Amphorae | Antique & Art Exchange


In Western antiquity, storage of wine, fish sauce and olive oil probably involved a pottery jar known as an amphora. These jars were made of terra-cotta and had interiors treated with resin in order to make them suitable for carrying liquids. Amphorae have a very particular shape: a bulbous body that gradually tapers inwards at its neck and foot, and flanked by two handles at its neck. Examples of these vessels have been found dating to 3000 BCE.
Because these vessels were used primarily for storage, they were ubiquitous in the ancient Western world. They were also made in a wide variety of sizes. Most amphorae are rather plain and utilitarian, but many are beautifully adorn with stylized figures. Ship wrecks dating to this period often reveal hulls packed with amphorae. It is perhaps unsurprising that vast numbers of amphorae, although ancient, survive to present day.
Interestingly, the Chinese also had amphorae shaped vessels dating back to roughly the same period. During the Tang dynasty the Chinese made a particularly beautiful amphora with dragon handles. A number of years ago a UC Berkeley professor taught me that this shape was inspired by Roman originals. It is also worth noting that ancient Rome spent vast sums buying silks from China. Long before Marco Pollo there was a lively trade between the Orient and the West.


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