Pottery in Archaeology ( Roman )

26 Jan


This post is intended for the beginner interested in Roman pottery as an outline to pottery forms and fabrics most widely distributed in Roman Britain.

Pottery is undoubtedly the most common archaeological material surviving on Roman sites. In most cases organic material will decay and metals corode which is why archaeologists frequently use fragments of pottery as an aid to help them date their sites. The study of pottery is important as a chronological indicator when other dateable objects such as coins are lacking,it can also provide information about trade communications.

When the roman army invaded Britain in 43 A.D. they found a number of potting traditions already established.On the one hand,the inhabitants particularly,Kent,Essex and Hertfordshire,who had close links with the continent, were importing wheel thrown pottery and distributing it on a large scale,on the other hand, pottery was handmade mostly on a small scale and, with a few exceptions,usually sold localy.

At first the Romans brought some of their own pottery with them in order to encourage native potters to supply them,evidence also suggests that some Gallic potters came over to Britain to take advantage of the situation. Merchants would have arrived ready to locate suitable potteries with the hope of obtaining contracts to supply the Roman army. In some instances however the actual legions or auxileries seem to have undertaken or directly supervised the production of pottery in Britain. For example at Longthorpe (Peterborough), Brampton ( Cumbria ), Holt ( Clwyd ) and Grimscar ( Huddersfield ).


SAMIAN WARE  is one of the most common, and easy to recognise pottery to be imported into Britain. It  was manufactured in South Gaul France. Samian wares flooded into Britain after 43 A.D. A distinct,glossy red-coated mass-produced table ware,often relief decorated. The fabric is red throughout the thickness of the vessel, with an external slip or glaze.

Other imitations of Samian Wares are generally only red because of an external slip or glaze,their interior will be a different colour when seen in cross- section.The Oxfordshire and The New Forest potters are two such factories producing imitation samian wares. True Samian is red all the way through. Cups,bowls,platters, jars even inkwells were produced.  Both plain and decorated vessels often bear the name-stamp of the potters or workshops which help archaeologists to closely date the objects found.

Part of a Decorated Samian ware Bowl with stamp inside. Part  of a decorated high quality Samian Ware bowl

from Dragendorff 29, Stamp SVllRlV inside the base,the mark of the potter S VERIUS Made in Gaul (modern day France) and exported throughout the Empire. Courtesy The Museum of London.

Samian ware ink pot. Samian ware Ink pot.

282px-Central_Gaulish_samian_Dr_30 Vase A central Gaulish Samian vase with the name of the potter DIVIXTUS in the decoration. A.D. 150-190.  Courtesy The British Museum. (Source Wikipedia).

Samian Ware Bowl from Wroxeter Shropshire. Samian ware bowl found at Wroxeter Shropshire.

samian-cup Samian Cup 1-2nd Century A.D.

Samian ware pottery sherd Samian Ware Pottery Sherd  1st-2nd century A.D.

Although Samian ware (terra sigillata) is easy to recognise it is a vast subject for the beginner. Obviously it would take up far to much space on this blog. However, anyone studying Roman pottery should be able to aquire sufficient knowledge for basic fabric and form identification and dating fairly easy. Below are a few illustrations of forms for you to study.

PlAIN SAMIAN WARE FORMS.(commonly found in Britain)

Roman Samian Wares Plain

Nos 15/17  and 15/17r    A dish with internal quarter-round moulding at the junction of the base and wall.There are two main types (a) with an almost upright wall,relatively shallow and (b) the form being a little deeper with rouletted circle both varieties are found throughout the 1st century.

Nos 35-36     Cup and dish with curved rim ornamented with leaves  Late 2nd century.

No    38 Hemispherical flanged bowl,may have beaded lip or plain one. 2nd-3rd century

No    44 Similar to  38 but with a cordon in place of the flange              2nd-3rd century

No    45 Mortarium with lion head with small white grits               Early 2nd century.

No    22 Small dish without footring                                                    1st century

No.   42 Segmented dish usualy with a pair of strap handles        Early  2nd century

No.   81 Wide mouth jar with everted rim. This was made at Lezoux under Hadrian.

No    15 Dish – 46   Cup                                                                      1st century

No.    11  Hemispherical bowl with decorated flange.

Ludvic TG and TX  Dish and Cup.

DECORATED SAMIAN WARE FORMS (commonly found in Britain)

Samian Decorated

No.29        Carinated bowl

No 30        Cylindrical bowl which lasted throughout the  1st – 2nd century

No 37        Hemispherical bowl with plain band below the beaded lip.The rest of the ornamentation can be varied  but the main styles are (a) zonal, usually late 1st -early  2nd century and (b) continuous scroll ornament down the whole depth of the bowl,common in the late 1st century and the Antonine period.

No 67        Small jar                                                                                        Early 2nd century

No 68        Jar with upright concave rim and central band of rouletting  before       Middle  2nd century

No.78        Straight sided cup


The popularity of Roman Samian Ware was such that in late lst to early 2nd century several factories in Southern England ( For example West Stowe, Suffolk) began to produce grey or black imitations of some Samian bowl forms,in fabrics like the Terra Nigra tradition with a polished surface and decorated with rouletting,impressed stamps,vertical incised lines and circles.


I will follow with one or two of the most popular named pottery wares of the Roman period which can be researched further if you so wish.

NENE VALLEY WARE (Colour Coated)

A pale fabric with dark colour-coat barbotine decorated or painted and widely distributed across Britain 2nd to 4th century A.D..   Jugs,flagons and bottles were produced, beakers with hunting scenes called (hunt cups) Nene Valley Hunt Cup                        Nene Valley Ware Cup

Nene Valley Ware Hunt Cup                                   Nene Valley Ware Cup.


A range of orange or red-brown wares produced along the middle Severn Valley and distributed across western and northern Britain from the 2nd to 4th century A.D. Storage jars were produced,bead rim jars bowls, and wide mouthed jars,tankards,flanged bowls,dishes and platters Surfaces were sometimes decorated with lenear or lattice zones. Manufactured at centres such as Shipton Mallet(Somerset) Perry Barr (Birmingham) and Gloucester area where it is called Glevam ware.Also a large factory nr Malvern (Worcestershire.) A small amount was supplied to turrets and milecastles on a sector of Hadrians wall from 2nd – 4th century A.D. and to garrisons in Scotland in the mid 2nd to early 3rd century A.D.

Severn Valley Ware Tankard            Severn Valley Rim SherdRim Sherd

A Severn Valley Ware Tankard from Sutton Walls

courtesy of Hereford Museum Heritage services

Severn valley wares with lattice decoration

Lattice decorated Severn Valley Wares

Severn Valley Beaker

Severn Valley Beaker

.                                   Some Severn Valley Wares .Severn Valley Wares

A00949_m Roman face pot

Pots were also made for burial like this face pot

Below is a short list of other potteries in Britain during the Roman period.


The well known fine colour- coated ,often hard table wares were clearly the most important products from the late 3rd to late 4th century. Distributed over much of England south of the Thames. Fabrics varied from buff to grey and the colour coats from matt red to lustrous purple. Vessels produced were beakers small bowls, and flagons were popular.


Grey-brown bowls and jars with heavy burnishing in bands from kilns at Swanpool Lincoln They formed a major production of pottery of the north-east Midlands in late 3rd-4th century


Two classes of the fabric are recognised: one, BBl with its origins among the Iron Age is black and gritty and was handmade and burnished in facets, the other BB2,is greyish,finer and wheelthrown,with a more silky surface.Its manufacture began soon after mid lst century in south-eastern England particularly Colchester and north-west Kent.and copying the BB1 whose products had found their main markets in Dorset .Vessels produced were cooking-pots, squatt shaped with short necks and upward flaring rims burnishing usually occurs just inside the rim and on the exterior,except for a broad central band of incised acute-angled lattice decorationBB l

Black Burnished Wares consisting of bowls,jars,cook pots.

BB1 decorated

Illustration of decorated Black Burnished Ware.


A range of colour- coated indented or bag-shaped beakers with moulded (cornice) rims and the body surface was sprinkled with small particles of dried clay. This was imported pottery from the Rhineland and copied from the mid 2nd century to early 3rd century A.D. at Colchester,Wildersdpool(Cheshire), Great Casterton( Leics)

.Rough cast ware Rough Cast Ware.

Pottery in Roman Britain is a vast subject. The information here should help the beginner sufficiently enough to encourage the study of Roman pottery further.There are several books to be obtained which can be bought on Amazon and other outlets.(  Pottery In Britain 4000BC to AD1900 A Guide to Identifying Pot sherds) is one such book. also  ( Pottery in Roman Britain by the Author Guy De La Bedoyere) can be obtained from  Shire Old House books.


Posted by on January 26, 2013 in Archaeology and Pottery


8 responses to “Pottery in Archaeology ( Roman )

  1. Deborah Overton

    September 30, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Hi Rita

    Interesting Roman pottery site and very useful for quick reference.

    I’m still working in Worcester if you would like to get in touch.
    All the best


    • ritaroberts

      September 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm

      Hi Debbie, Nice to hear from you.
      Thanks for your nice comment and I will certainly contact you via e mail.
      Best wishes


  2. Aquileana

    May 10, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    Excellent post … Perfectly documented and truly informative.
    Thanks for sharing, dear Rita… All the best to you. Aquileana ⭐


  3. ritaroberts

    May 10, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Why thank you so much Aquileana. So pleased you enjoyed the read. And my best wishes to you also.


  4. Will Shirley

    January 25, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    I have been working in more or less replica kilns for several years, simple updrafts, earth-bermed, and a two chambered climbing kiln. I’m moving much slower these days, however, but I still use a knock-down version of a Greek-Roman updraft kiln to produce some vessels and small sculptures. We have an open pit which can be enclosed for higher temps with simple bricks. I have found that soapstone powder left over from making pots from that mineral can be added to local clays to make a tighter body and a nicer and easier burnished treatment on the outside. I happen to live on top of a valley of clay from the Hudson River in upstate New York and not far from an old talc mine, from which I salvage some soapstone rock for sculptures and playing around. You learn a lot by doing, I can really admire the work put into period pieces. As a child in Arizona I found pottery shards from the long-gone Hohokam natives when ever the rains came. They would “pop up” in the back yard. I guess we lived near an old village site. Thanks much for the fine blog! Great stuff.
    Will Shirley


  5. Cathy ODonnell

    August 23, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    Very nice , informative. Better descriptions & help in identifying than most.
    I believe that the Guy de la Bedoyere book is out of print.


  6. Anthony Pulle

    July 10, 2018 at 8:25 am

    Hello Rita
    Thank you for your comments on the Hadrian blog. You have given me an interest in pottery though I prefer ancient sculptures and archeological projects. The local University of Freiburg is celebrating the 150 birthday of Gertrude Bell, a fascinating explorer. I have written an article which you may find interesting. My email is
    Sincere regards,. Anthony Pulle.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ritaroberts

    January 31, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Reblogged this on Ritaroberts's Blog.



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