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Critical Commodities: Tracing Greek Trade in Oil and Wine from the Late Bronze Age to the Archaic Period


Most studies of the Greek oil and wine industry focus either on the Late Bronze Age or the Classical Period, rarely mentioning the Early Iron Age (so often cast as a <&ldquo>Dark Age) between the two. This dissertation attempts to fill this gap by investigating evidence for the continuity of a surplus economy between the Late Bronze Age and the Archaic period. Specifically, I examine what type of oil and wine economy existed in the Late Bronze Age (LBA), how this economy continued into the Early Iron Age (EIA), and how the Early Archaic period built upon these previously established, though smaller-scale, socio-economic networks.

Using data on the production, distribution, and consumption of large ceramic liquid transport containers, this study examines how the interaction between oil and wine manufacturers and central authority changed or remained constant during these periods of Greek antiquity. The first chapter puts transport containers into a context of oil and wine production in the LBA by discussing the available archaeological and written evidence. This in-depth look at the importance of wine and oil in the LBA sets the stage for the following chapters.

The second chapter focuses on the most popular Greek transport jar of the LBA, the transport stirrup jar (TSJ). An examination of the production strategies of TSJs, their distribution throughout the Mediterranean, and their patterns of deposition within different regions, suggests that TSJs functioned within a commercial economy fueled by the palatial system, but by no means entirely controlled within it. Chapter Three of this dissertation discusses the ensuing Postpalatial period on Crete and the Greek mainland when the TSJ shape was slowly abandoned while the technologically simpler and more convenient amphora shape was adopted as the primary bulk liquid transport container.

Although the earlier part of the Protogeometric period has generally been regarded as one of isolation, the data presented in the fourth chapter on the North Aegean amphora (NAA) instead suggests that production became highly regionalized, concentrated in central Greece, Thessaly, and eventually the Thermaic Gulf. In addition, trade networks seem to have survived, continuing to link Greece with Asia Minor and eventually the central Mediterranean. In the ensuing Early Archaic period, the southern Greek response to the northern Greek NAA was the SOS amphora. Chapter Five discusses the importance of this amphora within a burgeoning socio-economic network that included not only Greeks and their colonies, but foreign agents as well.

The results of this research suggest that despite dramatic social and economic changes in the EIA, certain Greek societies maintained a level of surplus production of these two critical commodities and participated in an external commercial network. On a broader level, this dissertation addresses some larger problems concerning the relationship between economic organization and political hierarchy, especially in periods of dramatic political change.

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