Session Abstract – The Devil is in the Detail- Practicalities of Trade and Consumption

Trade, commerce, and consumption have, for many years, provided popular subjects for discussion in Roman studies and continued to push the boundaries of our knowledge and understanding of the Roman Empire. Approaches typically focus on questions concerning how material groups were supplied to consumers and how patterns of trade and commerce can be identified based primarily on ceramic evidence, such as from ship wrecks or site deposits. While these patterns can be approached using macro-analysis of find groups as a whole, investigations into the micro-details of traded goods provide much potential for understanding the organisation and processes of commerce and consumption.


Tituli picti and stamps on find groups, such as amphorae, provide one of the best examples for understanding the implications of micro-details in Empire-wide trade.  Pottery stamps on fine and coarse ware can also be used to understand the organisation of workshops and the scale of supply, while additionally offering new perspectives of the implications of consumer choice.

This session will therefore explore micro-details within a variety of form groups that have been the subject of short and long distance trade. The material will be analysed within a wider context of commerce and practicalities of supply, such as private trade, merchant organisations, or the annona. Further emphasis will be placed on the detailed analysis of distribution networks and the possibilities of personal consumer preference. Some aspects that have often been overlooked are trade goods and vessels that rarely survive in the archaeological record (i.e. wooden items, animal skins) but which undoubtedly played a crucial role in long and short distance trade.
Based on the analysis of these micro- details, and a consideration of how various material groups were originally used, this session will offer new theoretical perspectives on commercial exploits throughout the Roman Empire based on what we know about the organisation of local markets and individual trade.


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