Almost as soon as humans discovered and developed wine, they started inventing ways to store and transport wine. Eventually, we created stainless steel wine drums, today’s favorite form of bulk wine storage and transport. But first we had the kvevri (for storage) and the amphora — the earliest known transport-friendly wine vessel.
The amphora, or plural amphorae, were the standardized method of wine, olive oil and other liquid transportation in The Bronze Age. Amphorae came in a variety of sizes, much like today’s bulk transport formats and common wine bottle sizes. Today we have stainless steel drums, kegs, barrels, and cases of various sized bottles, in The Bronze Age, you had a plethora of amphorae sizes.
Amphorae were pine wax or beeswax lined and ceramic. Invented by the Egyptians, it wasn’t long before they were adopted by nearly all of the wine-loving Mediterranean and Mesopotamian cultures – including the infamous wineos of ancient Greece and Rome. They were easy to produce and easy to transport due to their handles and their slim shape that fit nicely in the ships of the era.
The amphora’s chosen shape also helped protect the wine from oxidization and contamination, making transportation more realistic. The long slim neck and small opening reduced the surface area of wine that would be exposed to oxygen & the tapered bottom allowed sediment to collect. These ancient features are mirrored in today’s wine bottles for similar reasons. The largest challenge ancient people faced with amphorae was figuring out how to seal them. The original solution: a clay stopper, allowed too much oxygen in. Egyptians explored using leaves and reeds covered in wet-clay, the Greeks and Romans experimented with rags, wax, resin, and, ultimately, the cork.
Much like a kvevri, amphorae were often buried in the ground for long-term, temperature-controlled storage and were used for the storage and transportation of many liquids, not just wine.
It wasn’t until the Romans, during one of their many conquests, encountered the Gauls that ancient civilizations began using wood for wine transportation instead of clay and ceramic vessels. More on that next time…