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Collection Highlights

Amphora

Amphora
© BA Antiquities Museum/E.Omar


showcase 12

Rhodian Amphora

Category:
Containers and related objects, vessels, amphorae
Date:
Graeco-Roman Period, Ptolemaic Period, 1st half of the 3rd cent. BCE
Provenance:
Upper Egypt, Giza, Saqqara
Material(s):
Man made material, pottery (terracotta)
Height:
51 cm;
Diameter:
27 cm
Hall:
Submerged Antiquities, showcase 12


Description

The Amphora consists of a short cylindrical neck with an outward rounded rim, and an ovoid body that tapers downwards and widens at the top. The Amphora has rounded shoulders and two handles, in addition to a solid spike at the base, which is used as a third handle while pouring liquids. The spike also serves in setting the amphorae upright in superimposed tiers that could be stowed from one to nine layers. Each amphora was placed with its pointed bottom into the open space around the necks of the jars in the tier below. Ropes were used to tie the piles of amphorae together, so they would not move during sailing. The average capacity of this type of amphorae ranges between 20 and 25 liters.

Rhodes

This type of amphorae originated in Rhodes; an island known for its famous Colossus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This huge statue was described as a bronze figure of the Sun god, Helios, the height of which was 70 cubits; that is, more than 30 meters. It was built in 280 BCE, and thrown down by an earthquake sixty years later.

 

Kyrenia Shipwreck

A large group of 380 amphorae was found in the famous Kyrenia shipwreck. Most of them were Rhodian amphorae, making it the largest set of this type discovered to date. The wine they carried was, most likely, the popular table wine Rhodes exported north to the Black Sea and south to Egypt.

The Kyrenia is the wreck of a 4th century BCE Greek merchant ship, which sailed the Mediterranean during the lifetime of Alexander the Great; it was in use by merchants for 15–25 years. The crew consisted of a captain and 3 sailors, while the ship was 14-meters long by 4.2-meters wide. The ship sunk in open waters less than a mile from the anchorage of Kyrenia between 295 and 285 BCE. The incident was probably due its deteriorated condition as a result of prolonged use.

 

Amphorae and Wine Production

Amphora ἀμφορεύς (amphoreús) in Greek means “to carry on both sides”. Generally, amphorae are around one-meter high and have a capacity between 20 and 40 liters. If we assume ancient boats had a length of 15 to 20 meters, then each could stow an average of 2000 to 3000 amphorae. Amphorae were usually used for carrying liquids, especially wine. In ancient times, wine was often used in religious ceremonies. The Greeks venerated Dionysus as the god of wine, while the Romans worshiped Bacchus for the same purpose.

Wine-making started by taking the grapes in baskets to the places where they would be pressed by feet to squeeze out the juice. The wine was mixed with water in a ratio of 3 to 2 before it was drunk; different types of wine existed in Greek and Roman times. According to the Greeks, the wine was classified according to color into black, red, white, and yellow, and according to taste into bitter or sweet.

 


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • Ali, Nabil and Nabil, Bader. Two Rhodian Stamped Amphora Handles from Tell Es-Sukhnah (Jordan): A Case Study. Jordan: Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, Vol. 15, No 2, 2015, pp. 45-51.
  • Bass, George, ed. Beneath The Seven Seas. London: Thames & Hudson, 2005.
  • Herbert, Maryon. The Colossus of Rhodes. United Kingdom: The Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 76, 1956, pp. 68-86. 
  • Özadaş, A. harun, Oğuz Alpözen and Bahadır Berkay. Commercial Amphoras of The Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, Maritime Trade of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times. Translated by Selma Oğuz and Julie Aras. Bodrum: Bodrum Museum for Underwater Archaeology Publication No.2, 1995.
  • Sciallano, Martine and Patricia Sibella, éd. Amphores : Comment Les Identifier? Aix-en-Provence: C.-Y Chaudoreille, 1994.
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