Cooking ware as Indicator for Regional Trade: A View from 4th-1st c. BC Central Mediterranean

Project affiliation: Institut für Klassische Archäologie

Project leader: Dr Barbara Borgers

Co-applicant: Univ.-Prof Dr Verena Gassner

Cooperation partners:

Univ.-Prof Dr Rainer Abart, Department of Lithospheric Research, University of Vienna, Austria.

Univ.-Prof Dr Corina Ionescu, Geology Department, Babeş-Bolyai University, Romania.

Dr. Gijs Tol, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne, Australia.

Dr. Tymon de Haas, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, the Netherlands.

Dr. Bert Nijboer, Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

Univ.-Prof Dr Peter Attema, Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

Univ.-Prof Dr Gloria Olcese, University of Milan, Italy.

Drs. Filmo Verhagen, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Uppsala, Sweden.

Supporting institutions and people: 

Museo dell’Agro Pontino, Antiquarium Comunale di Nettuno, Museo Archeologico di Albano, Soprintendenza Archeologia del Lazio e dell’Etruria Meridionale, Università degli Studi di Milano (Gloria Olcese), Groningen Institute of Archaeology (Peter Attema, Bert Nijboer, Gert van Oortmerssen), University of Melbourne (Gijs Tol), Leiden University (Tymon de Haas), University of Amsterdam (Marijke Gnade, Jan Sevink), University of Uppsala (Filmo Verhagen), Babeş-Bolyai University (Corina Ionescu).

Financial support: Austrian Science Fund FWF Project T-1085 G

Duration: October 2019 – September 2023

Abstract of the project

The Pontine region is located c. 60 km southwest of Rome on the Tyrrhenian coast, and is bounded by the Lepine Mountains and Alban Hills to the east and north, respectively (Fig. 1). In the 4th c. BC, the region was annexed by Rome, and this is visible in the establishment of colonies, such as Norba and Antium, and the construction of the via Appia and roadside settlements, including Forum Appii (Fig. 1). At that time, the region became integrated in a new and wider sphere of interaction, and it will have played a significant role in the movement of people and objects across the area. 

Cooking ware are the most common pottery found on archaeological sites, since they were used in numerous social contexts, including eating, feasting and burial. Their shapes tend to be traditional, with little variation over time. Hence, for their study, fabric analysis is particularly relevant. Consequently, cooking ware are suitable objects for studying trade and exchange networks wherein sites and larger regions participated, and they provide important data for understanding the broader socio-political and economic phenomena that underlie their manufacture and distribution.

Figure 1. Map of the Pontine region, Central Italy, situated c. 60 km south of Rome, with indication of three surveys, including Pontinia on the coast, Minor Centres in the inner plain, and Norba in the mountainous area (Map reproduced from Borgers et al. 2017, fig. 1, p. 315: Map by Tymon de Haas ©)


Recent studies on Mid- and Late Republican (4th to 1st c. BC) cooking ware from sites around Rome and Ostia, adopting fabric analysis, indicate the lively movement of this pottery. These studies also show that their mobility increased from the 2nd c. BC towards the dawn of the new era. Following on from this, preliminary work on 4th to 1st c BC cooking ware from the Pontine region (Figs. 2, 3) has highlighted the value of fabric analysis as a means to map regional networks, and identify changes therein during that time. The results indicate that the roadside settlements at Forum Appii and Ad Medias, which were located in the inner plain (Fig. 1), were integrated in more regional and inter-regional networks during the Late Republican period compared to the Mid-Republican period. This suggests that pre-existing socio-political and economic relations, wherein those networks were embedded, changed. These new relations were either realigned to older ones, or they were set up from scratch at new trading centres (emporia).

Figure 2. Olla type 2 (Olcese, 2003) cooking vessel with outstanding rim (Drawing reproduced from Borgers et al., 2017, fig. 2, p. 316: Drawing by Gijs Tol ©)

Further work is needed before the nature of regional trade networks of cooking ware in the Pontine region can be understood, as well as the area’s inter-regional connections with the rest of 4th to 1st c. BC Central Italy. Moreover, it is likely that micro-regional differences existed. For instance, one might expect to find that the mountainous area may have had strong links with Rome or Campania, while the coastal area might have tapped into overseas networks.  The project will address this by examining 4th to 1st c. BC cooking ware from different site types (domestic/religious) and micro-regions (coast/inner plain/mountains), using fabric analysis, with the aim of tracking the movement of regional products, as well as those from more distant sources. Further to this, the project will address the role of networks and nodes (or hubs) that connected the Pontine region with wider Central Italy as a means to understand underlying power relations and inequality, and will illuminate whether and how people’s everyday life in Rome’s hinterland was affected by broader changes during the 4th to 1st c. BC Republic.

Figure 3. Olla type 3a (Olcese, 2003) cooking vessel, with outstanding almond-shaped rim (Drawing reproduced from Borgers et al., 2017, fig. 3, p. 316: Drawing by Gijs Tol ©)


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