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  • Lori-Ann Touchette

Reuse of Storage Amphorae

In an earlier post, we considered the stacked amphora fragments at Monte Testaccio. Today we are looking at another reuse of storage amphorae, this time in Roman architecture. Most of the reused amphorae at Testaccio and also in Roman vaulting are olive oil containers from Souhern Spain of Dressel type 20 or 23.

The earliest examples are from outside Rome. In the Magazzini Traianei at Ostia (AD 126) two Dressel 20 amphorae were placed in each corner of the cross-vaults whereas at the Villa della Vignacce (AD 130) amphorae were utilized not just in vaulting by also in walls. The vast majority of the examples of amphorae in vaults occur in the 4th century in Rome and its environs. Their visibility in the ruins of the Mausoleum of Helena (AD 326-330) already in the 16th century led to the nickname “Tor Pignattura” (pignatte = amphorae. It is estimated that 6-10,000 Dressel 20 and 23 amphorae were built into the vaults supporting the seating of the Circus of Maxentius (AD 306-312).

Traditionally interpreted as lightening the weight of the vault or for acoustics, Lynne Lancaster has demonstrated that the amphorae were more likely used to economize on building material. She also posits that reuse of oil amphorae in concrete construction in Rome from the 4th century onwards coincides with the abandonment of Monte Testaccio in the mid-3rd century as well as the growth of the reuse of materials in general which we normally associate with “spoglia” of marbles.

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