Calculating Liquid Capacity to Understand what could have been Consumed from 'Drinking' Vessels

William Baddiley

Department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Birmingham, UK. Email:

Cite this as: Baddiley, W. 2018 Calculating Liquid Capacity to Understand what could have been Consumed from 'Drinking' Vessels, Internet Archaeology 50.


All Usk ware vessel form types used in the analyses in this article, with calculation areas indicated. Drawings by W. Baddiley, adapted from Greene (1993, 12-15) and reproduced with permission from Greene.

There are many examples of vessel types reportedly used for drinking during the Roman period, but there have been few attempts to calculate the volume of liquid that such vessels could have held. For this article scaled reproductions of vessels from archaeological reports are used as the basis for calculating vessel capacity by applying the formula for the volume of a cylinder V equals Pi r squared h to calculate vessel volume and thus liquid capacity. Most of the vessels examined in this article consist of coarse ware and fineware pottery from the legionary fortress at Usk. The drinking silverware from the House of the Menander at Pompeii provides a comparison with the Usk pottery. The calculated capacities potentially allow distinctions between individual and communal drinking to be seen, while large variations in capacity are apparent even within supposedly tightly grouped datasets like the Drag. 27 samian ware from Usk. Comparing the capacities of different vessel types and vessel materials can also demonstrate a certain level of consumer preference. This is especially so at Usk where no vessels with a capacity of between 400ml and 500ml are found, and the majority of the vessels tend to cluster below 300ml. Identifying a specific drink being consumed from these vessels is more problematic, but by combining capacity data with other sources of evidence, such as find spots, vessel forms and materials, a number of possibilities are raised.

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