Le Centre Alexandrin
d'Étude des Amphores

The Alexandrian Centre for Amphora Studies

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CEAlex - USR 3134
Anses timbrées
Stamped Handles
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Anses d'amphores timbrées /
Stamped amphora handles

Méthodologie /
Construction de la base de données /
Building the database
Définition des matrices /
Defining the matrices
Catalogue des matrices des timbres des eponymes rhodiens /
Catalogue of matrices of stamps of Rhodian eponyms
Timbres amphoriques de Délos/Amphora stamps of Delos


Gonca Cankardes Senol*

In the article entitled “Une banque de données sur les vases conteneurs – amphores et lagynoi - dans le monde Grec et Romain” in BCH, Suppl. XIII, 1986, Dr Jean-Yves Empereur mentions the huge quantity of stamped amphora material in the Museums of the centres of the Mediterranean and Black Sea Region and the necessity for their documentation. He gives the example of a Knidian stamp having much information and points out the necessity of creating at least eight different forms prepared by hand—in fact more than eight when adding the other characteristics of the inscription and the stamp itself—for only this very stamp. The programme SIGMI was used at that period for the documentation and database of stamped handles and stamped complete jars, such as amphorae and lagynoi. The forms, whose examples were given in the abovementioned article on page 134, fig. 5 for a Rhodian amphora and on page 138, fig. 7, contain all the information obtained from the stamps. This article presents the first notes on what kind of points should be taken into consideration when preparing a complete, effective and servicable database and documentation of both amphora stamps and complete stamped amphoras for the scholars dealing with this subject. During our studies not only has Dr Empereur’s article been of great help but also his experience and guidance have been central to the realisation of this project (1).

The currently documented stamped handles are from the rescue excavations undertaken in various parts of the city by the Centre d’Etudes Alexandrines (CEAlex)under the direction of Dr Jean-Yves Empereur and from the collections stored in the Graeco-Roman Museum that were also found in excavations in the city and its environs. The museum currently houses more than 160,000 stamped handles in different storerooms including those in the world-famous collection of Benaki and others from different excavation sites.

The amphorae and the amphora stamps are among the most important collections in the museum because of both their variety of origin and their quantity. For amphora stamps, we are grateful to Mr. Lukas Benaki who donated his large collection to the museum in 1962 (2). The so-called Benaki Collection is, in fact, the largest stamped amphora handle collection in the world having nearly 65,000 pieces of varied origin (fig. 1). Thanks are due to Virginia Grace, who classified them initially, and to Jean-Yves Empereur, who continued the studies of classification and photographed them all, in addition to his studies on stamps from other sites in and around the city.

To study the setting up of a database and establishing the matrices of amphora stamps, material in great quantity either in the production centre or the consumption centre is required. The stamps in the Benaki Collection in Alexandria (fig. 2), the most important consumption centre in the Eastern Mediterranean, serve this matter properly as their immense quantity allows one to compare, to identify and to recognize varied dies belonging to eponyms and fabricants, and to differentiate the transformation of the impressions obtained from the same matrix, This can change from first usage of the matrix (called the prototype of the matrix by Empereur) to the other usages until the matrix is out of use, and according to the place where the stamp was pressed on the jar, the dryness of the clay when the impression was applied, and the manual dexterity of persons who stamped the matrix on the jar. In addition the variety in origin within this collection makes it possible for someone to form a database and to establish the matrices of stamped handles of not only the centres whose production was dominant like Rhodes, Knidos, etc. but also the centres that produced stamped amphorae in moderate quantity, such as Pamphylia, Cyprus, Chios, Cos etc., as well as some groups like Nikandros, Petos, etc. The Benaki Collection holds examples or, at least, one sample belonging to these centres and small groups (3).

As a result of the close political connections between Rhodes and Ptolemaic Egypt, Rhodes’ commercial policy was oriented towards Egypt and also the Eastern Mediterranean consumption centres rather than to the northern markets like Delos and Athens, which were held by Knidos in the Hellenistic Period. This is also confirmed by the abundance of complete or fragmentary Rhodian amphorae and Rhodian stamped handles found in the excavations in the city, some of which are now stored in the Graeco-Roman Museum along with the stamped handles in the Benaki collection, and some in storerooms on the archaeological sites of the city and the storerooms of the salvage excavations undertaken by the CEAlex in Alexandria (figs. 3-4).

Rhodian stamped handles in the Benaki Collection were the first step in our project as studies on the documentation of this material had already been started by Jean-Yves Empereur in the 1980s and, surely, it was intended to bring to light some novelty and, if possible, to add some extra information for the better understanding of the system of stamping jars in Rhodes and to present to colleagues a complete and collective source containing numerous matrixes of eponym and fabricant stamps to compare, to restore and to identify the stamps in their files.

The stamped handles in the Benaki Collection were organized and placed in the drawers centre by centre by V. Grace and later by J.-Y. Empereur and the drawers of each particular centre contain the handles put mostly in alphabetical order (fig. 5). Being the largest group of the collection, Rhodian stamps are organized in alphabetical order beginning with the eponym stamps followed by fabricant stamps. Subdivisions have also been made for some of the Rhodian stamps, such as early Rhodian stamps, button type stamps, secondary stamps and stamps bearing only the month-names. The other large group contains the stamps from Knidos aranged in the drawers according to their KT numbers.  The other groups (Coan, Thasian, Pamphylian, Chian, Egyptian, Cypriot-Kourian, Latin stamps, stamps of Petos and Nikandros Groups, monograms and miscellaneous stamps) are placed in separate drawers depending on their origin. All the drawers in the storeroom have a number and each stamped handle has the number of the drawer and its individual number given depending on its placement in the drawer. This temporary inventory number for identifying each stamp is written on the handle followed by the number of the drawer in which it is placed.

Notes :

* Associate Professor Dr. Gonca Cankardes Senol, Ege University, Faculty of Letters, Department of Archaeology, Bornova-Izmir/Turkey.

(1) I am grateful to Dr. Jean-Yves Empereur for all the facilities he has provided during our research and his kind request and permission for us to study the material. I would also like to thank the previous director of the Graeco-Roman Museum, Dr. Ahmed Abd-el-Fattah, the present director Mervat Seif-el-Din and all the staff for their kind assistance during my research in the Museum on this subject and others since 1996.

(2) GRACE 1966, p.286.

(3) For these rare stamps cf. SENOL 2006, p. 145, fig. 231, p. 156, fig. 249.

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