Roman Amphorae: a digital resource

University of Southampton, 2005 (updated 2014)

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Primary contact

Dr David Williams
Dept of Archaeology
University of Southampton
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SO17 1BJ
Tel: 080 593032

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Digital Object Identifiers

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University of Southampton (2014) Roman Amphorae: a digital resource [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

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Scope of this Website

This website is an online and introductory resource for the study of Roman amphorae, rather than a definitive study of all amphorae for specialists. It encompasses most of the principal types manufactured throughout the Roman empire between the late third century BC and the early seventh century AD. In the amphora descriptions that follow, the word "Type" is used loosely and is taken to represent a shape which has been recognized as being significantly different from other known shapes by previous studies. The defining characteristics are usually details of key aspects of a vessel's shape, such as its rim, neck, handles, body and spike (foot).

It builds upon two works published in the 1980s (Peacock and Williams, 1986; Keay, 1984) and presents basic typological information for c. 250 forms. It would have been impossible to include all amphorae and their variants on this site, not least because new types continue to be discovered on excavations, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean. Preference has thus been given to providing basic information about the more common types of amphorae while trying to ensure as broad a geographical spread as possible. Inevitably, therefore, some types of regional or local significance will not be represented. The site also largely excludes those amphorae, such as Punic, Iberian and Ebussitanian types, which were produced during the Roman Republican period but whose shape lies outside the mainstream Roman amphora tradition. Detailed typological information about variants has been kept to a minimum. The distinguishing feature of this website is that it provides information about the clay fabric of most types derived from the physical analysis of the clay by visual and thin-section analysis. This arises from the belief that while typological issues are important in identifying amphorae, the characterization of clay fabrics has a greater role to play than has often been the case to date.



The website has been designed by the ADS to have a standard ADS look and feel so as to be familiar to users of other ADS resources. There are basically three main sections to the website: Amphora types, fabric types and bibliographic references. These are supported by additional background information on the resource and search tools. The information is organised in such a way as to allow a user to browse in a non-linear fashion, with hyperlinks between related concepts. For example, a user may wish to find an amphora type by name initially, then find amphorae which share a particular characteristic, and finally view which fabrics are associated with these amphorae. Alternatively, a user may be interested in a particular fabric and begin by searching the catalogue of fabric types before viewing particular amphorae of interest and finally associated references. A third option would be to search for a particular reference of interest and follow the links through to see which amphora are referred to by the specified reference. As such, there are a number of starting points and paths through the information resource.



Each page within the website has the standard ADS ArchSearch banner on the left hand side providing a standard set of ADS links. At the top of each page is the project banner and below this, the website navigation pane. This navigation pane provides the following links:

  1. Home
    Follow this link to go back to the home page for the project website.
  2. General Info
    Follow this link to go to a section containing background information for the project. Information is organised into the following sections:
    • Introduction - aims of the website, background information on amphorae and amphora studies
    • Usage - scope of the website and user instructions
    • Acknowledgements - project team, funding bodies and collaborators
    • Links - external websites of interest
  3. Catalogue of Amphora

    Follow this link to access the main section of the database; the catalogue of amphora. The catalogue is presented as an alphabetical list of amphora names. Each amphora type represented on this website has been assigned its own entries, many of which have been put together by different contributors. Since the amount of information known about each amphora type varies quite considerably, there is some variation in the level of detail recorded - although every attempt has been to ensure a basic level of consistency. Click on a name to go to the detailed information page for that particular amphora type.

    It begins with a leading Type name, and is that by which it is frequently known. Since many types have featured in a number of different typologies, many types have several names, which are listed under the heading "Classification". The type names applied to amphorae either refer to scholars (e.g. Dressel or Beltrán), ancient provinces (e.g. Tripolitania), sites (e.g. Augst), modern places near to where they were manufactured (e.g. Forlimpopoli) or general names (e.g. Late Roman Amphora).

    Each amphora "page" is structured in the following way:

    • Details - textual descriptions regarding distinctive features, date range, origins, distributions, contents and alternative classifications:

      Distinctive features:

      A brief description of the complete amphora type, emphasizing the distinguishing characteristics of its rim, handles, and spike. This is accompanied by a line-drawing(s) of a complete example, or a fragment where this is known: all the drawings on the website are drawn to a common scale of 1 to 10, and details at 1 to 5. Colour photographs are also provided. More detailed analysis of the shape, sub-types and general variations in shape can be found in the publications cited for the type. In those cases where an amphora was stamped, there is a link to the stamps hosted by the CEIPAC (Centro para el Estudio de la Interdependencia Provincial en la Antiguedad Clásica) website, hosted by the Universitat de Barcelona.

      Date range:

      The approximate dates (earliest and latest) for production of the amphorae. These mostly, but not always, tend to derive from the sites on land to which the amphorae had been imported and used, rather than from the sites at which they were produced since well-dated kiln sites are still comparatively rare. In some cases wrecks provide important sealed assemblages of amphorae dated to the time that the ships foundered.


      A brief statement as to main known areas of production. Preference is given in this website to origins known directly from the discovery of specific forms at an identified kiln site, the identification of mineral inclusions distinctive to a particular part of the Roman empire (see fabric below), or information recorded in tituli picti and stamps. Vagueries of discovery make distribution maps a potentially erroneous way of assigning origins to amphorae. Similarities in shape are subjective and can be misleading.

      Origin List:

      Search criteria for a list of countries or areas where the type is known or thought to have been manufactured.

      Important sites

      Important sites


      This statement attempts to summarize what is known about the broad areas of the type distribution. It is not intended to read as a list of all known find-spots, which would be well beyond the scope of this resource. The regions and places cited for each type give an approximate idea as to the extent to which the type was traded: some of the more important sites can be located on maps of the Roman empire. Detailed distribution maps have not been provided since, without a list of all known published and unpublished examples of each type, this could be potentially misleading.

      Provinces of the early Empire

      Provinces of the early Empire

      Provinces of the late Empire

      Provinces of the late Empire

      Distribution List:

      Search criteria for a list of countries or areas where the type has been found.

      Contents statement:

      A statement as to the known or hypothesized content. Occasionally this is known from food residues (mainly wine, fish sauce, olive oil) found in the amphorae themselves. In other cases, it is suggested on the basis of the content of tituli picti. For many, however, it is little more than an educated guess based upon the crops known to have been produced in the suggested production area, or the similarity of the form to others whose content is better known. It should also be borne in mind that some amphorae were re-used, holding different contents at different time, while others may have been designed as non-commodity specific.

      Contents List:

      Search criteria for a list of the specific products transported or thought to be transported by the amphorae.


      Names of the individuals responsible for compiling the description of the amphorae (see Scientific Collaboration Below). Unless otherwise stated, all fabric and petrological descriptions were undertaken by David Williams.


      Alternative names that have been assigned to that amphora type.

    • Characteristics - Search criteria for categorical descriptions of distinctive attributes such as rim type, base type etc. A comparison page is provided where each characteristic is illustrated with a small image showing a generalised version of that attribute. These images do not represent the actual amphora type in question but are to help with visualising the form.

      This page also includes:


      Search criteria for capacity. This statement attempts to provide an idea of the capacity of the amphora type. Since there is often variation in the size of amphorae within a type, this should be regarded as approximate and the upper limit of size. The capacity of types known only as fragments is impossible to calculate.

      Min Height, Max Height, Min Rim Diameter, Maximum Rim Diameter:

      These are the approximate measurements of complete examples, or fragments if these survive. These are often an important criterion in assigning fragments to one form or another. Further measurements of rim, base or handle fragments can be found in the more detailed studies and site reports cited under references.


      Search criteria for the type of fabric in which the amphora is made.

    • Pictures - photographic images relating to the amphora type
    • Drawings - illustrative diagrams and other drawings relating to the selected amphora type, all drawn to the same scale, originally 1:10 or 1:5 for details
    • Petrology - This is a brief description, with supporting photographs, of fabrics used in the amphora type, with a view to allowing it to be recognized by the archaeologist in the field or in the laboratory and providing evidence for its suggested origin. Thus for most amphora types the following information is presented:

      1. A description of the fabric on a visual basis including wherever possible a colour specification according to Munsell Colour Charts (Munsell Color, 2000; A photograph of the fabric as it would be seen with a x10 hand lens appears under the 'specimen' tab (see below),
      2. A petrological description of the fabric, clay matrix and non-plastic inclusions,
      3. A photomicrograph of the fabric taken through a polarizing microscope accompanied by a descriptive text. Each image is a static representation of the rotated field that would be seen under the polarizing microscope in the laboratory of a 'thin-section' and is at a magnification of x20. The thin-section is composed of a small sample taken from the amphora in question adhered to a glass slide and ground down to c. 25-30 microns thickness. After covering with a glass slip the optical properties of the minerals and rock fragments can be identified through use of a polarizing microscope. The majority of the original slides from which these photographs were taken are retained for public consultation at the Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton.

      It is hoped that this information, together with the hand specimen photos (see below), will allow comparisons to be made with material belonging to those accessing the site and for the origins of particular amphorae to be confidently sourced. In this site we have emphasized the hand-specimen and petrographic descriptions of amphorae because of their visual nature in the aid to characterization and identification. However, a growing body of work on the provenance of amphora fabrics has also been deduced from chemical analysis (see for example Gurt Esparraguera et alii, 2004; Eiring and Lund, 2004). Although that kind of evidence is not presented here in detail it is incorporated into discussions about origins where relevant.

      In some cases, fabric samples were unavailable for certain types so that a detailed fabric description was not possible. Nevertheless it was felt worthwhile to include the typological information in the interests of making the type better known.

      • Specimens - photographic images of hand-specimens of the selected amphora type generally taken with a x10 lens, with an optional zoom facility to allow close-up inspection.
      • Bibliography - References: Each page is supported by references to key publications in which different aspects of the type in question have been studied. These do not include every known publication, but are intended only as a springboard for future research. A full list of references for the website as a whole is available [references -> list all].
    • Catalogue of Fabrics
      Follow this link to access the catalogue of fabrics used in the production of amphora. Again, this is presented as an alphabetical list of fabric types. Click on a name to go to the detailed information page for that particular fabric type. On the detailed information page, use the link(s) provided to browse to amphorae made from the selected fabric.
    • Search
      Follow this link to access the search facilities. It is possible to search for an amphora type by name or another key attribute including alternative names, key characteristics, date, origin, distribution or fabric. The search tools use a Boolean AND operator to refine searches where more than one criteria is specified. The following searches are available:
      • Find by name - Search the catalogue of amphora using preferred and non-preferred names for amphora types.
      • Find by characteristics - Search the catalogue of amphora using specific characteristics including physical dimensions.
      • Find by date/location - Search the catalogue of amphora using dates (by century), places of production, distribution and contents.
      • Find by fabric - Search the catalogue of fabrics using keywords.
    • References
      Follow this link to access the complete list of bibliographic references collated for the project. It is possible to view the complete list of references as an alphabetical list, by category or search for a particular reference. Click on a reference to see the detailed information page. On the detailed information page, use the link(s) provided to browse to amphorae referred to by the selected reference.