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The Trimontium Museum Archive

Samian Ware Pottery

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Samian ware, also known as ‘terra sigillata’, was the fine tableware of Roman Britain. ‘Terra sigillata‘ means “ware made of clay impressed with designs”. Its distinctive appearance is given by a glossy finish ranging from soft lustre to a glaze like shine. Produced in Gaul on an industrial scale in standard shapes and sizes, it became widely used and exported throughout the Roman world.

The Greek Megarian bowls from Pergamum are precursors of the technique. Colours vary from pale orange to bright red and pieces can be plain or decorated. Typically, with foliage, flowers, deities, animals, mythical stories and gladiatorial scenes. Names of individual potters or workshops are often found stamped into the object along with signatures of mould makers. This allows pieces to be closely dated, providing very accurate chronology for other finds.

Production extended from 1st Century BC to the 3rd Century AD. From the first workshops, appearing in Italy, came expensive luxury objects. Large scale production began at Arretium (Arezzo) during the reign of Augustus (Arrentian ware). Utilizing moulds and stamps made it popular and affordable.

First classified in 1895 by Hans Dragendorff, Samian ware is found throughout Britain. Many fragments and complete specimens have been uncovered from the Roman fort at Trimontium.

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