A drop in the ocean – the movement of olive oil in the Roman period

For the most part, the study of trade in the Roman period focuses on the production and movement of large quantities of commodities and luxuries from one part of the Roman Empire to another.

The first part of this paper will focus on the main Roman centres of production and consumption and how these shifted over time due to the evolving geo-political and economic landscapes of the time.

At the centre of the movement of these goods was the sea. Ships transported thousands of amphorae filled with oil, wine and garum across the Mediterranean and beyond. Islands strategically placed at the crossroads of this exchange found themselves in an ideal position to exploit maritime trade.

Through this paper I intend showing, using Malta as an example, how other less obvious currents of production and exchange existed alongside mainstream trade. By taking advantage of dispersed hinterlands Malta was, despite its small size, able to export its own olive oil – this despite its proximity to huge centres of production in North Africa.

Dr Timmy Gambin

Department of Classics and Archaeology, University of Malta 

Is a maritime archaeologist who obtained his undergraduate degree in history at the University of Malta. Following this he read for his MA in maritime archaeology and history at the University of Bristol where he proceeded to obtain his doctorate under the tutelage of Dr A.J. Parker.  He is currently Senior Lecturer in Maritime Archaeology at the Department of Classics and Archaeology, University of Malta and Director of Archaeology of the AURORA Trust.  He is also a co-founder of the AURORA Institute of Marine Studies.  Over the past years he has participated and directed numerous exploration surveys in Malta and elsewhere in the Mediterranean including France, Spain, Italy, Sicily and Croatia.  He has contributed to the discovery of numerous shipwrecks which vary in date from 800 BC to the last world war. He also initiated the ‘Ancient Cisterns Exploration Project’, which has been conducted in the wells and cisterns of some of the historic buildings in Malta and Gozo. Furthermore, he has managed and directed a number of EU funded projects which covered various aspects of maritime heritage including the setting up of museums networks, heritage trails and conference series. His main research interests include ancient harbours, remote sensing technologies and their application in the management of underwater cultural heritage and the maritime traditions of the Mediterranean. 

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