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Amphoras

Amphoras are pointed, two-handled storage jars found throughout the ancient Mediterranean for carrying and keeping many commodities, but the primary contents were wine and oil. The jars were made locally in many different places: Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor, cities on the Black Sea, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Lusitania, Spain. Some were decorated, like the black-glazed Panathenaic amphoras full of olive oil presented by Athens to victors in atheletic games. Some were plain pottery jars, often stamped on the handles with the names of magistrates (eponyms) and/or potters (fabricants).

A good introduction to the making, use, and history of amphoras can be found in Virginia R. Grace's Amphoras and the Ancient Wine Trade, Picture Book 6 in the series of the Excavations of the Athenian Agora, 2nd ed. (Meriden, Conn. 1977); available on site at the Agora Museum and from the American School of Classical Studies, c/o the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton NJ 08540.

A more detailed account of the various classes of Greek amphoras and how they are dated appears in Virginia R. Grace and Maria Savvatianou-Petropoulakou, "Les timbres amphoriques grecs", L'îlot de la maison des comédiens. Exploration archéologique de Délos 27 (Paris, Boccard 1970) 277--382.

For more information, and some illustrations of amphoras (mostly of the decorated Panathenaic type) see the entry for amphora in the Perseus Project encyclopaedia online.

More our most frequently asked question, see the FAQ.


The Project

Virginia R. Grace spent a lifetime studying plain, transport amphoras from all over the Mediterranean, particularly those made in Greece. She built up a card-file at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens of over 150,000 amphoras or amphora fragments, which the AMPHORAS Project, directed by Carolyn G. Koehler and Philippa M. Wallace Matheson, have been putting on computer over a period of more than 10 years.

The General Amphora File (GAF) now contains just under 100,000 records of amphora fragments, with readings of stamps, descriptions of shape, clay (where appropriate), dimensions, finding place and context (if available), and publication information. In addition, Study Files for the different classes of amphoras, based on their place of manufacture, are being developed to enable reference to parallels and dating information for stamped fragments by Study number or type of stamp. We expect to begin making the records of published stamps available for consultation online, while using the Study files as a basis for publication in book form of a number of projects left unfinished at Dr. Grace's death. These include a corpus of Knidian amphora stamp types, fully illustrated, a corpus of the amphora stamps found on amphoras from the island of Kos, and a catalogue of the Greek amphoras found at Corinth. Dr. Koehler is also working on a volume of amphoras made in Corinth -- see the text (originally published in Russian) of her recent article on these jars.

The work of identifying amphora stamps found in new excavations or being catalogued in museums from parallels in Dr. Grace's files, and the incorporation of new and previously filed information into the computer database, is still being continued in Athens [1] and in North America [2], now under the auspices of the non-profit corporation AMPHORAS Project, Inc. For an illustration of the results which the computerization is intended to help make possible, see a paper given in Washington DC in 1990 on "Imports of Knidian Wine at Athens and Corinth".

For other information about the project and its work, see also additional materials.

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Notes

[1]
Andreas Dimoulinis and Marie Savvatianou-Petropoulakou, longtime associates in Dr. Grace's work, continue to maintain the files at the Stoa of Attalos in the Athenian Agora, identifying newly-discovered amphoras and preparing photographic material for publication. Dinah Zavos, Kathy Davis, and Alexandra Zavos work on the computer project, photocopying records and entering them into the AMPHORAS database.
[2]
Miki McCarty and Victor Bakich in Toronto are entering, editing, and checking material in the AMPHORAS database.