Trade of western Greek amphorae (6th-5th century BC) from the perspective of Himera (western Sicily): a contribution to the identification of production centres, typological repertoires and distribution patterns

Project affiliation: Institut für Klassische Archäologie, Universität Wien.
Project leader: Babette Bechtold (Institut für Klassische Archäologie, Universität Wien).
Co-authors: Stefano Vassallo (Soprintendenza BBCCAA di Palermo), Giuseppe Montana, Luciana Randazzo (Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra e del Mare, Università degli Studi di Palermo).
Cooperation partners: Clemente Marconi (New York University, IFA / Università Statale di Milano): excavations of temples B and R, Selinunte; Monica de Cesare, Chiara Portale, Annalisa Amico (Culture e società, Università degli Studi di Palermo): excavations in the area at south of the temple of Zeus, Agrigento; Maria Concetta Parello (Parco Archeologico della Valle dei Templi di Agrigento): excavations at the so-called Late-Hellenistic sanctuary and at the theatre, Agrigento; Roald Docter (Department of Archaeology, Ghent University), excavations at Bir Messaouda, Carthage; Thomas Schäfer (Institut für Klassische Archäologie, Universität Tübingen): acropolis excavations, Pantelleria; Mariela Quartararo (Pisa), Monica de Cesare (Culture e società, Università degli Studi di Palermo): study of the archaeological materials of the Grotta Vanella dump, Segesta.
Staff at the ceramic lab of the University of Vienna: Flavio Ferlito, Raphael Lampl.
Graphic documentation of the amphorae from Himera: Giancarlo Guadagnino.
Financial support: FWF Austrian Sciences Fund, P 30030-G25.
Duration: Decembre 2017 – Novembre 2021


Western Greek amphorae, namely transport vessels produced by southern Italian and Sicilian colonies during the 6th-5th centuries BC, represent one of the most common ceramic classes found in Central Mediterranean archaeological contexts. The aforementioned provide fundamental information regarding economic interaction in the whole region. However, the production sites identification and repertoires are far from completion. Important morphological differences between the series produced by Greek towns located in the Tyrrhenian, Calabrian and Ionian-Adriatic area have already been ascertained, whereas typological information regarding the chronological development of the Sicilian products appears to be still very scare.
    The present project focuses on the largest ensemble of western Greek amphorae ever excavated in the Mediterranean and unearthed in enchytrismoi found in the necropolis of Himera (fig. 1-2).

Fig. 1. Aerial view of the site of Himera with location of the western and eastern necropolis (archivio Soprintendenza BBCCAA di Palermo).

Fig. 2. Examples of western Greek amphorae reused in enchytrismoi excavated in the western necropolis (W4431 to the left, W4450 to the right, archivio Soprintendenza BBCCAA di Palermo).

Determining both (fig. 3) fabric (according to the methods of FACEM, see www.facem.at) and type of about 560 well preserved vessels aims to work on a diachronic serialisation of fabric groups attributed to production sites/regions. Archaeometric analysis and comparison with edited geochemical data by G. Montana and L. Randazzo will play a crucial role in view of the geographic attribution of these groups. A particular emphasis will be placed on the identification of the almost unknown series of some Sicilian Colonies, for instance, the Greek foundations of Selinus and Akragas on the southern coast, as well as the Punic towns of Solus and Panormos in the North-West region. Correctly dating the vessels will depend on morphological comparisons and the chronology referred to the associated grave inventories and other archaeological data studied by the excavator, S. Vassallo.

Fig. 3. Amphora W1751 of Sourisseau's form 2 from the western necropolis of Himera. To the left microphoto x8, to the right profile drawing (from: B. Bechtold, S. Vassallo, Le anfore puniche dalle necropoli di Himera (seconda metà del VII – fine del V sec. a.C., BABesch Supplemento 34, 2018, 154, fig. 58).

Further information will be provided by the analysis of approximately 250 fragments of western Greek amphorae from other Sicilian sampling sites (fig. 4). This procedure will allow both to outline regional distribution patterns of the main identified productions and strengthen evidence for local production at Selinus and Akragas.
    Given Himera's function as a distribution centre not only for the indigenous and Elymian sites of its hinterland, but also for the Sicilian-Punic colonies and Carthage itself, the present research will constitute a mile stone for the study of economic interaction, during the 6th-5th centuries BC in north-western Sicily. Furthermore, particularly relevant to the characterisation of the later 5th-century BC series is Himera’s destruction date of 409 BC. Finally, special emphasis will be placed on the assessment of the quantitative proportions of regionally produced vessels versus commodities imported from supra-regional areas. Concerning the latter ones, we have to verify if Himera’s international commercial relations predominately linked to the Tyrrhenian route. Other conceivable provenance areas of important quantities of amphorae are represented by the Ionian-Adriatic region, the Straits of Messina area, Ionian Calabria and south-eastern Sicily.

Fig. 4. Already identified production areas/sites of western Greek amphorae and sampling sites to be included in the present project.

Essential references

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