Trade, Exchange and Interaction : Pottery and other artefacts. Production and trade

Pottery, as the most prolific type of artefact found on Roman sites, has traditionally been important for establishing chronologies and identifying patterns of production and trade. In addition, distinctive consumption patterns are evident, with ‘military type’ supply for industrial and military settlements and rural assemblages having different compositions. The last decade has seen the publication of finds assemblages from a range of site types as well as comparative inter-site studies and more detailed research into regional manufacture and supply.

Military sites and urban centres provide the largest and most wide-ranging assemblages in the region. The potential of finds assemblages from forts to inform on trade, interaction, acculturation and chronology is exemplified by that from Ravenglass fort (C). Despite its small size, the pottery assemblage from Ravenglass is important as fully-quantified assemblages from this period are rare in the region. The nearby Muncaster kilns provided a substantial proportion of the cooking wares at Ravenglass into the second half of the 2nd century AD, but seem to have been supplanted by major industries from further afield by the 3rd century as such industries and trade developed, perhaps reflecting the rise of civilian enterprises as military production diminished (Bidwell and Croom 2015). There is one example of a fine-oxidised ware dish of probable Hadrianic date in an Upper German tradition. Black-burnished ware from south-east Dorset was common across the site and indicates that this was an important supply source throughout the life of the vicus. Pottery from the Severn Valley, the West Midlands and the Lower Nene Valley was also well-represented in the assemblage, with a dominance of Mancetter-Hartshill mortaria in the 3rd century being a common feature in assemblages from north-west England (Hartley 1991, 173). Some of the thin-walled oxidised wares may be later 2nd- to 3rd-century local imitations of Severn Valley ware, similar to vessels found in a kiln dump at Carlisle (Swan et al. 2009).  The quantity of amphorae at Ravenglass is typical of coastal sites, indicating the importance of sea trade and connections with the wider Roman trading network, and the ubiquity of samian across the site also testifies to this. The date range of the pottery indicates that occupation of the vicus continued until at least c. AD 270, with an upper date limit suggested by the absence of East Yorkshire wares, which became common in forts along Hadrian’s Wall from the late 3rd century AD. Two fragments of a face jar with applied bosses and incised lines offer a parallel with a hitherto unique face jar from Old Penrith (Braithwaite 2007), with the applied bosses distinguishing them from other face jars where the bosses are pushed out from the body of the vessel. (S5449) The presence of imported pottery from the continent, and from potteries in the province on the coast (or with access to the sea) strongly suggests coastal trade and presumably the importance of Ravenglass as a port. Other imported materials, such as jet and Skiddaw Slate probably also reached Ravenglass by river and sea rather than by road. (S5449)

Other major assemblages included Wigan (GM) which consisted of over 2000 sherds of pottery, including samian ware, South Spanish olive oil amphorae, black-burnished vessels from Dorset and locally-produced grey and oxidised wares. Three glass vessels, a glass bangle and window glass fragments were also present. Pottery kilns have also been identified at 7a Fisher Street, Carlisle (C), producing wasters and potters’ stamps as well as kiln structures (Johnson et al. 2012).

Comparative work on ceramic assemblages from rural sites, such as Leary’s studies of Mellor and Norley (e.g. Leary 2009), have benefited from an increase in the sample size, and recurring patterns are beginning to emerge. Thus, rural sites in Cheshire display in general higher levels of pottery use than those north of the Mersey, or indeed those further south in the Cornovian heartland around Wroxeter (Smith et al. 2016, 300-306), suggesting closer integration into the market for mass-produced traded goods in the area around the legionary fortress and canabae (Carrington 2012, 399-400).

A consistent suite of pottery ware types is present amongst the military, civil and rural settlements (cf. Webster 2011). Assemblages are dominated after AD 120 by Black-burnished ware (BB1), and oxidised wares from the Cheshire-Lancashire Plain; with low levels of samian (examined in detail by Ward 2011). The power of the marketing networks of the major pottery production centres can be seen in the 2nd century with the rise of Mancetter-Hartshill mortaria and Nene Valley products. Dominant wares of the later 4th century largely consist of Huntcliff and calcite-gritted wares, while shell-tempered wares from the South Midlands from the later 3rd century. The influence of coastal trade is evident in the strong showing of BB1, in both rural and military sites, and South Spanish amphorae. Within the overall patterns, detailed variation due to local geographical patterns is exemplified by the rural site at Mellor on the margin of the Pennine upland area which has Derbyshire ware showing interaction with the production and marketing areas to the east of the Pennines.

Peter Webster (2011) has recently discussed the mechanism for regional manufacture and supply alongside trade and importation of pottery, and sale by local merchants or itinerant traders at regional centres such as Chester, Lancaster and Walton-le-Dale from where it was distributed to the rural hinterland. The network of local pottery manufacturing in the immediate vicinity of military and associated civilian population centres was either established by the army or provided sufficiently large markets to stimulate potters from outside to move in to meet the demand (Webster 2011, 60-61). He suggests some Flavian pottery production was private enterprise on the back of tile manufacture. Webster addresses the question of the identity of the potters who supplied military centres from Holt or elsewhere. He notes that pottery production was not exclusively for military use and argues that a low-level military bureaucracy was engaged in purchasing from private enterprise and a multiplicity of suppliers, as indicated in the Vindolanda tablets. By the early 2nd century the importation of BB1 in large quantities seems to have spelt the demise of the Flavian local manufacturers and during the 2nd century larger producers began to capture large swathes of the market (Nene Valley; Mancetter-Hartshill mortaria).

Webster (2011, 68) argues that the concept that there were separate military and civilian markets is probably false and it is likely that merchants will have regarded any settlement of any size as a potential marketing opportunity. Thus, rural settlements will have acquired their pottery from merchants based in military or civil markets. The overall trade was dominated by a small number of large merchants who controlled extensive distribution networks, at first including the continent, but after demise of much imported wares, throughout Britain.

A national survey by Willis (2011) attempts to move samian studies beyond use for dating to compare samian use at different types of site, military sites, extramural settlements outside military installations. The character of samian assemblages was seen as a sensitive indicator of wealth and status of sites. At two military sites, Birdoswald and Castle Green Carlisle, a remarkably high proportion of samian persists through the early Roman period, suggesting through the role of Carlisle as a transport node the ware was shipped in in quantity for redistribution to Hadrian’s Wall and its corridor (Willis 2011, 181-182). The high levels of samian use in extramural settlements suggest they were ‘closely articulated with the exchange systems of the Empire via the road system and association with a fortress/fort, but additionally, a large proportion of their occupants are likely to have been accustomed to Roman practice and material culture’ (Willis 2011, 182).

Margaret Ward has examined the samian supply to the North West (2011), using a statistical profile for each site to investigate questions of site chronologies, status and lifestyles and trade patterns (2011, 99). She draws close parallels between the methodology of numismatists and samian specialists, both artefact types are closely datable in manufacture though production, circulation and use-life patterns may diverge and need to be judged for coins at least on their own terms. The small size of samples means they are open to distortion through individualistic events, importation of vessels as personal possessions or small groups of vessels as special orders.


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