Viticulture and Olive Oil Production in Istria During the Roman Period

The exhibition “Viticulture and Olive Oil Production in Istria During the Roman Period“ in the subterranean section of the amphitheater, is dedicated to the production of high-quality olive oil and wine, products that were from Roman times amongst the most important factors in the Istrian economy. The procedures for obtaining oil from olives are shown through the reconstructed Roman facilities used for such purposes, olive mills and presses.

The other part of the exhibition deals with traffic involving amphorae on the Northern Adriatic in the Roman period, and with the main commercial routes. Commerce was for the most part carried out on sea routes. The large and secure port of Pula was an important stopover for goods traveling across the Adriatic. The private agricultural estates on the western coast of Istria, which produced larger quantities of olive oil, were equipped with their own small-scale port facilities. Archaeological finds connected with the exchange of goods show that Pula had exceptionally developed economic-commercial ties with both sides of the Adriatic, with towns in Northern Italy, Pannonia and Noricum. As far as the more distant regions of the Roman Empire are concerned, Istria maintained a most intensive commercial exchange with the coastal regions on the Ionian and Aegean Seas, and with provinces that were likewise located on the shores of the Mediterranean, in the Near East and Northern Africa.

Liquid provisions were transported in amphorae, large pottery vessels equipped with two handles. Amphorae were usually modeled with a round base that was pointed at the bottom, securing thus a larger carrying capacity; for the most part they were used for the transportation and storage of olive oil and wine, even though they could also hold other provisions such as fish sauce, fruits and honey. A filled amphora was closed with the help of a flat, round cover that was fastened with resin. Underwater sites containing vast numbers of amphorae were created when ships that transported these vessels were sunk. There are many such sites on the Mediterranean because the lion’s share of traffic involving amphorae was carried out on sea routes. Horse-drawn carriages transported amphorae on land. Empty amphorae were used as drainage material when setting up large construction terraces; this was very often the case when extensive construction works were carried out in the period of Augustus.

Amphorae were often marked with a stamp containing the name of the person who managed the pottery workshop, or, the name of the proprietor of the large agricultural estate where the workshop was located. Two large pottery workshops where amphorae were produced were active in Istria at the beginning of the Roman Empire, and both were owned by Roman senatorial families: the first was located at Lorun in the vicinity of Tar, and it was owned by Statilius Taurus Sisenna, the second at Fažana near Pula, and it was owned by consul Laecanius Bassus. Under Vespasianus, the workshops were transferred over to the imperial fisc; hence the names of Roman emperors from the 1st and 2nd centuries, from Vespasianus to Hadrian, are to be found on stamps of Istrian amphorae.

© Arheološki muzej Istre 2010. Proizvodnja Ulisys d.o.o. Bazirano na Typo3 CMS sustavu.