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1.3 The status of samian ware in the Roman era

That samian was considered different to other pottery types and particularly valued is strongly apparent from a series of indicators. Samian, for instance, is far more frequently repaired than other pottery types in Roman Britain, indicating that it was valued and worthy of the resources expended upon repair (cf. Section 11; Willis 1997a, 39; 1998a, 119). Similarly samian shows much greater tendency to be inscribed with graffiti than do other pottery types, demonstrating a concern to mark ownership: this pottery was worthy of possession (cf. Evans 1987; Willis 1997a, 39; 1998a, 86). Samian forms were also copied widely in Roman Britain amongst regional and local producers showing a level of interest in the ware and perhaps its customary uses (Willis 1997c).

Samian required considerable resources both to produce and to transport to its consumer sites. If one folllows a 'labour theory of value' approach this is likely to have been a comparatively pricey commodity despite the economies of scale in its production. Samian vessels were indeed evidently costly to purchase: a Drag. 37 of Cinnamus has a graffito pricing it at 20 asses, the approximate equivalent of one day's pay for a soldier, and a Ludowici Ta' plate has a graffito indicating 12 asses (Darling 1998, 169). Despite potential cost, samian permeated society in Roman Britain as elsewhere, suggesting that it was popular and necessary as an accoutrement of social interactions and display. Some further aspects indicate that samian had an extraordinary status within provincial communities.

Samian wares develop from Arretine fine table ware made in Arezzo and elsewhere in the late Republican period. Arretine vessels were sufficiently distinctive to be noticed separately by several ancient authors and, according to King, they were presumably also valued by the populace in general (1980, 142). Brian Hartley records the fact that several early La Graufesenque and Lezoux potters used stamps with Arretinus or an abbreviation thereof because these potters thought of themselves as producing 'arretine ware' (Hartley 1977). King adds that Arretinus or an abbreviation stamped on pottery would probably have been a good selling point in so far as Arretine pottery was acknowledged as of quality (1980, 142).

Almost invariably samian is the most prominent and frequent fine ware type encountered among site deposits dating between c. AD 50-250/300 in Britain. Among the assemblage from the 1980 excavations at Vindolanda, for instance, samian is the most frequent fine ware type throughout the sequence (Bidwell 1985, table IX).

That samian was considered different from other pottery types and was treated in distinct ways is further indicated by the results of the present study. These are documented in the text of this report.

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