Summary of the workshop "Production Economy in Roman Greater Syria: Trade and networks"

By PhD student Julia Steding and Research Assistant Rikke R. Thomsen.

2018.03.06 | Ditte Kvist Johnson

On 8th February, the second part of the workshop on the production economy in the region of wider Syria took place at Aarhus University. After a successful first day in October 2017 where the production techniques and artisans were the main focus, the second day focused on trade and networks. Even though queries on networks and trade patterns have become central to research in the last few years, many questions still remain open. Therefore, the Palmyra Portrait Project brought scholars together, who are looking at patterns of trade and import of materials from different points of view.

Julia Lenaghan (University of Oxford): “The sculptors of Aphrodisias: A review”

Julia Lenaghan from the University of Oxford gave the first paper of the day, entitled “The sculptors and school of Aphrodisias: A review”. Julia Lenaghan has worked in Aphrodisias for 20 years and presented her own work along with work from her colleagues. A question of relevance asked by UNESCO sparked the investigation in the sculptural workshop in Aphrodisias, here highlighted by Lenaghan through epigraphic evidence, tools, marble analysis and stylistic analysis. The epigraphic evidence showed that the number of sculptures with Aphrodisias inscribed composed a large percentage of the signed Late Hellenistic and Late Antiquity marble sculptures, and that the names of Praxiteles, Skopas and Kolotes were recurring. This suggests that workshop families added famous names to their own, and that the origin from Aphrodisias was a brand. In Aphrodisias, a workshop has been excavated, and tools along with partly carved blocks were discovered. Similar pieces in different sizes and unfinished pieces raise the questions of the intention of the blocks; were they models for display to the customer or unfinished? In the area around Aphrodisias, a survey has shown 40 quarries 2–5 km from the city. This yielded white marble in a low quality, but the quarry Göktepe, 40 km away from the city, yields white, high-quality marble. This marble is used for statues. Marble analysis shows that a large number of statues in Rome is made of Göktepe marble, but Göktepe marble and Carrera marble are overlapping in isotopic analysis, hence making the possibility to distinguish hard. Lenaghan proposes that there is an Aphrodisian style, but that it is a difficult aspect to prove. The style appears to be copying well-known models but adding a twist regarding the posture. The same name appears on sculptures from different periods and with different stylistic traits, so the inscribed name is possibly a workshop family and not the name of a sculptor. Hence, the different names could suggest several workshops, but only one has yet been discovered.

Marc Waelkens (KU Leuven): “The trade in marble and other stone in the eastern Mediterranean”

The second paper entitled “The trade in marble and other stone in the eastern Mediterranean” was given by Marc Waelkens from KU Leuven. From the offset, he advocated the importance of looking at all marble objects as a whole, including not only sculptures but also smaller items and architectural elements. He proceeded to discuss different aspects that are important when investigating transport and logistics of marble trade. One of these is cost and proximity: most quarries were located in/around the cities, and these local quarries were quarried first. Later, the search for better-quality marble led to the use of quarries further away. The proximity and, especially important, the accessibility make transportation easy, and this is important for large-scale objects, since transport is more expensive than the cost of making the objects. Another aspect of the trade of marble is the availability. The cost must depend on the availability, i.e. a larger amount of material would reduce the price. Different materials must also have had different prices: when including all objects as advocated in the beginning, it becomes clear that many smaller objects were made in expensive material. Waelkens also looked at the use of materials and the choices of this. The combination of materials could be either a status symbol inspired by and a wish to relate to the imperial architecture in Rome, or it could be a choice by the different sculptors of a material that they knew and preferred. The ownership of the quarries is suggested by Waelkens to be private, either owned by a city, imperially owned or owned by a private person. Areas and access are then leased to people willing to take the risk of working in the quarries. Emperors exploited parts of the quarries, especially when the accessibility is low, and this ripples down to the lower part of society where imitation and smaller objects of that material are visible.

Patrick Degryse (KU Leuven): “Sourcing the stone: state of techniques and implications”

Patrick Degryse from KU Leuven presented the third paper of the workshop titled “Sourcing the stone: state of techniques and implications”. The goal of the presentation was to answer the questions: What is possible when provenancing stone? What can or can we not do? Since the 1980s, the technique has almost been the same. Three ways of investigating the stone are presented: looking for macroscopic features, looking for microscopic features and using geochemistry. The macroscopic method is the most essential and comprises of looking at the stone with the naked eye. The microscopic method shows minerals and crystal size, which is especially relevant for granite. At last, the geochemistry tells about isotopes. The combination of these can give a unique “fingerprint” of the stone useful for comparison. An important point is to start with the archaeological research question and then choose the techniques according to this. Is it important to know if a stone comes from “group X”, and how do you define a quarry and a quarry group? There are new advances in this field. First is the creation of the Quarryscapes project that maps the ancient stone quarry landscape in the Eastern Mediterranean. More data needs to be made available, otherwise, the results will always be limited. Other new advances are the X-ray diffraction, laser ablation, and a handheld X-ray. The X-ray diffraction is a non-invasive method to study the mineralogy, while the laser ablation shoots away a small sample. The handheld X-ray is a point-and-shoot method and is currently giving bad results, but this can be developed. Degryse concludes that the new developments make it faster to perform investigations, and that it is essential to publish the databases that are created to make the comparison of material much easier and accurate.

Colin Adams (University of Liverpool): “The logistics of stone transport in Roman Syria and Egypt”

The fourth paper “The logistics of stone transport in Roman Syria and Egypt” was given by Colin Adams from The University of Liverpool. When Adams worked on this subject, it was especially logistics in Egypt; including terms of scale, the supply of food and water and the bureaucratic processes behind the logistics. The transport in the desert is based on Ptolemaic routes that were in use until at least the time of Caracalla. A papyrus from the reign of Hadrian with a strateg as recipient is a request from a person with many animals to carry stone and that it is necessary to receive food for these. From another literary source, it can be deduced that certain individuals, from which the camels could be required for quarrying and then returned when finished with the work, owned the camels. Camels and wagons are the methods of transportation, but the amount of workforce and the weight they could carry is debated. According to B. Russel, animals could only pull 30 tons, while Adams argue that with 12-wheeled wagons, they could carry up to 207 tons. Following this, Russel quotes Adams to say that 360 men would be necessary to move the 200 tons, but this is incorrect. If harnessed the right way, 40 camels could carry the 200 tons, and the advantages that camels do not need so much watering and can stay in harness over the night, why choose 360 men? The conclusion of Adams is that we might underestimate the easiness of transport.

Alfred Hirt (University of Liverpool): “Palmyra, Syria, and the Supply of ‘Imperial’ Marble”

Alfred Hirt from the University of Liverpool presents the fifth paper titled “Palmyra, Syria, and the Supply of ‘Imperial’ Marble”. In the Baths of Diocletian in Palmyra (beginning of the second half of 2nd century AD), Reddish monolithic columns of different height are used. The height of the bases makes up for the difference, and Hirt suggests that the columns are “leftovers” from the tetrapylon. When procuring columns for the tetrapylon, four extra columns were sent in case of destruction during transport, and these were then used in the baths despite the different size.
The ability to import marble from the imperial quarries, overseen by representatives of the emperor, by senators and elites in the provinces was affected by relationships with the emperor. It was depending on not only wealth but also good relations with the emperor to receive the marble. Despite this, there are cases where local elites sponsored their own marble without a specific relation or contact; there are no specific remains of imperial patronship or sponsorship of buildings in Syria. In Palmyra, the elite had the funds to acquire the marble and for the transport, and without the accessibility from an imperial relationship, it is suggested by Hirt that the columns for the baths were required from marble lots from other cities in Syria and not directly from the imperial quarries.

Dagmara Wielgosz Rondolino (University of Warsaw): “Syria, Palmyra, and marble trade”

The last paper “Syria, Palmyra, and marble trade” was given by Dagmara Wielgosz Rondolino from the University of Warsaw. Wielgosz performed archaeological and archaeometrical survey on objects in Syrian museums. This survey showed that in the early periods, there was a use of white and grey marble from Greece. The popularity of marble began in the 6th century BC and was a sign of Greek social lifestyle. This continued through the Hellenistic period and until the Flavian period, where the same marble remained popular. The marble sculptures are from both the public and private sphere, and they are finely carved. Examples show that ‘classic’ Greek features are copied. In the late 2nd century AD, the “Severian favorite” was Proconnesian marble. Sarcophagi in Palmyra along with marble sculpt    

History and archaeology