Containers, Commodities, and Greek Colonization in the Mediterranean of the 8th Century BCE

Antonios Kotsonas

University of Cincinnati

The 8th century BCE is punctuated by milestones in the history of the ancient Mediterranean and by a remarkable intensification of connections, from the Near East to Iberia. There are numerous interrelated processes and cultural conditions that may have shaped this development, but one factor that seems to have influenced the Mediterranean sphere was colonization, which mobilized Phoenicians and Greeks to establish new communities overseas, and thus to reshape the cultural and economic landscape of the entire region. The lecture revisits the traditional discourse on the economics of Greek colonization and argues in support of “commercial”—as opposed to “agrarian”— stimuli, using evidence of transport containers and the commodities they contained, the latter being the “soft things” that often leave no trace in the archaeological record. Drawing from recent finds from across the Mediterranean, I suggest that the first widespread production and distribution of Greek transport amphorae belong to the 8th (rather than the 7th) century BCE, that the agricultural products these vessels contained were circulating widely from the early days of Greek colonization, and that the two phenomena are closely related. Focusing on a large and varied assemblage of amphorae of late 8th century BCE date from Methone—the earliest Greek colony in the north Aegean according to ancient tradition—I demonstrate how new theoretical approaches to Mediterranean “containerization” and applications of archaeological science might revolutionize our understanding of the circulation of transport containers and commodities in the 8th century BCE, and ultimately reshape our understanding of Greek colonization and Mediterranean connectivity.

Antonis Kotsonas is Assistant Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati. He specializes in the material culture and socio-economic history of Greece and the Mediterranean in the Early Iron Age and the Archaic period, though his research interests extend from the Late Bronze Age to the Roman period. He has conducted fieldwork on Crete, and in the Cyclades, Euboea and Macedonia; and comparative studies across the Aegean, and from Italy to Cyprus, engaging problems in state formation, trade and interaction, identity and commensality, memory, and the history of Greek and Mediterranean archaeology. He is the author of The Archaeology of tomb A1K1 of Orthi Petra in Eleutherna (Athens 2008); co-author of Methone Pierias I: Inscriptions, graffiti and trademarks on Geometric and Archaic pottery from the ‘Ypogeio’ of Methone Pierias in Macedonia (Thessaloniki 2012); the editor of Understanding standardization and variation in Mediterranean ceramics: Mid 2nd to late 1st millennium BC (Leuven 2014); and co-editor of a Wiley Blackwell Companion to the Archaeology of Early Greece and the Mediterranean (Forthcoming).

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