Archaeologists confirm existence of an important Atlantic trade in the Roman era

Barcelona, 30Dec (EFE).- A study recently concluded at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) collected new archaeological evidence from several sites in Europe which confirms the existence of an Atlantic trade in the Roman era.

The evidence for such a trade derives from the various finds along the coasts of Germany, Holland and northeastern France, Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula.

César Carreras, an archaeologist at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, explained in an interview with Efe that the first surprise was the discovery of “more than 70% of the amphorae discovered in Great Britain over 103 Roman sites had its origins in the [Iberian] peninsula.”

To be exact, they are predominantly amphorae for oil from the Guadalquivir basin; for garum from the Bay of Cádiz; and for wine from the south and from the Catalan area.

“In order to reach the British Isles the most appropriate route, in terms of cost and time, is via the Atlantic. The only reservation [for this theory] was in the difficulty of crossing the Atlantic and the lack of ships that have sunk; but in the last years we have concluded thus with the study of Roman cities on Holland (Kops Plateau) and in Germany (Xanten, Neuss) and they confirm what we have seen in England.”

This international project, in which the UAB began participating with the University of Barcelona in Xanten, have been joined later on by the ICAC (Catalan Institute of Classical Archaeology) and the University of Nijmegen (for the Neuss site), and they completed work in Holland where researchers from the Universities of Lisbon and Munich also participated.

The new discovery in Holland and Germany provides “a spectacular quantity of Peninsula amphorae” from a very ancient period – the age of Augustus – when the Romans have just conquered these territories.

In the opinion of Carrera, if until now there have been reservations for accepting such an Atlantic route, especially the more western routes around the Anlalusian coast, Portugal and Galicia, the discovery in Hollan and Germany refutes this conclusively.

Furthermore, they display a very ancient provenance (16 B.C.) with some of the most important products from the military supplies from the campaigns in Germania in the age of Augustus.

“So much of the quantity, the variety of the products and the chronology seem unpublished and they help us to fill in the information that our French colleagues were documenting in the north coast of France. There they have the same type of products, in similar proportions and with similar dates,” states Carrera.

The amphorae are containers designed for maritime or fluvial transport and, because of this, its presence in the northern Rhine implied that this would be one of the ports for these products

The combination of information that the amphorae supplies – standard containers for maritime or fluvial transport – and the shipwrecks and other ceramic materials with a Peninsula origin seem to prove the existence of such an Atlantic route and also its importance, suggests Carreras.

In terms of underwater archaeology, Carreras comments that the Atlantic is a difficult site to work at because of the depth at which the ships might be situated (below 30 metres under water), the bad visibility conditions and the cold.

“The majority of the discovery are from boats that sank on the coast or in the rias and every day we have more: by Portugal, the last one by Esposende; by Galicia; by the islands of the Channel and by the Belgian coast.” This proves the existence of an important commercial circulation, “though not as important as the one in the Mediterranean.”

In other aspects, the study of the remains of the ancient molluscs dating back to the Roman era from the sediment sample suggests that the conditions in the Atlantic were warmer and possibly more favourable for navigation.

This article was written by Jose Oliva and published in La Vanguardia in Spanish.

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