Pots and boundaries: On cultural and economic areas between Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages

Pots and boundaries: On cultural and economic areas between Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages

By Paul Arthur

Late Roman Coarse Wares, Cooking Wares and Amphorae in the Mediterranean : Archaeology and archaeometry, eds. Michel Bonify and J.C. Treglia (Bar International Series, 1662:1, 2007)

Abstract: The present contribution does not claim to resolve problems in the recognition of the significance of late Roman and early Medieval cooking wares, but it hopes to draw attention to certain factors that may have some importance in their interpretation. In particular, it hopes to show that comparison between cooking ware types and forms and data accruing from the analysis of other classes of archaeological data (faunal, botanical, etc.), may indicate some fruitful lines of enquiry. In particular, distributions of cooking wares may shed light on cultural or economic areas that are apparently defined more by environmental factors (and culinary tradition) than by political or administrative boundaries.

Introduction: For quite some time now, research has shown that ceramics, long used as indicators for ancient commerce, either directly, through transport containers such as amphorae, or indirectly, through the distribution of pots that rode ‘piggy-back’ as secondary cargoes, have much more information to offer. Particularly for late antiquity and early Byzantine times, studies of ceramic distributions by John Hayes, and later, particularly in Italy, by scholars such as Clementina Panella, Enrico Zanini and Lidia Paroli, have shown how certain vessels appear to be linked not only to Byzantine trade, but also to politics of supply. For instance, commercial amphorae and African Red Slip Ware, after the Lombard invasion of Italy, appear to represent directional trade that favoured Byzantine possessions in the peninsula, often to the exclusion of areas held by the Lombards. In such cases, we appear to be witnessing the movement of products from specific production areas to specific consumption areas under some form of controlled directive. Other areas were excluded.

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