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

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Post-Caesarian Trade

The aftermath of Caesar's British campaigns left some southern tribes, at least formally, tribute paying parts of the empire (Salway 1981: p42). In reality, however, the treaties concluded with the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes of the south east left some room for manoevure (as later Catuvellaunian expansion suggests). The treaties also started a process of re-orientation in British trade. The south central theatre of commerce around Durotrigan territory now became somewhat of a backwater, while the south east enjoyed profitable relations with Roman controlled Gaul and Belgica.

Parallel to these developments was the changeover from the Dressel 1A amphora form to Dressel 1B (See plate 1)

As Galliou points out (McCready & Thompson 1984: pp29-30), the latter form had been common on the continent since around the 70's B.C. onwards, yet only appears in Britain after the 50's B.C. What it appears we are dealing with are two differing amphora forms in two different areas in two distinct periods (There are exceptions to this, however; as in the presence of Dressel 1A on a site at Braughing, Hertfordshire, - see Williams in Howard & Morris '81: pp125).

Archaeology has for some time recognised a distinctive "Aylesford-Swarling " culture in the south east of Britain at this time. This culture, and associated "Welwyn type" burials north of the Thames were formerly considered by scholars to be an influx of Belgic peoples from the continent as a result of the conquest of Gaul. This is now called into question, with Cunliffe pointing to the lack of a secure pre-Caesarian phase for this culture and associating it with the proximity of Roman trade networks, especially since in the Augustan period the Roman theatre of war against Germanic tribes was conveniently close to the south east of Britain and acted as a "commercial zone" for raw materials (McCready & Thompson '84: pp12-16). These south eastern tribes, therefore, were well placed to profit from Roman consumer and military needs. In addition, Galliou stresses the importance of the Rhine-Rhone river corridor in trade at this time, and Roman merchants were probably present in Britain (McCready/Thompson '84: p 28).

Meanwhile, the central southern area of trade appears to dry up. This is perhaps attributable to Caesar's actions against the Veneti and other tribes, whom Caesar comments - De Bello Gallico IV. 20 - had received armed assistance from British warriors.

Despite Caesar's attempts to create a balance of power between the south eastern British tribes, the ensuing years saw the gradual encroachment of Catuvellaunian influence across the south and into the midlands (Salway 1981: pp42-45). If the evidence of the spread of Catuvellaunian coinage is indicative of political or cultural influence (and this is by no means clear), then this tribe was dominant in the south east. It appears that the Trinovantes were strongly under their yoke, contrary to Rome's wishes (See Salway 1981: pp 51-52 for Augustus relations with Britain). John Collis (1984: p167) points out that there appears to be a shift in Dressel 1B concentrations in this period, in that in the period immediately after Caesar's expeditions, the main concentration is around Braughing, Herts, while by the time of Augustus' German campaigns the main incidence of Dressel 1B is around Camulodunum (mod. Colchester). According to Collis, the Catuvellauni-Trinovantes may have held the monopoly of trade with the empire at this time.

The influence of the Catuvellauni may have been such that they could supply most of the raw materials that Rome desired. Salway (1981: pp59-60) takes the presence of Italian, Gaulish and Gallo-Belgic pottery in the territory of the Dobunni tribe, together with a corresponding lack of Catuvellaunian coins in the same area as an indication of an "understanding" between these two peoples. Again it is important to note that the evidence of Celtic coin types is equivocal, but it may be that the Dobunni were the intermediaries who provided the Catuvellauni-Trinovantes with the metals that were so needed, from the south west.

By about 10 B.C. the Dressel 1 amphora form died out in favour of other forms (Galliou, McCready/Thompson '84: p30). Wines from other areas of the empire were challenging the dominance of Italian wines, and amphora forms changed accordingly. Furthermore, in the next period, it was not just wine amphorae that were reaching British shores.

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Cite this work

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

Plate C: Dressel 1B AmphoraPlate 1: Dressel 1B Amphora

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