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AnatolianStudies 54 (2004): 79-93

An archaeology of late antique pilgrim flasks

William Anderson
University of Melbourne

Pilgrimagehappenswhen a place becomes the focus of venerationbecause of its association with a person or event.
Pilgrimcults from the past can sometimesbe identifiedby groupingcertaintypes of materialevidence, althoughinter-
pretationof a cult's historicalmeaningis only possible once the materialhas been fully assessed. This study considers
what sorts of informationcan be drawnfrom the archaeologicalcontext of a group of clay ampullae;miniatureflasks
originatingfrom Asia Minor in late antiquity.
Herhangibir yer, bir kisi ya da olayla olan baglantisinedeniyle saygi odagi olduguzamanburayahac ziyaretleribaMlar.
Geqmiten gelen hac ibadetleribazen belirli tipteki maddi kanitlaringruplandinrlmasiyla tanimlanabilir. Ancak bir
ibadetin tarihsel anlaminin yorumlanabilmesieldeki malzeme tamamen gozden ge,irilip degerlendirilmedenolasi
degildir. Bu calihmadaKuicuik Asya kaynaklive gec antikdonemetarihlenenbir grupminyatuirmatarave ampullaeden
arkeolojikbaglamdane cesit bir bilgi edinilecegi konusu ele alinmaktadir.

During the late 19thcentury,a Frenchengineercalled at Aphrodisiasor boughton the open marketis uncertain.
Paul Gaudin was directing the construction of a When examined by members of the Societe des
railway between Izmir and Turgutlu in the west of Antiquaires de France, the flasks were identified as
Turkey. He developed an interestin the region's archae- ampoulesa eulogie -pilgrim ampullae(Heronde Ville-
ological remains, excavating a prehistoricnecropolis at fosse 1890; Michon 1899). Early Christian pilgrim
Yortanand, in the early 20th century,runninga campaign souvenirs were known from examples in museums and
at the ancient city of Aphrodisias, where important church treasuries a number of museums had clay
Classical statuary was unearthed, some of which was 'Menas flasks' from Egypt, named after the saint at
illegally exportedto museums in Belgium and Germany whose shrine they were distributed(Kaufmann 1910).
(Collignon 1904; 1906; Erim 1986: 37-45). Like many Having been established as pilgrim souvenirs, scholars
Europeansoperating from Turkey at this time, Gaudin interpretedthe designs stamped into their surface to
was a sedulous collector of antiquities. Artefacts could identify which saints were being shown and where the
be purchasedat Izmir, a city with a large foreign diplo- ampullaeoriginatedfrom.
matic presence, a flourishing antiquitiesmarket and an Ampullae are distinct from Menas flasks associated
indifferent,or ineffectualOttomangovernment(Schiffer with the pilgrim centre of Abu Mina in northwestEgypt
1999: 101-10; Ozdogan 1998). during the fifth and sixth centuries AD. Both were
Between 1896 and 1920, Gaudin donated 44 small mould-made,in much the same way as clay lamps of the
terracottaflasks to the Louvre,Paris (Metzger 1981: 41- time, but the circularbodied Menas flasks have handles
54). These were describedas coming from Smyrnaand spanningthe body and neck, while the smaller and oval
its vicinity, although there is no specific information shaped Asia Minor type have two holes bored into the
about how they were obtained: whether they were top so that they could be worn or suspended (fig. 1).
discovered duringconstructionof the railway,excavated Whereasmost Menas flasks are stampedwith an image

Anatolian Studies 2004

of the saint standingin an orans pose, the decorationon

Asia Minor ampullae includes a range of figures and
animal motifs; others have patterns of crosses, circles
and architecturalfeatures.
It is widely assumedthat images on Christianpilgrim
souvenirsrelateto theirsite of productionor distribution.
Art-historicalstudies, particularlyof metal flasks made
in Palestine (called the 'Monza' or 'Bobbio' type
because of the Italianchurcheswhich possess groups of
them), have considered pilgrim related artefacts in this
way (Weitzmann1974); the origins of othersixth century
ephemera- Menas flasks from Egypt, objects made at
the shrine of St Symeon at Qal'at Sim'an near Antioch
0 2cm
and some types of eulogia tokens from Palestine- can I I

also be determined from their iconography (Rahmani Fig. 1. Menas flask and Asia Minor ampulla in the
1970; 1993; 1999; Piccirillo 1994). Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden
An iconological approach has had limited success
when assigning flasks to specific productionor distri-
bution centres in Asia Minor. The diversity of figures of importantcentres such as Jerusalem(Wilkinson 1976;
and emblems make classification problematic, and Hunt 1994). Pilgrimagein Asia Minoris also covered by
identified saints have even been called 'inappropriate' contemporarysources, and saints' lives often describe
for shrines known in the region (Campbell 1988: 544). shrines where relics or living Holy Men were venerated
The frequently occurring 'Evangelist' type is often (Foss 2002). Although hagiographies and eyewitness
linked with the shrine of St John near Ephesus on the accounts are the basis of our knowledge on early
basis of historical references (Duncan-Flowers 1990), Christian pilgrimage, the information they convey is
and these are indeed convincing, but without the limited. Reportageis subjective, and offers only some
discovery of moulds, kilns or significant assemblages, idea of the broader political, economic and social
locating productioncentres is impossible. It is therefore circumstanceswhich affected pilgrim cults.
necessary to consider this group of objects by first In the early 20th century, images on metal pilgrim
accounting for the range of designs, and then determine flasks were interpretedas showing murals painted at
context through examination of their occurrence in Christianshrines in late Roman Palestine (Vikan 1995).
archaeological excavations. Art historian Andre Grabar's 1958 monographon the
Monza and Bobbio flasks suggested that their iconog-
'Pilgrimage art' raphywas based on small-scale metalworkand that the
An increasingamountof literatureaddressesthe subject objects originated from Constantinople(Grabar 1958).
of pilgrimage, but as the approach and scope of this Discussion of the metal flasks re-opened in the 1970s
researchhas been varied, 'pilgrimage studies' cannot when the focus shifted towardsdemonstratingthat their
be regarded as a discipline in its own right. Rather, iconographydepicted the architectureof early Christian
investigatingpilgrimagelends itself to the applicationof shrinesin Palestine. KurtWeitzmanndiscerneda 'Pales-
multiple disciplinary approaches using sociological, tinian style' in their decoration,comparing the images
archaeological, art-historicaland theological methods. with manuscriptsfromthe region,and arguingthatmould
Archaeological research into early Christianpilgrimage designs were significantin the disseminationof Christian
has the potential to enhance understandingof economic iconographyfrom the Holy Land(Weitzmann1974).
activity, transport and infrastructure, and religious Theories about how pilgrimage 'devotionalia' were
practices(Stopford 1994). However study Byzantine regardedhave been well exploredin recentyears. Rather
'pilgrimage art' has largely been concerned with the thanbeing simply mnemonic- touristsouvenirs they
appearanceand conceptualmeaning of artefactssuch as have been shown to contain differentlayers of meaning.
eulogia tokens, rather than exploring socio-political Gary Vikanhas describedthree 'function categories' for
circumstancesof their manufactureand use. Byzantine pilgrim souvenirs: votive, devotional and
Early Christianpilgrimage to sites in the Holy Land amuletic (Vikan 1995: 381). These derive largely from
was well documented, and written sources have been writtensources, especially the hagiographiesof the fifth
considered alongside mosaics and maps to investigate centurySyrianmonk Theodoret,and althoughuseful for
pilgrimpracticesand reconstructthe 'sacredtopography' appreciatingthe complexity of Byzantine exegesis, this


approach offers only limited insight to the conditions Among the pottery from Pergamon in the Imperial
under which sixth century pilgrim shrines produced periodwere drinkingflasks;mould-made,interior-glazed
'souvenirs'. Emphasisingthe pilgrim's experience and vessels that were probably used as portable wine
how individualsregardedobjects they acquiredat sacred containers (Mandel 1988). Some are decorated with
sites may have obscured understandingof the social images showing gladiatorialcombat,suggestingthatthey
place of pilgrim flasks. Whilst the owners of objects were associated with the amphitheatre.Mould-made
collected on pilgrimageindeed held them in high esteem, flasks thought to be used for drinking wine were also
scholarshipthat rhapsodisesover 'receptacles of divine manufacturedin Egypt, where the discovery of kilns at
energy' (Hahn 1990), is based entirelyon literarysources Memphisandthe Fayuumhas establishedtwo production
with little attemptto actually identify consumers using centresof the pre-Christianera (Seif el-Din 1993).
archaeologicaldata. From the fifth century AD, flasks stampedwith the
Art-historians have generally set the agenda for image of St Menas were produced at Egypt's premier
studying early Christian antiquities, and with the pilgrimagecentre,Abu Mina, located 45km southwestof
exceptionof eulogia tokens, MenasandMonza flasks, the Alexandria. Menas flasks are probably the most
material culture of Byzantine pilgrimage has not been prevalentform of survivinglate antiquepilgrim artefact.
subjectto taxonomy,fabricanalysis, surveys of finds and They supposedly contained water which was collected
considerationof context. These techniques all help to from the saint's shrine, and may have been available
determinewhere artefactscame from, which is essential from the large colonnaded square north of the basilica,
for establishinga historicalcontext. Betterunderstanding which was the site of almshouses and 'commercial'
of pilgrim flasks can also contributeto a range of trans- premises (Grossman 1998). Dozens were excavated at
disciplinaryand epistemologicaldiscourses:on one hand, the residential district of Kom-el-Dikka in Alexandria
closer analysis of this potteryform may offer evidence to between 1961 and 1981 (Kiss 1989) which helped to
distinguish people or groups of specific political and establish chronology and indicated that they were
religious persuasions, but it may also help us to learn consumednot only by long-distancepilgrims,but also by
about religious customs, social conditionsand economic a local marketwho embarkedon domestic pilgrimageas
activity. Moreover,study of pilgrimflasks can help us to an expressionof religious identity (Davis 1998).
questionthe way in which materialcultureis categorised Menas flasks have been found at sites around the
and given meaning. Mediterraneanand beyond,which may be takento reflect
It is first importantto outline the development and the extent of Egypt's maritime contacts during late
diversity of pilgrim flasks that were made in the eastern antiquity (Lambert, Pedemonte Demeglio 1994). A
Mediterraneanduring late antiquity. Once the 'Asia cluster aroundthe northernAdriaticcoast suggest a link
Minor ampulla' has been sufficiently defined, pictorial between Alexandria and the episcopal see of Aquileia
differencescan be considered. Iconographymay inform (Lopreato1977). Two Menas flasks have been found at
us about the flasks' historical meaning, but archaeo- Meols on the Wirrelpeninsulain the west of England,over
logical context tells us much more abouttheir use, users 3,500km from Abu Mina (Thompson1956; Harris2003).
and social significance. Rather than reaching a single Palestine, or the Holy Land, was where the most
conclusion about who made ampullae and who importantChristianshrineswere located, and a range of
consumedthem, interpretationof the flasks' context will pilgrim ephemera was produced in this region. The
considersome discoursesand debateswhich the material metal Monza flasks were made here using a mould
might inform. technique (Engemann 2002), but there were also
ceramic, glass and organic souvenirs available for
Late antique pilgrim flasks: Egypt, Palestine and Asia visitors to religious sites. A clay flask bought by the
Minor Israeli Departmentof Antiquitiesand Museums in 1966
Clay flasks were made at several locations around the is decoratedwith an image of the Annunciation. Around
Mediterraneancoast in the late Romanperiod. Extensive its edge is a Greek inscription with the words of the
manufactureof potteryin westernAsia Minorwas linked evangelist Luke (1:28), 'Hail, thou art highly favoured,
to the region's production and export of commodities, the Lord is with thee', and it is interpretedas coming
and the importance of the Aegean coast continued as from the traditionalsite of the house of Maryand Joseph
Constantinople grew in population and prominence in Nazarethand dating from the sixth century(Rahmani
(Kingsley, Decker 2001). Amphorae were made for 1966). A flask with an image of figures in a boat and
transportingoil andwine, andtherewere also table wares which also has inscriptionsreferringto New Testament
and otherdecoratedceramicssuch as lampsproducedfor sites was discovered in the 1950s near Aquileia on the
local and inter-regionalmarkets. northAdriaticcoast (Guarducci1974).

AnatolianStudies 2004

Anothertype of mould-madeceramicflask thoughtto I

come from Palestine has small proportions and is
decoratedwith raised dots (fig. 2). This type has been
assigned to Jerusalemon the basis of its yellow-brown
ware and decoration,which are similar to a form of oil
lamp made here in the seventh century (Magness 1993:
259). An intact example was discovered during
excavationof the site of RamatRahel,or Bir al-Qadismu,
between Jerusalemand Bethlehem (Aharoni 1964: 17,
38-41, fig. 10.11, pl. 4.6), and the top half of a 'raised
dots' type was found in the Tyropoeonvalley, Jerusalem
in 1927 (Crowfoot, Fitzgerald1929: 126, pi. 16.31). An
ampulladiscoveredin Sardisin westernAnatoliahas the
same dimensions and similar raised dots design
(Rautmann1996: 62-63, no. 2.82, fig. 16).
A numberof large, clay flasks with variantforms and
decoration point to alternative regions, and dates of
production. These have handles added to the body like
Menas flasks, and are decoratedwith detailed designs. 0 2cm
An unusual and well-preservedflask held in the British
Museum measures about 20cm in height, over three
times larger than most Asia Minor ampullae; its form Fig. 2. Drawing of a 'raised dots' flask found near
resembles the 'bag-shaped'or late Roman 5/6 amphora Jerusalem (Aharoni1964: fig. 10)
(Dalton 1901: 158, no. 903). A fragmentwith similar
iconography to the London flask was found in the
southernbathscomplex at Perge(Atik 1995: 176-80, nos to require official authentication. The monogramsand
391-99). There is a range of forms and images among excavation circumstanceshave led to the unguentarium
these large, rounded flasks, and it is uncertainwhether being dated from ca. 450 to ca. 550 AD, and their fabric
they were produced contemporaneouslyor in the same suggests that Palestine was one region of production
region, although vessels of this kind have usually been (Hayes 1971: 244-47).
found in Turkey. Flask forms were widely produced around the
A large, intact flask unearthedduring excavation of eastern Mediterraneanbefore, during and after late
shop buildings at Sardis has a rounded shape, and is antiquity,but there has been little work done to identify
decorated with curious animal motifs reminiscent of groups and determinechronology. The variety of forms,
Palestinian mosaic panels (Hanfmann 1983: 165, fig. fabrics and iconography indicate different regions and
244). Anotherexample from Sardis,discoveredin a late phases of production. Moreover, pilgrim flasks were
Romanresidentialcomplex, has a simple cross motif and not the product of a single religious movement,
contained 71 bronze coins dating from the late fifth although they may have had been associated with
century (Greenewalt et al. 1994). Fragmentsof flask particular sects and cults. A range of flasks was
sherdswith Greek inscriptionsoffering 'blessings of the produced in the eastern Mediterranean,intermittently,
Lord'were recentlyfound at Pessinus in centralAnatolia and over long periods of time.
(Devreker 1995: nos 19-29).
In 1971, John Hayes drew attentionto a wheel-made, Iconography: the limits of interpretation
'fusiform' ampulla,which he dated to the fifth and sixth Despite ampoules a eulogie being classed as a distinct
centuries and called the 'late Roman unguentarium' pottery form in the late 19th century (Michon 1899),
(Hayes 1971). These are far more prevalentthanmould- CatherineMetzger's (1981) catalogue of pilgrim flasks
made flasks, and they have been found in Greece, Italy, in the Louvre is the first and only systematic study of
Palestine, North Africa and several sites in Turkey Asia Minor ampullae. Ampullae are characterisedby
(Eisenmenger2001). Many have monogramsand motifs their ovoid form and short spout there is some
stamped just above the base, and a fragment from variationin size and shape, but generallythe dimensions
Rhodes bears the inscription 'of Bishop Severianos', of those with figuraldesigns are regular- most measure
leading to the theory that their issue was ecclesiastically around7cm in height and 5cm in width, while ampullae
controlled,and that their contents were valuable enough with crosses and other non-figural motifs can vary in


height from 4-9cm. Their colour can range from dark many martyredsaints. A flask excavated at Knidos on
red to buff and light yellow, and this use of different the southwest coast of Turkey shows a woman in an
fabrics suggests a numberof clay sources and therefore orans pose flankedby two animalheads (Love 1972: 75,
production centres which employed similarly shaped fig. 32). This may depict the female saint Thecla
moulds (Andersonforthcoming). imaged on some Menas flasks, and whose northMediter-
The most obvious variationwithin this flask form is ranean cult centre operated near the coastal city of
the decoration. More than a dozen differentfigures and Seleucia in Cilicia (Davis 2001)-but the woman could
a range of geometric motifs appear, with newly just as well be a generic martyrad bestias.
excavated examples featuring unprecedented designs. One of the more frequentlyoccurringfigural designs
Identificationof figures and motifs has been the focus of shows on one side a seated man writing,and on the other
most studies of ampullae, and it is importantto survey a standingman holding a codex and flankedby two palm
the flasks' decoration while considering the reliability trees. Examplesof this so-called 'Evangelist' type have
and usefulness of currentinterpretation. been excavatedat Aphrodisias(Campbell 1988: 541, no.
A numberof ampulla-designsfeature 'portraits',but 3), Sardis (Hanfmann 1966: 16-17) and Phocaea
determiningthe identity of figures is problematic,partly (Sartiaux 1921), and several are held in museum collec-
because the depiction of saints in the period before tions. Scholars have invariably identified the seated
Iconoclasmwas far from standardised. In some cases, it figure as John the Evangelist and suggested that the
is even uncertain whether the figures are saints or flasks were producedat his shrine on the Ayasulukhill
contemporary pilgrims. An ampulla design showing near Ephesus (Michon 1899; Griffing 1938; Duncan-
three figures in a boat may depict a specific narrativeor Flowers 1990; Zalesskaya 1999).
saint, but could alternativelyshow anonymouspilgrims
travellingoverseas (Metzger 1981: 45; Vikan 1991: 78).
Another flask type is decorated with horse-riders a
man on a galloping horse holding an axe, and on the
other side, a woman riding side-saddle, and carrying a
circular object (fig. 3). Some scholars have identified
the figures as Mary and Joseph on the flight into Egypt
(Wulff 1909: 264; Robert 1984: 464-67), but they have
also been seen as pilgrims riding to their destination
(Broneer 1932: 48; Vikan 1991: 84-85). The horse-
riders were recently interpreted as representationsof
God as described by John the Evangelist (Zalesskaya
1999: 358-59).
Although pilgrims may have been imaged on some
ampullae, it is assumed that saints were the subject of
Fig. 3. The male horse-rider on two slightly different
most designs, but the diversity of these figures- male
ampulla designs
and female, apostles and martyrs,priestsand warriors-
make identification very difficult. One group of
ampullae has a half length portraitof a bearded man Writtensources that describepilgrims collecting dust
holding a book with inscriptionsidentifyingthe figure as from the shrine of St John would seem to be sufficient
St Andrew (Dalton 1901: no. 913; Metzger 1981: nos evidence that Ephesus was an ampulla-makingcentre,
123-25; Buckton 1994: no. 127); an ampulla found at but this designation does not account for the range of
Sardishas incised lettersidentifyingon one side Johnthe other figural designs. At least five ampullatypes show
Baptist, and on the other the Virgin and Child. men holding books, and it thereforeseems that different
(Greenewalt,Rautman1998). apostles were being depicted. Whilst identifying
Clothing and attributes are often used to identify Christian saints and narratives is sometimes possible,
saints: a flask with an image of a beardedman holding reliance on this approachcan lead to cycles of interpre-
keys is assumedto show St Peter(Wulff 1909: no. 1352; tation and counter-interpretationwhich only highlight
Metzger 1981: no. 116); anotherhas a soldier spearinga the limits of investigatingpilgrimage art using pictorial
dragon on one side and a man flanked by lions on the evidence in isolation from its archaeological context.
other (Campbell 1988: no. 4). The dragon-slayercould The diversityof charactersappearingon ampullaeshould
be either St George or St Theodore, and the figure with be takento indicatethatthe flasks were associatedwith a
the lions could be Daniel, although he may be one of range of saints and shrines.

Anatolian Studies 2004

Another enigmatic design has a small figure looking dating are hard to establish. Despite almost every
out from an elaboratedoorway,and on the reverse side, a example in museums being said to have come from
cross sits on a drum-shapedsupport,perhapsan altaror western Turkey, only a small number have been
font, framed by spiral columns and a striatedarch. Of documentedarchaeologically.
seven known examples there are three variant designs Unrecorded purchases of ampullae have hindered
(Wulff 1909: no. 1348; Metzger 1981: nos 120-21; investigationof this type of artefact,and it is impossible
Zalesskaya 1986; Campbell 1988: nos 6-7). Metzger to know how many might be held in collections, or were
thoughtthe figure in the doorwaycould be Lazarusrising bought in private transactions. Even the distinguished
from his tomb; Zalesskaya argued it could be either St epigrapherLouis Robertseemed to show scant regardfor
Demetrios or St Spyridon, and that the cross under the context by acquiringflasks from Turkishvillagers in the
archwas a representationof St John's shrineat Ephesus, 1980s (Robert1984). It is depressingto note thatpilgrim
whilst Vikan thought that pilgrims would have had a flasks feature among the Roman material for sale at
more metaphoricalinterpretationof the doorway (Vikan online antiquitiesauctions (for example, EdgarL. Owen
1982: 27). Ltd 2005). Despite most ampullaehaving sketchyprove-
As well as human figures, some ampullae have nance, those that have been excavated offer a wealth of
animal designs. One example shows a goat tethered to contextual clues: their occurrencein tombs, shrines and
a tree (Metzger 1981: 50); another found at Sardis domestic buildings give indicationsabout how the flasks
shows a donkey with a cross and orb on its back, inter- were used, and by whom.
preted as a symbol of legitimate kingship (Hanfmann
1968; 1985). A fragmentaryampulla excavated at the Excavated ampullae: locations and context
Asklepieion in Pergamon seems to show a beast, Pilgrim flasks are by their nature portable objects, and
perhaps a bear, in a 'rampant'posture (De Luca 1984: the sites where they are found range over a large area.
no. 301). The distributionof excavated ampullae shows that some
There is a range of non-figural ampulla designs, were transportedgreat distances, but that they were
usually crosses or rosettes, sometimes decorated with primarilyconsumed by a local market. Most have come
concentric or dotted circles. Cross designs and non- from the west of Turkey,and the cluster in this region
figural types are numerous,they vary in size more than indicatesthat ampullaewere made here (fig. 4).
figural ampullae, and they were made from different No serious attempt has so far been made to group
clays (Anderson forthcoming). The concentric circles reliably recorded discoveries of Asia Minor ampullae.
motif - which sometimes appearsas a framing device Althoughthe numberof excavatedflasks is small, I have
has been used to chart similarities between ampulla
types, and it has been suggested that the motif originated
from Egypt (Griffing 1938; Robert 1984). Varietyin the
colour and size of non-figural ampullae is further
evidence for multiple sites of production.
Rather than offer a comprehensive taxonomy, this
summary of ampulla decoration aims to express the
range of designs that occur within this pottery form.
Although investigatingthe iconographyof pilgrim flasks
may be useful for considering historical and pictorial
traditions,it is very hardto identify saints beyond doubt,
and iconological interpretationmay detract from more
immediate sources of evidence. The variety of moulds
and fabricsused to make ampullaeseem to show thatthe
flasks were producedat a numberof locations, although
their uniform shape and recurrentmotifs suggest that
manufacture took place within a relatively confined
A major obstruction to archaeological study of
pilgrim flasks is that few have documented contextual
information. Without the discovery of a significant Fig. 4. Map showing sites in western Anatolia where
assemblage such as the hoard of Menas flasks from ampullae have been excavated (after D.H. French in
Alexandria (Kiss 1989), productioncentres and precise Hammond1981: map 26a)


identified around 50 examples published in reports. Some ampullae are reportedly from locations
Their distribution does need to be qualified though elsewhere in the easternMediterranean:one was found in
because find-spots are likely to reflect the interests of a Classical shrine on the Acropolis at Athens (Broneer
archaeologists and the type of locations they excavate. 1932), another during excavation of Byzantine-
As archaeological fieldwork at late antique sites in Ummayid shop buildings in Jerusalem (Maeir, Strauss
Turkeyhas focused on urbancentres, it is not surprising 1995). There have also been finds reportedat Antioch
that these are the places where most materialhas been and Alexandria, but lack of excavation reports means
located: distributionpatterns in rural areas cannot be that the contexts of these cannotbe investigated.
fully accountedfor. The distribution of such a small sample does not
By 1988, fieldwork at the city of Aphrodisias in prove a great deal, although there is a concentrationin
Caria had unearthed 12 Asia Minor ampullae the cities of Asia Minor. As mentioned,this might only
(Campbell 1988). Many more complete and serve to reflect the kinds of locations that archaeologists
fragmentary examples have surfaced in recent years, favour, but the high proportionfrom Aphrodisias and
making this city the principal location where ampullae Sardis, cities that were equally distant from the Aegean
have been excavated (Christopher Ratte, personal coast, is noteworthy. It can only be assumed that many
correspondence). Although the exact type of flask ampullae bought in Izmir and now in the Louvre were
found here recently requires verification, over 40 are taken from sites in or aroundancientcities in the region.
now said to come from Aphrodisias.
Another inland city where significant numbers of Categorising context: funerary, religious, residential
ampullae have been discovered is Sardis, where and commercial find-spots
American excavations commenced in the 1950s under The circumstancesin which ampullae have been found
the directionof George Hanfmann. Justbefore his death vary greatly,and there are also differencesin the quality
in 1986, Hanfmannreportedthat 'several' ampullaewere of information available. Some are from reliably
found in 1980 during work at the so-called House of preservedstrataor undisturbedtombs along with numis-
Bronzes (Hanfmann1985: 422), althoughthese appearto matic material;others were found in less clear circum-
be unpublished. Before this discovery, Hanfmannsaid stances or at disturbedlevels. The extent and detail of
that eight examples were known from Sardis. Others accompanyinginformationin excavation reportsis also
have since come to light, and my research has located variable, but despite this inconsistent quality of data,
reportsfor 12 pilgrim flasks from here, nine of which are find-spots indicate where ampullaewere deposited, and
the Asia Minortype. thereforegive clues abouttheiruse and users. Ampullae
The cities of Ephesus and Pergamon also have have been discoveredin funerarycontexts- graves and
reliably published finds, although the majorityreported tombs; they also occur as apparentlyvotive deposits at
to be from Ephesus, and all from Smyrnacome without religious locations such as shrines. Most are from
details of their discovery. Louis Robert suggested that residentialand public buildings.
most of the Louvre's holdings were from the Hermus It is important to qualify what is meant by the
valley where the collector Gaudin was operating, but 'context categories' of funerary,religious, residentialand
they mightjust as well have been boughtin Izmir(Robert commercial. Firstly, these sites may simply reflect the
1984). Other find-spots in western Asia Minor are kinds of places archaeologists choose to dig, and the
Didyma, Knidos, Phocaea and Samos. Ampullae said to techniquesthey employ. More importantly,designating
have come from the islands of Naxos and Chios lack locations as 'religious' or 'domestic' can be confusing
excavation reports. because these terms rely largely on modem concepts,
A handful of ampullae were found at sites in the developed to describe the customarydivisions we make
Balkans peninsula. One flask was unearthedat Caricin between public and private,inhabitedand sacred spaces.
Grad in the Roman province of Dardania, currently Differentiating between religions must also be
Serbia and Montenegro (Metzger 1984). Caricin Grad considered critically, as it is equally dependent on
was a fortifiedsettlementfoundedby Justinianin around modem-day constructsand heavily influencedby events
AD 530, but abandoned in ca. 615 following military that have occurredsince late antiquity(Elsner 2003). It
invasion. Other evidence for early Christian pilgrim is importantto bear in mind thatwhen a site is described
devotionaliafrom Asia Minor and Palestine being trans- as 'Christian'or 'pagan', this does not make it homoge-
ported to the Balkans has since come to light (Markov neous, or the exclusive domain of a particularfaith.
2003). The contextual circumstances in which two Religious movements and the sites they frequentedwere
ampullae were found in Bulgaria in the 1990s have heterogeneousand sometimes syncretistic,derivingtheir
helped with dating (Shtereva 1999). meaning from multiple influences and traditions.

AnatolianStudies 2004

a) Funerary In 1970, excavations at the Hellenistic sanctuaryin

Four ampullae from Aphrodisias were discovered in Knidos unearthed three Asia Minor ampullae (Love
graves, and so can be said to come from a funerary 1972). This monopteros, or circular temple was
context. Two are from the necropolis west of the city identified as the ancient Sanctuary of Aphrodite
walls, found in the centralchamberof tomb 1 (Campbell Euploia on the basis of literary and pictorial evidence.
1988: nos 2, 11). The other two were from tombs The flasks were discovered in an area aroundthe south
adjacentto the east end of the cathedral(formerly the podium of the temple, where ceramic deposits dated
Templeof Aphrodite),in the region of the northtemenos from the fifth century BC to the Byzantine period.
complex, found with clay lamps dating from the fifth Knidos had a number of Christian buildings by late
century(Campbell 1988: nos 1, 7). These locations may antiquity;the Temple of Dionysos was converted into a
be seen to reflect changing burial practices in the late church in the late fifth or early sixth century,and there
Roman period. As pagan concepts of the afterlife were were also other churches dating from this period (Love
replaced by Christiandesire for communion with God, 1973). Whether the Classical sanctuary was fully
the site of burialsshifted from extra-muralfamily tombs 'Christianised' or still frequented by pagans is
to individual graves in close proximity to sacred sites. uncertain.
Stephen Mitchell has described how 'the traditional Knidos lies at the end of a thin isthmus on the
distinction between a city for the living and a separate Aegean coast, where in Classical antiquity, several
cemetery for the dead, which had helped to define the prestigious sanctuarieswere situated. An ampulla was
ancient concept of a city, was broken down by the new found near Didyma, the oracular Temple of Apollo,
ideas about the meaning of burial,and the urge to find a one of the principal religious sites of the ancient world
place for a grave as close as possible to a sanctifiedsite' (Wintermeyer 1980: no. 247), discovered during
(Mitchell 1993: 120). The depositionof flasks in Aphro- excavation of the 'sacred road' that linked Didyma
disian burials in the west necropolis and tombs in the with the city of Miletus. The flask from Samos was
city's religious centre seems to epitomise this transition. found at the Heraion, and so can also be said to come
The other two ampullaefrom funerarycontexts both from a religious, and ostensibly pagan setting
come from burials outside city walls. A 'St Andrew' (Schneider 1929: 97-141, no. 32). The ampulla found
flask was discovered in a tomb near Phocaea by French at Athens in the 1930s was also discovered in a
excavatorsin the early 20th century(Sartiaux1921), and formerly pagan shrine- a sanctuarydedicated to Eros
a uniqueampulladecoratedwith a donkey was unearthed and Aphrodite on the east slope of the Acropolis
at a cemetery outside Sardis which contained fourth to (Broneer 1932).
fifth centuryburials,althoughit was found 'in an isolated Two complete ampullae and two fragmentary
Byzantine intrusionand not well stratified' (Hanfmann examples have been found in the Asklepieion at
1968: 11; 1985). Pergamon (De Luca 1984: nos 300-03). This vast
complex was the city's main sanctuary, a centre of
b) Religious religious and culturalactivities. The Asklepieion had a
At least 14 ampullae have been excavated at sites of number of amenities including a library and theatre,
religious importance.Threehave come from the Cave of although its primary function was as a sanctuary for
the Seven Sleepers at Ephesus, a necropolis outside the healing. Sleep was an importantpart of the sanctuary's
city walls which became a major devotional site in late lex sacra and the incubation building was frequently
antiquity. The legend of the Seven Sleepers was enlargedto accommodategrowing numbersof pilgrims
popularisedin the fifth century, although the cemetery (Hoffmann 1998). It is not certain how late the
was alreadysignificant for Christiansas it containedthe complex remainedin use as a sacred site- by the 13th
tombs of various saints (Foss 1979: 33). Austrian century dwellings had been built inside the temenos
excavatorsidentified two ampullaeamong the hundreds (Rheidt 1998)- but the presence of pilgrim flasks may
of lamps found here in the 1930s (Miltner1937: nos 357, show that the Asklepieion continued to have a religious
358), and anotherampullathat appearsin the excavation function in late antiquity.
report can also be included (Miltner 1937: no. 114).
Lamps from these caves are decoratedwith a range of c) Residential
'Christian'symbols, Old Testamenticonography,as well Perhaps most useful for discerning the identity of
as 'Jewish' and 'pagan' motifs, showing thatthis was not ampulla consumers are examples that have come from
an exclusively Christiansite. The caves' dual functionas residential buildings. At least 16 were found in
a shrine and burial complex could mean that the 'domestic' settings, although these are not typical
ampullaewere grave goods ratherthan votive deposits. dwellings, but ratherhigh status residences such as the


House of Bronzes at Sardis,where three published finds in the south of the country (Shtereva 1999: 85). The
and a numberof unpublishedfinds have been made, the context for these objects is reliable as the castle is
North Temenos House at Aphrodisiasand a castle near known to have been destroyed and abandoned in the
the town of Sliven in southernBulgaria. late sixth or early seventh century, with coins in the
The House of Bronzes at Sardis was a large, two- burned layer giving a terminuspost quem of AD 599
storey complex dating from the late Roman period. (Shtereva 1999: 85).
Materialin the basement rooms included bronze vessels Other ampullae from fortified settings include the
and liturgical objects, leading to the theory that the flask from Caricin Grad, discovered near to the west
building housed a senior cleric (Hanfmann 1959: 22- tower of the upper town's south gate (Metzger 1984:
27; 1983: 192). The complex had more than a 158-60, figs 169-72). At Sardis, excavation of the city
residential purpose though, and some sections may walls focussed on two defensive features - the
have been publicly accessible. The long, vaulted under- Pactolus bridge and the southwest gate, where an
ground cistern would have provided water to more than ampulla was found along with a Justinianic coin in an
just the building's inhabitants, and an 'economic' area described by its excavators as a guard house
function is suggested by the presence of olive presses (Hanfmann,Waldbaum1975: 45-47).
and wool-dyeing facilities in the basement (Hanfmann
1983: 147). d) Commercial
Another ampulla from Sardis was found in an Some pilgrim flasks have been excavated in
extensive and well-preserved late Roman residential 'commercial' places shops and market areas,
complex southeast of the synagogue (Greenewalt, including three from the terraced shop buildings in
Rautman 1998). The building had an upper floor Sardis. This row of two-storey units was adjoined to
judging from the height of its walls, and it was richly the south of the synagogue and bath-gymnasium
decoratedwith marblepanels and frescoes. Coins from complex in the centre of the late Roman city, situated
the reign of Phocas (AD 602-610) reflect a late date of just behind a portico running along the city's main
occupation here. A different flask found in a domestic east-west road, the later levels of which are dated to
setting at Sardis was the 'large type' containing fifth around 400 AD (Hanfmann 1968; 1983: 163). The
century coins, from residence E5 (Hanfmann 1983: shops are thought to have been destroyed during a
165), anotherprestigious late antique house. Sassanian raid in the early seventh century- the latest
At Aphrodisias, an 'Evangelist' ampulla was coins found here were an issue of Emperor Heraclius
discovered during excavation of the North Temenos (AD 610-641).
House, so-called because of its proximity to the The contents of the shops were found to be
Temple of Aphrodite (Campbell 1988: no. 3). This was remarkablyintact, with excavated material suggesting
an elaborately furnished building which had an atrium a range of trades that operated there including
with floor mosaics leading to a large, apsed hall fullonicae, caterers, hardware merchants and other
decorated with marble revetment (Campbell 1996: retailers (Hanfmann 1983: 164-66). One ampulla was
188). The complex was probably an official residence, found in a unit identified as a 'restaurant' from the
either for the Governor of the province of Caria, or for large quantities of animal bones and charcoal as well as
the Bishop of Aphrodisias. The ampulla was found at coarse black ware and cookery pots (Hanfmann 1959:
the east end of the building, at the level of a floor 58). A large flask decoratedwith animal motifs was in
which has been dated to the late fourth century. Since a unit called 'residence and / or wineshop E4', that also
1988, a further four ampullae have reportedly been contained a lion-shaped brass lamp, an iron sword and
found in the North Temenos House, and six other dagger (Hanfmann 1983: 165).
fragments have come from domestic contexts Another ampulla from shop buildings was
elsewhere in the city (Christopher Ratte, personal discovered during excavations outside the Jaffa gate in
correspondence). Jerusalem (Maeir, Strauss 1995), a late Byzantine /
The residences at Sardis and Aphrodisias are not early Ummayid area described as being 'industrial and
typical houses; they were inhabitedby prominentdigni- mercantile in nature'. The exploration of a row of
taries, perhaps ecclesiastical. Castles and fortified shops yielded coins, pottery and one 'horse-riders'
positions are also not conventional domestic spaces, ampulla. At Aphrodisias, ampullae have been found at
although they were certainly 'inhabited', and so are the Sebasteion, which was initially a temple complex
distinct from votive and funerarysettings. Three flasks for the Imperialcult, but by the late antique period was
have been found at castles in Bulgaria, two of which are probably the site of shops and 'market' activity (Erim
from a late antique fortification near the town of Sliven 1986: 106-23).

AnatolianStudies 2004

At Pergamon, three ampullae were found in the but reaching a single interpretationis hazardous,firstly
gymnasium and anotheron the west side of the agora. because of the paucity of material, and more signifi-
These were discovered in the early years of the 20th cantly, because the materialhas relevance to a range of
century, and precise details about their find-spots are disciplinaryand theoreticalstandpoints. It is possible to
lacking (Hepding 1907: 411). Another ampulla was identifythe 'consumers'of ampullaewith some certainty,
discovered at the agora in Ephesus along with late but this informationcan then be used for various lines of
antiquelamps (Gassner 1997: no. 712). At Aphrodisias, researchconcernedwith saint cults, the use of Christian
six ampullaewere found in or near the stadium,although imagery in the age before Iconoclasm and broader
the two publishedexamples both came from unspecified demographic conditions in Asia Minor during late
contexts (Campbell 1988: nos 4, 8). antiquity. The context of ampullae may be interpreted
The excavation of two late Roman wells in Sardis differently by historians of politics, religion, economy
yielded deposits of amphorae,plain wares and fine wares and society, and so it is importantto survey a range of
fromthe fifth to early seventh centuries(Rautman1996), debates and discourseswhich they might inform.
and amongthis potterywere two flasks- one the 'raised Variationsin fabric and design suggest that ampullae
dots' type, the other an ampulla decoratedwith a cross were produced at more than one site; locations where
and circles. It is unclearwhetherthe well was a rubbish they have been found show that productioncentres were
hole, or the ceramicswere discardedas a ritualor votive. spread over a fairly limited geographic area in western
As with otherpotteryfrom Sardis,the assemblageis used Anatolia, and their archaeological context proves that
to date the city's invasion to AD 616. they were made in the late sixth / early seventhcenturies.
Fromtheiroccurrencein residentialbuildings, flasks can
Dating be associatedwith a fairly specific socio-economic group
The invasionof Sardisis a useful referencefor the period of 'consumers'-urban professionalsin the provincesof
at which ampullae are present in the archaeological Asia, Lydia, Phrygia and Caria. Other than adding to
record;those found in houses and the row of demolished information about distinct historical groups, ampulla
shop buildings seem to indicate ampullaeas a featureof contexts may also be used to furtherour knowledge of
the early seventh century. For how long the flasks had otherpatternsof religious and economic behaviour.
been producedis less certain. The ampullafrom Sliven Flasks recoveredfrom residentialbuildings probably
in Bulgaria was found alongside coins, the latest of give the best indicationof who collected the objects and
which are 'dated from 598-599 and were minted in how they were regarded,although this small sample of
Cyzicos during the reign of the Byzantine emperor finds may simply reflect the kinds of locations that
MauriciusTiberius(AD 582-602)' (Shtereva 1999: 85). archaeologists tend to excavate. The 'domestic' find-
The latest coins found in the vicinity of the ampullafrom spots are not typical dwellings but rather prestigious
CaricinGradwere from the reign of Justinian(AD 527- residences, operatedby a ruling class and perhapssemi-
565) (Metzger 1984), althoughfurtherexcavation of the public in nature. The House of Bronzes in Sardis,where
site yielded coins dating up to the emperorPhocas (AD several ampullaewere recovered, seems to have had an
602-610) (Ivanisevic 1990). Perhapsthe earliestcontext economic, ceremonial and funeraryfunction, as well as
for an ampulla was the flask recovered alongside a being a residentialbuilding. The North Temenos House
Justinianiccoin at the southwestgate along the city walls at Aphrodisiasis anotherhigh-statussetting occupied by
of Sardis (Hanfmann,Waldbaum1975: 45-47), but this members of a late antique civic or ecclesiastical elite,
does not give a certainstart-datefor ampullaproduction whose prominencein this city is known from honorary
as the gate would have been used throughoutthe sixth inscriptions, statues and lavishly furnished residences
century. From the evidence available it would appear (Roueche 1989; Campbell 1996; Smith 1999; 2002).
that ampullaewere present in the cities of western Asia Ampullaefound in commercialpremisesand fortified
Minor from the middle to late sixth century and positions point towards other groups of mercantileand
continuedto be used in the first decades of the seventh. military consumers. The amuletic and apotropaic
function of icons displayed in shops and castles is
Conclusion: the interpretation and implications of mentioned in a number of historical sources (Kitzinger
context 1954; Cameron 1979) and the presence of flasks at
This study has consideredthe background,typology and gatehouses in Sardis, Caricin Grad and Sliven, all of
archaeologicalcontext of a groupof late antiqueartefacts which suffered military invasion in the early seventh
found in the west of Turkey. From their presence in century,seems to be materialevidenceof displayingicons
funerary,religious, domestic and commercialsettings, a at city walls to avert or protect against attack. Linking
numberof conclusions can be made aboutpilgrim flasks, find-spots with historicalanecdotes is a convenient, but


unsatisfactoryway to interpretampullacontextshowever, Determiningthe characterof ampulla productionin

as it may lead to distortionsof structuralpropertiesof the the sixth centuryis difficult,and it is uncertainif ampulla
archaeological record. As a theoretical archaeologist makers were 'regulated' unionised or somehow
might say, 'it's not a case of dataunderdetermininginter- -
licensed to producemoulds or whetherthey were 'free
pretations,but one of interpretationsunderdetermining agents', able to make and distributewhatever designs
data' (VanRossenberg2003). they wanted. Was ampullaproduction'institutional'or
Material excavated from shrines and religious 'popular'? Sheila Campbell (1988) suggested that the
buildings offers different sorts of informationabout the flasks were sold by travelling tinkers and were not
use of ampullae. The most notable feature of these obtained from pilgrim sites at all, but assuming that
religious contexts is that they are places with pagan and ampullae contained anything (they might, like eulogia
'antique'associationssuch as the sanctuaryat Knidos,the tokens have derived importancefrom the materialthey
Heraion at Samos, the shrine at Athens and the were made of), it would seem appropriatethat objects
Asklepieion at Pergamon. Although officially 'Chris- with such explicitly religious imagery would hold
tianised' by the sixth century,Classical temples may still substances that were deemed to be sacred. Ampullae
have been associatedwith the paganpast. These deposits could have been fraudulently 'sold' as coming from
indicate that owners of ampullae frequented ancient sacredsites when they were actuallyproducedat random
religioussites andmay be materialevidence of syncretism locations but this seems unlikely judging from the
between pagan and Christianbeliefs in late antiquity,or contexts in which they have been found.
possibly the deliberateinaugurationof convertedsites. Once pilgrim flasks have been identified as prestige
Theological, factional and political circumstances items, their distributioncan be studied as an indicatorof
may all have contributedto the promotion of saints' tradeand exchange. This approachis usually applied to
shrines in the sixth century,but pin-pointing the exact Carolingian Europe because the development of a
reason why certain cults were popularised through 'rational' economy has been explained as the conse-
productionof flasks is not possible without more infor- quence of a 'seventh century transformation'whereby
mationabouttheirprecise origins. Saintcults of the later northwest Europe became a centre of political and
medieval periodwere often most active at times of juris- economic power following the advanceof Islam (Pirenne
dictional dispute, and this could inform us about early 1957; Hodges 1982). It should be possible though to
Christiancults. However cross-culturalcomparisonruns studythe distributionof any prestigeitem using tradeand
the risk of overlookingmajordifferencesin society. exchange models. The context and locations in which
Production and use of pilgrim flasks can also be flasks have been found show thatthey were obtainedand
consideredin economic termsby testing ideas abouttheir exchanged among ecclesiastical, civic, mercantile and
manufactureagainsttheoreticalargumentsconcernedwith militaryclasses in the cities of westernAsia Minor. Their
the natureof the late antiqueeconomy and the value of disseminationfurtherfrom centres of productionreflects
commodities. It is worthconsideringwhat is meantby the the rateof 'distancedecay' in the commodity'sexchange.
ampullaas a 'sacredcommodity'andaskingwhethertheir What sets ampullaeapartfrom otherforms of pottery
productionwas 'popular'or 'institutional'. The ampulla made in Asia Minor during late antiquity is that these
contexts described in the previous section suggest that were sacred rather than utilitarian objects. Under-
these objects were highly valued- they occur in presti- standinghow sixth centuryAnatoliansperceived 'contact
gious residences,burials,and as deposits in shrines. This relics' is difficult as it relies on historical sources which
is supportedby contemporarysourcesthat emphasisethe are often dogmaticand rhetorical. The flasks are mostly
esteem with which relics were regarded. decoratedwith Christianiconographyalthoughit is hard
As a commodity,the ampullawould appearto have to say whetherthis was orthodox(Chalcedonian)or the
had low use value but high exchange value, suggesting pictorialexpression of a hereticalsect or movement.
that a great amount of 'labour' was expended to make Although broadly consistent in size and form, the
them. Clearly these were not labourintensive products, diversity(but duplication)of designs makes it likely that
so the labourmust have been because they were difficult there were officially sanctioned ampulla producers.
to procure. This may be taken to mean that the act of Pictorial, contextual and circumstantial evidence
obtainingpilgrimflasks was labourintensive (theirvalue suggests that specific saints were being shown and this
derived from the effort of pilgrimage) and / or that their can be taken to mean that their image was distributedat
production and issue was somehow restricted. This shrines with which they were associated. It would
assessment uses traditionalconcepts of value, but it is therefore be logical to assume that production of the
debateablewhether late antiquity can be considered to flasks was organised and regulated by some form of
have had a marketeconomy at all (Finley 1973). ecclesiastical authority. Manufacture of pilgrim

AnatolianStudies 2004

souvenirsshows thatby the sixth century,a landscapeof 1906: 'Les fouilles d'Aphrodisias' Revue de l art
Christian sites in western Asia Minor had developed, Ancien et Moderne 19: 33-50
become institutionalised and was being exploited by Cormack, R. 1990: 'Byzantine Aphrodisias: changing
increasinglylocalised centres of power. the symbolic map of a city' Proceedings of the
CambridgePhilological Society 216, new series no.
Acknowledgments 36:26-41
I am gratefulto my supervisorsat Leiden University 1990a 'The Temple as the Cathedral'in C. Roueche,
JohnBintliff, Miguel JohnVersluys,Bouke van der Meer K. Erim (eds), Aphrodisias Papers I (Journal of
and KarelInnem6e- for theircommentsand assistance, Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 1).
and to MaartenRaven and RuurdHalbertsma,curatorsat Michigan:75-88
the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, for allowing me to Crowfoot, J.W., Fitzgerald, G.M. 1929: Excavations in
access and photographmaterialin the collection's store. the TyropoeonValley,Jerusalem 1927 (Annual of
Many thanks to Christopher Ratt6 (New York the PalestineExplorationFund 5). London
University) for providinginformationabout recent finds Curcic, S., St Clair, A. 1986: Byzantiumat Princeton:
at Aphrodisias and to archaeologist Luciana Byzantine Art and Archaeology, at Princeton
Mandruzzatofor assisting me at the libraryof the Museo University.Princeton
Archeologico Nazionale, Aquileia. Thanks to Alice Dalton, O.M. 1901: Catalogue of Early ChristianAntiq-
Samson for her enthusiasmand language skills, and to uities and Objects from the Christian East in the
my wife, CathyCoote, for puttingup with pilgrimflasks. Departmentof Britishand MedievalAntiquitiesand
Ethnographyof the BritishMuseum.London
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