Skip to comments.Trash Talk [ Monte Testaccio, imperial Roman landfill ]
Posted on 05/05/2012 8:34:47 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
In the middle of Rome's trendiest neighborhood, surrounded by sushi restaurants and nightclubs with names like Rodeo Steakhouse and Love Story, sits the ancient world's biggest garbage dump--a 150-foot-tall mountain of discarded Roman amphorae, the shipping drums of the ancient world. It takes about 20 minutes to walk around Monte Testaccio, from the Latin testa and Italian cocci, both meaning "potsherd." But despite its size--almost a mile in circumference--it's easy to walk by and not really notice unless you are headed for some excellent pizza at Velavevodetto, a restaurant literally stuck into the mountain's side. Most local residents don't know what's underneath the grass, dust, and scattering of trees. Monte Testaccio looks like a big hill, and in Rome people are accustomed to hills...
...for more than 250 years, from at least the first century A.D., an enormous number of amphorae filled with olive oil came by ship from the Roman provinces into the city itself, where they were unloaded, emptied, and then taken to Monte Testaccio and thrown away...
"So, professor, just how many amphorae are there?" I ask José Remesal of the University of Barcelona, co-director of the Monte Testaccio excavations... Remesal replies in his deep baritone, "Something like 25 million complete ones. Of course, it's difficult to be exact," he adds with a typical Mediterranean shrug.
(Excerpt) Read more at archaeology.org ...
Each day excavators remove bucketfuls of amphorae from the 150-foot-tall Monte Testaccio. The artificial hill is made up almost entirely of olive oil amphorae from the ancient Roman province of Baetica in southern Spain. (Pasquale Sorrentino)
Pursuant to anld post you made in reply:
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I wonder if they ever come upon a whole one. Wonder what other kinds of things are mixed in with the olive oil amphorae. In the picture it looks like only the amphorae are there.
25 million complete amphorae? Well, there should be at least one for every antiquities collector in the world.
Alas, they basically never find a complete one. The lower levels were crushed by the weight of those above, and the topmost broke due to weathering and people (and maybe grazing animals) walking on the for centuries. :’)
Near the end of the article (which didn’t show up in the online version, I’d just read the whole thing in a “Classical History” special issue, very nice btw) there’s a find of a nearly complete one, the bottom is however missing. There are marks made in the clay before firing, that’s how the fragments are dated. And most of these were used for olive oil, shipped from Spain, and probably never reused.
Fascinating. Since we know that there were lots of traders in Rome dealing with oil and other goods that were transported in amphorae, you have to wonder how and why they all began to ditch their used amphorae in this one location.
I have an image of Caesar scuffing an X with the toe of his boot and saying something like, “All right, listen up! I’m tired of walking around the forum and seeing all these empty freakin’ jars. From now on, you guys are gonna dump ‘em here or else. As to refuse, this is an offer you can’t refuse. Get it? Refuse. Awright, settle down. Dismissed!”