Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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What's in a Name?

According to archaeologist Simon Keay of the University of Southampton, “The importance of Monte Testaccio is that it gives us the best look into the scale of essential foodstuffs being imported into Rome between the first and third centuries A.D., as well as how this was organized. It also links provincial producers to consumers in Rome.” Most of this information comes from inscriptions on the pots. Below are images of two types of those inscriptions, handle stamps and painted inscriptions. José Remesal, director of Monte Testaccio excavations, thinks that handle stamps name the oil’s owner, who may also have manufactured his own amphorae. Other scholars, such as French archaeologist Claude Domergue, believe they denote only the amphora maker and have nothing to do with the oil or the oil producer. Inscriptions called tituli picti were painted after firing and relate to regulation of oil production and transport. Greek letters (alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon) are used by modern scholars to identify each inscription.