In 1984, the French School at Athens and the University of Rennes 2 – Haute Bretagne organised the first ever congress on Greek amphorae and amphora stamps: its aim was not only to fill some documentary gaps prejudicial to the good understanding of the material, but also to improve the methodology and to rethink the problematics of a discipline which has been growing continuously ever since, amphorology.
Theme of the congress
Whatever they have in common, it becomes obvious that the study of amphorae and that of amphora stamps follow differing procedures to suit their differing purposes. Usually dealing with non-written sources, the first aims mostly to illuminate the circulation of goods in the Ancient world, while also providing the excavators with chronological data. Essentially relying on texts and figures, the second can claim to reach the same objectives with an increased accuracy, but also to give an interesting point of view on the political, economic and social organization of the Greek cities as well as on their religious and artistic life. In order to emphasize the value of this very particular material and to develop those methods for analyzing and using it, the next Athenian congress will therefore, for the first time, be specifically dedicated to the Greek amphora stamps.
Sources analysis, first. Because the amphora stamps are used as fossiles directeurs on so many sites of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea area, and beyond, it is understandable that archaeologists have been focussing on their dating until now. But every chronology relies on an analysis, even implicit, of the stamping system characteristic of each city, making one of the chief objectives of the congress to stress the logical connections between both issues, paying suitable attention to the second, so crucially important for our understanding of the Ancient economy. The plan is to deal with the six main cities which have been producing stamped amphorae namely, Rhodes, Cnidus, Thasos, Heraclea Pontica, Sinop and Tauric Chersonese, but also with smaller series of stamps, such as those from Cos, Mende, Akanthus or Pamphylia. Of course there will be room for the potential identification of new centres of stamping. Whether addressing the earliest stamps, the monetary types or their imitations, the engraving of the dies or the purpose of stamping, the cross-over of approaches is to be encouraged. In sum, it is a phenomenon affecting the Greek world for many centuries that we ought to explain.
Sources use, then. Amphora stamps can be used as the raw material for extremely diverse studies. In the field of economic history, they inform us on both the production and circulation of amphorae, the later being favoured to the detriment of the former : this is a normal but regrettable consequence of the predominant importance attached to the problems of dating in the discipline. As they bear thousands of names, sometimes well-known, sometimes unique, amphora stamps are equally valuable for prosopography and onomastics. Moreover, their devices deserve to be studied by specialists in sculpture and the history of religions. Finally, it would be interesting to explore the consequences that progress in building the chronology of amphora stamps may have on other sectors of archaeology, including ceramology, numismatics and architecture...