A Taste of the Ancient World:
Serving and Eating at Karanis



Jug with grapevine decoration
KM 20023
3rd to mid-4th c AD
Karanis, Egypt

This household jug was used for pouring water, wine, or a mix of the two. People of all ages and social statuses drank wine in the ancient world, making wine-bibbing then much more common than in our own society. The importance of the products of the vine is underlined by the jug's painted decoration.



 Spouted jar with filter
KM 8082
2nd-5th c AD
Karanis, Egypt

Filtered water jars were designed to keep unwanted elements out of water indended for drinking or cooking. In this case, the filter (at the base of the neck of the pot) is quite simple, but some filters could be quite decorative. A much smaller filtered jar could be used to fill oil lamps.




 African Red Slip Vessel with Stamped Decoration
KM 7167
6th c AD
Karanis, Egypt

Center detail of KM 7167

When this large shallow dish was first accessioned by the Kelsey Museum, it was labelled a 'culinary mixing bowl', but it was more probably used to serve cooked food. The lamb symbol stamped inside may be evidence of the spread of Christianity into Egypt, invoking the 'Lamb of God' imagery used by early Christians. Compare this platter with the fragment of another dish from Karanis.



 African Red Slip Vessel with Stamped Decoration
KM 20978
5th-6th c. AD
Karanis, Egypt

Center detail of KM 20978

This bowl is an import to Karanis, coming from production centers further west on the North African coast. African red-slip ware was considered 'fine' tableware, and in some households it would have been used only on special occasions. By contrast, the coarser jugs (such as the two shown above) were made locally and used frequently, probably for transporting, storing and serving liquids. This type of imported dinnerware would have been more expensive than the local coarsewares represented in the domestic assemblage.



 Glass flask
KM 5944
3rd-4th c AD
Karanis, Egyp

 Glass jug with wheel-cut decoration
KM 5947
4th c AD
Karanis, Egypt

The flask and bottle-jug (volume approximately 1.2 and 1.6 liters respectively) were formed using a technique known as free-blowing and colored with metallic oxides. Found in a carefully concealed pottery jar in a house courtyard along with several other complete glass vessels (view a photo of the discovery of a different cache of glass), they were probably for domestic use - as tableware for holding wine, oil, or other liquids. Blown glass vessels were highly prized and often passed on from generation to generation.



Four cups and flask
KM 5551; 5950; 5065; 5966; 5936
4th or 5th c. AD
Karanis, Egypt

Close view of KM 5936 

These five pieces of glass represent several different hoards of glass from Karanis. The flask and glasses are delicately decorated, suggesting that they may have been used for special occasions. The flask, which has a palm-fiber stopper, was discovered with a reddish residue inside. Perhaps it was last used to serve wine.


Explore the Kelsey Museum's wide-ranging collection of food-related artifacts in More Food for Thought.

Visit another Kelsey Museum exhibit, "Wondrous Glass," which showcases the Kelsey's extensive holdings of ancient glass from Karanis and elsewhere in the Roman empire.

See more images of glassware and other objects from Karanis.

Exhibit Index

 More Food for Thought

Exhibit Acknowledgements


 Kelsey Museum Homepage