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Amphorae from around the world

For over 300 years, Roman Xanten was supplied with precious goods from the Mediterranean region by a continuous stream of trade. Everything was packed in amphorae. These findings are now being analysed in a Spanish-German research project.

Close-up of a fragment of an antique amphora with faded ink inscription. Close-up of a fragment of an antique amphora with faded ink inscription. Close-up of a fragment of an antique amphora with faded ink inscription.

These fragments of amphorae are packed with information.

José Remesal (on the left in the photo below), Professor of Ancient History at Barcelona University, and his team belong to the small international group of experts who have specialised in the analysis of Roman amphorae. The Spanish researchers have already catalogued more than a million fragments of amphorae which once made the long journey down the Rhine to Xanten.

Group of researchers with amphora: Prof. Remesal Rodrìguez with four other amphorae specialists and Dr. Norbert Zieling. Three amphorae.

The Spanish amphorae specialists led by Prof. Remesal Rodrìguez (far left).

Their field of research is particularly informative, for amphorae can often be dated without difficulty and have various inscriptions revealing their origin, route and former content. When all these particulars are put together, the seemingly unobtrusive fragments simultaneously shed light on typical Roman eating and drinking customs, as well as on economic relations with other provinces.

In this way, it is now known that wine was preferably imported from Italy in the early first century AD, until more was imported from Gaul and later, from the second century onwards, also from the Middle Rhine area. Fish goods and olive oil also initially came to the Lower Rhine from what is now Andalusia. They too were later increasingly supplemented by Gallic imports, but never disappeared from the market in Xanten.

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