THE AMPHORA GRAVEYARD OF MONTE TESTACCIO

In ancient times, amphorae were the main containers used for the transportation and storage of goods. They were massively produced because of their low cost, and were usually destroyed once they reached their final destination because it was easier to make a new one than to clean and reuse an old one.

Between the 1st and the 3rd centuries, a spectacular number of amphorae were imported into Rome from around the Empire, broken, and dumped at a specific location in Rome near the Tiber River. Over time, they formed Monte Testaccio (“Broken Pot Hill”), an artificial mound of testae and crockery 45 meters (135 feet) high and covering a city block.

SEE AERIAL MAP OF TESTACCIO HERE

Originally these amphorae had been used to hold the olive oil imported from the provinces, mainly from Baetica (modern Andalucia in southern Spain). When discarded, the crockery was covered by a layer of lime, most likely intended to keep the oil from decomposing. This lime acted as a cohesive element and has assisted in the stabilization of the mound throughout the centuries.

Many of the amphorae still have the maker’s seal stamped on their handles, while others retain titles and notes written with a brush or quill listing the exporter’s name and indicating the contents, the customs information for export, and the consular date. All these notes make Testaccio the largest archive of Roman commerce in the world.

In addition, the epigraphy on the pottery provides first-hand documentation of the Roman Empire’s economy, the commercial relations between Rome and the provinces, as well as their eating habits.

This project is overseen by professors from Madrid’s Complutense University and the Center for the Study of the Provincial Interdependency in the Classical World (CEIPAC) at the University of Barcelona. Both project leaders are members of Spain's Royal Academy of History.

The research dates to 1989, when the research team was asked to undertake a series of excavations at Monte Testaccio. This team had prior experience studying the region of Andalucia where the amphorae originated and in some areas of Germany where other Spanish products were received.

Working alongside this team will offer you a unique opportunity to take part in one of the most important research programs in Roman epigraphy and archaeometry.

You can see an online exhibit about Monte Testaccio at the CEIPAC website.

TEN YEARS AT TESTACCIO

In 2012, Monte Testaccio and ArchaeoSpain celebrated 10 years of working together. Project director Dr. José Remesal reflects:

"First of all, everyone who has come to Testaccio has experienced the many different facets of the economic history of the Roman Empire and how, via small inscriptions on amphorae, we can understand innumerable things about life in imperial times. Using the archaeological data, we can paint a broad picture of the ancient world.

"And secondly, the program shows how a group of people from different backgrounds can create a camaraderie around a central interest, the exceptional site that is Testaccio.

"But for me what really matters is that the people who work with us develop a passion for the project and they return home happy to have participated."

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