BMCR 2011.03.21

Hispania and the Late Roman Mediterranean: Ceramics and Trade

, Hispania and the Late Roman Mediterranean: Ceramics and Trade. London: Duckworth, 2009. xi, 372. ISBN 9780715638620. $80.00.

[Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

As Reynolds states in the opening line of the book (p. 1), his aim is to provide a diachronic (100 700 CE) and synthetic overview of the economic dynamics on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, and the Balearic Islands) through the lens of locally produced and imported Roman and early Medieval pottery (finewares, coarsewares, and amphorae). This is a book that draws from the increasingly specialized field of pottery studies in order to create a more unified and coherent picture of the ceramic evidence and makes skillful use of the typological, quantitative, and geographic data sets that have become available. From a practical and logistical stand point, Reynolds is able to draw upon his own knowledge of the Roman province of Hispania and his first-hand experience with the pottery evidence in order to bring together such a vast quantity and range of data into a meaningful and coherent narrative. The reader also gains a good overview of the state of the field for pottery research on Hispania, which serves to outline the benefits and pitfalls of using ceramic data.

The book is divided into five main sections (including a lengthy conclusion) and is preceded by a short introduction. The introduction first moves quickly through a historiography of relevant advances in pottery studies that have made the text’s synthetic approach possible. It then defines the geographic parameters and historical background for the study.

Chapter 1 deals with amphora-borne commodities (oil, fish sauce, and wine) and their distribution in Spain and across the Mediterranean, primarily during the first three centuries of the Roman Empire. Reynolds gives a good summary of the situation as viewed from key stratified deposits in Spain and abroad. Of particular interest is the contrasting roles he assigns to the marketing of fish sauce from Hispania across the Mediterranean and the state-driven consumption of Baetican oil exports for the army and Rome, which he feels was a large-scale but anomalous market force dependent on the annona. With regard to fish sauces, Reynolds outlines the evidence for the earlier cessation of Lusitanian exports (second quarter of the 5th century) compared to that of Baetican ones (late 5th/early 6th century), with the exception of exports from Cadiz/Algarve (p.48). As he points out, this exception has implications for the realignment of markets from the Mediterranean and East to those in the North (p. 113). Equally useful is the discussion of renewed Baetican wine exports that Reynolds argues return late 2nd to 4th centuries after a hiatus at the end of the 1st century/beginning of the 2nd (p. 51). He is (rightly) nevertheless cautious in assessing the extent to which late Baetican vintages were distributed, given how few examples have been recognized.1

In Chapter 2 Reynolds gives a short treatment (12 pages) of regional and imported finewares in Hispania from about the 3rd to 6th centuries. While one might have expected this to be a longer discussion, Reynolds has interwoven his understanding of many of the imported fineware types and forms with his earlier discussion of amphora in chapter 1. The advantage of this approach lies in emphasizing the close relationship between the movement of imported finewares and amphorae and in showing the utility of finewares as chronological indicators, especially in the absence of other chronologically diagnostic material. Reynolds does give a short summary of the role of South Gaulish finewares, but quickly returns his focus to more regionally produced wares, including high-quality Hispanic terra sigillata (TSH), coarser imitation sigillatas, and painted wares. Although he alludes to some of the technical differences of these Hispanic wares, the reader is left wanting a more complete discussion of, for example, the identities and roles of the “itinerant potters” [p. 63] making coarseware imitation sigillata.

Chapters 3 and 4 move from the specifics of pottery types and commodities on the Iberian Peninsula to a more holistic discussion of Hispania’s role in a pan-Mediterranean economic and political matrix. Chapter 3 focuses on the period between the 3rd and mid-6th centuries; chapter 4 continues the discussion into the 7th century. Chapter 3 will be of interest not only to pottery specialists, but to historians interested in the transformations of the Roman state in the late empire. In that chapter, Reynolds notes the broader changes to the organization of the distribution of commodities and lists numerous factors contributing to the shifting fortunes of Hispania, including the role of the church and the loss of the market at Rome (. 69). While the waning of Rome’s market share is well integrated in the remaining sections of the book, the impact of the emerging Christian church as an economic force is much more summarily treated. Alongside his detailed analysis of the pottery evidence Reynolds occasionally offers a more detailed view of the agents of change in trade networks. In particular, he considers the Praetorian Prefecture and the annona system to be key forces behind the distribution of goods. Of interest are the close ties that he notes between Tunisian commodities and Calabrian wine along the axis that included Carthage, Rome, Ravenna, and Koper. Despite Reynolds’ admirable job outlining the state’s changing involvement in trade, he limits the discussion of alternative distribution models that fit the more fragmented economies of the Mediterranean.

The ample conclusion (Chapter 5) is perhaps the most broadly appealing to scholars, as it offers Reynolds’s synthesis and interpretations of the pottery evidence. To his credit, Reynolds opens the chapter by noting the limitations and problems inherent with pottery data sets. Among the issues that he highlights are the problems of dating pottery types and assemblages, the difficulties in comparing statistical values within assemblages or across sites, and the particular problem of comparing data for the number of amphorae, but without taking into consideration their capacity (i.e., many small amphorae may in reality represent the same or less volume of content as a fewer large ones). Following his brief exegesis of the problems and pitfalls of pottery data, Reynolds then turns to the broader picture of trade. It is in this last section that Reynolds’s breadth of knowledge on the subject comes to bear as he pulls together individual threads of the roles of Hispania’s commodities into a broader Mediterranean tapestry. According to Reynolds, the 3rd century was a key period for the changing fortunes of Hispania (p. 149). The decline in Baetican (oil and fish) and Lusitanian (fish) commodities as well as Tunisia’s flourishing agricultural economy (oil and wheat) and pottery industries (ARS C) signaled the demise of Hispania’s role as a major purveyor of foodstuffs, despite the rebound of Baetican fish sauces. This change also began a shift to more self-sufficient regional networks of distribution. Reynolds is correct to stress the importance of ports as nodes in redirecting trade emphases in local economies. Thus, Ravenna retains a broad international character, while the interior Iberian Peninsula is effectively cut off, resulting in the decline of once-prosperous villas in the late 4th century in favor of more secure, concentrated settlements (i.e., walled towns and castra). These are useful points for understanding the emerging Medieval economies.

The text is followed by a long series of supporting sections. First, oddly, is an appendix enumerating the catalogue entries for Reynolds’s earlier study of pottery from the Vínalopo Valley. Second are a series of small maps showing either the sites mentioned in the text or distributions of pottery types. Next are numerous figures illustrating the pottery types discussed, followed by tables summarizing the types and quantities of pottery at sites discussed in Spain and from the broader Mediterranean. Reynolds also includes ample endnotes that are rich in information and organized by pages and a thorough bibliography subdivided first by ancient sources and then by modern ones. The back matter offers a second, dense resource that brings together and collates a variety of information into Reynolds’s book. Within this rich collection of material, it is unfortunate that some of the images and data are reproduced either at a small scale or in a compressed format (e.g., Map 8, Fig. 13, or Table 7) that dilutes their utility by making them difficult to read, especially to those who might not be accustomed to quantification tables or distribution maps. Regardless, Reynolds’s book will be a very useful guide to understanding the pottery evidence not only for Hispania, but also for the wider Mediterranean. It will also be a key resource and starting point for both pottery experts and scholars in general to gain an understanding of the complex dynamics at play in the Roman economy, as seen through the sometimes opaque lens of pottery.

Preface ix
Introduction 1
1. Aims 1
2 Recent research in late Roman ceramics 1
3 The geographical setting 7
4 Late Republican and early Imperial Hispania 10

1. The oil, fish and wine trade: Hispania and her competitors 15
1.1 Tunisia and other regional competitors, 1st to 3rd centuries 15
1.2 Local production: the oil industry in Hispania 24
1.3 Fish sauce and salted fish 39
1.4 Wine production and exports: 2nd to 4th centuries 49
1.4.1 Wine exports to Rome and regional production trends 49
1.4.2 Spanish wine production 52
1.4.3 Wine imports into Hispania 53

2. Fine wares, 3rd to early 6th centuries 56
2.1 Late Roman south Gaulish fine wares 57
2.2 Table wares in central and northern Spain and Portugal 59
2.2.1 Terra sigillata hispánica tardía (TSHT) 60
2.2.2 Alternative regional table wares 63
2.2.3 Painted wares 66
2.3 Local fine wares in south-eastern Spain 67

3 Hispania and the Mediterranean: 3rd to mid 6th centuries 68
3.1 The 3rd century: a world in transition 69
3.2 The 4th century: Hispania, north Africa and the East 74
3.3 5th century deposits in the West and exports from the East 84
3.3.1 late 4th century to 425/450 84
3.3.2 The barbarian kingdoms: early and mid Vandal period exports 91
3.4 The late 5th to mid 6th centuries: late Vandal and eastern Mediterranean trade 100
3.4.1 General distribution in the western Mediterranean and Atlantic 101
3.4.2 The end of Spanish, Portuguese and Balearic amphora exports 112
3.5 The mid 6th century Benalúa deposit (Alicante) 116

4 Later 6th and 7th century trade: fragmentation and regionalisation 120
4.1 The Byzantine ‘reconquest’ of southern Spain 120
4.1.1 Byzantine Hispania, Carthage and the Balearics 120
4.1.2 General trends in the western Mediterranean 124
4.2 The second half of the 7th century 130

5 Conclusions 136
1 Methodological problems and challenges 136
2 An interpretation of the ceramic evidence 137

Appendix: Pottery noted in the text and/or illustrations of Reynolds (1993) 157
Maps 159
Figures 171
Tables 197
Notes 233
Biblography 311
Index 349


1. One may now add at least one example from the Palatine East assemblage (complete neck with one complete handle [#5924] from a 5th century context [PE B341]).