) the relative scarcity of Dressel 1A on the Armorican peninsula, together with shipwreck finds of the period - for example the Belle Ille shipwreck - along the route, is suggestive of direct contact between Roman merchants and central southern Britain. Other scholars are less willing to go so far. Nash (McCready/Thompson 1984: pp93-94) is of the opinion that the relationship between Armorica and central southern Britain at this time was one of a strong "core community" drawing its periphery into a dependent relationship. On this model, the British corn, hides, metals and slaves mentioned by Strabo would only have reached Roman markets through Armorican intermediaries, and Roman wine amphorae would only reach Britain via the same channel

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Cite this work

McKeown, J., "The Romano-British Amphora Trade to 43 A.D: An Overview," http://
, January 1999.

The Dressel AmphoraPlate 1: Dressel 1 Amphora

Etrusia - Romans Information

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