The Antiquaries Journal

Research Article

Olives from Roman Spain: A Unique Amphora find in British Waters

P. R. Sealey and P. A. Tyers

In 1983 a fisherman in the Thames estuary at Pan Sand trawled up a Roman amphora filled with olives which had been preserved in defrutum syrup. The jar is dated c. AD 70 ± 15. An attempt is made to relate the olive varieties at Pan Sand to those described in the ancient documentary sources. The Pan Sand jar exemplifies a new category of amphora, called London 555. They were produced in the province of Baetica in Roman Spain; claims that the form was made in the Rhône valley are regarded as unproven. Stratified finds from Britain show the form was current from c. AD 50/55 until c. AD 125/150. London 555 develops from Haltern 70 and continues the trade represented by that form. The last London 555 amphoras explain part of the Dressel 17 phenomenon. London 555 was not the only category of amphora used to export preserved olives from Baetica after Haltern 70; the trade continued until the late Empire and helps explain finds of olives from late contexts in Roman Britain.