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Marketing Mende: Athenaeus 11.784c and the Archaeology of Mendaian Amphoras

Mark Lawall and Dylan Townshend

Athenaeus 11.784c, preserved only in a much later summary, describes the creation of a new amphora (κέραμος) by the sculptor Lysippus for Cassander’s new city, Cassandreia (316/315 BC). This passage is often interpreted as a deliberate effort to market, as in to improve sales of, Mendaian wine.

The context of 11.784c, however, raises the possibility that the ceramic vessel in question was not an amphora at all but a new type of drinking cup (Lawall 2004). The explanation offered for Lysippus’ actions – διὰ τὸ πολὺν ἐξάγεσθαι τὸν Μενδαῖον οἶνον ἐκ τῆς πόλεως (due to the exporting of a great amount of Mendaian wine from [Cassandreia]) – could support either translation of κέραμος as amphora (the current need for a shipping vessel) or cup (to commemorate the renown of the region’s wine). Badoud (2013, 92-93) doubts Lysippus would design a mere clay cup; a reasonable doubt, but a point deserving further consideration.

What is not required by the passage is that the new shape was created in order to have a ‘brand-name’ container for Cassandreian wine. This layer of interpretation stems from the view that ancient amphoras served as the trademark for their city’s product – a means of ancient marketing.

And yet, Mende itself provides an excellent example of the poor correlation between specific polis and unique amphora shape. Evidence for amphora production at Mende (Lawall 1995, 117-129; Monachov 2003, 88-95; Anagnostopoulou-Chatzipolychroni 2004; Garlan 2004), Cassandreia (Koussoulakou and Missaïlidou-Despotidou 2006), and other sites along the Kassandra peninsula (Missaïlidou-Despotidou 2006; Tsigarida and Vasileiou 2008) allows a much more detailed view of shape development and marking practices in the region before, during and after the lifetime of Cassander. Mendaian amphoras of the late 6th century are unmarked and closely resemble those of their neighbours in shape. By the mid 5th century, certain details of shape and decoration start to distinguish Mendaian jars, even if the overall form is very similar to those produced elsewhere from the Thermaic gulf to the Thracian Chersonese. At the same time pairs of letters were painted on Mendaian jars, and rare stamps also appear. These markings and other modifications coincide with an apparent expansion of Mendaian exports across the Mediterranean in all directions, and it is tempting to see here the effects of a deliberate effort to solve marketing problems and reduce transaction costs. Through the 4th century, the painted letters cease but sporadic stamping continues. Other producers in the region such as Thasos and Ainos become much more active in stamping their amphoras, even as the general shape is maintained with relatively little variation. While the specific date of transition is unknown (conceivably close to 316 BC), by the early 3rd century many sites in the region, both along the Kassandra peninsula and at least as far east as Samothrace, had abandoned the ‘classical’ form even while it was retained elsewhere. At Mende and other sites along the Kassandra peninsula, the change in shape is matched by the appearance of a new style of stamp with a name in the genitive case, divided over two lines. The stamps are found both on the amphoras’ handles and on cylindrical amphora stands. The distribution of these amphoras is weighted towards (though not exclusive to) Macedon, Thrace and the west Pontic region. In the latter zone, locally produced amphora types, generally sharing the ‘classical’ northern Aegean shape, also start using a similar style of name-stamp.

Amphora producers in the Chalkidike and across Macedonia and Thrace used many different strategies to market their goods. The Lysippan anecdote preserved in the epitome of Athenaeus may be describing one approach. Coordinating that text with the growing archaeological data along the Kassandra peninsula remains problematic. Neither the textual nor the archaeological evidence is as clear-cut as might be hoped, but together they make clear the complexity of problems and responses inherent to ancient marketing.

Session/Panel Title:

Markets and the Ancient Greek Economy

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