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Storage and Packaging for an Empire: Agricultural Economics of West-Central Italy, c. 200 BCE-200 CE

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The emergence of Rome’s far-flung territorial empire resulted in a sophisticated regime for the storage and distribution of foodstuffs. This dissertation focuses on a ceramic container used for the storage of wine and oil, the dolium, to investigate how Rome’s long-distance, large-scale food supply system impacted craftsmen and agricultural workers in west-central Italy during the period of c. 200 BCE-200 CE. It studies the processes, materials, and skills invested in over three hundred dolia and dolium fragments from Cosa, Pompeii, and Ostia to bring to light the workforces that produced, repaired, used, and maintained these costly investments that were important not only for agriculture, but also food storage in urban settlements. With a lucrative wine market developing overseas, viticultural areas expanded and the demand for wine and large-scale wine fermentation and storage containers exploded. Dolium producers used the same technique (coil-building), but the scale of production differed between the settlements. Potters designed and expanded the dolium, but it was risky and expensive to produce these vessels; dolium production became increasingly subsumed under large opus doliare workshops, owned by wealthy aristocrats, senators, and members of the imperial family. By the second century CE, artisans of urban opus doliare workshops that produced dolia, bricks, and tile had developed their methods and vessel design in close alignment; the success of these major workshops was so great that the Tiber River Valley had been transformed into antiquity’s Ceramic Valley, a hub of ceramic and terracotta production. Building such large vessels, however, was a task fraught with risk, and craftspeople had to develop new methods in their routines, some of which were derived from traditional pottery mending techniques while others were entirely new creations inspired by the architectural industries. The types of damage for dolia, and the methods and materials for their repairs, not only shed light on developments in dolium repair technology, but also on the different workforces. Craftspeople aligned and experimented with their methods, interacting also with the architectural industry to develop new techniques to build these vessels. As the storage regime for Rome became more sophisticated, the utility and importance of dolia extended from production sites to urban settlements, supporting and perhaps even driving raising levels of urbanism. Over time, the very practices and technologies of storage themselves cast a wider net that drew in many potters, architectural workers, farmers, porters, and unskilled workers to propel an ancient global food supply.

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This item is under embargo until September 27, 2024.