Sunday, January 12, 2020


Athena Trakadas, In Mauretaniae maritimis: Marine Resource Exploitation in a Roman North African Province. Geographica historica, 40. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2018. Pp. 667. ISBN 9783515104173. €89,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Benedict Lowe, University of North Alabama (

Version at BMCR home site

Recent years have seen a growing interest in the exploitation of marine resources in the ancient world, and Trakadas has contributed several important publications to this discourse. This volume is the culmination of her PhD research completed at the University of Southampton in 2009. Taking Pliny's description (NH 9.56.115) as a starting point, Trakadas examines a wide range of archaeological and descriptive evidence within its environmental context in order to determine the role that marine resources played in the diet and economy of the province. Although concentrating on the period from AD 42/43 to AD 277 the volume trawls far more widely, taking data from the Phoenician and Punic periods and allowing Trakadas to examine the impact of Romanisation upon the provincial economy. To facilitate this, she provides a brief historical outline extending from the Casablanca Sequence of the Late Lower Pleistocene to the arrival of Islam in the eighth century (pp. 91-105).

Mauretania Tingitana is of particular importance for the study of ancient fishing and marine ecosystems, lying as it does at the cusp of the Mediterranean and Atlantic and containing several archetypal sites, such as Cotta and Lixus, that feature prominently in the literature on ancient fish-salting. The first systematic study was Michel Ponsich and Miguel Tarradell's 1965 volume Garum et industries antiques de salaison dans la Méditerranée occidentale, which despite its age is the only synthetic treatment of the province. 1 Whilst several of the installations studied by Ponsich and Tarradell have been destroyed (Ksar-es-Seghir, Kouass, Sania e Torres and Zahara) since that time, further fish salteries have been discovered at Septem Fratres (Ceuta), Metrouna, Dchar 'Askfane, Essaouira and elsewhere. New excavations at Lixus, Ceuta, Metrouna, Tamuda, Essaouira and Rirha have made possible an ichthyo-archaeological and malacological analysis, whilst finds of amphora kilns along the Atlantic coast and recent work on ancient fishing methods in the Straits of Gibraltar have enabled Trakadas to place the fish salteries within their broader environmental and economic contexts.

The core of the monograph consists of a meticulous discussion of the coastal topography and maritime ecosystems that make up the province, extending north along the Atlantic coast from Essaouira through the Straits of Gibraltar to the Sea of Albora (pp. 111-152), into which regional variations in the exploitation of marine resources can be integrated (pp. 155-184). Trakadas focuses on three sites taken from each of the three regions — Tamuda, Septem Fratres (Ceuta) and Lixus — that allow her to compare riverine, coastal and lagoonal environments (pp. 185-264). She expands significantly upon her earlier gazetteer 2 to integrate the archaeological record from each into its environmental niche.

Fish processing here has long been considered peripheral to the better-known fishing industry across the Straits in Andalucia, but Trakadas does much to redress the balance. Whilst previous scholarship has focused on more tangible remains – principally the vats or cetariae within which salted fish products were produced, and the amphorae within which they were shipped – Trakadas unfolds a wealth of evidence for the other end of the process in order to elucidate the relationship of fishing to the exploitation of marine resources. Her volume is sure to become required reading, not only for the role of the fishing industry in Mauretania Tingitana but as a template for how to go about any future study of the role of fishing in the provincial economies of the Roman Empire.


1.   Subsequent discussions of the province have largely reiterated Ponsich and Tarradell's 1965 analysis: for example, Ponsich, Michel. Aceite de oliva y salazones de pescado: factores geo-economicos de Betica y Tingitania. Madridi: Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 1988; Curtis, Robert. Garum and salsamenta. Production and commerce in Materia Medica. Leiden: Brill, 1991; Wilson, Andrew. "Urban Production in the Roman World: The View from North Africa", Papers of the British School at Rome 70, 2002, 231-273. Lluís Pons Pujol's recent volume (La Economía de la Mauretania Tingitana (s. I-III d.C.). Aceite, Vino y Salazones. Barcelona: Col.lecció Instrumenta 34, 2009) devotes only twenty-eight pages to the discussion of fish salting (pp. 97-124).
2.   Trakadas, Fish-Salting in the Northwest Maghreb in Antiquity. A Gazetteer of Sites and Resources Oxford: Archaeopress, 2015.

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