Branding the Mediterranean: Naturally-sourced products and their containers in Greece and Rome

Author(s): Hilary Becker

Year: 2017


The ancient trade in olive oil and wine is well understood thanks in no small part to typologies established for their transport containers. A synthetic survey of the containers used to transport other naturally-sourced products, such as pharmaceuticals, perfumes, and pigments, is lacking. Such products were subject to counterfeiting and adulteration in antiquity, thus packaging and labelling were often valuable tools for ancient consumers to help them recognize products. For example, the astringent lykion, when sourced from India, was recognizable because it was transported in leather bottles, made of either camel or rhinoceros skin. A locally produced lykion from Sicily was instead put in distinct jugs, some of which were labelled with the drug’s name and the name of the druggist. In both cases, a consumer was given clues to help identify the product’s origin, which could serve as a guarantee of quality.

Containers for herbs, pigments, and perfumes, as well as surviving examples of labelled products themselves, facilitate our understanding of how naturally-sourced products travelled (often at great distances). Exploring this system not only broadens our understanding of the trade in naturally-sourced products, but also provides insight into what an ancient consumer would have known at the marketplace.

Cite this Record

Branding the Mediterranean: Naturally-sourced products and their containers in Greece and Rome. Hilary Becker. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430185)

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Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 17490