Le Centre Alexandrin
d'Étude des Amphores

The Alexandrian Centre for Amphora Studies

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CEAlex - USR 3134
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Introduction
Amphores
Amphorae
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Présentation / Introduction

Présentation générale / General introduction
Introduction générale sur les amphores trouvées à Alexandrie / General Introduction to amphorae found at Alexandria

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

Jean-Yves Empereur

Welcome to a brand new site dedicated to the amphorae of Alexandria. We have tried here to illustrate the astounding wealth of amphora material discovered throughout the construction sites and archaeological digs of this city founded by Alexander the Great. The Graeco-Roman Museum of Alexandria holds the biggest collection in the world of stamped amphora handles with more than 160,000 examples. This rich testimony to the extensive commerce of Alex with the rest of the Mediterranean in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras comes largely from the building sites of the town. During the years following the Second World War, an archaeology enthusiast, Lukas Benaki, systematically visited all the construction sites and bought from the labourers any amphora handle they had found for the modest price of one piaster each. In this way he assembled a collection of some 66,000 pieces that he offered to the Graeco-Roman Museum where they are still held.

Already the three successive Italian directors of the Museum from its foundation in 1892 had shown themselves to pioneers in the interest reserved for what they called “manchons d’argile”. The reader of the first Museum catalogue established by Giuseppe Botti in 1897 will find a good quantity already mentioned. Evaristo Breccia, and then Achille Adriani would faithfully follow in his footsteps. At the beginning of the 1960s, it was the turn of the High Priestess of amphora studies, Virginia Grace, to visit Alexandria and to classify and register the stamped amphora handles according to the systematic principles she had already applied to the Athenian Agora and at Delos. From 1976, encouraged and influenced by Virginia, I launched myself into the study of the Alexandrian collections and continued her classification. A first article co-signed with her appeared in 1981. From 1977, the prospecting that I undertook along the southern bank of Lake Mariout demonstrated that it was possible to locate production workshops. This realisation would lead, accompanied by the archaeometrist Maurice Picon, to a long series of discoveries of amphora workshops around the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and to the excavation of a production site at Cnidus. It was there in 1983 that I met two young students from the University of Izmir, Gonca Senol and Kaan Senol. They were passionate about the study of amphorae and have since become professors in their faculty. For some 15 years now, Gonca and Kaan with the assistance of their students have thrown themselves into the classification of the Alexandrian collections as well as of those amphorae uncovered since 1992 in the twenty-odd salvage excavations undertaken within the city by the Centre d’Études Alexandrines. Several of their studies have already been published featuring a novelty for Alexandria, the precise stratigraphical context. The “Centre Alexandrin d’Etude des Amphores” (The Alexandrian Centre for Amphora Studies) or CEAE has it own offices, library, and huge data base ready to receive specialists who are indeed coming more and more often to examine the Alexandrian collections.

From 25 to 27 June, 2007, a meeting was held in Alexandria with some 15 amphora specialist from Austria, Canada, Egypt, France, Greece, Poland, Switzerland and Turkey. The aims of this gathering, sponsored by the RAMSES Network, were varied:

1) Work towards achieving an agreement on the standardisation of electronic databases of amphorae and stamped amphora handles in order that all might be compatible. For the stamped handles this meant creating a definition of the matrix that would be acceptable to all. For the amphorae, it was necessary to reflect together about a typo-chronological classification that would avoid the multiplication of redundant, even contradictory, systems, with thought given to the classes, forms, types and variants. It quickly became clear that action was necessary so that the community could react to proposed examples through discussion and/or association. This is what we have done here. Within this site you will find a presentation by Gonca Senol of the principle of the matrix with an initial database of the amphorae from the Graeco-Roman Museum of Alexandria. Likewise, Kaan Senol presents a table of amphorae manufactured in the Alexandria region. We await with interest your reaction to these first attempts.

2) Another proposition put forward during this meeting concerned an online amphora chronicle. This collaborative work will gradually take shape. Cumulative and multilingual, it will complement the Bulletin amphorique that is published every five years in the Revue des Études Grecques.

3) An online forum will also be established that will require previous subscription via a webmaster. If you wish to participate in this discussion space, write to webmaster@amphoralex.org and you will be given the steps to follow to join in.

Lastly, you will find in this site a bibliography relating to Alexandrian amphorae, the catalogue of the CAEA library, old works on amphorae accessible in PDF format, a calendar of events concerning amphorae, and, of course, the formula for calculating the volume of an amphora.

This site will develop in proportion to the interest you express in it. We await your suggestions to improve and enrich the site in order to make it all the more useful to the community. Looking forward to your input!

Jean-Yves Empereur

amphores MGR

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