Amphorae were as commonplace to our Roman ancestors as plastic carafes were to us. Of course, with the exception that they did not use them only to transport or preserve liquids, but they put everything in them.
They were not the first to use them as the Aegean peoples on the island of Crete already used amphoras to store and transport food on a regular basis. It was after them, when the Greeks and Romans adopted this solution and standardized it for the transport of goods by sea. Thus, they were used to trade fish, fruits such as olives or grapes, cereals or liquid foods such as olive oil, fish sauces and, of course, wine.
There are many researchers who agree that it was the Romans who most perfected the amphora as a container for transporting wine and oil (later for salted fish and its star sauce: garum, which, by the way, they made in Torremuelle and Benalroma along with salted fish). . For centuries they traded these precious liquids and transported them by sea to the remotest corners of the Empire and beyond. The amphoras could have different shapes, depending on their content and measurements; from thirty centimeters for the smallest amphorae, to one and a half meters for the largest.
As for the shape of the container, this was not accidental either, but rather it was designed to favor transport by ship. To start with the two handles, which give rise to the name of the container (amphora: from the Greek /ámphoreus/ “to carry on both sides”) and which allowed one or two people to hold them to move them, or hold them with ropes or other tools on board. of the ships
Roman amphoras also evolved from the wider and more regular shape of the Greek ones, towards a more stylized morphology, presenting much narrower necks to prevent spillage and the entry of air. Likewise, the bases of the Roman amphoras also served a double specific purpose that favored transport: on the one hand, the shape was similar to that of an inverted dome, which gave the amphoras special resistance to forces and pressures. that they had to experience during the voyages; on the other, the pointed end allowed the amphoras to be stuck into the sand on the beaches, and could be placed in a vertical arrangement before boarding the ships or during subsequent unloading. During the trip, they were placed inside the ships’ holds on specific supports that allowed them to be transported vertically during long voyages.
The amphoras, moreover, are one of the best indicators of the economy of antiquity and their historical-archaeological value is enormous as witnesses and material evidence of food production, packaging and trade. And they bear witness to the coordination that the Romans managed to establish and that resulted in the prosperity of their Empire, as well as behaving like a kind of map that reveals transport routes that were almost unknown until not long ago. And this why? Well, because on them there were inscriptions similar to the labels we currently use, which reported where they came from, the name of the merchant and even the weight and tare. So with these clues we can know where they were moved from and in which area they were made, since first the potter signed (There are some very curious ones called in planta pedis, which are like a foot print with the potter’s name inside (now that was marketing!) and then the dealer added (usually with paint) his brand and various information about the product itself.
In Benalmádena, so far there is no record of any of these inscriptions on the amphoras found, which does not mean that they did not exist, just that they have not lasted over time.
The industrial complex of the Roman villa of Benalroma preserves the remains of a pottery kiln that was mainly used to fire amphoras, which were used to package, preserve and transport the salted fish produced in the factory.
Likewise, the kiln was used for the manufacture of ceramics for domestic use. And it is that, from his birth to his death, each inhabitant of that Benalmaden Roman world needed ceramics of all kinds for all the activities of his daily life, directly or indirectly. Its presence in everyday life was as constant as plastic is in ours.
Such a vast market led to an enormous and permanent demand, causing the pottery activity to become the largest manufacturing industry of the time and even the Roman legions had their own workshops, which also meant a great plurality of military productions.
Roman ceramics hide a vast universe of productions of very different origins, categories, techniques and areas of commercialization or diffusion and given the breadth of the Empire, clear influences can be seen in the elaboration of the products. Regarding domestic ceramics, in our pottery kiln it was possible to fire from modest local productions produced by anonymous artisans who met a very close demand to luxurious and sophisticated tableware with Hellenistic and oriental influences (although, according to the archaeologists consulted, it seems that they were more fond of ceramics). to do do you copy of those that originated in North Africa, which was what was fashionable at the tables of that time. Speaking clearly, in this sense they were more of an oriental bazaar type than La Cartuja de Sevilla).
In Benalmádena, from where oil, salted fish and the highly prized garum were exported, it is not surprising that there was more than one pottery kiln, in fact it would be the most likely (but they have not yet been discovered, so we must be aware that now there is a lot of work in the area).
About which we have evidence, it is dated in the 3rd century AD. and part of the praefurnium (an ingenious artificial heat system) and the combustion chamber can be seen, which would be completed with the characteristic construction elements of these industrial structures: such as the central pillar, the grill and on this the closed cooking chamber would be located in dome.
Perhaps the best thing is that you see it yourself in the History Center (where you can also visit the exhibition Las villas romanas de Benalmádena for free, where they will tell you more curiosities about our Roman ancestors).
If you want to see some of the Roman amphorae found in Benalmádena, you can visit the Felipe Orlando Pre-Columbian Art Museum in Benalmádena Pueblo for free, where high-imperial vessels from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD are kept. C. in which the Romans transported salted fish and garum. These vessels may have come from our kiln and were located in waters close to the Torremuelle anchorage.
The only amphora in the Benalmadense museum, found in our municipality, that is not from Roman times is the one we show you in the image below. It is a Punic vessel (4th-3rd centuries BC) that was found in the underwater archaeological zone of Laja Bermeja, near the marina.
The amphoras were helmets with no return, because on the return trips it was more profitable to transport processed products. And what did the Romans do with so many vessels? They threw them away, but instead of doing it anywhere, as happens nowadays with plastic (what remains from Spain have even been found in the Arctic, what a fabric!), they piled them up in amphorae dumps.
In fact, it is said that the selective collection of waste began in Rome and proof of this is the monte Testaccio, an artificial hill with a height of 50 meters and a base of 22,000 square meters built with the remains of 25 million amphoras in which, above all, olive oil was transported from Hispania to the city.
This amphorae dump, as they bore their original seal with the content and the seller, is today a gigantic and orderly historical database of trade in Roman times.
And these mountains of waste (Spanish scientists are the ones who have studied it the most, Testaccio’s) minimized their growth because the Romans went from the amphora to the oak barrel. The reason is logical because, if we think about it, amphoras were the appropriate container for naval transport, but for land transport their shape did not make it easy to transport them in carts (which had to be a real nightmare).
It was in the middle of the 1st century B.C. (the Roman Republic subdued Gaul), when they found out how the Gauls stored and transported beer: in oak barrels. And, as the saying goes: wherever you go, do what you see, the Roman legions did not think twice and adopted oak barrels to transport liquids, especially wine, since there was no color compared to the uncomfortable amphorae. They weighed less, they were easier to transport because they rolled, in Europe there were loads of oaks to cut down and whose wood bends without many complications and also, they realized that the wines that were transported over long distances in oak barrels improved in flavor when they reached their destination. All advantages!
If you want to know more about the Roman history of Benalmádena we recommend these articles from our section Discover Benalmadena (Benalroma, a Roman villa for enjoyment and work by the sea and Garum: the delicacy that was made in Torremuelle and brought the Romans back locatis) and of course, you have to stop by the History Center, (it’s next to Los Molinillos, on the coast, and it’s free!) that sits precisely in the archaeological remains of Benalroma (a marvel that you can see live and direct in the industrial zone of the Roman Villa) and that Right now it is hosting an exhibition on the Roman villas in our municipality. And if your curiosity about Roman amphoras piques you even more, visit the Arroyo de la Miel Library (it’s very close to the History Center) and check out the first Niña de Benalmádena research award Approach to the study of pre-Roman and Roman amphorae from Benalmádena (4th centuries BC-VII AD) by Gonzalo Pineda de las Infantas Beato and if you want to see them, they are in the Felipe Orlando Museum of Pre-Columbian Art in Benalmádena Pueblo (which is also free). If you are passionate about the history of Benalmádena, you already have a plan!
- If you are a teacher, we leave you this template from the National Museum of Underwater Archeology so that you can work on the subject with your students in class: HERE