The terracotta canteen, also known as “pilgrim flask” – which is characterized by a round shape with a narrow profile, by a little neck and usually with grips, two to four – has a very long history.

Nuragic flask from Posada (Sardinia), 12th-9th century BC. The shape is inspired from Near Eastern forms (Syria and Philistine), and is characterized by 4 handles. In Sardinia these containers are also known in bronze, whose decoration with “interweaving harnesses” suggests that terracotta flasks which the bronze one imitated were covered with woven straw, both to facilitate transport and to preserve the contents – which is supposed to be wine.

The origin of this utilitarian object could be recognized in prototypes of Eastern production. During the Mesopotamian age, travel  flasks with the shape that will endure for over 2000 years can already be found.

Pilgrim flask from Ruinas (Sardinia), 9th-8th century BC. This flask is characterized by four handles too. This particular specimen sports also an inscription. Read more here:

After becoming widespread also in ​​the Western Mediterranean – between the 12th and the 9th centuries BC it was introduced in Sardinia, while in Eastern Sicily between the second half of the 8th century and the 6th century BC -, the pilgrim flask was used through almost every historical period, involving the whole Mediterranean world.

Miniaturistic flask from Poggio Sommavilla (Collevecchio, Tiber Valley), 8th century BC. Miniature flask probably to be used as a pendant, coming from the falisco-veientes-capenates area. Read more:


Apulian flask (Taranto, chamber grave 1 of Viale Virgilio), third quarter of the 4th century BC. Lenticular in shape, made by silvered ceramic decorated with a protome of Artemis Bendis. Silvered ceramic, attested mainly in the Canosa area from the second half of the 4th century to the beginning of the 3rd century BC, imitates metallic ware. Read more about silvered ceramic:

During the Roman period, types well known from archaeological finds were produced, mainly made by Italic, Hispanic,  and the numerous variants of African “terra sigillata”.

Pilgrim flasks, unusually decorated in black paint (Museum of Adria, Rovigo).

Flask of the Imperial Roman period with relief decoration (Izmir, Turkey).

During the 4th century AD Christian pilgrimages became widespread and with them the pilgrim flasks linked to the sanctuaries, among which the devotional ones of the martyrs Mena and Tecla in Egypt particularly stand out.

Pilgrim flask from Egypt depicting St. Menas, now in the Louvre Museum, 5th-7th century AD.

Since then the flasks did also become “souvenirs” – or reliquaries – to be brought home from the pilgrimage.

After the first half of the 15th century the pilgrim’s flask became a quite common type of aristocratic tableware. Real works of art were made using this shape, mainly used for the exposition on the kitchen sideboard in aristocratic houses.

The Res Bellica canteen 

The canteen proposed by Res Bellica, for its basic, unadorned shape without grips, could be considered a generic type comparable with the known models between the beginning of the Iron Age and the Imperial Roman period: the miniature flask of Poggio Sommavilla, the apulian flask from Taranto, the canteens from Adria and Izmir.

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