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The Economics of Saltfish Production in the Aegean During the Classical and Hellenistic Periods

Authors
  • Lytle, Ephraim
Type
Published Article
Journal
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
Publisher
Springer US
Publication Date
Nov 15, 2018
Volume
13
Issue
3
Pages
407–418
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s11457-018-9207-1
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

Despite a dearth of literary and archaeological evidence for the commercial production of salted fish or fish sauces in the Aegean during the Classical and Hellenistic periods it has been argued, based on a variety of proximate data, that such production must have been common. This paper suggests those arguments are probably wrong. It argues first that the absence of archaeological evidence for regional Aegean production and trade is itself not necessarily meaningful since a similar absence exists for the Black Sea region during the Classical and Hellenistic periods when commercial production and trade is otherwise well attested; in the Black Sea the most common varieties of saltfish were produced without the use of permanent installations such as salting vats and shipped not in amphoras but in large baskets, thereby leaving little trace in the archaeological record. Evidence for regional Aegean production is also, however, largely absent from the literary and epigraphic sources where a number of key pieces of evidence have been misinterpreted. The evidence suggests instead that commercial catches even of species well suited for preservation would have been marketed fresh. This can be explained in part by the fact that in the Aegean different environmental constraints obtained. More importantly, institutional factors often would have made the commercial production and trade of salted fish and fish sauces uneconomical. Even where local conditions of glut periodically prevailed the possibility of household production may have prevented the development of commercial production on any meaningful scale.

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