Ancient Roman pottery

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The first systematic classification of amphorae types was undertaken by the German scholarHeinrich Dressel. Following the exceptional amphorae deposit uncovered in Rome in Castro Pretorio at the end of the 1800s, he collected almost 200 inscriptions from amphorae and included them in theCorpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. In his studies of the amphorae deposit he was the first one to elaborate a classification of types, the so-called Dressel table,[21]which is still used today for many types. Subsequent studies on Roman amphorae have produced more detailed classifications which are usually named after the scholar who studied them. For the neo-Phoenician types see the work by Maña published in 1951,[22]and the revised classification by van der Werff in 19771978.[23]The Gallic amphorae have been studied by Laubenheimer in a study published in 1989,[24]whereas the Cretan amphorae have been analyzed by Marangou-Lerat.[25]Beltrn studied the Spanish types in 1970.[26]Adriatic types have been studied by Lamboglia in 1955.[27]For a general analysis of the Western Mediterranean types see Panella,[28]and Peacock and Williams.[29]

Central Gaulish samian vessel, Dr.30, with the name-stamp of Divixtus. Late 2nd century AD.

Plain sigillata table vessels, which included large platters, shallow dishes in several sizes, slightly deeper bowls, and small cups, were made on the wheel using a range of templates to create very precise profiles. The sizes were also standardised, which would have facilitated the firing, storage and transport of the huge numbers that were made. The evolution in forms matches in many respects that seen in silver andglass table vesselsof the same periods, and the precise forms can sometimes be closely dated. The forms archaeologically classified as plain do sometimes bear decoration of a simple kind, often in the form of a ring of rouletting within the flat interior base of a dish. Plain wares also often bear name-stamps.[11]

In the Gallic provinces the first examples of Roman amphorae were local imitations of pre-existent types such as Dressel 1, Dressel 24, Pascual 1, and Haltern 70. The more typical Gallic production begins within the ceramic ateliers inMarseilleduring the late Augustan times. The type Oberaden 74 was produced to such an extent that it influenced the production of some Italic types.[39]Spanish amphorae became particularly popular thanks to a flourishing production phase in the late Republican times. TheHispania BaeticaandHispania Tarraconensisregions (south-western and eastern Spain) were the main production areas between the 2nd and the 1st century BC thanks to the land distribution to the veterans and the founding of new colonies. The Spanish amphorae were widely spread in the Mediterranean during the early imperial times. The most common types were all produced in the Baetica and among these there was the Dressel 20, typical olive oil container, the Dressel 713, for garum, and the Haltern 70, for the defrutum, fruit sauce. In the Tarraconensis region the Pascual 1 was the most common type, a wine amphora shaped onto the Dressel 1, and imitations of Dressel 24.

ARS (African Red Slip) ware was the most widely distributed representative of the sigillata tradition in the late-Roman period. (Occasional imports of ARS have been found as far afield as Britain in the 5th6th centuries.[12]It was manufactured in the province ofAfrica Proconsularis(approximately modernTunisia), and similar forms and fabrics were made for more local distribution in Egypt, which had its own very active and diverse ceramic traditions in the Roman period. A wide range of bowls, dishes and flagons were made in ARS, but the technique of making entire relief-decorated vessels in moulds was discontinued.[13]Instead, appliqu motifs were frequently used where decoration in relief was required, separately made and applied to the vessel before drying and firing. Stamped motifs were also a favoured form of decoration, and in the later centuries, Christian subjects and symbols often appear.

Artificial lighting was commonplace in the Roman world. Candles, made from beeswax ortallow, were undoubtedly the cheapest means of lighting, but candles seldom survive archaeologically. Lamps fueled with olive oil and other vegetable oils survive in great numbers, however, and have been studied in minute detail.[44]Some Roman lamps were made of metal, and could be of highly elaborate forms incorporating statuettes and multiple nozzles, but fired clay was the most usual material, and the majority of small, probably inexpensive, clay lamps had a single nozzle for one wick, and therefore one flame.

Two RomanFirmalampen. The one on the left was made inColchester, and that on the right in Gaul. Both were found in Britain

A South Gaulish samian bowl of form Dr.37. Late 1st century AD.

Potterywas produced in enormous quantities inancient Rome, mostly for utilitarian purposes. It is found all over the formerRoman Empireand beyond.Monte Testacciois a hugewaste moundin Rome made almost entirely of brokenamphoraeused for transporting and storing liquids and other products in this case probably mostly Spanish olive oil, which was landed nearby, and was the main fuel for lighting, as well as its use in the kitchen and washing in thebaths.

Lead-glazed pottery was made in many regions of the Roman Empire, including Gaul, Italy and the eastern provinces. This type of vitreous glaze was most often used for small, decorative items of tableware, including mould-made cups with relief decoration, lamps and zoomorphic containers.[16]The glazes vary in colour from amber to brown and many shades of green.

Most of these wares were widely distributed and produced on an industrial scale (the largest kilns could fire up to 40,000 pieces at a time[4]), and undoubtedly using a high degree of specialisation within the workshops. The names of many potters and factory-owners are known from the potters marks frequently applied to fine wares, and can be highly informative. Cnaius Ateius was an especially prominent producer at Arezzo, but wares with his stamps can be shown by modern analysis of their clay to have been produced inPisain Tuscany, and at branch factories at bothLyonandLa Graufesenquein modern France. However, the interpretation of name-stamps can be more complex than it appears at first sight. Bold name-stamps visible in decorated areas advertise the name of the factory, but the names of individual artisans working within the pottery, the bowl-makers, appear on plain vessels, while the moulds for decorated bowls were also sometimes signed freehand by the mould-makers, and their signatures also sometimes appear on finished vessels. Theoretically, a decorated vessel might bear the mould-makers name, that of the bowl-maker or finisher (for example, on the rim), and the brand-name of the factory in the decoration.[5]The use of slave labour in the Italian workshops is unproven, though some names are certainly ofliberti(freedmen, that is, freed former slaves). The site of La Graufesenque in South Gaul, nearMillau, has been extensively studied and excavated.[6]Its products had an immensely wide distribution in the later 1st century AD, and sherds have been found from India to the Sudan and Scotland.[7]

Central Gaulish samian vessel with cut-glass decoration

Some of the shapes of Arretine plain wares were quite closely copied in the later 1st century BC and early 1st century AD in a class of pottery made in north-east Gaul and known as Gallo-Belgic ware.[14]Many of these plates and dishes in red-slipped (terra rubra) and black-slipped (terra nigra) fabrics bear potters stamps. Other fine, thin-walled flagons, drinking beakers, bowls and dishes were made locally in most regions of the Roman Empire, including frontier provinces such as Britain: for example, Romano-British colour-coated (slipped) wares made at Colchester and in theNene Valleybelong to that classification. Several of the pots to the right of the group photograph in the lead section of this article are Nene Valley wares, including the large black beaker decorated with a lively hunting scene of hounds and hares in the barbotine technique.[15]Many decorative techniques were used to beautify pottery tableware, including the use of coloured slips, painting, and various textured surfaces. Painted decoration did not, however, continue the Greek and Etruscan traditions as a specialised technique used for elaborate luxury tablewares, though simpler painted designs do appear on many pottery types, both coarse and fine, throughout the Empire. The dividing lines between fine and coarse wares, or tablewares and cooking wares, become a little blurred in the case of some of the local, provincial products, because pottery is often multi-purpose.

In 1895, the German scholarHans Dragendorffproduced a classification of vessel shapes in Roman red gloss pottery that is still used (as e.g. Drag. 27 or Dr.27 to refer to the small biconvex-profiled cup).[8]Other scholars added to his numbered forms, and some archaeologists working on the products of specific manufacturing sites, or the finds from important excavations, initiated their own typologies, so that there are now many other classification systems for Arretine and samian, as there are, indeed, for other classes of Roman pottery, such as the Hayes numbers for African Red Slip forms. Other numbering systems used with Italian and Gaulish sigillata include those of Dchelette, Knorr, Curle, Walters, Loeschcke, Ritterling and Ludowici, to name but a few.[9]

African Red Slip(ARS) ware belonged to the same tradition, and continued to be made much later than Italian and Gaulish sigillata, right through to theIslamic conquest.[3]ARS in turn influenced the production ofPhocaean red slip, which is common in the Eastern Mediterranean and also appeared occasionally as far west as Southern France and Britain.

North-African production was based on ancient tradition which could be traced back to thePhoeniciancolony ofCarthage.[40]Phoenician amphorae had characteristic small handles attached directly onto the upper body. This feature becomes the distinctive mark of late-Republican/early imperial productions which are then called neo-Phoenician. The types produced inTripolitaniaand Northern Tunisia are the Maña C1 and C2, later renamed van Der Werff 1, 2, and 3.[41]In the Aegean area the types from the island ofRhodeswere quite popular starting from the 3rd century BC thanks to the local wine production which flourished for long time. This types developed into theCamulodunum184, an amphora used for the transportation of the Rhodian wine all over the empire. Imitations of the Dressel 24 were produced in the island of Cos for the transportation of wine from the 4th BC until the middle imperial times.[42]Cretan containers were also popular for the transportation of wine and can be found in the Mediterranean from the Augustan times until the 3rd century AD.[43]During the late empire north-African types dominated the amphorae production. The so-called African I and II were widely used from the 2nd until the late 4th century AD. Other types from the eastern Mediterranean (Gaza), such as the so-called Late Roman 4, became very popular between the 4th and the 7th century AD, while Italic productions ceased to exist.

Tableware made ofEgyptian faience, glazed in vivid blue, turquoise or green, continued to be manufactured in Egypt throughout the Roman period, and the shapes of some of these faience vessels in the 1st century BC and 1st century AD were directly influenced by Arretine ware. Very elaborate, decorated polychrome faience vessels were also produced. Egyptian faience, frit or glazed composition, as it is often termed by Egyptologists, has rather more in common technically with glass manufacture than with earthenware, since it is a non-clay ceramic material.[17]

Italian lamp in the shape of a foot, with a siren orsphinxhandle

Unusually ambitiousSamian wareflask from Southern Gaul around 100 AD.Heruclesis killingLaomedon.

Italian styles exerted much less influence across the Empire interracottafigurines or statuettes than in pottery vessels; here the longstanding traditions ofGreek terracotta figurines, and those of Egypt and other Eastern provinces of the Empire, were the dominant influences. In some northern provinces, such as Gaul and Germany, there was no nativeIron Agetradition of making terracotta figurines, but new industries developed under Roman influence manufacturing mould-made figures in fine whitepipeclay. Like bronze statuettes, which would have been more expensive items, small terracotta figures were generally made for ritual or religious purposes, such as dedication at temples, display in household shrines, or as grave-goods to be deposited with the dead. However, some terracottas were also used as toys by children, even if they were not manufactured for that specific purpose.[47]Most of the small terracotta figurines were mould-made objects manufactured in quite large numbers, and most would have been painted in bright colours when new. These pigments, applied after firing, rarely survive burial except in small and faded patches.

In addition to the many basic lamp-shapes, which consisted of a rounded or ovoid body, with one or more projecting nozzles, and sometimes a handle, terracotta lamps were also made in a variety of much more fanciful forms, moulded to represent animals, grotesque heads, feet and many other shapes. These are known traditionally asplastic lamps(plastic meaning modelled or moulded).

Most of these clay lamps were shaped using moulds in workshops that turned out large numbers of standardised products. Some of the most popular forms incorporated a centraldiscus, a circular area usually around 46cm. in diameter, that incorporated the filling-hole and could be ornamented with pictorial motifs in low relief. The range of decoration included pagan deities, myths and legends, genre scenes from everyday life, animals, hunting, public entertainments such as gladiatorial combat and chariot-racing, erotic encounters, and in late-Roman times, some Christian symbolism: in short, the full range of subjects that occur in the Roman decorative arts (Jewish lamps with symbols such as themenorahare also found).[45]Types and decoration initiated at the centre of Empire, in Italy, were often imitated in products made in workshops located in other provinces. Lamps could be directly copied by the process known assurmoulage, using an existing lamp as the archetype for producing the mould, rather than creating a hand-modelled clay archetype.[46]

Terra nigrarelief-decorated vase fromCologne

However, one vessel type used in food preparation was closely linked with the spread of Roman culture and Roman cuisine: themortarium. This was a robust shallow bowl with a thick, out-curved rim that made it easy to handle, often a pouring lip, and an internal surface deliberately roughened with a coating of grit or coarse sand during manufacture. It was used with a pestle to pure or pulverise ingredients in order to prepare elaborate and carefully seasoned Roman dishes; the Roman culinary tradition made extensive use of herbs and spices. The mortarium was the Roman equivalent of the food-processor, and is a real indicator of romanisation;[19]In Britain, the first mortaria were being imported from Gaulish sources more than a generation before Britain became a Roman province in AD 43, indicating the growing influence of Roman culture in late Iron Age southern Britain, and perhaps the actual presence of immigrants from Gaul. Later, locally-made mortaria produced at specialised potteries in different areas of the province were available throughout Britain, in addition to imported products: Paul Tyers discusses mortaria from no fewer than 16 different manufacturing sources, Romano-British and Continental, that have been found in Britain.[20]Like so many other specialised Roman ceramic products, many mortaria also bore workshop or makers stamps on their rims, and noting their chronology and distribution can help archaeologists understand trading patterns and the Roman economy.

Central Gaulish relief-decorated lead-glazed flagon. 1st century AD.

Display of South Gaulish samian plain vessels, illustrating standardisation of size

Each region of the Empire produced terracottas in distinctive local styles, but all had rather similar ranges of subjects, above all the standard religious themes of gods, goddesses and their attributes; representations of birds and animals may often be linked with specific deities, though some animal figures may well have been ma

Pottery was essential for cooking food in antiquity. Although metal utensils made of bronze or iron were widely available in the Roman period, simple, functional earthenware bowls, pans, casseroles and jars were an inexpensive and standard part of the equipment of every kitchen. From Britain to Egypt, from Spain to Syria, over the length and breadth of a vast Empire, local pre-Roman pottery traditions in simple cooking wares often continued without major changes for centuries. Roman cooking pots therefore have to be studied on a regional basis.[18]As well as the ordinary bowls and pans used for cooking, ceramic utensils were made for many specialised uses, such as the small cheese-press illustrated to the left of the group photograph of Roman pottery from Britain above. The two black jars to the left behind the cheese-press in the same photograph are examples of Romano-Britishblack-burnished ware, first made in south-west England in the late Iron Age, before the Roman conquest: this ware continued to be popular throughout the Roman period, and was made in greater quantities, and marketed more widely, under Roman influence. Other wares made inRoman BritainwereCrambeck WareHuntcliff ware, andNene Valley Colour Coated Ware, which was often decorated.

A selection of pottery found in Roman Britain. The assemblage includesBlack-burnished warejars, a Rusticated Ware jar, a Central Gaulish Colour-Coated Ware beaker, Trier Black-slipped Ware with white trailed decoration,Nene Valley Colour Coated Ware, a coarse ware cheese press and other fine wares.

A late-Roman painted beaker made in Britain

Key:1: rim – 2: neck – 3: handle – 4: shoulder – 5: bellyorbody – 6: foot

Amphorae, or amphoras, were used during Roman times to transport food on long and short distances. The content was generally liquid, olive oil or wine in most cases, but alsogarum, the popular fish sauce, and fruit sauce. As a container, an amphora was supposed to be strong, not too heavy, shaped in a way suitable for easy storage in the ship, and, at the same time, convenient for handling once arrived to its final destination. Usually, amphorae are two-handled terracotta containers with a globular/cylindrical body, a rim of various shapes, and a spiked or, less commonly, flat base. The spike was suited for a stable storage arrangement in the ship and it worked as a third handle in the process of emptying the container.

There is no direct Roman equivalent to the artistically centralvase-painting of ancient Greece, and fewobjects of outstanding artistic interesthave survived, but there is a great deal of fine tableware, and very many small figures, often incorporated into oil lamps or similar objects, and often with religious or erotic themes. Roman burial customs varied over time and space, so vessels deposited asgrave goods, the usual source of complete ancient pottery vessels, are not always abundant, though all Roman sites produce plenty of broken potsherds. Fine rather than luxury pottery is the main strength of Roman pottery, unlikeRoman glass, which the elite often used alongside gold or silver tableware, and which could be extremely extravagant and expensive. It is clear from the quantities found that fine pottery was used very widely in both social and geographic terms. The more expensive pottery tended to usereliefdecoration, usually moulded, rather than colour, and often copied shapes and decoration from the more prestigious metalwork. Especially in the Eastern Empire, local traditions continued, hybridizing with Roman styles to varying extents. From the 3rd century the quality of fine pottery steadily declined, partly because of economic and political disturbances, and because glassware was replacing pottery for drinking cups (the rich had always preferred silver in any case).

The close dating and distribution information that can be obtained from the detailed study of forms, makers marks and decoration makes Roman lamps important and useful finds on archaeological sites. They are not found in quite as great profusion on Roman sites in Britain as on sites elsewhere in the Empire, including Gaul, quite possibly because imported olive oil would probably have been more expensive in Britannia.

Lamp fromTunisiawith foliage decoration

The dividing line between pottery vessels and terracotta figurines is another that is not always sharp, since certain types of small container, such as oil-pourers, were sometimes moulded in representational forms.

It is usual to divide Roman domestic pottery broadly into coarse wares and fine wares, the former being the everyday pottery jars, dishes and bowls that were used for cooking or the storage and transport of foods and other goods, and in some cases also as tableware, and which were often made and bought locally. Fine wares were serving vessels or tableware used for more formal dining, and are usually of more decorative and elegant appearance. Some of the most important of these were made at specialised pottery workshops, and were often traded over substantial distances, not only within, but also between, different provinces of the Roman Empire. For example, dozens of different types ofBritishcoarse and fine wares were produced locally,[1]yet many other classes of pottery were also imported from elsewhere in the Empire. The manufacture of fine wares such asterra sigillatatook place in large workshop complexes that were organised along industrial lines and produced highly standardised products that lend themselves well to precise and systematic classification.

The most common method of making relief decoration on the surface of an openterra sigillatavessel was to throw a pottery bowl whose interior profile corresponded with the desired form of the final vessels exterior. The internal surface was then decorated using individual positive stamps (poinçons), usually themselves made of fired clay, or small wheels bearing repeated motifs, such as theovolo(egg-and-tongue) design that often formed the upper border of the decoration. Details could also be added by hand with a stylus. When the decoration was complete in intaglio on the interior, the mould was dried and fired in the usual way, and was subsequently used for shaping bowls. As the bowl dried, it shrank sufficiently to remove it from the mould, after which the finishing processes were carried out, such as the shaping or addition of a foot-ring and the finishing of the rim. The details varied according to the form.[10]The completed bowl could then be slipped, dried again, and fired. Closed forms, such as jugs and jars, were seldom decorated in relief using moulds, though some vessels of this type were made at La Graufesenque by making the upper and lower parts of the vessel separately in moulds and joining them at the point of widest diameter. Relief-decoration of tall vases or jars was usually achieved by using moulded appliqu motifs (sprigs) and/orbarbotinedecoration (slip-trailing). The latter technique was particularly popular at the East Gaulish workshops ofRheinzabern, and was also widely used on other pottery types.

The production of related types of wares existed inAsia Minorand in other eastern regions of the Empire (Eastern Sigillata wares), while the Iberian provinces also had local industries producing terra sigillata hispanica, which had some similarities with the Gaulish products.

The designation fine wares is used by archaeologists for Roman pottery intended for serving food and drink at table, as opposed to pots designed for cooking and food preparation, storage, transport and other purposes. Although there were many types of fine pottery, for example, drinking vessels in very delicate and thin-walled wares, and pottery finished with vitreous lead glazes, the major class that comes first to mind is the Roman red-gloss ware of Italy and Gaul make, and widely traded, from the 1st century BC to the late 2nd century AD, and traditionally known asterra sigillata. These vessels have fine, fairly hard and well-fired buff to pink fabrics, with a naturally glossy surface slip ranging in colour from light orange to quite a bright red. The variations in the colour and texture of both body fabric and slip, as well as the vessel-shapes and the designs on the decorated forms can enable a trained student to identify source, date and often individual workshop quite accurately.Arretine ware, made atArezzoinTuscany, was the pre-eminent type of fine pottery in the 1st century BC and early 1st century AD, and was succeeded by samian ware, manufactured in a number of centres in Gaul, modern France and Germany. However the definition of all these terms has varied and evolved over the many generations during which the material has been studied.[2]Technically, red-gloss wares have much in common with earlier Greek painted pottery, but the decorated forms employ raised, relief decoration rather than painting.

The highly organised manufacturing methods, usually using plaster (gypsum) moulds, the volume of production, and the trading and wide distribution all echo in some respects the production of red-gloss wares such as Arretine and samian, as does the existence of name-stamps on some of the lamps. Makers or workshop names were normally placed on the underside of the lamp, and are common on the usually undecorated lamps known asFirmalampen(factory lamps), a type which was popular in the military zones of the north-west Roman provinces during the 2nd century AD. One well-known name is that ofFortis, and his products were evidently copied outside his own workshop in Italy or perhaps Fortis had his own branch factories in the provinces. The GaulishFirmalampein the adjacent picture, found in London, is stamped on the base with the name of the maker Atimetus.

Fired clay orterracottawas also widely employed in the Roman period for architectural purposes, as structural bricks and tiles, and occasionally as architectural decoration, and for the manufacture of small statuettes and lamps. These are not normally classified under the heading pottery by archaeologists, but the terracottas and lamps will be included in this article. Pottery is a key material in the dating and interpretation of archaeological sites from the Neolithic period onwards, and has been minutely studied by archaeologists for generations. In the Roman period, ceramics were produced and used in enormous quantities, and the literature on the subject, in numerous languages, is very extensive.

The first type of Roman amphora, Dressel 1, appears in central Italy in the late 2nd century BC.[34]This type had thick walls and a characteristic red fabric. It was very heavy, though also strong. Around the middle of the 1st century BC the so-called Dressel 24 starts to become widely used.[35]This type of amphora presented some advantages in being lighter and with thinner walls. It has been calculated that while a ship could accommodate approximately 4,500 Dressel 1, it was possible to fit 6,000 Dressel 24 in the same space.[36]Dressel 24 were often produced in the same workshops used for the production of Dressel 1 which almost suddenly ceased to be used.[37]At the same time inCuma(southern Italy) the production of thecadii cumanitype starts (Dressel 2122). These containers were mainly used for the transportation of fruit and were used until the middle imperial times. At the same time, in central Italy, the so-calledSpelloamphorae, small containers, were produced for the transportation of wine. On the Adriatic coast the older types were replaced by the Lamboglia 2 type, a wine amphora commonly produced between the end of the 2nd and the 1st century BC. This type develops later into the Dressel 6A which becomes dominant during Augustan times.[38]

Amphorae were wheel-thrown terracotta containers. During the production process the body was made first and then let it partially dry.[30]Then, coils of clay would be added to form the neck, the rim, and the handles.[31]Once the amphora was completed, the interior was treated with resin in order to ensure a better performance in liquid storage.[32]The reconstruction of these stages of production is based primarily on ethnographic data coming from the study of modern amphorae production in some areas of the eastern Mediterranean.[33]Amphorae are often marked with a variety of stamps and graffiti. The function of these stamps are related to the entire life of the vessel. Stamps, graffiti and inscriptions provided information from the production cycle to the content and the commercialisation. A stamp was usually applied to the amphora at a partially dry stage and it often indicated the name of thefiglina(workshop) and/or the name of the owner of the workshop. Painted stamps,tituli picti, were executed when the amphora was completed and provided indications regarding the weight of the container and the content.

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Romano-British beaker with barbotine decoration depicting chariot-racing

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