Making Samarian Ware: Dating the Romans
Lecture held on October 17th 2012 at the Methodist Church Hall, Delph

The lecture was given by one of our members, Felicity Wild, an independent Samarian specialist, who was introduced by Paul Renshaw. Samarian ware is found as two types, decorated or plain ware, and was the name used for all pottery in ancient times. The many pot styles are all numbered and from the 1st and 2nd century AD, Aretium being the precursor of Samarian, from Arezzo, in Italy.


Decorated moulded bowls were made in Asia Minor with a black glossy finish which possibly imitated metal. The change to the red colour was around the 1st century AD. The potter stamped their name on the base of the pots, and decorated them with plants and figures.


The potters later migrated to southern France, Vichy, Lezoux, Les Martres , La Graufesenque. A daily firing of pottery was thought to be 30000 vessels, and the decoration was from classical designs. Examples have been found in Scotland, Inveresk , Cardean (70-90 AD) , Northwich and Nantwich in Cheshire (90-110 AD) In 120-140 AD Lesoux was supplying pots to Britain, but this finished in about 200 AD, when the potters moved to the Rhine and Danube areas, Trier and Rhinezabern, until AD 260.


The hand- made pots were made using refined clay on a potter’s wheel, and glazed with a solution of “slip”, fine clay, then stamps called “poincons” were impressed into the clay.


Clay was pressed into a mould and left to dry, after which it shrank and was easily removed from the mound. The pots were then fired in an updraft kiln in which tubes took the gases which blacked the clay away from the pots.


Samarian ware was an indication of the owner’s wealth, being more expensive than local wares, and showed the influence of the Romans. The dating of pottery can be done from the potter’s names and their stamps.


In Pompeii crates of pots were found unopened, so were dated prior to AD79, and in Scotland the style or form number 29/37 could be dated to Agricola 78-84 AD.


Agricola returned to Rome after a battle at the Moray Firth and further examples, form 37/30 was found around Vindolanda dating about 85-90 AD. The earliest trading route found through the area about 100 AD is thought to be over the Lancashire plain by the coin finds, and Rochester is possibly pre Agricola from the pottery finds.


Samarian bowls were valuable and were repaired using rivets or lead joints, in a similar manner to repairs carried out in China today.


Felicity was thanked by Nora Moncur for a very interesting talk and for bringing several examples of pottery to be examined.



Edith Howarth     

© Saddleworth Archaeological Trust , 2012