Friday, 17 May 2013

Samian Ware

You always find something special. Find of the day this time was my first Roman samian ware - nearly 2000 years old. This small piece of pottery was just sitting, upside down on the pebbles. As I turned it over I caught lettering in the middle of the bowl. Liking things with writing I knew it would be plopped into my bag. I assumed it was stoneware but as I looked more closely the lettering had a Roman look, so felt a little excited. What's weird is that it looks so modern, almost machine made, similar to the stuff churned out in Staffordshire from the late 18th Century. 
Mudlarking Find: Base of Roman Samian Ware 

Samian Ware(British Museum) 

Base (British Museum) 

I subsequently learnt that 'samian' potters often stamped their name in the base of their bowls. The next day my youngest helped me decipher the name TAVRICIM rising up from the base of my find, which as V's = U's in Latin is Tauricim. I found one mention in a 1895 reference book from the Musee Lyon 'inscriptions antiques'. Next to his or her name is 'Sainte-Colombe' a town in Western France - perhaps the potter was based here. 

Mudlarking Find:  Roman Samian Ware with Potters Stamp TAVRICIM. 
Samian ware or terra sigillata as it is sometimes referred to was first produced at the end of the  first century BC in Italy. By the mid 1st century AD, Gaul (modern day France & western Germany) had become the major producer. This pottery was produced and exported in vast quantities  throughout Europe and remained very popular for 250 years. At some point it was also produced on a smaller scale in Britain at Colchester and possibly London.  I can't quite comprehend how massive this industry was. There were 600 potters alone in La Graufesenque, one of the major sites of production in Gaul. The remains of one kiln measured 11.3m by 6.8m, the height an estimated 7 metres. With up to 9 internal storeys dismantled each time, the capacity is estimated at 30,000 - 40,000 vessels.  I wonder if Samian ware was the first mass produced fine table ware ever? It was refined but relatively cheap and used mainly for the presentation of food or display in its own right. 
Principal terra sigillata kiln sites( 
Samian ware can be plain or decorated. They look so modern because they were made in moulds. They shrank as they dried enabling fairly easy removal from the moulds. Their orangey glossy look is due to a bit of slip dipping, after which they were fired. Seemingly all rather controlled and organised there were standardised shapes and matching sets. 

South Gaulish Samian Ware showing standardisation of size (wiki)  
The decorated pieces are rather lovely. Animals and  figures depict myths and legends,  popular hunting or erotic scenes. Some fuse classical designs with native 'Gaul' traditions. As with those 19th century hunting jugs, particular designs are associated with individual potteries. The style of decoration changed over time, beginning with bands of decoration with a rather formal, precise style and ending with larger more freestyle designs. 
Decorated Samian Ware (Museum of London) 

Roman Barbotine Vessle 2nd C AD (Christies) 
Its longevity means there is tons of this stuff buried beneath us. A number of different classification systems arise from the years archaeologists have spent sorting, sifting, categorising and labelling this stuff. The potters stamps and decorative motives enable dating to within 20 years in some cases, hence samian ware with the right clues like clay pipes surrenders the date of a layer of finds. 

The rest of this particular day was characterised by tea bowls, I found yet another armorial pipe and this time coveted shard after shard of debased blue stoneware which I'm amassing with some notion of mosaic making. I was able to return Brian's 'piggy' glass seal, say goodbye to our lovely French ex archaeologist who is moving the States. I was lucky to meet Jim just before I left,  a follower of the blog,  who is over for a three week trip to the UK from the States with frequent mudlarking forages when he and his wife have time. I didn't quite remember Jim from followers on the blog, so it appears that wordpress followers don't show up on blogger. Interesting how many Americans make their way across the pond to do a bit of mudlarking.   


  1. Wow! That is an amazing find!

  2. Now I want to go mudlarking by the Thames.

  3. hello Julia. I have several nice 17 th, 18 th C items for you if interested. my email is oberhot followed by ampersand the 'eckerd' then dot and then 'edu' I can send pictures but don't know how to reach you.

  4. Hi, your potter is apparently on a list held by Chichester Museum - see The Archaeological Journal 1889, vol 46. The potter Tavricim is mentioned on pages 71/72 - the journal is online (free, just take a moment to scroll through to the pages).Thank you for brilliant blog.

    1. Thanks for this tip, I'll have a look