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6.5.2 Lezoux samian of the Hadrianic and Antonine periods in Britain

It is widely appreciated that during the period c. AD 100-120 there was a marked dip in the supply of samian to Britain in the period between the decline of the La Graufesenque industry and the emergence of Lezoux as a major source. What is less apparent from the synthetic literature is that the level of samian supplied to Britain from Lezoux during the Hadrianic to early Antonine era, approximating to the period c. AD 120-150, was much lower than during the mid to late Antonine period, c. AD 150-200. This seems, for instance, to explain the pattern of Lezoux ware from the Caerleon canabae, 1984-90 (Hartley 2000).

Groups of Hadrianic samian of any size are infrequent in the literature, especially for the decade AD 130-140. Samian assemblages dating to this period might be thought available from sites along Hadrian's Wall, but this is generally not so. Results of much of the work in the first half of the 20th century are, of course, commendably published, though groups are often small, or incompletely listed. The Birdoswald 'Alley group' (Birley 1930; Willis forthcoming f) notably remains a key group, dating to the period before c. AD 150 and probably before c. AD 140. In the later 20th century there was a lack of publication of full lists of samian from sites investigated along Hadrian's Wall; similarly there was a lack of quantification which is now recognised as a major flaw in the publications relating to that work (Evans and Willis 1997).

That groups of samian dating to the Hadrianic period are not prominent in the literature is a widely observable phenomenon. Hartley had identified a paucity of material of this date from certain northern military sites (1972b, 33, table 5). In the case of these military sites, this might be because many contexts of this date from such sites will be constructional, and not related to occupation; in addition lack of finds from forts is often noted and interpreted as the result of orderly regimes with rubbish discarded outside the fort. In reporting the pottery from various excavations in the West Bridge area of Leicester, Pollard also noted a lack of Hadrianic samian (1994, 77). Likewise Greene's graphs (1974; 1982) illustrating the frequency of samian from a number of major British sites, based on samian stamp dates, show that samian attributable to this period is comparatively infrequent. In addition, Marsh's (1981) figures 11.5 and 11.7 for decorated ware and stamps from London indicate that this period equates to a trough in supply. Groups of this date occur in Britain but they are much less common than those of Antonine date, a period which sees a marked rise in the increase of Lezoux samian in Britain. Monaghan, for example, notes in the case of York that, 'Hadrianic and early Antonine [samian] is found only in modest quantities on most sites, but samian dating to after 160 is abundant' (1998, 949; cf. Marsh 1981, fig. 11.8, no. 8).

The report on the 1987-92 work at Birdoswald (Wilmott 1997; Dickinson 1997b; Mills 1997b) and the summary of Roman pottery from excavations in Colchester 1971-86 (Symonds and Wade 1999, fig. 2.42) demonstrate that there are amounts of Hadrianic samian at both fort and town sites, though, as at York, it is not very common at either site. Later 2nd century samian registers much more prominently at Birdoswald and Colchester than does samian of c. AD 120-140/150.

Both Greene (1982) and Going (1992a) have seen this trough as an economic phenomenon. The suggestion that the remarkable lack of dated groups for this period may actually arise from a structural anomaly in the dating of deposits of this period is improbable, since knowledge of the typology of the Lezoux industry in the first half of the 2nd century is strong. Nonetheless the relative infrequency of samian sherds of this period must have implications for those arriving at dates for site phases and sequences, since the samian is usually important for establishing such dates.

Research for this project has identified a robust sample of groups of the period under discussion here (i.e. c. AD 120-140/150). Hence the database includes groups of samian dating to the period from Birdoswald, the canabae at Caerleon. Canterbury, Catterick, Church Langley, Droitwich, Neatham, Rocester, Silchester, Southwark, Snettisham, Verulamium and Hadrian's Wall.

During the Antonine period the net consumption of samian appears to reach its peak in Britain (cf. Going 1992a). Evans notes that it is during the later 2nd century that, 'many rural sites, even in the Welsh uplands, seem to have their greatest access to samian ware' (Evans 1999, 119). Of interest, histograms produced by Brian Hartley and Brenda Dickinson and others on the frequency of decorated and stamped samian over time often show a fall towards the end of the 2nd century, with the suggestion that there is less samian around at that time (e.g. Dickinson 2000a, 202, Table 16). A decline is not reflected though in the percentages of samian within groups at this time (Tables 23, 24, 27 and 28). Could, then, the fall observed from plotting the frequency of decorated items and stamps by time reflect a fall not in the presence of samian vessels per se but one relating to the frequency of stamping vessels, and, particularly, in the levels of decorated bowls being produced?

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