Category Archives: En

State of affairs

At present, there is no dictionary that brings together the definitions of technical terms related to production in the ancient world or which makes it possible to find, with ease, the translation of such terms in other languages.

Previous works in this area can be classified into two distinct types. First, there are the ‘true’ dictionaries, which generally are either highly specialised (for instance, the Dictionnaire méthodique de l’architecture grecque et romaine [1]), or are too general, being focused on a specific period or geographical area [2]. As dictionaries, they offer definitions of the terms in the subject that they cover and occasionally, though rarely, in more than one language. The second type are thesauruses and lexicons that offer simple lists of words generally focusing on one specific production process, based on one type of primary material (e.g. metal) or on a major category of production (e.g. ceramics [3]). Often, they abound in technical detail, but do not necessarily also find definitions for the terms listed. With few exceptions, these works present their entries in alphabetical order, which makes it difficult to consult the work ex abrupto, without having a clearly defined term as a starting point.

Therefore, there is considerable scope for a reasoned, multilingual dictionary of the productive techniques of the ancient world.

[1] R. Ginouvès, R. Martin, Dictionnaire méthodique de l’architecture grecque et romaine. Tome I. Matériaux, techniques de construction, techniques et formes du décor, Rome – Athènes, 1985 (Collection de l’École française de Rome, 84, 1) [available online]. R. Ginouvès, R. Martin, Dictionnaire méthodique de l’architecture grecque et romaine. Tome II. Éléments constructifs : supports, couvertures, aménagements intérieurs, Rome – Athènes, 1992 (Collection de l’École française de Rome, 84, 1) [available online]. R. Ginouvès (dir.), Dictionnaire méthodique de l’architecture grecque et romaine. Tome III. Espaces architecturaux, bâtiments et ensembles, Rome – Athènes, 1998 (Collection de l’École française de Rome, 84, 3) [available online]. [2] O. Aurenche, Dictionnaire illustré multilingue de l’architecture du Proche Orient ancien, Lyon, 1977 (Collection de la Maison de l’Orient méditerranéen ancien, 3).

[3] N. Blondel, Céramique : vocabulaire et technique, Paris, 2001 (Principes d’analyse scientifique, 8).



Dictionnary of Techniques in Antiquity

The general aim of this dictionary is to offer a tool that makes possible to give a straightforward and standardised description of the various techniques and procedures associated with craft production in the Ancient world, from the sixth century BCE to the late antiquity. It will principally be based on the archaeological record.
Starting from our current understanding of material culture and illustrated on this basis, the dictionary will facilitate the interpretation of material traces at the moment of their discovery.
The dictionary will follow the broad outline of the chaîne opératoire (operational sequence), so that it will be possible to follow the progress of raw material from its extraction to its transformation into a half-finished or finished product.


State of affairs
Objectives & scope
General points

Editorial remarks

General structure of each volume

Part 1 – Description of the operational sequence
Part 2 – Synthesis

Part 2 – Synthesis

In addition to the definitions of the elements that make up each operational sequence, the volumes will also include a final part providing a comparative synthesis that makes it possible to sketch the historical evolution of the techniques in antiquity. This synthesis will offer visual representations of the operational sequences described in the first part of the volume, and will outline, as far as possible, the chronological and geographical variations.

This part, which by definition will be the most ephemeral part of the volume, will present an overview of current knowledge for each production process and offer a sketch of on-going debates at the moment of writing. It will therefore avoid the more strictly economic or social questions (status, size and specialization of the work-force; the impact of the work on them; differences between domestic and commercial forms of production, etc.), though the elements brought together in the synthesis will be of help in redacting editing other specialized works approaching economic questions from a technical angle.

Continue reading Part 2 – Synthesis

Part 1 – Description of the operational sequence

The core of each volume consists of the description of the individual phases of the operational sequence, highlighting each element and particularly those that can be observed in the archaeological record. It will therefore be important to follow the spirit of the definition of the different elements of a technique as defined by P. Lemonnier: “[…] the human actors, sources of energy, tools, raw materials, gestures and mental procedures involved in a given action aimed at obtaining some material result generally fit together physically, or are at least more or less mutually compatible, otherwise no tangible result would derive from their systemic interaction”. [1]

Continue reading Part 1 – Description of the operational sequence

Objectives & Scope

Despite several recent publications that discuss various forms of craft production, both at a national and European level, one major problem persists; it is often impossible for researchers to agree on common terms to qualify their subject of study. Despite some isolated exceptions, there is no tool to assist exchange between researchers, from different linguistic backgrounds, studying aspects of craft production in antiquity.

The general aim of this dictionary is, therefore, to offer a tool that makes it possible to give a straightforward and standardised description of the various techniques and procedures associated with craft production. It will principally base itself on the archaeological record. Starting from our current understanding of material culture and illustrated on this basis, the dictionary will facilitate the interpretation of material traces at the moment of their discovery.

The dictionary will follow the broad outline of the chaîne opératoire (operational sequence), so that it will be possible to follow the progress of raw material from its extraction to its transformation into a half-finished or finished product. It will follow the principle proposed by R. Cresswell where: “An operational sequence is a series of operations that transform raw material into a product, the latter being subject to consumption or being a tool”.[1] For instance, apart from the issues specifically related to the growing of cereals, which will be treated in a separate volume (see below), the operational sequence of turning cereals into an edible product would come down to three successive phases: preparatory treatments (milling, roasting, etc.), mixing of ingredients, and cooking. Each of these main phases can subsequently be subdivided into several stages, which can include variants and innovations that will be presented following the technological order and the chronology of their introduction. The extent to which the exploration of the degrés du fait (distinctive characteristics of a culture)[2] will be limited and vary according to the nature of each type of production. The products produced will be excluded, except when they are themselves part of the operational sequence, such as a tool or a semi-finished product, or when their description makes it possible to reconstruct tools or actions of which the material traces otherwise remain invisible.

From a chronological point of view, the dictionary will take into consideration techniques from the sixth century BCE onwards, when all regions and peoples covered by the dictionary had fully entered the Iron Age; thus including those that had not only mastered iron metallurgy but also had developed a widespread use of iron that was not restricted to the elite.

Conversely, the chronological limits will be flexible in that they will depend on the time at which radical changes took place in the operational sequence. Late antiquity will be included, and the discussion could extend into the early middle ages, up until the moment where the gradual disappearance of commercial networks, notably those related to the supply of raw materials, reached a point where it was no longer possible to maintain the practices inherited from the Greco-Roman world and so new techniques became necessary. The chronological period covered will therefore extend as late as the seventh century CE.

The geographical scope of the project will concern the Mediterranean basin and the southernmost part of Europe. It will be necessary in certain instances to move outside this area particularly to be able to trace back the transfers of technology that took place in the Middle East and Asia. Commercial interactions will be excluded, unless they were relevant to technical variations concerning core themes. In this way, it will be possible to define the nature of the technological base in use in the Mediterranean region over a period of slightly longer than a Millennium.

[1] « Une chaîne opératoire est une série d’opérations qui transforment une matière première en un produit, que celui-ci soit objet de consommation ou outil », R. Cresswell, Techniques et culture : les bases d’un programme de travail, Techniques & Culture, 54‑55, 2010 [1976], p. 23‑45, part. p. 26 [available online].

[2] A. Leroi-Gourhan, Évolution et techniques. 1. L’homme et la matière, 2e éd., Paris, 1971 (Sciences d’aujourd’hui), p. 27‑35.

General points

The fascicules will be organized according to the large groups (or categories) of primary materials to allow the inclusion of techniques relating to extraction or cultivation. The order proposed here is not necessarily the order of publication.

  • Organic Materials
    • Agriculture, arboriculture, livestock farming, fishing (techniques and tools)
    • Food techniques (transformation and conservation)
    • Textile technology
    • Leather-working
    • Wood-working and bone-working
  • Mineral Materials
    • Ceramic production
    • Stone (extraction and exploitation)
    • Production and working of metal (extraction, refinement and metallurgy)
    • Glass
    • Precious stones
  • Composites
    • Construction technology
    • Naval construction technology
  • Syntheses
    • Tools
    • Machines
    • Energy
    • Technical acts

Provisional schedule for publication

The preparation and the redaction of five fascicules (ceramics, food, textiles, glass, metals) will commence from autumn 2017 onwards. The editorial boards will meet to prepare the plan of each of the volumes. The first fascicules will appear in printed form in the course of 2021.


Each volume of the dictionary will be produced in French and English. The translations of the terminology will, in the printed version, also be given in German, Spanish and Italian. A multilingual index will make it possible to find back the different entries in the dictionary.
The online version will initially start from these languages, but it will be possible to add other languages, such as Greek and Arabic (see here), at a later point.

Editorial remarks

Form and contents of the entries

Whether they are substantives, verbs or adjectives, all elements of the vocabulary that contribute to the description of the technical process will be defined, both in French and English, including those that might be considered trivial or part of a shared technical culture. A translation of the term in each of the four other languages of the dictionary will systematically be proposed in alphabetical order in both English and the French version (see the examples below). While this means that some translations will be repeated, it will allow a continuous reading of the text in both the two principal languages. If no precise translation exists in one of the other languages, it will simply be omitted. The reader can then refer to the definition to understand the meaning where absent from his language.

The choice of words used will be based on the requirements of the description of the technique. Some synonyms can be added, when necessary, but only if synonyms are perfect or almost perfect and if they reflect common and renowned usage. For instance, the slag resulting from forging will, in the francophone version, be referred to as both ‘en calotte’ and ‘en culot’, though this does not imply that they refer to different phenomena; the two terms will be defined at the same moment as synonyms. The multiplication of synonyms, and in particular the use of terms whose use can be considered as vernacular, will be avoided. If, in the face of too numerous and specific terms, or even unrelated regional languages, a choice must be made by the volume’s editors, explanations for the latter will be given it in the foreword.

Particular attention will be given to verbs and the ways in which they make it possible to effectively describe the technical action. When a name derives from a verb describing an action (e.g. to knead and kneading), both should be mentioned and translated, though being gathered under a unique definition.

The definitions will evidently be based upon existing literature both general and, more specifically, technical in nature. The dictionary will not aim to replace existing definitions but will suggest syntheses that best fit the specific needs of the description of ancient techniques. The degree of detail in these definitions will vary according to the complexity of the terms involved. In general, descriptions will be limited to the details that influenced the production processes or were influenced by them and so will avoid the kind of detailed typological considerations that dominate the literature on the procedure. Reference to such considerations will be given in notes. Very short phrases will make it possible to create logical ties between the definitions.

Among the information to be included in the definition, giving a general evaluation of the dimensions of the described elements is considered as important. If these dimensions were to be highly variable, it would be necessary to see if the use of a second definition would not be useful to better characterize the elements of different sizes.


The notes will be used to give subsidiary or rejected elements.

The insertion of Latin or Greek terms will occur in note, briefly specifying the times of use of these terms. Thus, figlina would appear twice in notes, first as a possible translation of clay extraction zone for the Republican period, then in connection with the possible definition of ceramic production workshop for the imperial period.

If Greek or Latin terms have been used in the past to characterize production-related elements in an abusive manner, the reason for their rejection will be quickly explained in notes. However, if this use is part of an unresolved debate, the mention of these terms will be reported to the last chapter of the second part (see below).

In general, we will not indicate Greek and Latin terms referring to practitioners, names of trades etc.

It is also in notes that the elements justifying the introduction of a definition in the body of the text, whether bibliographical references or justifications based on ethnographic or experimental parallels, are given. Ethnographic elements not clearly attested in Antiquity will be mentioned in note only if they could have occurred, apart from a major technical break, and if they seem difficult to observe through Ancient sources (see below the example of the weighing in the bakery). In order to avoid the transformation of DicTA into a universal dictionary of techniques, we will not integrate radical technical breaks (e.g. cast-iron or steel will not be mentioned).

The notes will also address low-intensity debates, particularly with regard to terminological problems, especially when the practice in the archaeological literature appears inadequate or has been discussed too recently for a solution to have already been adopted. If the term normally used by archaeologists is a bit unsuitable, the term used in modern practice should be given in note. If, on the other hand, the term traditionally used by archaeologists is frankly improper, it will be rejected as a note and replaced in the main text by a word from modern or contemporary practice.

In short, the body of the text will include only accepted or acceptable terms while the notes will be populated with incorrect, discussed or rejected terms.


Broyer (tr.). All. zerstossen ; angl. crush ; esp. triturar ; it. frantumare. Réduire en petites particules ou en pâte par choc ou par pression discontinue.

Moudre (tr.). All. mahlen ; angl. grind ; esp. moler ; it. macinare. Réduire en particules fines par pression continue en recourant à un moulin.

Grind (w. obj.). Fr. moudre ; ger. mahlen ; it. macinare ; sp. moler. Reduce (something) to small particles or powder by crushing it with a continuous pressure using a quern or a mill.

Pétrissage (m.) [All. Teigbereitung (f.), Knetung (*) ; angl. kneading ; esp. *** (*.) ; it. impastatura (f.). Verbe : pétrir (tr.) ; all. Kneten (tr.) ; angl. to knead (w. obj.) ; esp. amasar (tr.) ; it. impastare (tr.)] action de mélanger la farine avec de l’eau, un éventuel agent levant et tout autre ingrédient afin d’en faire une pâte. Il se singularise du simple mélange des ingrédients par sa durée visant tout autant à homogénéiser la pâte qu’à donner de l’énergie aux agents levant.

Que ce soit immédiatement après le pétrissage ou après le pointage, la pâte doit être divisée [All. teilen (v. tr.) ; angl. to divide (w. obj.) ; esp. dividir (v. tr.) ; it. dividere (v. tr.)] en masses plus réduites et vraisemblablement pesée [All. wiegen (v. tr.) ; angl. to weigh (w. obj.) ; esp. pesar (v. tr.) ; it. pesare (v. tr.)][2].


Form and content of the electronical version

An electronic edition will be prepared in parallel to the printed volumes. This will utilise free open-source software (e.g. through a wiki). This kind of web application will allow us to keep the organization of the printed volumes and make quick updates. The platform will have two interfaces. The first will reproduce the general text with hyperlinks to a second interface where the definitions in strict sense of the word will be located.

From publication, the electronic edition will include the French and English text, but it will be easily possible to add other languages in the future; including the three already used in the translation of the terminology, and others, such as Arabic and Greek. The additional translations into these languages will be published under the responsibility of the editorial board.

Without limiting the collaborative character of the dictionary, the ability to edit the electronic contents will be generally restricted to the members of the different editorial boards but can be extended at their recommendation.

The most complicated difficulty with respect to the electronic edition at this point will concern the images. These will necessarily need to be made available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA Licence. However, this is not always straightforward. There is juridical risk on two fronts: first, there is a risk of conflict of interest with the publisher; this can be regulated via contracts. Second, it is possible that for some figures that have already been published no use can be made of the right of citation, so that they cannot be published online without the agreement of their author, or the publishing company. The exact implications of European legislation on this point are currently being investigated.

[1] À titre d’exemple, le français utilise le terme de battitures qui, bien qu’il s’agisse d’un terme employé au XIXe par les sidérurgistes industriels, ne serait plus en usage chez les forgerons actuels qui emploieraient à la place le terme plus générique de calamine. Si ce dernier terme ne devait pas recevoir de définition, il faudrait l’indiquer comme synonyme « moderne » en note.

[2] La pesée, phase reconnue dans la boulangerie moderne, est attestée sur le seul relief du Museo civico de Bologne (Inv. Rom. 1872). Le fragment supérieur droit montre un personnage qui dépose des boules de pâte sur la table de façonnage ; au-dessus de son épaule gauche est visible un probable plateau de balance [All. *** (*.) ; angl. scale pan ; esp. platillo (m.) de la balanza (f.) ; it. piatto (m.) di bilancia (f.)].
Dans la boulangerie moderne, il y aurait, après la pesée, une nouvelle phase, brève, de fermentation, la détente [all. Zwischengare (f.), Ballengare (f.) ; angl. intermediate, first proving ; esp. *** (*.) ; it. rinfresco (m.)], qui survient après le boulage [all. Rundwirken (m.) ; angl. rounding ; it. staglio (m.)] ou mise de la pâte en boules [all. Teigballe (f.) ; esp. *** (*.)]. Aucun élément, même iconographique ne permet de considérer si ces deux phases étaient pratiquées dans l’Antiquité. Il n’est pas impossible que boulage et façonnage aient été confondus.