Ancient Roman pottery

Ancient Roman pottery

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Pottery is the material from which the potteryware is made, of which major types include earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. The place where such wares are made is also called a pottery . Pottery also refers to the art or craft of the potter or the manufacture of pottery...

 was produced in enormous quantities in ancient Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, mostly for utilitarian purposes. It is found all over the former Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 and beyond. Monte Testaccio
Monte Testaccio
Monte Testaccio is an artificial mound in Rome composed almost entirely of testae , fragments of broken amphorae dating from the time of the Roman Empire, some of which were labelled with tituli picti...

 is a huge waste mound
A mound is a general term for an artificial heaped pile of earth, gravel, sand, rocks, or debris. The most common use is in reference to natural earthen formation such as hills and mountains, particularly if they appear artificial. The term may also be applied to any rounded area of topographically...

 in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 made almost entirely of broken amphorae used for transporting and storing liquids and other products – in this case probably mostly Spanish
Another theory holds that the name derives from Ezpanna, the Basque word for "border" or "edge", thus meaning the farthest area or place. Isidore of Sevilla considered Hispania derived from Hispalis....

 olive oil
Olive oil
Olive oil is an oil obtained from the olive , a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. It is commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps...

, which was landed nearby (and was the main fuel
Fuel is any material that stores energy that can later be extracted to perform mechanical work in a controlled manner. Most fuels used by humans undergo combustion, a redox reaction in which a combustible substance releases energy after it ignites and reacts with the oxygen in the air...

 for lighting, as well as its use in the kitchen and baths
In ancient Rome, thermae and balnea were facilities for bathing...


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 of British
Roman Britain
Roman Britain was the part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire from AD 43 until ca. AD 410.The Romans referred to the imperial province as Britannia, which eventually comprised all of the island of Great Britain south of the fluid frontier with Caledonia...

 coarse and fine wares were produced locally, yet many other classes of pottery were also imported from elsewhere in the Empire. The manufacture of fine wares such as took 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.

There is no direct Roman equivalent to the artistically central vase-painting of Ancient Greece
Pottery of Ancient Greece
As the result of its relative durability, pottery is a large part of the archaeological record of Ancient Greece, and because there is so much of it it has exerted a disproportionately large influence on our understanding of Greek society...

, and few objects of outstanding artistic interest
Ceramic art
In art history, ceramics and ceramic art mean art objects such as figures, tiles, and tableware made from clay and other raw materials by the process of pottery. Some ceramic products are regarded as fine art, while others are regarded as decorative, industrial or applied art objects, or as...

 have survived, but there is a great deal of fine tableware
Tableware is the dishes or dishware , dinnerware , or china used for setting a table, serving food, and for dining. Tableware can be meant to include flatware and glassware...

, 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 as grave 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, unlike Roman glass
Roman glass
Roman glass objects have been recovered across the Roman Empire in domestic, industrial and funerary contexts. Glass was used primarily for the production of vessels, although mosaic tiles and window glass were also produced. Roman glass production developed from Hellenistic technical traditions,...

, 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 use relief
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...

 decoration, 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).

Fired clay or terracotta was 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.

Terra sigillata or red-gloss wares

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 made, and widely traded, from the 1st century BC to the late 2nd century AD, and traditionally known as . 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 at Arezzo
Arezzo is a city and comune in Central Italy, capital of the province of the same name, located in Tuscany. Arezzo is about 80 km southeast of Florence, at an elevation of 296 m above sea level. In 2011 the population was about 100,000....

 in Tuscany
Tuscany is a region in Italy. It has an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.75 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence ....

, was the pre-eminent type of fine pottery in the 1st century BC and earlier 1st 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. Technically, red-gloss wares have much in common with earlier Greek painted pottery, but the decorated forms employ raised, relief decoration rather than painting.

African Red Slip
African red slip
African red slip is a category of terra sigillata, or "fine" Ancient Roman pottery produced in the province of Africa Proconsularis, specifically that part roughly coinciding with the modern country of Tunisia and the Diocletianic provinces of Byzacena and Zeugitana. It is distinguished by a...

 ware belonged to the same tradition, and continued to be made much later than Italian and Gaulish sigillata, right through to the Islamic conquest
Muslim conquests
Muslim conquests also referred to as the Islamic conquests or Arab conquests, began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Muslim power.They...

. The production of related types of wares existed in Asia Minor
Asia Minor
Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...

 and 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.
Most of these wares were widely distributed and were produced on an industrial scale (the largest kilns could fire up to 40,000 pieces at a time ), 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 in Pisa
Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the right bank of the mouth of the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa...

 in Tuscany, and at branch factories at both Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....

 and La Graufesenque
La Graufesenque
La Graufesenque is an archaeological site 2km from Millau, Aveyron, France, at the confluence of the Tarn and Dourbie rivers. As Condatomagus , it was famous in the Gallo-Roman period for the production of high quality dark red terra sigillata Roman pottery, which was made in vast quantities and...

 in 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-maker's name, that of the bowl-maker or finisher (for example, on the rim), and the 'brand-name' of the factory in the decoration. The use of slave labour in the Italian workshops is unproven, though some names are certainly of (freedmen, that is, freed former slaves). The site of La Graufesenque in South Gaul, near Millau
Millau is a commune in the Aveyron department in southern France. It is located at the confluence of the Tarn and Dourbie rivers.-History:...

, has been extensively studied and excavated. 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.

In 1895, the German scholar Hans Dragendorff
Hans Dragendorff
Hans Dragendorff was a German scholar who introduced the first classification system for the type of Ancient Roman pottery known as Samian ware or Terra Sigillata, in 1896, using type numbers...

 produced 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). 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 Déchelette, Knorr, Curle, Walters, Loeschcke, Ritterling and Ludowici, to name but a few.

The most common method of making relief decoration on the surface of an open vessel was to throw a pottery bowl whose interior profile corresponded with the desired form of the final vessel's exterior. The internal surface was then decorated using individual positive stamps (), usually themselves made of fired clay, or small wheels bearing repeated motifs, such as the ovolo
Ovolo in architecture, is a convex molding known also as the echinus, which in Classical architecture was invariably carved with the egg-and-dart ornament. The molding is called a quarter-round by woodworkers...

 (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. 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 appliqué motifs (sprigs) and/or barbotine
Barbotine is the French for ceramic slip, or a mixture of clay and water used for moulding or decorating pottery. In English the term is used for two different techniques. In the first, common from the Ancient World onwards, the barbotine is piped onto the object rather as cakes are decorated...

 decoration (slip-trailing). The latter technique was particularly popular at the East Gaulish workshops of Rheinzabern
Rheinzabern is a small town in the south-east of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany near the Rhine river.Currently, Rheinzabern, that belongs to the "Landkreis Germersheim" has approx...

, and was also widely used on other pottery types.
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 and glass table vessels
Roman glass
Roman glass objects have been recovered across the Roman Empire in domestic, industrial and funerary contexts. Glass was used primarily for the production of vessels, although mosaic tiles and window glass were also produced. Roman glass production developed from Hellenistic technical traditions,...

 of 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.

ARS (African Red Slip
African red slip
African red slip is a category of terra sigillata, or "fine" Ancient Roman pottery produced in the province of Africa Proconsularis, specifically that part roughly coinciding with the modern country of Tunisia and the Diocletianic provinces of Byzacena and Zeugitana. It is distinguished by a...

) 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 5th–6th centuries. It was manufactured in the province of (approximately modern Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

), 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. Instead, appliqué 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.

Other fine wares

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. Many of these plates and dishes in red-slipped () and black-slipped () 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 the Nene Valley
River Nene
The River Nene is a river in the east of England that rises from three sources in the county of Northamptonshire. The tidal river forms the border between Cambridgeshire and Norfolk for about . It is the tenth longest river in the United Kingdom, and is navigable for from Northampton to The...

 belong 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. 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.
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. The glazes vary in colour from amber to brown and many shades of green.

Tableware made of Egyptian faience
Egyptian faience
Egyptian faience is a non-clay based ceramic displaying surface vitrification which creates a bright lustre of various blue-green colours. Having not been made from clay it is often not classed as pottery. It is called "Egyptian faience" to distinguish it from faience, the tin glazed pottery...

, 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.

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.

Cooking pots

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. 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-British 'black 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.


However, one vessel type used in food preparation was closely linked with the spread of Roman culture and Roman cuisine: the . 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 purée 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'; 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. 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.


Description and function

An amphora is a type of vase-shaped, usually ceramic container with two handles and a long neck narrower than the body...

e, 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 also , 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.

Studies on amphorae

The first systematic classification of amphorae types was undertaken by the German scholar Heinrich Dressel
Heinrich Dressel
Heinrich Dressel was a German archaeologist. He is best known for several books on Latin inscriptions, and he is the discoverer of the Duenos inscription, one of the oldest extant examples of Old Latin writing....

. 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 the . In his studies of the amphorae deposit he was the first one to elaborate a classification of types, the so-called Dressel table, 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, and the revised classification by van der Werff in 1977–1978. The Gallic amphorae have been studied by Laubenheimer in a study published in 1989, whereas the Cretan amphorae have been analyzed by Marangou-Lerat. Beltràn studied the Spanish types in 1970. Adriatic types have been studied by Lamboglia in 1955. For a general analysis of the Western Mediterranean types see Panella, and Peacock and Williams.


Amphorae were wheel-thrown terracotta containers. During the production process the body was made first and then let it partially dry. Then, coils of clay would be added to form the neck, the rim, and the handles. Once the amphora was completed, the interior was treated with resin in order to ensure a better performance in liquid storage. 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. 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 the (workshop) and/or the name of the owner of the workshop. Painted stamps, , were executed when the amphora was completed and provided indications regarding the weight of the container and the content.


The first type of Roman amphora, Dressel 1, appears in central Italy in the late 2nd BCE. This type had thick walls and a characteristic red fabric. It was very heavy, though also strong. Around the middle of the 1st century BCE the so-called Dressel 2–4 starts to become widely used. 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 4500 Dressel 1, it was possible to fit 6000 Dressel 2–4 in the same space. Dressel 2–4 were often produced in the same workshops used for the production of Dressel 1 which almost suddenly ceased to be used. At the same time in Cuma (southern Italy) the production of the type starts (Dressel 21–22). 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-called Spello
Spello is an ancient town and comune of Italy, in the province of Perugia in east central Umbria, on the lower southern flank of Mt. Subasio. It is 6 km NNW of Foligno and 10 km SSE of Assisi.The old walled town lies on a regularly NW-SE sloping ridge that eventually meets the plain...

 amphorae, 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 BCE. This type develops later into the Dressel 6A which becomes dominant during Augustan times.

In the Gallic provinces the first examples of Roman amphorae were local imitations of pre-existent types such as Dressel 1, Dressel 2–4, Pascual 1, and Haltern 70. The more typical Gallic production begins within the ceramic ateliers in Marseille
Marseille , known in antiquity as Massalia , is the second largest city in France, after Paris, with a population of 852,395 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Marseille extends beyond the city limits with a population of over 1,420,000 on an area of...

 during the late Augustan times. The type Oberaden 74 was produced to such an extent that it influenced the production of some Italic types. Spanish amphorae became particularly popular thanks to a flourishing production phase in the late Republican times. The and regions (south-western and eastern Spain) were the main production areas between the 2nd and the 1st century BCE 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 7–13, 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 2–4.

North-African production was based on ancient tradition which could be traced back to the Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

n colony of Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

. 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 in Tripolitania
Tripolitania or Tripolitana is a historic region and former province of Libya.Tripolitania was a separate Italian colony from 1927 to 1934...

 and Northern Tunisia are the Maña C1 and C2, later renamed van Der Werff 1, 2, and 3. In the Aegean area the types from the island of Rhodes
Rhodes is an island in Greece, located in the eastern Aegean Sea. It is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population, with a population of 117,007, and also the island group's historical capital. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within...

 were quite popular starting from the 3rd century BCE thanks to the local wine production which flourished for long time. This types developed into the Camulodunum 184, an amphora used for the transportation of the Rhodian wine all over the empire. Imitations of the Dressel 2–4 were produced in the island of Cos for the transportation of wine from the 4th BCE until the middle imperial times. 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 CE. 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 CE. 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 CE, while Italic productions ceased to exist.


Artificial lighting was commonplace in the Roman world. Candles, made from beeswax or tallow
Tallow is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat, processed from suet. It is solid at room temperature. Unlike suet, tallow can be stored for extended periods without the need for refrigeration to prevent decomposition, provided it is kept in an airtight container to prevent oxidation.In industry,...

, 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. 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.

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 central , a circular area usually around 4–6 cm. 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 the menorah are also found). 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 as , using an existing lamp as the archetype for producing the mould, rather than creating a hand-modelled clay archetype.

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 as ('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 of Fortis, and his products were evidently copied outside his own workshop in Italy – or perhaps Fortis had his own branch factories in the provinces. The Gaulish in the picture on the right, found in London, is stamped on the base with the name of the maker Atimetus.

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 as plastic lamps ('plastic' meaning 'modelled or moulded').

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.

Terracotta figurines

Italian styles exerted much less influence across the Empire in terracotta figurines or statuettes than in pottery vessels; here the longstanding traditions of Greek terracotta figurines
Greek Terracotta Figurines
Terracotta figurines are a mode of artistic and religious expression frequently found in Ancient Greece. Cheap and easily produced, these figurines abound and provide an invaluable testimony to the everyday life and religion of the Ancient Greeks.-Modelling:...

, 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 native Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 tradition of making terracotta figurines, but new industries developed under Roman influence manufacturing mould-made figures in fine white pipeclay. 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. 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.

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 made without any religious or ritual purpose. The religious subjects often include local traditions and cults: for example, the Romano-Egyptian repertoire of terracottas includes Egyptian deities, such as Harpocrates
In late Greek mythology as developed in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Harpocrates is the god of silence. Harpocrates was adapted by the Greeks from the Egyptian child god Horus. To the ancient Egyptians, Horus represented the new-born Sun, rising each day at dawn...

, the Graeco-Roman form of Horus
Horus is one of the oldest and most significant deities in the Ancient Egyptian religion, who was worshipped from at least the late Predynastic period through to Greco-Roman times. Different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists...

, while Celtic gods appear amongst those made in the Central Gaulish industries, centred in the Allier
Allier is a department in central France named after the river Allier.- History :Allier is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. It was created from parts of the former provinces of Auvergne and Bourbonnais.In 1940, the government of Marshal...

 Valley and the Rhineland
Historically, the Rhinelands refers to a loosely-defined region embracing the land on either bank of the River Rhine in central Europe....

 industry at Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

A Celtic mother-goddess nursing one, or sometimes two, infants, is one of the most popular Central Gaulish types., though Venus was also very frequently represented in Gaul. The mother-goddess figurines are shown seated in high-backed basketwork chairs that seem to have been typical of Gaul and Britain. Figurines from the Allier Valley and Cologne sources sometimes bear the signatures of modellers and/or mouldmakers. As in the case of the Gaulish samian industries, the makers' names and the styles and themes all illustrate the fusion of local and Mediterranean traditions.

Brick, tile and other architectural ceramics

Two manufactured materials were of great importance in Roman architecture: concrete
Concrete is a composite construction material, composed of cement and other cementitious materials such as fly ash and slag cement, aggregate , water and chemical admixtures.The word concrete comes from the Latin word...

 and fired clay in the form of structural bricks and tiles, and to a lesser extent, in architectural decoration. These materials were used in buildings all over the Roman Empire, and in many areas, they fell out of use again after the Roman period, only to be rediscovered centuries later. Like other mass-produced Roman ceramic objects, bricks and tiles were often marked with inscriptions that indicate their manufacturer, or the organisation or authority, military or civilian, for which they had been made.
The Roman brick
Roman brick
Roman brick can refer either to a type of brick originating in Ancient Rome and spread by the Romans to the lands they conquered; or to a modern type of brick, inspired by the ancient prototypes...

s used for building walls are often referred to as 'tiles', because they are rather thin, flat squares, made in standard sizes, often related to the Roman foot ( 11 inches or 27.9 cm), from around 20 cm to about 58 cm square, and about 5–7 cm thick. Even stone-built walls frequently incorporated horizontal tile-courses. Brick-built walls were finished with various types of facing, rendering or plastering on both exterior and interior surfaces, so that the bricks themselves were not visible.

Tiles used for roofing were intended to be seen, however. Roof-tiles were of distinctive shapes, the (pl. ), which was a large, thin tile, almost square, with upturned flanges on its longer sides, and the (pl. ), of slightly tapered half-cylindrical form. The imbrices, interlocking because of their tapered form, were laid over the raised flanges of the tegulae, and together formed the characteristic ridged tiled roof still to be seen in Italy and southern France today. The pitch of such a roof has to be fairly low, not more than about 30 degrees. The roof was finished with a series of plain ridge-tiles, and often with decorative finials, which could also be of terracotta, at the gable.

Some buildings also featured antefixes, vertical ornaments of triangular or rounded shape that were placed along the edge of the roof. They, too, were often made of terracotta, and could be decorated with pictorial motifs intended to avert ill-luck, or with inscriptions: those made in military tileries attached to legionary forts bore the number and symbol of the relevant legion.
Roman hypocaust
A hypocaust was an ancient Roman system of underfloor heating, used to heat houses with hot air. The word derives from the Ancient Greek hypo meaning "under" and caust-, meaning "burnt"...

 heating systems made extensive use of fired clay elements: The space beneath the floor of a room to be heated was supported on robust pillars (pilae), usually made of small, square bricks mortared together, so that the heat from the adjacent furnace could circulate freely. In public and private bath-houses
In ancient Rome, thermae and balnea were facilities for bathing...

 (essential to the Roman way of life), heat was also carried up through the walls in flues made of interlocking box-tiles. Though these were covered up by wall facings both inside and out, they were sometimes manufactured with quite elaborate geometric and even figural decoration. Pipes for water and drainage were also often made of fired clay.

Ceramic tiles were not normally used for flooring in Roman buildings, though , a favoured flooring material, was composed of concrete and crushed tile, and carefully cut small squares from tiles were often used in mosaic
Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral...

 floors, about 2–3 cm. square being used for plain borders, and smaller squares, about 1 cm., where a red colour was required in a pictorial mosaic with multi-coloured geometric or figural designs.

The edge of a roof might be embellished with plaques called antefixes, as mentioned above, and some pottery relief
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...

Revetments, or revêtements , have a variety of meanings in architecture, engineering and art history. In stream restoration, river engineering or coastal management, they are sloping structures placed on banks or cliffs in such a way as to absorb the energy of incoming water...

" panels with figurative scenes for setting into walls emulate the marble friezes of grand temples. These are still often called "Campana reliefs", after Giampietro Campana
Giampietro Campana
Giampietro Campana , created marchese di Cavelli , was an Italian art collector who assembled one of the nineteenth century's greatest collection of Greek and Roman sculpture and antiquities. The part of his collection of Hellenistic and Roman gold jewellery conserved in the Musée du Louvre...

, the 19th century Italian scholar and collector who first studied them. They were developed from about 50 BCE and were used almost entirely in Italy between Tuscany and Campania – areas once in the ambit of the Etruscan
Etruscan society
Etruscan society is mainly known through the memorial and achievemental inscriptions on monuments of Etruscan civilization, especially tombs. This information emphasizes family data. Some contractual information is also available from various sources...

 culture of which they seem a continuation. Initially used on small temples, they are later found on a wide range of public and private buildings. Usually between 22 and 50 cm high and 27 to 48 cm wide, plaques were perhaps typically arranged in bands or frieze
thumb|267px|Frieze of the [[Tower of the Winds]], AthensIn architecture the frieze is the wide central section part of an entablature and may be plain in the Ionic or Doric order, or decorated with bas-reliefs. Even when neither columns nor pilasters are expressed, on an astylar wall it lies upon...

s. Subjects are usually drawn from mythology. They cease to be found after the middle of the 2nd century; they had to compete with moulded stucco as well as wall-paintings.

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