Feeding an Empire

Marble relief showing transport amphorae; Roman, 2nd century CE; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund, 1925 (25.78.63). Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This Roman transport amphora was excavated around 1879 in Ostia, the ancient Roman port city. Located at the mouth of the Tiber River, Ostia served first as a military harbor, then as one of the main shipping ports for the city of Rome, located about 18 miles up the Tiber River.

Large docks and warehouses along the river enabled the unloading of amphorae and other vessels full of grains, fruits, oil, and other commodities from different parts of the empire, needed to feed the ever-growing population of Rome.

This relief, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, appears to show a merchant receiving a delivery from a porter at right, who is carrying a jar over his shoulder. Other amphorae, with their mouths clearly sealed, are stacked in the corner at left.