Name for a vessel made of clay, earthenware, bronze and more rarely of glass. The Greek name "amphora" is derived from the fact that the vessel could be carried by "two handles" ("amphi" = "carrying two handles" and "phéro" = "carrying"). In the case of larger volumes or weights, this was done by two persons. It was probably invented by the Canaanites, the forefathers of the Phoenicians, and brought to Egypt in 1500 BC. The amphorae became the most popular vessel in antiquity, used for liquids of all kinds, especially oil or wine, and was later brought to China by the Greeks.
The classic wine amphora was a bulbous clay vessel with two handles on a narrow neck and a pointed lower part. Most amphorae did not have a foot, so they could not be placed without a three-legged stand, but could also be stored lying down or hung from the handles. They were also often used for ship transport, for which they were placed in a thick layer of sand to fix them with their pointed lower part. There were many different forms, including the Attic pelike (also called stamnos) with a fixed base and short neck, which was mainly used for storing and transporting wine and oil, but also as an urn for storing ashes in tombs. Small amphorae for ointments, perfumes or fragrances were called amphoriskos.
The size was very different. Greek amphorae for wine held about 40 litres; however, the Romans also used "amphora" as a unit of measurement for 26 litres (see the old Roman hollow measures under Congius). The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (90-21 B.C.) writes that in the trade between Romans and Celts (in the 5th century B.C.) the equivalent of only one amphora of wine was a slave, but this was certainly not the true value. Often the amphorae were filled with wax or resin on the inside. In Greece it was common practice to cover the surface of the wine with a layer of resin and oil before sealing it to increase its durability. This is how the traditional resin wine Retsina was created.
Amphorae were sealed with plugs made of terracotta (fired earth), which were fastened with string and then sealed with varnish, clay or pitch. This made the vessel airtight and the wine contained in it could be stored for a long time. The famous Falerno wine, known as the "Opimian", was kept in amphorae for 100 years or more. Labelling was also already common practice with the Romans. As the vintage was the only way to distinguish wines until the emergence of renowned growing regions, the amphorae were labelled accordingly. Such labels were written either on the belly or neck of the amphorae with ink, red lead (lead oxide) or white paint. They also hung on the neck in the form of tablets.
The two most important label indications were age and variety. Sometimes even storage information or the date of tapping were given, the colour only if a region produced both white and red wine. Occasionally, quality attributes such as "bonum" or "excellens" were also found on the tablets. But even then, there was already a labeling fraud, such as with the Falerner. Clay vessels similar to the amphorae were Dolium (Roman Empire) and Pithos (Greece), as well as the Kvevri (Georgia) and Tinaja (Spain), which are still in use today. These were or are considerably larger, with volumes of up to several 1,000 litres. Today, amphorae are again increasingly used for the fermentation and/or maturation of wines produced according to ancient methods. See in this regard under Cachetical Process and Orange Wine.
Amphorae Apulia: From AlMare - Own WEerk, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Amphorae Croatia: From Silverije - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Amphorae shipwreck: From Dimitris Vetsikas on Pixabay
Amphora Terracotta: From Capri23auto on Pixabay