MOUNT TESTACCIO. Mary Jane gave me Anthony Doerr’s FOUR SEASONS IN ROME for Christmas. She says she chose the book because it’s a memoir about a year in Rome and also about being the parents of twin boys who have their first birthday there. One of the things I liked about the book is the enthusiasm that Doerr has for the history that is everywhere in Rome. He writes about Mount Testaccio, which I learned about only within the last year. Doerr visits it. You need a “permesso” now to visit Mount Testaccio. It is a hill—115 feet high and 220,000 square feet— made up of shards of amphorae, an estimated 25 million of them. For six centuries, olive oil was transported to Rome in huge amphorae, each of which weighed 66 pounds when empty. The olive oil was poured into smaller jugs and the amphorae were broken, sprinkled with lime and piled in Mount Testaccio. There are pictures of Mount Testaccio in this wikipedia article.
The wikipedia article describes how many of the amphorae have “painted or stamped inscriptions which record information such as the weight of the oil contained in the vessel, the names of the people who weighed and documented the oil and the name of the district where the oil was originally bottled.” As I have posted, for example here, there is an ongoing debate among scholars as to whether ancient Rome had a market economy. It seems, from the article, that the inscriptions provide ambiguous evidence on the issue. While “the oil in the vessels was imported under state authority”, the inscriptions indicate that “many of those involved [in the oil export business] were members of joint enterprises, perhaps small workshops involving business partners, father-son teams and skilled freedmen.”