1,800-year-old amphora with virgil’s georgics found in Spain

The discovery of a small fragment of an oil amphora from the Roman region of Betica has astounded the European archaeological community. Measuring only 6 centimeters wide and 8 centimeters long, the fragment contains a written text, making it an exceptional find. The discovery was made during prospecting conducted in the municipality of Hornachuelos (Córdoba) by members of OLEASTRO, a collaborative project involving the Universities of Cordoba, Seville, and Montpellier.

Initially, the research team was not particularly surprised by the discovery of the amphora fragment, as numerous pieces of Roman pottery have been found in the past. Places like Monte Testaccio in Rome, an artificial mound composed of Roman pottery, have provided valuable insights into the ancient olive and wine industry of Rome.

Nor was it uncommon to find words inscribed on amphorae, as this was a regular practice. In fact, the information printed on amphorae, such as details about producers, quantities, and quality control, has helped archaeologists understand the history of agricultural trade during the Roman Empire.

Similarly, the presence of an amphora fragment in the plain of the Guadalquivir River, a significant center of olive oil production and trade during the Empire, was not surprising. The region around Corduba (modern-day Cordoba) was a major producer and packager of olive oil consumed in Rome, as evidenced by the preserved remnants of amphorae with “Betica” seals found on Mount Testaccio.

Thus, initially, the amphora fragment with text seemed like just another piece without significant interest. However, everything changed when the researchers deciphered the epigraph, revealing the following words:

“S vais avoniam glandemm arestapoqv tisaqv it”

Through overlaying, the researchers inferred that the text corresponds to the seventh and eighth verses of the first book of The Georgics, a poem by Virgil dedicated to agriculture and rural life. These verses, written in 29 BC, state:

“Auoniam[pingui]glandem m[utauit]aresta, poq[ulaque][inuen]tisAqu[eloia][miscu]it [uuis]”

Translated, they mean:

“[He] changed the Aonian acorn for the fertile ear [of grain] and mixed water with the discovered grape.”

Virgil was a highly popular poet during his time and for many centuries afterward. The Aeneid, another work by Virgil, was taught in schools, and his verses were commonly used as pedagogical exercises. It is not uncommon to find Virgil’s verses on remnants of ceramic construction materials, with many scholars suggesting that these tablets served educational and funerary purposes.

However, finding Virgil’s verses on an amphora, particularly from the oil trade, raised questions for the researchers. Why were these verses inscribed on an amphora, and why The Georgics instead of The Aeneid? The researchers realized that this tiny pottery fragment could be a unique and exceptionally valuable piece, as Virgil’s verses had never been documented on an amphora intended for the oil trade.

In their published work in the Journal of Roman Archaeology (University of Cambridge), led by Dr. Iván González Tobar (Ph.D., University of Córdoba, currently a Juan de la Cierva researcher at the University of Barcelona, and hired by the University of Montpellier at the time of the discovery), the authors propose several possibilities regarding the author of the inscribed text. It could have been written by a literate worker associated with the establishment or someone from nearby villages linked to an aristocratic family that owned the factory. They also consider the possibility that a child worker might have been responsible, as the use of young workers in such establishments has been previously documented.

In any case, the presence of the verses on the amphora from Hornachuelos/Fuente Palmera makes it a truly unique piece that raises numerous questions and demands further investigation. The authors of the study acknowledge that there is much more to uncover and understand about this remarkable discovery.

Source: University of Córdoba

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