Oxford Roman Economy Project University of Oxford

Conference: Ports and Canals in the Roman World: Infrastructure and Trade (May 9, 2009)


The Oxford Roman Economy Project organized the conference 'Ports and Canals in the Roman World: Infrastructure and Trade'. This conference explored Roman maritime commerce by discussing the infrastructure created to enhance and support trade. Papers focused on a variety of issues such as port location and harbour construction as well as the evidence for connectivity and trade routes. Speakers included Hannah Friedman, Dario Nappo, Candace Rice, Ben Russell, Katia Schörle and Greg Votruba.


14.00-14.35 — Constructing Port Hierarchies: harbours as indicators of global and local interconnectivity — Katia Schörle
14.35-15.10 — Imported Building Materials of Sebastos Harbour, Caesarea Maritima — Greg Votruba
15.10-15.45 — Shipping Stone: Roman quarries and their ports — Ben Russell
15.45-16.15 — Tea/coffee
16.15-16.50 — Tidying up the Red Sea: looking for Leuke Kome — Dario Nappo
16.50-17.25 — Roman Shipwreck Cargoes and the Organization of Trade — Candace Rice
17.25-18.00 — Canals and Connectivity: the infrastructure of artificial waterways — Hannah Friedman
18.00-18.30 — General discussion, followed by drinks


Katia Schörle

Constructing port hierarchies: harbours as indicators of global and local interconnectivity

Ports are indicators and facilitators of the development of trade. From the first century B.C. to the second century A.D., a noticeable boom in port building activity is traceable throughout the Empire. The relatively newly discovered use of pozzolana for concrete underwater structures, coupled with increasing trade demands, provided respectively the means and the incentive for durable port construction on the entire Tyrrhenian coast, which, the bay of Naples aside, is relatively deprived of natural harbours. As a result, the ancient harbours of the Tyrrhenian coast provide a particularly good case study of ports and infrastructure. Studies of ancient ports are underdeveloped in terms of surveys and interaction of ports between each other. Commerce and trade studies tend to focus on the study of material assemblages, while the survey of ports by Lehmann-Hartleben, over eighty years old, [1] is incomplete and outdated. In light of the recent revival in port studies, this paper explores theoretical ways of using port structures to understand the simultaneously localized and globalized nature of Mediterranean connectivity and suggest new ways of approaching the study of Roman ports.

Dario Nappo

Tidying up the Red Sea: looking for Leuke Kome

The Red Sea acted as a gateway for goods coming from India and other regions of the East. In order to facilitate this connection, rulers of the area established many ports and harbours. From those settlements ships would depart for the Indian Ocean. Modern scholars agree that, between the first and second centuries AD, along with Leuke Kome, Myos Hormos and Berenike represented the key commercial hubs on the Red Sea. Myos Hormos and Berenike were identified and have been highly investigated over recent decades. The exact location of Leuke Kome, however, remains uncertain. In this paper I will suggest a new location for the harbour of Leuke Kome, on account of the sources available to us and of the geography of the region.

Candace Rice

Roman Shipwreck Cargoes and the Organization of Trade

This paper examines in detail the cargoes of a sample of wrecks from the Roman period in an attempt to ascertain information regarding trading patterns. Of primary interest is the question of where ships were loaded and what types of collection and distribution patterns may be identified. Initially, two broad patterns seem to emerge, one which consists of ships with fairly regional cargoes and one of ships with cargoes from multiple provinces. On the regional level, there are wrecks such as the Tour Sainte Marie A, whose cargo consists of multiple different types of Baetican amphorae (Dressel 7-11, Dressel 12, Beltrán 2A and Haltern 70). The cargo was probably assembled and loaded at a single port in Baetica before sailing north where it wrecked off the coast of France, but is it possible to pinpoint more precisely at which port it was loaded and how the various types of amphorae came to be brought together at that port? Similar questions, though rather more complex, will be asked of those ships which represent a further reaching trade, such as the Cap Béar C wreck. The Cap Béar C wreck contained a highly heterogeneous cargo originating from central Italy, Baetica and Tarraconensis. Again, the primary question is where such a ship was loaded. While some have tried to explain such heterogeneous cargoes on the basis of cabotage or tramping, this is unlikely for a number of reasons such as harbour dues, customs fees and the principles of ship stability. It is therefore likely that these ships were loaded at emporia. By considering a large sample of wrecks and analysing their cargoes, as well as further details such as crew’s items and the ship’s timbers when available, this paper will attempt to illuminate these questions in a way which may shed further light on Roman seaborne trading patterns within the Mediterranean.

Hannah Friedman

Canals and Connectivity: the infrastructure of artificial waterways

Archaeologists have generated a great deal of research about the creation and maintenance of transportation infrastructure in the Roman Empire. Roads, for example, have been studied in depth by modern scholars and their construction, cost, and impact are well understood. However another part of the transportation infrastructure, navigation canals, has received relatively little attention. In compendiums of Roman engineering a repeated theme expressed by the authors is an absence of comprehensive archaeological study on canals built for navigation. Instead research often focuses on the use of canals for agricultural irrigation. This paper addresses this lack of rigorous study and introduces a method for quantification of the economic costs of design and construction of canals. Using examples of imperial projects from across the empire, I argue that it is possible to extrapolate labor requirements, project length, and costs. My research indicates that even using the most conservative estimations of cost that Roman canals were substantial undertakings.

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