Commercial Uses of Pottery

Before the modern era, the bulk of the trade conducted around the Mediterranean periphery moved by sea. Some commodities, including marble, ivory, timber, bullion and other metals, and perhaps even wheat, could be loaded directly into ship hulls. Others, such as finished textiles, flax, animal hides, wool, fruits and legumes, needed to be bailed up or bagged before shipment by sea. Many products needed packing in individual containers both for shipping and for land transport in wagons or on the backs of pack animals. These included dried fish, cheeses, spices, pitch, drinking water, wine, oil and perfume. Once delivered, grains and other commodities shipped in bulk required storage containers. Terracotta containers ran the gamut from enormous grain storage jars to tiny perfume flasks. Oil and wine were shipped in large plain transport amphoras; by the 7th century BC it becomes possible to distinguish the containers of the various wine and oil producing centers. But Greek vases were also traded as objects of beauty. The finely decorated Corinthian vases that turn up everywhere in 8th and 7th century contexts around the Mediterranean and Black seas clearly possessed their own commercial value. So too did the Athenian Black and Red Figure vessels that flooded the ancient world in the 6th and 5th centuries. (99k)

Attic Red Figure Bell Krater
ca. 430-410 BC
By the Dinos Painter
MS 5682
On the underside of the base of this vase are the names of three types of vases-kraters, oxides, and pellinia-along with their unit prices. While the krater is a familiar shape, the others are less so. The oxis and probably the pellinion were small bowls without handles. The cost in late 5th century Athens for a single krater was 4-1/2 obols, for a pellinion 3/8 obol, and for an oxis 1/6 obol. The krater body depicts four youths as they rest from the hunt.
H. 32.0; Dia. 33.5 cm. Photos by Maria Daniels for the Perseus Project.
Attic "SOS" Transport Amphora
Early 6th century BC
Vulci, Italy
MS 562
Storage vessels like this example, which ended up in an Etruscan tomb in northern Italy, were used to ship wine and olive oil around the Mediterranean in the 7th and 6th centuries BC They get their SOS nomenclature from the shape of the pattern decorating the neck.
H. 67.5; Dia. 45.0 cm. UM neg. S8-73379.

Rhodian Transport/Storage Amphora
ca. 100 BC
MS 5720
This vessel's pointed bottom was designed for transport in a ship's hull. The handles carry partly legible stamps identifying the vase as Rhodian. Rhodian stamps usually supply two names: one recording the endorsement of the contents by perhaps its licensed manufacturer, the other a date that refers to a particular annually appointed official ("in the term of so-and-so") and a month.
H. 80.0; Dia. 35.0 cm. UM neg. S8-122515.

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