Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries & Historical Sites

Wine Transport Amphoras

Penn Museum - Joy of Museums - Amphoras

These “Wine Transport Amphoras” were found in a Mediterranean shipwreck by the underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. Cousteau recovered some 1,200 amphoras from the Grand Congloué island near Marseille, off the southern coast of France. Most of the ship’s wine cargo had been stored in amphoras produced by the wealthy Sestius family from Cosa, a port of Rome. This identification could be made because of the markings on the amporas. Most of the amphora handles were stamped with “SES” from this discovery.

Penn Museum - Joy of Museums - Amphoras 2

Amphora fragments stamped owner identification marks

These Amphora examples were designed for marine transport and most of the Amphoras were covered with traces of incrustation after nearly, 2000 years under the sea. The amphora handles were stamped with identification marks. These stamps were pressed into the clay handles before firing and identified the amphoras’ place of origin.

An amphora describes a container of a characteristic shape and size, descending from the early Neolithic Period. Amphorae were used in vast numbers in the Ancient Greek and Roman eras for the transport and storage of various products, but mostly for wine. They are most often ceramic, but examples in metals and other materials have been found.

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Amphora examples can be found that are more than just industrial amphora, used for storage and transport. The Ancient Greeks also produced high-quality painted amphorae for a variety of social and ceremonial purposes. Their design differed significantly from transport amphoras. They were typified by wide mouth, a ring base and a decorated glazed surface.


Greek amphora for social and ceremonial purposes

The loutrophoros amphora, was used principally for funeral rites. Large vases were also used as grave markers and became a motif for Greek tombstones, while some amphorae were used as containers for the ashes of the dead.

NAMA Atticc grave-amphora by Dipylon Painter

Dipylon Amphora – Athenian funerary amphora, Late geometric I. – National Archaeological Museum

By the Roman period however, only utilitarian amphorae were normally produced. Other Graeco-Roman historical objects of the Penn Museum featured in “Joy of Museums”include:

Essential Facts:

  • Title:               Wine Transport Amphoras
  • Culture:          Graeco-Roman
  • Provenience: France’ Grand Congloue, Shipwreck of a Rome Gallery
  • Date Made:    110-80 BC
  • Materials:       Ceramic
  • Dimensions:   Length: 104cm
  • Museum:        Penn Museum


“The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth you have given away.” Marcus Aurelius



Photo Credit: Benjamin West [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Eustache Le Sueur [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Dipylon Master [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons