Mount OF AMPHORAE
The Mount Testaccio in Rome
Universitat de Roma "La Sapienza"
Exhibition in Rome setting by
Universitat de Barcelona
Exhibition WWW Internet setting
Opening Conference Wednesday 15th January 1997,
at 16.00 p.m. Aula Magna (Univ. di Roma "La Sapienza")
Professor Dr. José Remesal Rodríguez (Universitat de Barcelona)
" The contribution of Mount Testaccio towards the understanding of the Roman economy in the Empire"
Honourable Chancellor, his Excellency the ambassador of Spain in Rome, ladies and gentlemen
I am honoured to represent on this occasion the Italian-Spanish group, which is currently undertaking excavations and research on the Mount Testaccio, under the direction of Prof. Blázquez Martínez. I would like to mention a text by Miguel de Cervantes in his novel "The stained-glass graduate", the story of a student who believed he was made of glass.
The character said: " What do you want from me, lads stubborn as flies, filthy as bugs, daring as fleas ? Am I by chance the Mount Testaccio of Rome, since you throw me so many sherds and tiles ?"
Cervantes, view of Mount Testaccio coincided with the Roman popular tradition. For the Romans in Cervantes' times, Mount Testaccio was a rubbish dump where all the amphorae coming from the provinces of the whole Roman Empire were thrown away. These vessels carried the taxes of these provinces paid in kind. Therefore, this refuse heap was a symbol of the pride and power of ancient Rome.
Perhaps, thanks to this conviction, the Mount has been preserved since. According to the known documentation, it belonged to the Roman people from ancient times and they defended it, even punishing whoever dared to remove sherds from the Mount by sentencing them to be sent to the galleys.
The popular tradition was right only to some extent, because the vessels found in the Mount had brought taxes in kind to Rome. However, most of them came from only one province, Baetica, and contained only one produce, olive-oil.
Testaccio was a meeting point for the Roman people until the last quarter of the XIXth century. In the Middle Ages, carnivals were held there. Moreover, it was the venue for the via crucis due to its similarity to the hill of Calvary. That is why there is a cross on the summit of the Mount. From the XVIth century onwards, caves were excavated on its slopes to stock wine, because the Mount maintained a particular freshness. The numerous cellars helped to preserve the merry atmosphere of the place, holding festivals and romerie until the surroundings were built in the late XIXth century.
Mte. Testaccio seen from its western side
Roman erudites knew that there were in Mount Testaccio amphora handles stamped before firing. In the second half of the XIXth century, Father Bruzza became interested in this material, creating his own collection as Marini did before.
When Mommsen decided to organise the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL), he commissioned one of his students, Henrich Dressel, to make a study of the Instrumentum Domesticum from Rome. Therefore, he was responsible for studying Mount Testaccio and its stamps. Lucky enough, one day when the rain took him by surprise while he was working at the Mount, he discovered that there were painted inscriptions in black ink on some amphora sherds, inscriptions that Dressel managed to read and decipher. From that day, Testaccio was no longer a rubbish dump but an archive. An archive without shelves, without sections and in no apparent order
The deciphement of the painted inscription on amphorae allowed Dressel to assure that the vessels came from Baetica (Spain). Furthermore, the inscriptions included the amphora tare and content, personal names interpreted by Dressel as the olive-oil owners, which we know today belong to traders and transporters, and a complex fiscal control specifying a consular date.
Accordingly, this data made Mount Testaccio the largest economic archive in the Roman Empire. One of its special features was the particular information on the trade of one of the staples in the Mediterranean diet: olive-oil. Dressel published his work in the volume XV of the CIL in the late XIXth century, asserting that the forgotten amphora sherds from Mount Testaccio would shed some new light on the knowledge of the Roman world. For many years, nobody cared about this archive. However, Rodríguez Almeida published in 1972 a new work that made the Mount of current importance. Simultaneously, M. Ponsich resumed the work that G.Bonsor, contemporaneously to Dressel, had begun in Baetica.
The discovery by Dressel was a breakthrough in studies of the Roman economy, but it did not become relevant until almost half century after, when his researches in Rome were related to the ones undertaken by G.Bonsor in Batik. The two works together made necessary an archaeological excavation at Mount Testaccio.
After a long preliminary, a joint team from the Universities of Madrid and Barcelona collaborating with the Dipartamento de Scienze della Terra from the University of Rome, took over the responsibility of excavating Mount Testaccio.
Visit to the excavation by Her Excellency the Ambassador of Spain in Rome.
From left to right: Prof. J.Mª Blázquez Martínez (Univ. Madrid, the excavation director),
in the background Prof. B.Toro (Univ. di Roma, responsible for the archaeometric research), Sr. C.Aragón (Cultural Attaché of Spain in Rome),
Sra. Rico Godoy (Ambassador), Prof. O.Grubessi (Univ. di Roma, responsible for the archaeometric research),
Prof. J. Remesal (Univ. Barcelona, the excavation co-director).
Whatever newspaper you browse shows that today's world is divided into people who have enough food resources and the ones who lack them. One of the main problems of the European Union is the control of the production and distribution of food, internally and externally. Meanwhile, the third world countries, for instance, purchase industrial products with their raw materials and agricultural produce, determining directly the European agricultural policy
In this sense, the study of how the Roman Empire sorted out the problems of supply is especially fascinating. The Roman Empire, which ruled over a wider area that the one that today covers the European Union, defined a political unity, a high legislative order - the Roman laws - an integrated economy and a lingua franca: Latin, features that may now be the highes hopes of the European Union. It is inadequate to compare the modern economic system with the ancient one, since there are at least two elements which differentiate them: speed in communications and transport costs. With no doubts it is interesting, for the average citizen, to understand how a cultural system, from which we come, solved these problems with the hindrances of those times. Knowledge of these historic facts, though they may not beside direct solutions to our present problems, helps to provide understand and comprehend the determinant factors in our own history.
Augustus assessed perfectly the political importance held by the control of the supply to the army and the city of Rome. That is why he set up the Praefectura annonae, taking control of the grain production in Egypt as well as the olive-oil production in Batik. Today as yesterday, the role of State in economic life is one of the key elements in the evolution of political systems. Today as yesterday, decisions on economic life are not chiefly economic, but political at heart.
Notwithstanding the fact that Dressel called the Testaccio amphora sherds "petty epigraphy", the copious information that they provide has broken new grounds in the study of the trade history and food production in the Roman Empire, the kind of control the State exerted over the periphery and the political influence that the periphery had in the development of the Roman State.
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* Setting up The WWW exhibition
* The exhibition at Rome