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Romano-British Pottery, Samian Ware (55 B.C.)

( Originally Published Late 1800's )



In no locality of the world has the subject of Roman pottery been more thoroughly investigated than in England. With the materials immediately at hand, and recorded history to aid in the research, better advantages could scarcely have been offered.

The ceramist has but to dig the foundations of his house in London to find the evidences necessary to the beginning of a history of Roman occupation. Defiant of time and decay, these little remnants of the household and the arts of England's first invasive possessors, lie far beneath the present surface of her landscape. London, through her perseverance and eager adaptation of every principle which affords the slightest addition to her history and the world's enlightenment, has not allowed this valuable opportunity to escape. Not only in this, but in all the domain of fictilia, English minds of unquestionable ability have doubtless done more to elucidate and classify than those of any other country of like sympathies and civilization.

In speaking of London, Chaffers remarks: "Every generation has left some token of former habitation, however insignificant, and traces of the early British, Roman, Saxon, Norman, and early English races may be discovered by the attentive observer... Evidence of Roman occupation is always manifested by the discovery of numerous fragments of a beautiful coralline red ware, commonly known as Sanaian. These are discovered twelve or fifteen feet below the present level of London city, among undoubted Roman remains."

These combined facts led to the formation, in London, of a society of practical geology, whose labor it became to develop the sources of information which these opportunities offered. Their success, as a body of investigators, has proved most useful and interesting. The vasa fictilia of England have become an important accessory to local history, as well as a valuable contribution to the records of this art as practised by the ancient Latins. Among all the ancient wares previously mentioned, little or nothing is known regarding the artizan or constructor, but upon these specimens the name of the producer is frequently met, in the usual Latin form of abbreviation. The St. Martin-le-Grand vase bears the inscription -OF. VITAL, or, Officina Vitalz's; from the workshops of Vitalis.

Throughout England and the continent the color of this ware is the same, and this has been the source of much discussion regarding the original locality of its manufacture.

In the work of M. Brongniart, "Traite des Arts Ccramiques," he says: "This resemblance in respect to texture, the density, and above all the color of this ware, in every country, is a sort of enigma difficult to solve in a satisfactory manner, for when we consider the number of places at a great distance from each other where it is discovered, and the difference of soil in each, the difficulty arises how the Roman potters could everywhere make a paste so exactly similar,, with materials so necessarily different, for it cannot be supposed they would carry with them their paste for making these vessels. It may, however, be supposed that choosing a spot where they could procure a clay; colorless, and adapted to furnish a paste sufficiently dense, they gave it the nasturtium red color, by introducing a portion of ochre."

The mould and lathe, or potter's wheel, were both in use among the artizans who produced this ware, as the marks of both are plainly visible upon many of the specimens, and the style of. decoration was in relief only. Roman mythology furnished subject material, with games, gladiatorial combats, hunting subjects and field sports. Animals are also introduced, and there are some copies of existing statues showing that even then these statues were held in high repute. Amphorae, poculae, and vestal lamps are also found among these remains, these all being the table-ware and articles of domestic use among the Romans. The ware was devoted to ornament as well as memorial pieces, and statuettes of graceful and pleasing design have also been found, although not in such profusion as pieces of utility. I have reviewed the Roman fictilia as Romano-English, because it is best known through these English sources and their mediums of diffusion. Doubtless much of the ware from the Island of Samos is of earlier date than that found in England, and of course antedates the Roman occupation, but the historic research of this ground is not so thorough as that of the countries which lie within more convenient reach of modern inquest.



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