BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

In Jesus’ Time: The Ancient Art of the Deal

2,000-year-old Roman mansion built with wood from 1,000 miles away

Map of Roman Mansion Excavation

Credit: Bernabei et al

For thousands of years, different peoples have interacted with each other by fighting wars and also by trading. In addition to the conquests that built an empire like the world had never known before, the Romans traded extensively. As the recent excavation of a richly-decorated mansion (portico) in Rome’s center shows, that trade included transport of timber all the way from northern France to the Empire’s capital city.

Trade over vast distances in the ancient world was known. As Andre Lemaire explores inSolomon & Sheba, Inc.” (Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2010), trade between the southern Levent, the “towns of Judah” and southern Arabia, a distance that may have been 1,200 or more miles, may have been common as early as King Solomon’s time. In addition to neo-Assyrian textual references, an inscription from a Sabaean (Sheban) Temple from the 7th century B.C.E. references a trade expedition to “Dedan, Gaza, and the towns of Judah.” Dedan was a northern Arabian city along the route from Sheba to Judah, that was mentioned as well as merchants of Sheba by Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible (Ezekiel 27:22).

Commerce in timber was also known. Daniel M. Master and Lawrence E. Stager refer once again to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:3-25) in “Buy Low, Sell High: The Marketplace at Ashkelon,” (Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2014), which suggests various tree species came from Lebanon, Bashan (Syria), and Cyprus, again in the 7th century B.C.E, via the Mediterranean to the Philistine port city for trade. Their excavations revealed signs of a well-developed market economy, with a dedicated space for weighing silver as a medium of exchange to serve a diverse clientele.

Roman Mansion Timber

Credit: Bernabei et al

Yet, the timber trade from ancient Roman provinces north of the Alps to Rome had thus far been speculation. It presented a great logistical challenge. There was not one sea to sail from France to Rome. The size and weight of the timber would have made an overland route infeasible, at least at a scale that would satisfy Rome’s needs.

Rome’s timber requirements were immense, for construction, heating, shipbuilding, and metalworking. After depleting nearby forests, the Roman Empire would need to bring wood in from greater distances. However, it is rare for wood remains to be found so researchers couldn’t verify how far, or the point of origin. Fortunately, the foundation of the Roman portico found under the city center was saturated with water, and the wood was preserved.

The evidence from twenty planks from the portico’s foundation is examined in the paper, “Dendochronological evidence for long-distance timber trading in the Roman Empire,” published in Plos One on December 4, 2019 by Mauro Bernabei, Jarno Bontadi, Rossella Rea, Ulf Buntgen, and Willy Tegel.

Timber trading route map

The Oak timber traveled from the red circle (Juras mountains) to the red square (Rome), more than 1,000 miles. Credit: Bernabei et al

Thanks to advances in dendrochronology and tree-ring analysis, they have been able to establish that the planks were from Oak trees felled between 40 and 60 CE, almost 2,000 years ago, in the Jura Mountains of northeastern France. The planks came from trees up to 300 years old. Due to generally poor conditions for preserving wood, this is the first proof that timber from Roman provinces north of the Alps was used for construction in ancient Rome.

The authors conclude that the timber was floated by raft through the Saone and Rhone rivers, crossed the Mediterranean and then traveled up the Tiber to ancient Rome. It was a feat of long-distance trade and logistical prowess to bring such large goods across such a long and fragmented course. Yet, given the immensity of the need, they believe it must have been a transport that was undertaken on a regular basis.

 

Not a subscriber yet? Join today.

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Study Finds Romans Lacked Local Timber for Masada Siege

Evidence for Earliest Obsidian Trade Found in Aegean

 

 


The BAS Library includes online access to more than 9,000 articles by world-renowned experts and 22,000 gorgeous color photos from…

  • 45 years of Biblical Archaeology Review
  • 20 years of Bible Review, critical interpretations of Biblical texts
  • 8 years of Archaeology Odyssey, exploring the ancient roots of the Western world
  • The fully-searchable New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, an authoritative work of the past century of archaeological study
  • Video lectures from world-renowned experts
  • Four books published by BAS and the Smithsonian Institution

Plus, you get access to so much more from your All-Access pass:

Biblical Archaeology Review print edition:

Enjoy the same current issues in glorious, traditional, full-color print …

  • One year of print issues of Biblical Archaeology Review magazine

Biblical Archaeology Review tablet edition:

Stay on top of the latest research! You get …

  • One year of issues of Biblical Archaeology Review magazine, all on your iPhone, iPad, Android, or Kindle Fire
  • Instant access to the complete tablet edition back-issue catalog of BAR from the January/February 2011 issue forward

All of this rich and detailed scholarship is available to you—right now—by buying a special All-Access pass.

That’s right: when you purchase your All-Access pass, you get a ticket to four decades of study, insight and discovery. Why not join us right now and start your own exploration?

Whether you’re researching a paper, preparing a sermon, deepening your understanding of Scripture or history, or simply marveling at the complexity of the Bible – the most important book in history—the BAS All-Access pass is an invaluable tool that cannot be matched anywhere else.

You'll get to experience all the discoveries and debate in beautiful clarity with Biblical Archaeology Review, anytime, anywhere! And the Library is fully searchable by topic, author, title and keyword, as well as the Special Collections like this one.

The All-Access pass is the way to explore Bible history and biblical archaeology.


Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Send this to a friend