AskDefine | Define amphora

Dictionary Definition

amphora n : an ancient jar with two handles and a narrow neck; used to hold oil or wine [also: amphorae (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



From ancient Greek.


  1. A two handled jar with a narrow neck that was used in ancient times to store or carry wine or oils.


See also

Extensive Definition

This article is about the type of container. For other uses, see Amphora (disambiguation).
An amphora (plural: amphorae or amphoras) is a type of ceramic vase with two handles and a long neck narrower than the body. The word amphora is Latin, derived from the Greek amphoreus (αμφορεύς), an abbreviation of amphiphoreus (αμφιφορεύς), a compound word combining amphi- ("on both sides", "twain") plus phoreus ("carrier"), from pherein ("to carry"), referring to the vessel's two carrying handles on opposite sides.
Amphorae first appeared on the Lebanese-Syrian coast around the 15th century BC and spread around the ancient world, being used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as the principal means for transporting and storing grapes, olive oil, wine, oil, olives, grain, fish, and other commodities. They were produced on an industrial scale from Greek times and used around the Mediterranean until about the 7th century. Wooden and skin containers seem to have supplanted amphorae thereafter.
They are of great benefit to maritime archaeologists, as amphorae in a shipwreck can often indicate the age of the wreck and geographic origin of the cargo. They are occasionally so well preserved that the original contents are still present, providing invaluable information on the eating habits and trading systems of the ancient Mediterranean peoples.
Two principal types of amphora existed: the neck amphora, in which the neck and body meet at a sharp angle; and the one-piece amphora, in which the neck and body form a continuous curve. Neck amphorae were commonly used in the early history of ancient Greece but were gradually replaced by the one-piece type from around the 7th century BC onwards. Most were produced with a pointed base to allow them to be stored in an upright position by being partly embedded in sand or soft ground. This also facilitated transport by ship, where the amphorae were tightly packed together, with ropes passed through their handles to prevent breaking or toppling during a rough sea voyage.
Amphorae varied greatly in height. The largest could stand as much as 1.5 m (5 ft) high, while some were under 30 cm (12 inches) high - the smallest were called amphoriskoi (literally "little amphorae"). Most were around 45 cm (18 inches) high. There was a significant degree of standardisation in some variants; the wine amphora held a standard measure of about 39 litres (41 quarts), giving rise to the amphora quadrantal as a unit of measure in the Roman Empire. In all, around 66 distinct types of amphora have been identified.
High-quality painted amphorae were produced in significant numbers for a variety of social and ceremonial purposes. Their design differs significantly from the more functional versions; they are typified by wide mouth and a ring base, with a glazed surface and decorated with figures or geometric shapes. Such amphorae were often used as prizes. Some examples, bearing the inscription "I am one of the prizes from Athens", have survived from the Panathenaic Festivals held between the 6th century BC to the 2nd century BC. Painted amphorae were also used for funerary purposes. The loutrophoros, a type of amphora, was used principally for funeral rites. Outsize vases were also used as grave markers, while some amphorae were used as containers for the ashes of the dead.


Amphora's price was too low to return to the filling places and when empty they were broken in an area named Testaccio, close to Tiber, in a manner that avoid falling of pieces, later wet with Calcium hydroxide (Calce viva)
The amount of the broken pottery created a hill named Monte Testaccio 45 meters tall and more than 1 km circumference


  • "Amphora" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. Timothy Darvill. Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • "Amphora." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006
amphora in Afrikaans: Amfoor
amphora in Breton: Añforenn
amphora in Catalan: Àmfora (recipient)
amphora in Czech: Amfora
amphora in Danish: Amfora
amphora in German: Amphore
amphora in Estonian: Amfora
amphora in Modern Greek (1453-): Αμφορέας
amphora in Spanish: Ánfora
amphora in Esperanto: Amforo
amphora in French: Amphore
amphora in Italian: Anfora
amphora in Hebrew: אמפורה
amphora in Latin: Amphora
amphora in Luxembourgish: Amphor
amphora in Lithuanian: Amfora
amphora in Hungarian: Amfóra
amphora in Dutch: Amfora
amphora in Japanese: アンフォラ
amphora in Norwegian: Amfora
amphora in Polish: Amfora
amphora in Portuguese: Ânfora
amphora in Russian: Амфора
amphora in Sicilian: Bùmmulu
amphora in Serbian: Амфора
amphora in Finnish: Amfora
amphora in Swedish: Amfora
amphora in Turkish: Amfora
amphora in Ukrainian: Амфора
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1