3.1. The Natural Environment and Transport Geography
When the Phocaeans founded Massalia as an apoikia
in the natural bay of modern Marseille around 600 BC, the main arguments for the location of the colony comprised the existence of a safe and secure harbor basin—protected from the sea currents and the Mistral—and the possibility to fortify the surrounding city hills (Figure 2
c). Until the second century BC, it was the maritime perspective that was the most important in order to extend the Phocaean trade network on a micro- (Southern Provence), meso- (Iberia, Italy) and macro-level (Asia Minor), with Massalia as a point of departure [16
] (pp. 143–169). Thus, the immediate environment was limited to few kilometers and was completely cut off from the inland by the massifs of Estaque and Étoile in the north, Garlaban in the east, and the foothills of the Calanques in the south. Solely the navigable river Huveaune provided access to the small and likewise enclosed plain of Aubagne in the east of Marseille. Therefore, the agricultural use of the hinterland with vine and olive trees was possible, aimed, however, only at the self-sufficiency of the settlements and Marseille itself, and not at a mass export. Pliny the Elder praised the characteristic taste of the wines of Marseille and reported on awareness of it in the Roman world (Plinius, naturalis historia
14.8.38); therefore the export of special quality commodities in low numbers has to be assumed. Clay and rocks for building activities were easily accessible [17
]. To enter the Rhône plain, one had to cross the hilly passage north of the city, which did not become comfortable until the link to the via Aurelia had been established to reach Aix-en-Provence (Aqua Sextiae) and Arles (Arelate).
Arles on the other side acted since the beginning as a trading post between Celtic-Ligurian tribes in the Gallic inland and Phocaean colonies at the seaside (Figure 2
b). The city itself consisted of an autochthonous district and the newly founded emporium
called Theline (c. 540/30 BC), which has to be on the later urban area of Arles, but remains archaeologically unlocated. At 35 km distance to the mouth of the Rhône, this urban conglomeration built on limestone rock was the first safe location to cross the river, so that its position resembled one of a coastal strip. It formed a junction between the wide and high-yielding plains with adjacent valleys on the east and west of the city and the stream of the Rhône, which connected the inland with the Mediterranean. The variety of natural environments encompassed in the north agricultural land, especially for grain cultivation, in the north-east the limestone massif of the Alpilles as a source for water and building materials, in the east the unfertile plain of Crau, that was ideal for sheep herding, and finally in the south the alluvial soil of the delta [19
]. In terms of the overland communication axes, in and near Arles several of the main Roman long-distance roads crossed the area and made the city a hub for east–west (via Aurelia) and south–north (via Agrippa) traffic.
3.2. Natural and Political Factors
After having experienced a significant boom in growth and wealth—for Arles instantly after its foundation, for Marseille after the Punic wars, when its area of influence expanded to a wider hinterland, parts of modern Liguria and others—both cities and their further development were influenced mainly by natural and political factors.
For Marseille, a major issue consisted in the siltation and maintenance of the harbor basin (Figure 3
). Direct witnesses of that fact are three wrecks of the first and second century AD, being found in the layers of the port sediments at the place Jules-Verne, whose form point to dredging ships. Furthermore, the archaeological excavations revealed traces of at least three larger dredging activities in the basin between Augustan times and the fourth century AD [20
] (p. 48). The alterations of the access to the waterfront could explain why there was such a heterogenic conception: sections of the quay were built with monumental stone blocks (quai de la Samaritaine), and others were shored up by wooden planks and stakes and had piers projecting into the basin (place Jules-Verne) [20
]; elsewhere, an open gravel area was created (place Général-de-Gaulle) [21
] and the so-called corne du port
, the artificially cut inner basin of la Bourse, was narrowed several times [22
]. If we look at warehouses and magazines, a shift from many archaeological structures for storing bulk wine in dolia
in the first and early second century AD to few warehouses for storing wine in amphoras in the late second to fourth century AD can be observed around the port basin. This fact is a common feature in many Roman ports of southern France [20
The urban development of Arles was determined by frequent and strong inundations of the Rhône like the one in 175 BC, which destroyed large parts of the city (Figure 4
). Furthermore, these forces altered the course and the number of arms of the river in its delta—differing mentions in the literal records from two to seven arms reflect this unstable dynamic [24
]. In the city of Arles, modern urbanism and the force of the Rhône have destroyed most evidence of the ancient fluvial port. On the right bank of the river (modern Trinquetaille) several fragmented structures let us think of a homogenously planned port district. A promising archaeological record is made in the area of the gare maritime, where parallel walls on a large scale might represent a great warehouse [25
]. Some substantial rows of arches that came to light recently on the left bank at the place J.-B. Massillon can be interpreted as some sort of protection against the flood, a weakening mechanic against the stream [26
]. Large rows of amphoras that are stacked vertically in the ground at several places on the right bank of the river can be interpreted as an attempt to secure the danger zone. In addition, two large assemblages (gisements) of building material, ceramics, statue fragments, pebbles, etc. that accumulate in the river itself near the right bank might be the remains of the backfill of the original quayside, being washed into the river during one of its destructive incidences in the fifth or sixth century AD.
Besides the hydrological difficulties, two political decisions shaped the future development of both cities. Firstly, the consul Marius ordered to construct a navigable canal in 103/02 BC, the fossae Marianae
, which connected the fluvial port of Arles with the bay of Fos [28
]; its course is only partly attested archaeologically (Figure 2
b: see the parallel lines). Thus the troublesome ingress of large ships into the mouth of the Rhône became obsolete. The fossae
formed a quick and easy way to provide military and food supply and strengthened the link between Rome and Arles, leaving Marseille aside. It seems, however, that this new canal was out of use as early as in the first century AD. Therefore, another system was established, also advantageously for Arles: several small trans-shipment-centers like Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Fos-sur-Mer and Ulmet were installed on the coast south of Arles to transfer the trading goods from deep-sea vessels to specialized fluvio-maritime ships [29
]. Although these activities and the necessary workforce caused additional costs, one gained an optimized cycle of ship traffic in the Rhône delta and control over the number of ships, duration and length of the trip.
As a second political factor, the consequences of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey (49–45 BC) must be cited. After having chosen the wrong side, Marseille lost—besides the treasury, weapons and ships—wide parts of its former territory along the Ligurian coast, but also in its immediate environment to Arles and Lyon. The colonial territory of Arles consisted now of mosaics of land strips, but as well gained additional resources [30
Its geographical position, a large hinterland and the importance for supplying the whole province as well as adjacent provinces made Arles the nodal point of economic and political interests: on the one hand the city was partly destroyed and besieged in the third and especially in the fifth century AD by Germanic tribes and Roman usurpers; on the other hand it was a destination for the annona
-ships carrying grain and olive oil for supplying cities and military in a contractual framework of the Roman state. Evidence of the presence of this promotion in Arles by the Roman state is presented through several inscriptions mentioning corpora
like the lenuncularii
, the utricularii
and the navicularii
that were incorporated in state services [31
]. More precisely, a bronze plate found near Beirut in modern Lebanon describes a dispute between the navicularii
of Arles and some officials of the grain transport, settled by the praefectus annonae
] (p. 36).
Marseille developed into an intellectual center and was characterized by an impressive Christian topography in late antiquity. Nonetheless, the city maintained its economic importance which is shown by some wooden toll plates from the port district, two of which are marked with (Quadragesima
), that is the office which was responsible for raising the 2.5% tax on imported and exported products [32
3.3. The Role of Supply
To get a quantitative insight into the imported products of both cities, quantified assemblages belonging to more or less reliable circumstances found in the immediate port area permit some interesting observations. For Arles, the analyzed data covers the time span from the second to the fifth century AD, including material from the excavations at the place J.-B. Massillon [33
] (pp. 76–96, Tables 1–3) and the gare maritime [34
] (pp. 191–192), and from the sondages around the wrecks Arles-Rhône 7 [35
] (pp. 41–42, Figures 8,9), 13 [36
] (pp. 128–129, Tables 1,2; p. 132, Tables 3,4) and 14 [37
] (p. 134, Figure 18). The findings from Marseille derive from several sondages in the area of la Bourse, i.e., the area around the north–eastern corner of the port basin: sondages DY09 [38
] (p. 381, Table 5); 6/7 [38
] (pp. 385–390, Tables 11–25), [39
] (p. 171, Figure 6); 10 [38
] (pp. 391–395, Tables 26–46); 11/12 [38
] (pp. 396–400, Tables 47–55); aires 1 and 2 [40
] (pp. 302–346), [41
] (pp. 302–304, Tables 1–6); wreck [38
] (pp. 383–385, Tables 8–10). Here, however, the data covers only the first half of the third century and the fifth century AD. The comparability of the assemblages is ensured by the proximity to the port area, the similar nature of the archaeological record—mainly washed up and accumulated sediment layers—and by the homogenously quantified ceramics. All assemblages have been quantified by the counting of all shards except one from Arles, of which only the so-called NTI (nombre typologique d’individus) was published. Due to the nature of research, only fine and coarse wares as well as amphoras can be considered.
For Arles in the second to fifth century AD, the supply of plain and coarse ware was dominated by regional Gallic production from the central Rhône valley transported via the river as a fast trade route (Figure 5
; Appendix A
, Table A1
): the terra sigillata luisante was manufactured in the valleys of the Savoy, the workshops of the terra sigillata clara B were located in the area between Lyon and Vienne, and those of the céramique métallescente in an area between Trier and Lezoux. Wares from Southern Provence were significantly less present, including the DSP (dérivées des sigillées paléochrétiennes) and the céramique à pâte claire produced around Marseille and the so-called south-gallic terra sigillata. Across the Mediterranean, ARS (African Red Slip Wares), especially, were transported to Arles, but some cooking wares from modern Tunisia, too. Imports on a smaller scale from Spain, Italy and the Eastern Mediterranean complement this picture. The bulk of the amphoras were imported from North Africa with a growing percentage up to 70% from the third century AD on, above all the classic types Africana 1 and 2, but also the type Leptiminus II. The workshops of southern Iberia made up 10–20% of all amphoras, and together with those of southern Italy (10% in the fourth century AD) and Gallia itself they represent reliable and constant trading connections during Late Antiquity. The data for the amphora types from the eastern Mediterranean is the most puzzling: Their values fluctuate in the contemporaneous urban and port assemblages from 3–44%. One possible explanation of the existence of such a bandwidth might be that the smallish eastern containers were loaded onto carts in Marseille or onto barges in one of the trans-shipment points at the coast; then the amphoras would have been transported to the main hub, Arles, where some of them were distributed on the urban market, and some were stored in the magazines for further distribution into the hinterland.
The data from the port area of Marseille show clear differences (Figure 6
; Appendix A
, Table A2
): already for the first half of the third century AD the shards of the plain and coarse wares show a higher frequency of production from southern Gaul than from the central Rhône valley. This culminates in the fifth century AD, when the assemblages from Marseille consist of 72–84% of DSP-wares. Even though no atelier of these fine ceramics has been identified yet, the clay analyses point straight to the clay sources in the Aubagne plain in the immediate hinterland of Marseille [42
] (pp. 261–262). The same observations are valid for the céramique à pâte claire or grise. It is obvious that those pots from the central Rhône valley that make up the majority in Arles are only scarcely represented in Marseille. Besides the steady supply of ARS and African cooking wares there are some minor quantities of Italian fine and coarse wares as well as table wares from the eastern Mediterranean. In regard to the amphoras, one recognizes a shift from 50% Gallic containers around 200 AD to the absolute lack of local production in the fifth century AD. This development was in favor of amphoras from the eastern Mediterranean that made up to more than one third of all amphoras. Together with the disappearance of Hispanic containers, the transition of the supply of middle Italian amphoras to southern Italy and the strong partnership with North African traders, it seems that the supply of Marseille with foodstuff transported in amphoras was much more linked to the external economical trends in trade during late antiquity than Arles [11
] (pp. 170–174).