Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

Subscriber: null; date: 16 January 2019


Amber, a fossil resin, has a wide natural distribution in northern Europe and is also found in Sicily: so far as is known, the amber from the classical Mediterranean was Baltic. It has been found at Ras Shamra (Ugarit) and Atchana, and also appears in the terremare (see terramara) in northern Italy. The earliest amber from the classical world comes from the Shaft-Graves at Mycenae; amber is rare in Minoan Crete. There is evidence for amber workshops as early as the neolithic in the east Baltic area, and during the early and middle bronze age amber travelled from west Jutland across Germany along the rivers to the Po (Padus) and the head of the Adriatic. The trade was probably conducted by central European middlemen who could exchange metal for amber for onward transmission both to the east Mediterranean and westwards to Britain. Amber beads were common throughout bronze age Europe, and reached Brittany, central France, and the Iberian peninsula; a gold-bound amber disc from Isopata (LM III A) and a crescentic necklace from Kakovatos in Elis (LH II A) have striking British affinities. In the iron age a route starting from the east Baltic conveyed amber to Italy, particularly to the east coast, where Picenum reached its peak as a centre of an indigenous amber industry in the 6th cent. bce. Amber was common in Archaic Greece, but not after c.550 bce, and it is seldom mentioned by Greek authors; Thales was the first to note its power of attraction. The main centre of amber carving under the Roman empire was Aquileia: amber was by then a fashionable luxury and played an important part in imperial trade with the free Germans: see Pliny, HN 37. 30–51 and Tac. Germ. 45, quoted by Cassiodorus in the 6th cent. ce in a letter of thanks for a large gift of Baltic amber sent to Theoderic (1).


A. Spekke, The Ancient Amber Routes (1957).Find this resource:

    D. E. Strong, Catalogue of the Carved Amber in the British Museum (1966).Find this resource:

      J. M. Coles and A. F. Harding, The Bronze Age in Europe (1979).Find this resource:

        C. W. Beck and others (eds.), Amber in Archaeology (2003).Find this resource:

          V. I. Kulakov, The Amber Lands in the Time of the Roman Empire (2005).Find this resource:

            Do you have feedback?