Byzantine amphorae from Ephesos

Even during the Byzantine period Ephesos was integrated into a Mediterranean trade network that made it possible to transport agricultural products in purpose-made vessels, usually amphorae, over long distances into the city but also to export products of the region. Archaeological and scientific analyses of amphorae not only lead to an exact determination of origin but also permit conclusions about the traded content. 

Amphorae as source for trade, consumption, and agriculture

In archaeology amphorae are an important source of information for the reconstruction of commercial ties, agricultural production as well as for consumption habits. They were vessels for different goods, especially for wine, oil, fish products, and fruits including dates and olives. Traded across long distances they permit the reconstruction of commercial networks but they also provide decisive information about the regional plant cultivation and to a lesser extent also animal husbandry, particularly fish farming. Ultimately they are an indicator for prosperity and cultural identity of the consumers.

Commercial metropolis of Ephesos

Ephesos offers an excellent basis for an analysis of amphorae because it was one of the largest ancient cities with a working harbor that functioned as a trade hub for goods from the entire Mediterranean as well as the Anatolian hinterland. Already in the Roman imperial period the region surrounding Ephesos was considered to be one of the most important suppliers of wine, namely a special Asian type that was filled into specially made amphorae – the Late Roman Amphorae (LRA) 3. In late antiquity the city, an important administrative center and pilgrimage site, itself had a great demand for wine, oil, fruits, and fish products that were imported from the various regions.

Consumption practices 

The aim of the study is the evaluation of the amphora finds from the Byzantine period in Ephesos in order to answer questions about the consumption practices of various social groups as well as trade networks of the city against the backdrop of the major social changes that took place in the course of the Byzantine period. Amphorae from four sites of varying function were selected and based on these it will be investigated whether sites of administrative, commercial, sacred, or private use were marked by a specific consumption practice. 

Another question relates to the changes in trade networks as a result of external factors such as the loss of agricultural production regions in the Byzantine Empire or also through certain transformation processes. Also, the supply situation of Ephesos – whether through their own production or through imports – will be discussed against the background of social change.

Trade in the ›Dark Ages‹

Particular focus is placed on the destructions of the 7th century marking a prelude to a break in the settlement history and the following middle Byzantine period. This is a period that is also referred to as the ›Dark Ages‹ due to the paucity of sources. Recent research results demonstrate that despite a significant decline in population, the settlement continued to exist along with a functioning system of harbor, city, and hinterland. Also, the agricultural production in the vicinity of Ephesos appears to have continued ensuring the supply of the city. However, wine was no longer traded in the traditional LRA-3 amphorae but instead in the course of the 7th century Ephesos adopted a standardized vessel shape used in the Byzantine realm and beyond, the so-called Byzantine globular amphora. This took place under the pressure of competitiveness but also in the course of general standardization trends.

Plurality of methods

The classification of the Byzantine amphorae is conducted on the basis of shape typology as well as petrographics which include the identification of the heavy minerals in addition to the thin sections. Residue analyses complement the range of methods. Furthermore, an epigraphic evaluation of the dipinti and graffiti as well as the stamps is being carried out.