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Causey, Faya. The Ancient Transport of Amber, Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum
Ed. Faya Causey. Los Angeles: Getty P, 2012. museumcatalogues.getty.edu. Web. 24 May 2019.
The Ancient Transport of Amber
There is evidence for the movement of amber as early as the Paleolithic era. Rough pieces have been found in ancient dwelling caves in Britain and northern Europe at some distance from amber sources. Early on, amber likely was transported to the Mediterranean via a chain of exchange—there was no defined long-distance amber trade until the mid-second millennium B.C., when it probably was acquired in both raw and more finished forms. It is likely that amber traveled overland to the Mediterranean via the long route between north and south Europe, along the Oder, the Elbe, the Vistula, the Rhine, the Dniester, and other main European rivers.
It also traveled eastward. For a long period it, like tin, was carried by sea through the Gates of Hercules; Phoenicians were likely the main transporters. The Adriatic appears to have been the main destination for amber intended for the markets of the Italian peninsula. Once at the Adriatic, amber must have been moved by water along the Italian coast, finding its way inland along river valleys and mountain passes. It was likely traded from farther west and welcomed along with the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean goods that were transported to the central and western Mediterranean. The existence of raw and worked amber from sites around the Mediterranean and farther afield—on the Iberian peninsula, in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, at Ugarit on the Syrian coast, and in Egypt—from the Bronze Age onward attests to its widespread value and transmission. Trade in amber was likely a series of short-range transactions from the sources onward, with a few outstanding exceptions. We should imagine seekers traveling to the northern amber deposits to obtain the precious material and learn its secrets. The “knowledge” that accompanies a highly prized substance was as important as the thing itself.
There is no literary evidence for direct trade between Italy and the north until the first century A.D. Pliny the Elder writes of a Roman knight, commissioned to procure amber for a gladiatorial display presented by Nero, who traversed both the trade route and the coasts, bringing back an extraordinary amount of the precious material, which was used to extravagantly decorate the arena. Like the rare animals that were sometimes displayed at such events, amber nourished the idea of exotica from afar—visible affirmation of Rome’s domination of the world.
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The Ancient Transport of Amber
. Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum
. Los Angeles: Getty P, 2012. museumcatalogues.getty.edu.
Web. 24 May 2019.
In Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum
, last modified August 1, 2012, accessed 24 May 2019. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2012. museumcatalogues.getty.edu/amber/.