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The University of Southampton
TAG 2016 Southampton

S26. Understanding Maritime Populations: The Human Context of Ancient Ports

Session organizers:

Emilia Mataix Ferrándiz, Stephanie Mailleur and Núria García Casacuberta (Portus Limen project, University of Southampton,

Session abstract:

Imagine an ancient port: crowds of people moving, loading, unloading, controlling, transporting. Within them, people lived, traded, slept, ate, worshipped their gods, and other sorts of activities which characterise ancient societies. Ports appear as complex structures in which people appear to be invisible in favour of the material remains. This session is devoted to examining evidence for people living and interacting in ancient ports. We start from the premise that almost nothing is found which tells us how a port worked, what size and what sort of workforce it employed, what its output was, how people lived there, how groupings were organized.

In this session, we will attempt to explore through theoretical debate and case studies how written sources, material studies, digital analysis, or all connected, tell us about the human background of ports. Identity, mobility, communication or customs identified through diverse approaches will be key for this session. We invite applications from scholars from all disciplines and periods who are interested in investigating the visibility of these populations inhabiting or working in ancient ports. The session will offer new perspectives into the insights of ports by shifting the focus from traditional archaeological analysis to the means by which ports were built, shaped, and used as economic and social tools in the different regions where they were placed. For this purpose, submissions concerning the study of monuments, texts, imaginery, digital reconstructions, artefacts or combination of them will be welcome. In particular, we request papers that will offer new insight into the means by which aesthetics, forms, placements, contexts, media, or execution provides information about the human beings behind the material remains of ports. Contemporary approaches in archaeological theory and, particularly, in the field of human geography, have much to offer to our analysis of ports. In particular, we welcome papers stressing the socially produced nature of ports and their significance to better understand the identity of populations interacting in them.

Contribuor Abstracts:

The Adriatic Port Cities and their Hinterland: modelling population and production activities.

Federico Ugolini (King’s College London)

The Northern and Central Adriatic Sea boasts a high number of Roman ports and landing points. Previously scholars have considered people living in the context of ancient ports from a limited historical perspective. This paper is part of the first holistic analysis of coastal and hinterland population from the Adriatic and explores human activity across selected Roman Adriatic ports from the Imperial period through a multidisciplinary examination of literary, archaeological and comparative sources. This paper proposes a new quantitative approach to the study of the human impact and anthropic pressure along the Adriatic coasts by investigating the urban and extra-urban populations and their related production activities. The first section of this paper provides an introduction with aims, approach and methods. Using comparative data to integrate topographic observations and excavation data, the second section explores the form and development of the selected sites. By analysing their scale, layout, and topographic and urban setting, it assesses the size of the Adriatic population living in coastal and hinterland sites and provides a model for the production, consumption and export activities conducted in this area. The third part of this paper investigates the socio-economic role of ports and people as distributors of commodities (e.g. wine, grain). Using textual, archaeological and 19th century comparative data on agricultural production, it assesses the ports’ relationships with their farming hinterlands, and their connections in the Mediterranean and beyond. This experimental approach emphasises the messages of prosperity and reputation that Adriatic ports and coastal centres conveyed in Antiquity.

Mapping the Law in a Roman Mediterranean Port. A case study from Narbo Martius to Portus

Emilia Mataix Ferrándiz (University of Southampton)

This communication will present ports under a different scope, thanks to the use of a unique methodology. Our intention is to study the legal activities taking place in a port, and to place them at the diverse areas of the port. We have labelled this methodology as “juridical archaeology”, and it involves the study of legal activities carried out in ports through the study of their material evidence. Moreover, as corresponds to the character of our research, this is an interdisciplinary methodology. In connection with that, the material evidence will be contrasted with the evidence of legal and literary texts to complete the portrait of the legal scene. The analysis is based on a model of procedures built up from this combination of material and textual evidence. That model will be applied to a case study that connects the port of Narbo Martius in Gallia and Portus in Rome. This research will confirm the existence of the procedures from the model in the selected locations, making possible to visualize the standard activities involved in daily trading activities from an Imperial Roman port.

Port Infrastructure and the Transport of Goods in the Roman World

Dr Paul du Plessis (University of Edinburgh)

The physical infrastructure (warehouses, docks and cranes) of Roman ports had a significant impact upon the organisation of passing trade. Using literary and legal evidence, this paper seeks to establish whether this physical infrastructure may also have shaped the law applicable to Roman ports as well as the general commercial law used in shipping in the Greco-Roman world. Building on an important recent contribution by the Hungarian scholar, Eva Jakab (in the Festschrift Sirks) concerning warehouses, it is the argument of this paper that the physical infrastructure undoubtedly affected the law relating to Roman ports and to maritime commerce more generally.

Visualise Port Landscapes in Roman Art: from the Reality to the Symbols

Stéphanie Mailleur-Aldbiyat (University of Southampton)

Our knowledge of the architecture of Mediterranean ports under the Roman Empire relies mainly upon archaeology. However, the reality of most of buildings are still very unclear. Port iconography, quite abundant during the Imperial period and decorating various supports of art (coins, ceramics, mosaics, paintings etc.), can make an important contribution to the study of the architectural appearance of the main ports of the Mediterranean Sea. Indeed, pictorial evidence are precious documents for our understanding of Roman ports as they can show us what no longer exists like the elevations of ports’ buildings. The iconography is actually the only evidence of the tridimensionality of port’s buildings because there usually remains only the foundation level of ports’ structures. Nevertheless, the main issue of this work is related to the interpretation of these images. Indeed, it seems that artists make representations according to artistic conventions rather than recording reality. In order to go beyond the limitations of the pictorial evidence, we are developing a method of interpretation focusing on the language of imagery in ports’ representation and the syntax of the different symbols characterising the port’s landscape. Through this work, we are also analysing if the visual language corresponds to a standardisation and if a model or models exist(s) (Portus? Alexandria?).

The Twenty Days Given for the Repayment of a Maritime Loan and the Identical Period of Exemption from Municipal Taxes at the Port of Caunus: an unlikely coincidence?

Peter Candy (University of Edinburgh)

Money-lending in the Roman world was usually subject to legal limits on the rate of interest that could be charged. Maritime loans, however, were an exception: lenders could charge an unlimited rate of interest, but only for the period during which the ship was at sea. From the point of view of the law, the lender would also be entitled to demand interest – this time at a limited rate – for the period between the arrival of the ship at its destination and the repayment of the loan. In practice, however, the evidence shows that lenders were accustomed to allow borrowers a grace period of twenty days in which to repay the money after arrival.

In an inscription which stood in the port of Caunus a twenty-day grace period appears again. This time, it referred to the period in which foreign traders would be able to re-export their goods without being liable to pay customs duty on exiting the harbour. This paper shall explore the possible connection between these grace periods, and ask what this can tell us about the behaviour of maritime traders sailing in and out of ports.

Manoeuvring, Anchoring and Mooring Inside Harbours and at Unbuilt Shores

Dr Gregory F. Votruba (Koç University)

While mooring within a harbour does not pose as great a risk to life as sailing the open seas, it is nevertheless rife with difficulties. It is hazardous to manoeuvre ships both within constricted spaces, such as harbour entrances, as well as among other moored ships oscillating with the changes of the winds. This paper synthesizes the ancient interdisciplinary evidence for entering, exiting, anchoring and mooring ships within harbours, and outside of them. It can be discerned that ships exhibited distinct behaviours when mooring inside harbours compared to at open shores or, otherwise, at unbuilt coastal market zones. In the latter, smaller ships regularly moored stern-to at the shore, allowing the sailors to unload goods by wading. Larger ships with deeper drafts would moor further away, with communication enabled through the use of the ship’s boat. Beaching ships in place of mooring was not regularly practiced, contrary to occasional statements by researchers. Conversely, within ‘built’ harbours, ships could be hauled in and manoeuvred by specialist rowing-barge crews. When at quay, they could moor bow-to, running the landing ladder from fittings at the bow. These methods and other details, such as anchors, cables, bits, rigging, bumpers, marking buoys, superstructural design, as it pertains to ships, as well as mooring bollards, cranes and other mooring-related harbour features will be discussed. Finally, particular issues regarding the nature of the evidence, lacunae, chronological and geographic variations, and other theoretical aspects for advancing our understanding will be presented. 

The Inhabitants of the Port as Seen from the Ancient Greek Written Sources

Núria Garcia Casacuberta (University of Southampton) 

Ancient ports were not just the physical constructions for berthing, landing, sheltering the vessels or storing goods. As societies became more complex, so did the controls on the merchandise and the organisation of trade. This required a number of specialised officers or skilled craftsmen in order to carry out successfully the tasks of transporting the merchandise, importing or exporting it legally (with due payment of taxes) and selling it, as well as a number of “satellite jobs” on the ports themselves for the services of travelling merchants. But who were the people who made their living in the port?

The aim of this paper is to provide a catalogue of the different persons who performed their activities within the port landscapes as seen from the data available in the written sources from Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Imperial Greece: merchants, customs-officers, fishermen, public women, etc. Although the evidence is rather patchy, as well as biased in favour of the larger cities, I hope I can provide a reasonable inventory of the main professions that were required in the harbours of the ancient Greek world.

Human and Divine Interactions: visualizing religious activity at Ostia

Katherine Crawford (University of Southampton)

Religion was woven into the fabric of Roman daily life, consisting of a complex map of sacred spaces that intersected with all aspects of society. Temples, statues, inscriptions, and ritual activities all helped to construct a wider religious landscape. The ways in which this landscape helped to create a dynamic urban environment such as those found in port towns, remains less well understood. This paper considers Ostia, Rome’s ancient port, and the ways in which religion visibly manifested itself through processional activity. Our understanding of ancient processions is limited due to a fragmented archaeological and literary record, complicating our understanding of the ways the ritual traversed a city’s streets. The application of a computer-based approach to the study of processional activity at Ostia presents one method of studying a cult’s religious impact within an otherwise dynamic urban context. The use of computer models in conjunction with surviving archaeological material offers new insight into how religious rituals helped to shape Ostia’s religious environment. Moving the study of a port’s religion beyond investigation of individual temples, we can examine how people interacted with religion within the realm of a port’s streets and daily activities.

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