Amphora: The word and the @ symbol

(Greek > Latin: @ two-handled; a vessel with two handles or ears; a pitcher or vase)

Amphora transformed into @
It is apparently from amphora that we get the @ symbol.

The symbol @ was once thought to originate from Latin ad- meaning "at, toward, to." It is used in such sentences as, “I purchased two books @ $15.00 each.”

animated at symbol

Deciding what to call this symbol has become a problem for some internet users because prior to its use on the web as a separator in e-mail addresses, it had a limited application in bookkeeping, invoicing, and related business uses. That’s why some people still refer to it as the “commercial at” or simply the “at” symbol; as in, quotes@ [at]

It is also used in emoticons; for example, :-@ is meant to express a scream when it is desired to say something loudly because of anger.

The word, amphora, comes from Greek through Latin, meaning two-handled; a vessel with two handles or ears; a pitcher or vase.

Is this the original name of the @ ?

The use of the @ sign in business may have been used in Italy as a symbol that referred to a weight unit used by ancient Greeks and Romans. Giorgio Stabile, who teaches the history of science at Rome’s La Sapienza University, traced the origin of the @ sign to at least 500 years ago, when Italian merchants are said to have invented it. The evidence was hidden in the archives at the Francesco Datini Institute of Economic History in Prato, near Florence, Italy. In a letter written by Francesco Lapi, a Florentine trader, on May 4, 1536, there is no doubt that this is clearly the earliest known example of the symbol of @.

The letter describes the arrival in Spain of three ships bearing gold and silver from Latin America, Lapi wrote: “there an @ of wine, which is one thirtieth of a barrel, is worth 70 or 80 ducats. In the document, the @ sign is the abbreviation for amphora, a measure of capacity based on the terracotta jars,” used for transportation of grain and liquid products in the ancient Mediterranean world, according to Stabile.

Searching the commercial paleography, Stabile discovered a Spanish-Latin dictionary of 1492: the word arroba was translated as “amphora,” showing that the amphora weight unit was known both in the Greek-Latin and in the Arab-Hispanic world. The sign was a handwritten letter “a” (for amphora), in the typical Florentine embellished script.

The amphora was long used as a measuring unit in Venice and along trade Routes running to Northern Europe. There, it acquired its contemporary commercial meaning, “at the price of” or per unit cost.

“The story of the Latin roots of the sign was completely wrong,” said Armando Petrucci, professor of Latin Paleography at Pisa University.

Finally, Stabile’s discovery sheds light on the history of this successful sign.” The @ sign has been traditionally believed to derive from the Latin word ad, meaning “to, toward, at.” The story goes that in late medieval cursive writing the upright stroke of the “d” curved over to the left making a loop around the “a”.

Even if amphora is the “correct” e-mail term for @, it is not likely that anyone will be expressing an e-mail (or email) address as, “mottoes @” with the original meaning of “mottoes amphora”.

Information about @ and its relation to amphora was gathered from various sources on the internet. Many of those sources obviously got their information from an article written by Philip Whilan in the July 31, 2000, issue of the Guardian, Section 1, Page 12; entitled, “Merchant@florence wrote it first 500 years ago”.

Pointing to a page about a amphora words The amphora unit of words.