The Medieval Review 10.03.04

Mango, Marlia Mundell. Byzantine Trade, 4th-12th Centuries: The Archaeology of Local, Regional, and International Exchange. Papers of the Thirty-eighth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, St. John's College, University of Oxford, March 2004. Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies Publications 14. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2009. Pp. xxxii, 477. $124.95 ISBN 978-0-7546-6310-2. .

Reviewed by:

Cécile Morrisson and Jean-Pierre Sodini
CNRS, UMR 8167, Paris;

This book assembles the 28 papers delivered at the 38th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies convened in Oxford in April 2004. In her introduction the Symposiarch, Marlia Mundell Mango, outlines its purposes: a focus on archaeological and other work pertaining to local and international trade in the eastern Roman Empire from the 4th to the 12th century with insistence on maritime and fluvial exchange. Like the preceding symposium on Economy and Exchange in the East Mediterranean during Late Antiquity, Oxford, 2001, ed. by Sean Kingsley and Michael Decker, it deals with concrete evidence on all traded goods and is not limited to ceramics. It deliberately leaves aside economy as such, monetary problems and economic models but includes the Middle Byzantine period (8th-12th c.) in order to insist on its transformation and break with Late Antiquity.

To do justice to this wide collection of evidence, we will survey it seriatim. The first section is devoted to mapping exchanges. Emilie Savage-Smith brings new original data on relations between Byzantium and the Fatimids from a little-known anonymous manuscript, the Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and the Marvels for the Eyes (Bodleian Library, MS Arab c. 90, acquired 2002; Dating to ca 1020-1050 it contains 14 unpublished maps out of 17 showing the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, Cyprus and the plans of the trading centres of Tunis, Mahdiyah and Palermo, as well as a unique navigational guide to 28 bays in the Aegean. It adds to the data from naval archaeology notably the coin-dated shipwreck of Serçe Limanı (before 1025). Shipwrecks are indeed surveyed, all too briefly, by Sean Kingsley. Relying on new material and an unpublished database, he provides conclusions updating the now outdated monograph by A.J. Parker (1992). The evidence, with the usual gap between 650 and the 9th century, shows the dominance of composite amphora cargoes in Late Antiquity and the rising role of eastern naukleroi as well as that of Black Sea exchange in the 6th and 7th centuries. The evidence is still biased and fragmentary but the field is a very promising one as can be seen in the parallel project by Michael McCormick (forthcoming in C. Morrisson (ed.), Trade and Markets in the Byzantine World, Washington DC; provisional text on Amphorae feature prominently in the paper by Olga Karagiorgou, with a qualified assessment of their classification, their diversity within a type, the analysis of their provenance and contents, quantification and their distribution. Relying on her field research she insists rightly on the role of the annona militaris in the diffusion of LRA2 on many Balkan and Aegean sites. She regrettably omits recent publications by Dominique Pieri (e.g. Le commerce du vin à l'époque Byzantine (IVe-VIIe siècles), Beirut, 2005) or Michel Bonifay on African ceramics (Études sur la céramique romaine tardive d'Afrique, Oxford, 2004), as well as the new results of several meetings like M. Bonifay and J.-C. Treglia (eds.), Late Roman Coarse Wares...Archaeology and Archaeometry, Oxford, 2007.

The second section on local trade and production opens with an excellent update by Yoram Tsafrir on Scythopolis, a flourishing city trading in and producing glass, ceramics and linen clothing down to the 8th or 9th century in the Islamic period. Intensive excavations yielded wide evidence on shops and workshops dating from the 2nd through the 9th century including numerous Byzantine and Arab scales and weights. They were located along the colonnaded streets, in an agora and on a Sigma square. An early 6th-century "Bazaar" shows a similar structure to that of Hisham (724-743), destroyed by an earthquake in 749. Elizabeth Rodziewicz, as an excavator in Egypt, covers "Ivory, bone, glass and other production at Alexandria, 5th-9th centuries." The abundant remains of material found in specialised workshops in town or on the road leading to the pilgrimage centre of Abu Mina confirm that ivory or bone furniture decoration, glass beads and elements for opus sectile, were produced through the Early Islamic period and exported. The exemplary analysis and interpretation by Rossina Kostova of polychrome ceramics in Preslav, 9th to 11th centuries, brings in a different category of decorative material; she describes the equipment of the various workshops, the destination (Palace, Churches) of these prestige products and the diffusion of the know-how acquired from Constantinople elsewhere in the Bulgarian kingdom, mainly for the use of royal residences or monastic foundations.

In the 3rd section on Regional markets, Agnès Vokaer presents the main results from her dissertation on the Syrian Brittle Ware trade between the 5th and the 8th century. This was a coarse red cooking ware produced in northern Syria which she identified out of finds from Apamea, Androna and Dibsi Faraj. Her petrographic analyses were confirmed by chemical and other investigations by G. Schneider and others. The identification of three different types of fabric enables her to map their respective distribution which apparently does not reach the coast nor goes beyond Hama to the south and suggests three centres of production located in Antiochena, Apamena and in Euphratensis, but not yet precisely located. Their extension coincides with that of a carinated amphora (Northern Syria 1) found in the three sites cited as well as in Resafa, Halabiyya and Zeugma. In our opinion, Zeugma could be one centre for its production but this is not warranted. More material on a local common ware and its limited regional trade is brought by Mark P. C. Jackson, who offers a study of a distinctive series of painted jars unknown beyond the Göksü (Kalykadnos) valley in inner Isauria and dating from the 5th to 7th century and perhaps later. Nergis Günsenin gives an up-to-date synthesis of results on Ganos amphorae combining texts and archaeology. From the parallel example of the shipping of the Athonite monasteries, she assumes that the sweet wine of Ganos mentioned by Prodromos and transported in her type 1 amphorae was produced by the Ganos monastery, but its lost archive cannot come to prove this plausible point. The wide distribution from present-day Russia or Scandinavia to Egypt is dated by the Serçe Limanı shipwreck to 1021/2 or 1024/5 and also in the 11th century by other archaeological evidence including recent finds in the harbour at Constantinople confirming its reputation in the capital.

Section 4 on tracking pottery, glass and metal fine wares begins with a long article by Pamela Armstrong on trade in the 8th century arguing with good reasons to push the break in Mediterranean trade beyond 700. The sites of north-west Cyprus surveyed by A. H. S. Megaw using coins and other ceramics clearly dated the material in the 8th century. It includes dimple-bottomed jugs, the famous LR1 of Cypriot clay attested in a kiln in Paphos and cooking pots from Dhiorios and Cypriot Red Slip (form 9). The diffusion of the latter in Anemurium or Caesarea, the proximity of flourishing Umayyad sites leads to a promising "unlocking of the 8th century." Umayyad sites in the Middle East or Egypt as well as Malta, Crete, Sicily, the coasts of Peloponnese and the Adriatic sites (Otranto, Butrint) all provide limited but converging indications on the survival of trade in what is no longer a "missing century." The exploration of ceramics follows on with Ioanna Dimopoulos' summary of the circulation of Byzantine Red Wares starting in Greece at the end of the 11th and in the 13th century only in Constantinople and Asia Minor. Their dynamism in the 12th century led them to compete with Islamic ceramics on the Italian market. The author focuses on Measles Ware, though she outlines the role of Italian merchants in the trade of Zeuxippus Ware. Her documentation ignores the important study by V. François and Y. Waksman, "Vers une redéfinition typologique et analytique des céramiques byzantines du type Zeuxippus Ware," Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 128-129, 2004-2005, 629-724.

Hallie Meredith evaluates the movement of open-work glassware in late antiquity. Also called cage cups or diatrita, only 24 of the 58 preserved objects (cups or lamps) have a known provenance. Produced within the Empire, they date to the 3rd and mainly to the 4th century and have been found frequently in Italy (Rome, the Milan area, Aosta, Aquileia), in the capital cities (Arles and Constantinople) on and around the limes in 4 regions (South-West Britain, on the Rhine between Nijmegen and Trier, on the Danube bend in present Hungary, and on its lower stretch in Roumania). Except for one find in the palace of a Kushan prince in Begram, they were part of typical assemblages of imperial elites, together with gold inscribed fibulae, silver dishes and other objects that constituted imperial largesse. Members of this elite were probably Roman military officers including commanders of Barbarian origin.

Glass is also the subject of the next paper in which Natalija Ristovska sums up important and new conclusions taken from her ongoing Oxford dissertation on the distribution patterns of middle Byzantine painted glass. The topic was studied by A. Grabar in "La Verrerie byzantine au Moyen-Âge," Monuments et mémoires (Fondation Eugène Piot), 57, 1971, 89-127. It is here interestingly revisited using the results of numerous analyses of the chemical composition of glass and pigments. The material includes vessels (bottles, goblets, flasks, bowls) and bracelets bearing a decoration of birds in roundels and square fields and geometric or vegetal designs. They date between the 10th and the 13th century; some products from northern Syria (the British Museum "Zangi" bottle) or southern Anatolia form a distinct group, not to be confused with later Ayyubid or Mamluk items. Another group in Venice is attributed to Greek glass painters. Some bracelets excavated in the Caucasus are considered local by some experts and Byzantine by others. Russian-made bracelets which differ in size and decoration from Byzantine ones also show a different composition (potash-lead-silica) instead of the Byzantine soda-lime-silica one. This pattern is typical of two pieces from Corinth, two from Paphos and an unprovenanced goblet in the Corning Glass Museum analysed by R.H. Brill. These pieces also had a high level of boric oxide which is attested in fragments of vessels and glass waste from the two glass factories (Roman and Byzantine) in Corinth, in some of the painted glass from the Pantokrator, on early Byzantine fragments and waste from Aphrodisias and in bracelets from Djadovo. The vessels would have been produced in Corinth, which was the main source of raw glass, and Constantinople while the bracelets may have come from Corinth, Stara Zagora, Amorium and even Sardis. Four original maps show the density of finds in Asia minor and the Balkans south of the Danube confirming the Byzantine origin (and not Islamic as sometimes maintained) of the objects. Their distribution follows essentially sea and river routes: the western one starts from Corinth and reaches Rome, Tarquinia and Genoa via Kotor; the Levant one from Constantinople, along the coast of Asia Minor, to Cyprus, Syria, Alexandria, Damietta, Tinnis up the Nile to Fustat; the northern one from present-day Romania to Novgorod. Finally the Danube route led from the North of the Black Sea to Central Europe and Germany while the Rus one ended in a maritime route leading to Sweden and other parts of northern Europe. This distribution and the concentration of finds in commercial nodes like Constantinople, Fustat and Kiev points to a predominant trade--and not gift--type of exchange, the main markets of which were Russia, and possibly Italy and Egypt.

Marlia Mundell Mango pursues and completes here her pathbreaking studies on the distribution of silver and bronze objects. [1] Her ongoing research with K.A. Yener and E.V. Sayre (to appear in Archaeometry but not yet published to date) compares the lead isotope ratios in silver coins (hexagrams) of Heraclius dating to 615-38 and stamped vessels dating to 542 to 641 with those measured in samples of ores or slags from the Taurus Mountains and the Black Sea region. [2] They show that "silver mined near the Black Sea was taken to Constantinople for manufacture and at least some of the Taurus silver was probably worked at Tarsus and Antioch." It is no coincidence that this latter micro-region of metallic exploitation also had two state weapon factories at Irenopolis and Antioch and besides Antioch, temporary mints which opened for military operations during the rebellion against Phocas and later in the reign of Heraclius (Alexandria ad Issum, Seleucia, Isaur[i]a, Salamis in Cyprus). [3] P. Meyers analyses in the 1990s showed stamped and unstamped silver to have different impurity traces in the copper used in their alloy. The many personal inscriptions on the objects lead M. Mango to conclude that even the stamped state-produced silver was largely sold to the public rather than distributed. Most likely, ecclesiastical silver as in the Sion and Kaper Koraon treasures was purchased, while the famous Heraclian silver find from Cyprus was an imperial gift. The archaeological context of Byzantine silver in the Urals with Sogdian and Choresmian or Greek names scratched on them suggest export connected with trade on the Silk road. Byzantine silver plate was still rated highly in the medieval period as a pair of silver-gilt drinking vessels of the 12th century in Novgorod Cathedral illustrate. Copper alloyed (sometimes brass or tinned) metalwork either hammered or cast, basins, kitchenware--sometimes imitating silverware like a series of mid-6th-century buckets--or lighting devices were also traded in Byzantium or exported. Their findspots and distribution are neatly summarised and mapped.

The fifth and sixth sections both cover international trade starting with M. Decker's article on the export wine trade to West and East. He relates the large increase of the share of eastern amphorae in the long sixth century in Spain, Gaul, Italy, even North Africa to the reputation of eastern wine traded by the eastern transmarini negotiatores, Syri and Jews who by and large reached high positions in the local society, like the Syrian bishop Paul who built a vast palace and a basilica in Merida and was succeeded by his nephew Fidelis. Wine exports also reached Arabia (a Gaza amphora was found in the Yemenite harbour of Qanaa) and India (a LR1 one in Arikamedu). This brief survey could also have benefited from using the literature which was overlooked by O. Karagiorgou (see above).

Hiromi Kinoshita studies glass artefacts imported into China from the fourth through the twelfth centuries. Glass was always there a material connected with the West. "Its production was not a native Chinese tradition and was never carried out in large quantities." Even if stylistic differences are clear, chemical composition is useful in order to separate local lead glass from foreign glass which is dominantly soda-lime glass. The author examines different types of foreign glass found in China in archaeological context: finds in the tomb of Feng-Sufu (Yan dynasty, 409-436) include one piece of Roman tradition with soda-lime content, as well as a "duck" flask for perfume and a crocodile vessel which could originate from Egypt. Fourth- to sixth-century vessels decorated with roundels are apparently related to Sasanian production. A vessel from the sixth-century tomb of Li Xian (502-609) is inspired by Iranian tradition, but its soda-lime composition points to local fabrication, as the technique seems to have been established in central Asia by the sixth century and to have spread into China from there. From the seventh through the twelfth century Islamic glass penetrated into China. Hybrid pieces, however, seem to have been produced mainly in Central Asia. This brief survey highlights how much a full study of the subject would bring to the question of China's relations with its Western neighbors. The numismatic evidence, only briefly alluded to in the paper also points to a much greater influence of the Sasanian world than of Byzantium.[4]

Philip Kenrick presents the ceramics from British excavations in Zeugma, the late antique city which flourished in the 6th century. Out of the identified dated groups, group F (early 7th c.) contains Phocean Red Slip Ware together with jugs of the same clay and same painted decoration as that of the carinated North Syrian amphorae. It also includes jugs and fragments of pot necks of Brittle Ware. Group G is not homogenous and does not represent the contents of a stratified context. It includes much "splash-glazed Ware," perhaps from Harun al Rashid's capital (founded AD 796), but no white glazes nor lustre wares or Sgraffito Wares that are found in Samarra (abandoned in the late 9th c) which suggests it stops in the mid 9th c. There are however mould-made flagons of the same clay as the carinated amphorae, vessels with incised decoration or deeply cut geometric patterns. The composition of finds is typical of the reorientation of the region on the Euphrates and of Mesopotamian trade from the 8th century onwards.

Anne McCabe highlights the continuity in the collection of herbs and plants already known in the Dioscorides handbook which was translated twice into Arabic, first in Bagdad in the 9th century, then in Cordoba in the mid-10th century from the manuscript offered to the Caliph by Romanos II. The appendix on materia medica that Dioscorides did not mention in his work cites a number of substances like ambergris, musk, nutmeg, galangal, badinjan or camphor which were either present on the Constantinople market or are cited in Hippiatrica and other texts. These new materia medica also feature in the Peri trophn dunamen of Symeon Seth and in the list of remedies for the Pantokrator hospital (1136). This careful analysis of the medical tradition proves the widespread adoption of Byzantine pharmacology in the medieval world and the influence of the continuing demand for this material on long distance trade.

The sixth and last section is entirely devoted to this topic, starting as could be expected, with the British Isles. From archaeological evidence on Mediterranean imports E. Campbell et Christopher Bowles show the trade between Byzantium and Cornwall to have ceased suddenly in the mid 6th century probably in relation with the outburst of the plague and local upheavals. The famous story in the Life of John the Almsgiver should thus be considered as a fable built on a sailors' tradition. Like M. Metcalf or G. Boon, the authors are over-sceptical of local stray finds of Byzantine weights and numerous low-value coins. The material briefly cited should in my opinion (C.M.) not be so easily discarded. The Mediterranean ceramic imports anyway are mostly associated with zones of tin deposits, galenae or copper mines and the next study by Christopher J. Salter examines evidence of tin extraction in the south-west of England, notably on sites in Dartmoor, including ingots and a coin of "Tiberius Constantius and Justin II" (sic). Considering briefly the great ocean-going ships, Sean Kingsley highlights the absence of Roman or Byzantine shipwrecks or anchor finds in Britain and Western Europe for the period from the 4th to the 12th century, recalling the well-known downsizing of ships from the 5th century onward and the change to frame-first technology. He attributes this gap to a piecemeal trip with several phases of shipment and reloading.

Steven Sidebotham reassessed recent archaeological evidence on northern Red Sea networks in Late Antiquity. He reviews in careful detail the sites from Leukè Komè, Aila (Aqaba) and Arsinoe (Clysma) down to Berenike where the evidence about relations with the eastern Mediterranean (amphorae and coins) and India or South-East Asia, including Vietnam and Thailand (textiles, black peppercorns, teakwood, agate cameo blanks, beads, bamboo, coconut etc) stops in the mid 6th century. Further south David Phillipson gives a general description of Aksum trade, based on his 1998 book. He deems Axumite gold coinage an export item and it is true that its overwhelmingly Greek legends (except for the late coins of Wazebas) and principally non-Ethiopian finds (S. Arabia, India)--except for the unmentioned hoard of Madara--speak for its use as a trade currency. Mention should have been made of Ethiopian gold mines which made this Late-Roman-inspired coins an export item together with ivory.

The eastern and western international trade is covered in two important papers: David Jacoby suggests with his usual unrivalled wealth of documentation a new perspective on Venetian commercial expansion (8th-11th c). It is a major contribution on the interaction between Venice's simultaneous trade with Byzantium and with the Muslim states, the two balanced components of its expansion. Venice was one of the first to enter the Egyptian trade which intensified after the Fatimid transfer in 969. But its general trade expansion was not limited to long-distance exchanges in luxury items, slaves, timber and iron, it also involved an active and profitable cabotage in the provinces and the 1082 chrysobull just confirmed officially a pre-existing freedom.

Irina Andreescu-Treadgold and Julian Herderson offer an exemplary and substantial presentation of the data obtained by twenty years of research on Torcello mosaics compared with the Serçe Limanı and other Near Eastern material. The authors assume that the mixing of plant ash and natron glass was practised in Middle Eastern factories, the essential pigments being added in Byzantium before their export and assemblage took place in Torcello. This brings more archeometrical evidence for the massive scale of production and export of the Byzantine "industry of art" in the 11th century, already stressed by J. Henderson and Marlia Mundell Mango in the 1994 Oxford Symposium.

Jonathan Shepard gives a welcome assessment of the two portals to the Russian world, Cherson and Tmutarakan in "la longue durée" as points of exchange for the peoples of the steppe. The increasing role of Tmutarakan after the Rus' destruction of the Khazar khaganate is particularly outlined through the numismatic (Byzantine silver imitations replacing Islamic ones in short supply in the 11th c.) and archaeological evidence (Byzantine glass beads diffusion in the Volga-Kama basin, export of glass panels and wine to Riazan etc.). The long-neglected importance of Byzantine Black Sea trade in the 12th century is indicated by several texts and finds and put into the context of Russian history by its best expert. Russian trade is finally considered from the other geographical end by Nikolaj Makarov. The topic covered in the context of proto-urban settlements notably in M. Kazanski, A. Nercessian and C. Zuckerman (eds.), Les centres proto-urbains russes entre Scandinavie, Byzance et Orient, Paris, 2000, is here viewed from the perspective of rural settlement. Village archaeology, though lacunary and mostly unpublished, shows the rapid development of settlement in the 9th-10th centuries continuing through the 13th. Markers of trade like glass beads, Islamic coins, coin weights and balances, which abound on the Upper Volga and Lake Beloe sites, recall the patterns already observed in proto-urban centres like Novgorod or Gnezdovo. Byzantine amphorae buckles and glass are also present. Data from the "Minino Project" give detailed evidence of varied long-distance relations and the expected importance of fur exports down to the 12th century. Makarov however tends to minimize, contrary to Shepard, the role of Byzantine exports relatively to the successive influence of Islamic and Scandinavia. However the smaller number of Byzantine coins could be due to a different and less favourable trade balance than with the Muslim world and clearly the central Russian zone, that of trappers and their clustered settlements was the crossroad of the southern and northern trades.

To cut this too long review of a very dense book short, a few points: in spite of the inevitable discrepancy in the level of papers, a regrettable inconsistency in maps--some quite satisfactory, others schematic or inexistent--this volume will remain for a long time to come the best assessment of present knowledge on early and mid-Byzantine trade. Although the case of "diatrita" glass and silver plate in the Early Byzantine period clearly point to imperial gifts, it is a signum temporis that trade is now generally reappreciated versus "non-economic exchange." The dramatic expansion of archaeological documentation, here combined nicely with textual evidence, concurs in this reorientation. Several papers indirectly contribute to highlight the vitality of Byzantine exports--even in the dark 8th century--and the Byzantine technological edge in many fields like glass and metal production. The symposiarch should be congratulated for impeccable editing, a rare feat when dealing with a multilingual bibliography and of course for such a comprehensive collection of papers.



1. The purpose and places of Byzantine silver stamping, in S.A. Boyd and M. Mundell Mango, eds., Ecclesiastical Silver Plate in Sixth-Century Byzantium, Washington D.C., 1993, 203-15; "The archaeological context of finds of silver in and beyond the eastern Empire," in Acta XIII Congressus Internationalis Archaeologiae Christianae II, Vatican City-Split, 1998, 207-52; "Beyond the Amphora: Non-ceramic Evidence for Late Antique Industry and Trade," in S. Kingsley and M. Decker, eds., Economy and Exchange in the East Mediterranean during Late Antiquity, Oxford, 2001, 87-106.

2. It is true as mentioned p. 223 that Heraclius three figure coins were also imitated at Tabariyya in the 680s (see now S. Album and T. Goodwin, Sylloge of Islamic Coins in the Ashmolean Museum, 1: The Pre-Reform Coinage of the Early Islamic Period, Oxford, 2002, nos. 587-93) but the Cyprus three figure type in fact provided the direct prototype for a series of imitations which have been clearly proven to be the earliest Arab-Byzantine coins dating to the late 640s (see C. Foss, Arab-Byzantine Coins. An Introduction with a Catalogue of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Washington, DC, 2008, 22-24).

3. On Byzantine mines, besides the Yener 1993 article, see B. Pitarakis, "Mines anatoliennes exploitées par les Byzantins: recherches récentes," Rev. Num., 153, 1998, 141-85.

4. See F. Thierry, "Sur les monnaies sassanides trouvées en Chine," Res Orientales, 5 (1993) 89-139; F. Thierry-C. Morrisson, La pénétration des monnaies byzantines en Chine, Revue numismatique 36 (1994) 109-45, and the review article by F. Thierry on Helen Wang's Money on the Silk Road, The Evidence from Eastern Central Asia to c. AD 800, Including a Catalogue of the Coins Collected by Sir Aurel Stein, London (2004), Revue numismatique 163 (2007): 303-30, with refs.