The Classical and early Arab pottery Introduction

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The Classical and early Arab pottery


This report is the result of two short seasons of work based in Homs with the British team during September 2004 and September 2005.1 The cultural time frame that is covered spans the Hellenistic to early Arab periods.

Though the early Arab pottery (Umayyad and possible Abbassid) should perhaps have been included in the Medieval pottery chapter (by Derek Kennet), the likely continuity of the amphorae and cooking pots from the later Byzantine to early Arab periods prompted me to take on the recording of the early Arab material also. In so doing I made notes of the nature and location of Medieval glazed wares and other possible associated ‘Medieval’ (i.e. late 10th/11th century and later) pottery (including sketches: see Catalogue Introduction for the method of study followed), as back up information for Derek Kennet, who catalogued only some of the Medieval survey material in 2002-2003(?*). Furthermore, as Derek Kennet made no special mention of ‘Umayyad or ‘Abbassid’ pottery, I thought it wise make sure likely early Arab, pre-glazed period finds, were recorded, given the imminent publication deadline. Unlike Baalbek or Damascus, and somewhat parallel with Beirut, Homs does not appear to have been supplied with early Arab glazed wares (e.g. splashed green glaze): or if it was it was rare and/or I did not recognise it (perhaps one piece on SHR 658). All the glazed material seemed truly ‘Medieval’ in style (much in the CW 1 dense red brown fabric of local Classical cooking wares: for some true Medieval cooking pots that I did classify, see MED CP 1 and 2).
Some possible Iron Age vessels are included in the Catalogue in case they are in fact early Hellenistic and some ‘classical’ pieces may in fact be pre-Classical (particularly in the case of the pale plain wares, a ware clearly in vogue during the Iron Age). The dating of the transitional late Persian (late Iron Age) to early Hellenistic phase of occupation is difficult and has been guided, as much of this work, by my years of ongoing work in Beirut classifying the 5th century BC to early Arab material, as well as through consultation with Matt Whincop, responsible for the publication of the Iron Age ceramics (Chapter* ). Most of the fine wares encountered in Homs were familiar to me from Beirut and their dating, particularly the Hellenistic fine wares, derives from my observation of Beirut stratified sequences of contexts. A summary typology of these fine wares is offered in the Typology.
The report comprises, apart from the following discussion, a Catalogue (Plates 1- ) and Typology (Typology Plates 1-14), together with a summary of the principal Pottery Fabrics. A list of Abbreviations used is included in the introduction to the Typology. The relative quantities of sherds (diagnostic, as well as body sherds) according to date is indicated, as best as is possible with survey material, in the Site Index. The latter data should be taken as a rough guide to the date of the ceramics found on these sites.
In the following discussion the principal patterns of supply of local, regional and imported ceramics will be outlined, though the reader should also turn to the Typology for more detailed discussion of the ceramic classes presented and, of course, to the Catalogue for the full data on which these are based. For an assessment of regional trade patterns, the comparison between the ceramic supply of Homs and other regional centres, notably Zeugma and Apamea, for the Syrian interior, and Beirut for the north Levantine coast, has been most fruitful in placing the supply of table wares, cooking wares and amphorae of the Homs region into their proper regional and economic contexts.

  1. The Hellenistic period

One of the most striking features of the ceramic assemblage is the concentration on a few specific sites of early Hellenistic amphorae from a particular region of Asia Minor (Hell AMPH 1 and 2) (SHR 97, 363, 668, 1036, 1063). The fabric (FAM 2A-B) – hard, fine and micaceous – as well as the forms, variants of a Hellenistic triangular/’mushroom’-rimmed form with long, wide oval handles, link them to the similar series of amphorae imported to Beirut in the mid and late 3rd century BC. In the western Mediterranean the form was produced by the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily, and is called ‘Greco-Italic’ for that reason (Will 1982; Cook and Dupont 1998). In fact it was the first true-pan provincial Classical amphora type, being found all over the Hellenistic world. A version of the form was made in northern Lebanon, on the basis of the fabrics encountered in Beirut.

In the case of Homs the source of these amphorae differs from that of examples imported from overseas to Beirut. The latter, given their even more micaceous and notably ‘soapy’ texture derive from a source or sources close to Ephesus and Samos.2 The Homs imports derive from another regional source, though not too distant, perhaps (Clazomenian amphorae have a similar fabric?).
Here one needs to bear in mind what these amphorae represent. These transport amphorae, and this applied equally to those of the Roman period, were the products of specific cities and their territories, and should provide evidence for links between specific cities, or at least regional ports used by them, and points of contact abroad. In the Hellenistic period forms such as Hell AMPH 1 provided the model for the transport amphora of more than one city, in this case entire regions of cities both within the Greek East and Aegean as well as for the Greek colonies in the West. In this sense Hell AMPH 1 was a pan-Hellenistic type, as were the fish plates and echinos bowls of Hellenistic fine ware. The Dressel 1 Republican Roman amphora and its early Imperial successor, the Dressel 2-4 (with its characteristic double rod handles) were similarly produced throughout the Roman world.
Transport amphorae of all periods, as well as fine wares, should be interpreted within the context in which they were produced, as city-based products that follow the economic trajectories of specific cities and their territories. In the case of table wares the production of local fine wares within Phoenicia, notably by Tyre and Sidon should relate directly to the exploitation of their hinterlands. The rarity of local amphorae in the Homs region during the Hellenistic period should be contrasted with the major role of local transport amphorae in Hellenistic Phoenicia (notably the distinctive amphora types of Tyre and Sidon, and the presumably major north Lebanese city that produced its version of Hellenistic AMPH 1). Beirut did not produce its own distinctive amphora type until c. 100 BC or a little later, precisely when Sidon ceased to produce its local type. The role of politics, here Beirut´s eventual supremacy over Sidon, may well be an important factor in the mapping out of city territories and corresponding amphorae.3
The two distributions of Beirut and Homs, the latter supplied through Antioch, surely, underline the existence of diverse regional contacts operating in each case: Beirut connected with Ephesus and possibly Samos, Homs with one or two, a close cluster, of other Asia Minor cities (in the orbit of Clazomenae?). In the same way it is significant that whereas Beirut was well supplied with Hellenistic Pergamene black slipped table wares over the later 3rd to early 2nd centuries BC, there are no such fine wares in Homs, despite the Asia Minor amphora imports. Perhaps the reason for the two supply networks is that the traders or actual Greek colonists of Antioch or perhaps Homs/Emesa itself at its inception as a Hellenistic city had special links with the cities supplying Hell AMPH 1. The rural economy of Hellenistic Homs/Emesa and its territory did not develop in such a way as to require the manufacture of transport amphorae in any quantity. Those that it did produce (Hell AMPH 4) seem to be based on a Sidonian amphora current during the later 3rd to mid 2nd century BC (Typology Plate 2a: AUB Museum, unprovenanced).
Relatively few cooking wares of the Hellenistic period were found on the survey, in comparison to the fine wares and amphorae (e.g. SHR 83 and 97, where amphorae are unusually common) (CP 1-3). The earliest Hellenistic form with a tall everted collar neck is close to Beirut cooking pots of the late Persian period, and should be seen as its successor (CP 1A and perhaps the later variant CP 1B are both Hellenistic rather than earlier in date). It should be noted that this collared type of cooking pot is found from northern Palestine to Lebanon and northern Syria, i.e. Homs, and is not specifically a Hellenistic shape. It is, rather, a Phoenician-Levantine type. Other forms with shorter collar rims may have appeared in the Hellenistic period and are equally a feature of the same wide geographical region (CP 2-3). In the case of Beirut, examples are well-dated to the 3rd century BC. A characteristic feature of cooking pots of the Hellenistic period, a feature that does not continue into the Roman period, is that the strap handles narrow down towards the base. Casseroles (CA 1-5) share formal traits with those of Beirut, the Hellenistic Levant in general and are in turn derived from Greek models. Homs and Beirut thus shared in a new Hellenistic method of food preparation or cuisine to some extent.
However imported Phocean cooking ware dishes/frying pans that are a regular feature of the Beirut kitchen repertoire from c. 200 BC till the first half of the 2nd century AD are absent in the Homs region. This recalls the contrasting supply of nearby Pergamene Hellenistic black glaze wares. It may equally be due to the lack of penetration of imported cooking wares beyond the coastal cities of Syria and Lebanon. The presence or absence of Pergamene and Phocean cooking wares in Antioch would be illuminating in this respect.4
Hellenistic fine ware imports suggest that there were two or possibly three phases of Hellenistic occupation in the Homs region. One, Ptolemaic, datable to the 3rd century BC, associated with Hell AMPH 1-2, is characterised by large number of imports of Cypriot fine wares, identical to those encountered in Beirut.5 Cypriot forms comprise small echinos bowls, fish plates, the occasional krater (FW Crater 1-2) and a painted flagon, perhaps imported for its contents (FW Jug 1) (see Plate 1 and Typology, fine Wares, for more details). Very few 4th to 3rd BC Attic pre-Hellenistic fine wares have been found (for the late Persian period, see Matt Whincop in this volume). With the exception of SHR 178, with no later Hellenistic finds and a period of reoccupation in the late Byzantine period, Attic occurs on sites that had important 3rd century BC phases (SHR 251, 256 and 270).
SHR 270 stands out as a site with major 3rd century BC material but perhaps little later material. SHR 315 has a high concentration of fine wares that continued right through the 2nd century BC (see below, Black ESA, early ESA forms). The absence of Hell AMPH and find of only one CP 2 could indicate that the occupation begins in the Seleucid period, from c. 200 BC. (GRAHAM: would this make sense?). Third to mid 2nd century BC red-slipped fish plates and echinos bowls from the same source as the later Eastern Sigillata A (RG 26) are rare finds, except on SHR 207, 286 and 315 where Seleucid occupation seems dominant (SHR 49, 207, 210, 268?, 270?, 286: common, 312?, 315: common, 498, 859, 1063?). SHR 207 has, notably, the only find of a large fish plate-deep bowl with a dark slip that precedes true Black Eastern Sigillata A, datable to the first quarter of the 2nd century BC (CAT 189).
The looped handle carinated bowls from the same source as ESA, as well as Rhodian examples, are absent, whereas they are omnipresent in Beirut and Cypriot Hellenistic levels of the late 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.6 A general lack of Rhodian amphorae in the Homs region may well be relevant in the case of the Rhodian products. These amphorae are scarcely attested in Zeugma either, but were massively imported to Beirut.
Some sites in the survey stand out with their finds of black-slipped Eastern Sigillata A (c. 160-140 BC: hence ESA), notably the bead-decorated conical cup form ESA 17, and early forms of red slipped ESA (late 2nd to early 1st century BC: ESA 1-3, 4A, 17).7 There was notably only a single vessel, a fish plate, of Campanian A (SHR 315). Italian Campana wares appear in Beirut 2nd and 1st century BC contexts in small quantities.
One fine ware of local or close regional origin has been isolated (FW 1).8 The ware is the most common on SHR 480, a site with dominant late Hellenistic material, and more than one example occurs on SHR 251 and 315. A general 2nd century BC date for the ware is likely. It is not encountered in Beirut. The fabric does bear some resemblance to that of Hellenistic fine wares that are characteristic of Kamed al Loz, located in the southern Beqaa Valley (coarse, very pale yellow to cream with fine mudstone, slip fired to a patina similar to African Red Slip Ware), and so a local/Homs origin needs to be confirmed. The most common form is a thin walled echinos bowl, recalling variants that were produced by Beirut, Tyre and Sidon throughout the 2nd century BC. A fish plate, lamp and possibly a jug form were also in the FW 1 repertoire.
Finally, some storage jars may date to the Hellenistic period. SHR 480, with a major phase of Hellenistic occupation, stands out with its supply of STJ 1-2 in a fabric with large lime lumps (CW 6A). The fabric could be that of Byblos. These storage jars, with a grooved handle, occur almost entirely on this site (4 examples; SHR 207 also x 1). Another type, STJ 3, with a wide bell-shaped rim and similar grooved handles could also be Hellenistic (similar, but larger rims may be Iron Age) (SHR 1036 only: 3). The fabric suggests a source in the Beqaa Valley (cf. the Early Roman grooved rim mortars: CW 7).

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