Greek and Roman Marine Resource Exploitation in the Northern Black Sea: The Origin and Dynamics of the Bosporan Fish Trade

Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen*


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As early as the fifth century BC salted fish were exported from the Black Sea to
the cities of the Mediterranean. From the beginning of our era, Pontic fish-salters also produced garum, a sauce made from fermented fish. At some sites, production of salted fish and sauce continued well into the Byzantine period.
The evidence for Pontic fish processing is somewhat contradictory. On the one
hand, literary texts such as the Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus (c. AD 200) attest to the importance of Black Sea salt-fish in the Mediterranean market, while finds of large-scale salting installations at several sites in the Crimea testify to the large volumes of fish that were processed into garum or salt-fish. On the other hand, finds of amphorae for the finished product are rare. Finds of Black Sea amphorae reported from sites along the Mediterranean by no means match the massive numbers of fish amphorae from the Iberian Peninsula which have been found on Roman sites.
Taking imports rather than exports as its starting point, this paper proposes a new model for the development and organization of fish exports from the Black Sea. The export trade was not primarily driven by the Aegean demand for processed fish, but by the demand for prestige goods among the Pontic elite. Exports generated the cash income required for the elite’s consumption of imported prestige commodities such as oil and wine. As the supply of another export commodity – slaves – declined under the pax Romana, the volume of fish exports was increased. It is also proposed that fish products were not as a rule exported by the producers themselves. Rather, they were acquired in bulk at the production site by travelling wholesalers, who packed them in empty amphorae brought from the Mediterranean; hence traces of the Black Sea fish trade are almost invisible in the archaeological record.
TitelThe Black Sea Region in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages : Problems of Historical Geography
RedaktørerAlexander Podossinov
Publikationsdatonov. 2023
ISBN (Trykt)9785604989487
StatusUdgivet - nov. 2023
NavnThe Earliest States of Eastern Europe


  • garum
  • Krim
  • fiskesovs
  • Athen
  • amforer
  • Romerriget


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