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

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Pre-Claudian Trade

In the final period under discussion, archaeology, fabric analysis and petrology reveal a wider, and sometimes confusing, variety of amphorae reaching Britain.

The names attached to the amphorae of this period reflect the increased scope of importation. Thus, amphorae are named either after the scholar who first defined the typology (for example, Dressel 2-4), or after a particular excavation (as in Camulodunum 185A)

At this time, trade in the south east of Britain shows the signs of continuing to be profitable. As well as the importation of wine, the market now widened to include the importation of olive oil and garum (fish sauce). For example, excavations at Verulamium (mod. St. Albans) produced, in burial no. 272, an almost complete Dressel 2-4 amphora (See plate D, adjacent), dated to the late Augusto-Tiberian period. Analysis of this amphora suggested a Campanian origin, yet it probably contained olive oil rather than the expected wine. The same site produced examples of Rhodian amphorae, and sherds of Camulodunum 185A from southern Spain. The latter contained a sweet liquid made from boiled down must, termed defretum (Stead and Rigby 1989: pp115-116).

At the Lexden tumulus, Colchester, four Dressel 1B were found with ten Dressel 2-4 and one Rhodian. As Williams points out, the latter two types were only produced after around 15 B.C., and analysis suggested an Italian origin, not Spanish. Southern Spanish amphora forms did turn up at Camulodunum in the period between A.D. 10-43, however.

Skeleton Green in Hertfordshire produced a rather bewildering array of amphorae or amphora fragments.

Dressel 20, which usually contained olive oil, made up the largest percentage by weight here (36.4%)closely followed by Dressel 2-4 (24.4%), Dressel 7-11 (usually holding fish products-18.1%: See plate E) and even the comparatively rare Dressel 6 (7.9%). Scholars are unsure if this latter held wine or olive oil (see Peacock, McCready/Thompson '84:pp 39-40; Partridge 1981:pp 199-204, tables VI and VII).

The Rhine-Rhone trade route, it appears, was still flourishing. Rome still needed raw materials and British aristocrats still had a taste for Mediterranean goods, despite any anti-Roman protestations (Salway 1981:pp 56-61). The market must have still been lucrative, despite the evidence of Strabo, who comments that the Britons submitted to duties on imports and exports (Geography IV.v.3). Furthermore, Rome was still active against the German tribes, with Tiberius' general and relative Germanicus in command.

The central and south western areas of Britain appears to regain some of its trading power in this period. There appears to be a concentration of the Dressel 1 Pascual 1 amphora form (See plate F) which originated in the Catalan region of northern Spain, an area praised by Martial (Xiii, 118) for its wine (Williams, Howard/Morris B.A.R. 120, 1981:p 128). Amphorae or sherds of this type are attested at Hengistbury Head and Cleavel Point, and at Bagendon, Gloucestershire dated between A.D. 20-50 Examples have also been found at Knighton, Isle of Wight and Pounbury, Dorset. Galliou has pointed out that Dressel 1 Pascual 1 and Dressel 2-4 were often produced in the same area, or even the same kiln site, in Spain; yet in Britain, the former type concentrate in central and south western areas, while the latter are more common in the south east (Galliou, McCready/Thompson '84:p 31). Why this should be is not clear.

The overall picture in this final period is less clear cut than that of the distribution of Dressel 1 forms in the previous century, as more amphora types were imported to Britain. Despite examples of north Spanish amphorae in the east of the country (for example, Dressel 1 Pascual 1 at Thaxted and Colchester in Essex), one may visualise two main trading routes into Britain at this time. The first, from Italy and southern Spain, up the Rhone, Doubs/Moselle and Rhine to Britain; and the second from northern Spain, up the Garrone, to Armorica then Britain.

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Cite this work

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

Plate 1: Dressel 2 to 4 Amphora found at burialPlate 1: Dressel 2 to 4 Amphora
Plate 2: Dressel 7 to 11 AmphoraPlate 2: Dressel 7 to 11 Amphora
Plate 3: Pascual AmphoraPlate 3: Pascual Amphora

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