What is it about?

This paper uses archaeologically-preserved ceramic vessels called amphorae to investigate trade patterns in the Roman Empire, especially the Rhine frontier. These vessels once carried foodstuffs such as olive oil, wine, and salted fish products. We investigate changes through time, and especially introduce a new aoristic modelling methodology that helps account for uncertainties in dating archaeological material at a high resolution. We demonstrate that the German frontier was well connected to many regions of the Roman Empire through trade, with a gradually narrowing scope of connections that began at the Empire-wide level in the early Empire and ended at the very local level by the end of the third century AD. These trade patterns thus highlight a regional and chronological dynamism to the economic systems of the Roman Empire that had otherwise not been revealed.

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Why is it important?

We make two major contributions: first, demonstrating the highly dynamic economic agency of a frontier region and its populations over five centuries. Second, demonstrating the value of a new aoristic model to account for uncertainty in archaeological dating. This model and their data are presented in full to enable replication of our approaches and facilitate further research.


This paper was a great collaboration between archaeologists and data scientists with the mutual goal of better understanding uncertainty in datasets. Archaeology, especially of the Roman Empire, has created an enormous quantity of legacy data that has much to contribute to ongoing debates of social history, though much of it is viewed as difficult or problematic and therefore of limited relevance. I hope that this paper demonstrates one way to account for these difficulties, and I hope that it will spur further conversation on other methods as well.

Tyler Franconi
Brown University

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This page is a summary of: From Empire-wide integration to regional localization: A synthetic and quantitative study of heterogeneous amphora data in Roman Germania reveals centuries-long change in regional patterns of production and consumption, PLoS ONE, January 2023, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0279382.
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