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6.5.3 Black samian from Lezoux/Central Gaul in Britain

During the 2nd century the samian potters of Central Gaul produced a series of black-slipped vessels in various forms. By convention, vessels produced with a red fabric but black, often metallic, slip (thus appearing black) are classed as 'Black samian' if they are beaker or jar forms (also referred to as 'vases') with applied or moulded decoration, or if they appear in forms otherwise associated with the standard red-slipped ware. On the other hand, the samian workshops in Central Gaul also produced some fine colour-coated ware vessels with black slip that were of different and distinct forms from the red samian repertoire; in particular beakers were a principal form made with a black finish. These latter wares are now termed Central Gaulish black-slipped ware (Tyers 1996, 137-8; Hartley 1972a, 254). While 'Black samian' and 'Central Gaulish black-slipped ware' can be separated in this manner, they really form a continuum.

Appendix 6.2 lists some instances of so-called Black samian in Britain. Dr Grace Simpson published two comprehensive lists of decorated vessels in this finish (1957 and 1973), which the present listing supplements. References relating to the typology of this type of product from Lezoux are noted under Appendix 6.2.

Pottery Type Forms Category
Red fabric/red slip Standard range Samian
Red fabric/black slip Certain forms assoc. with samian, e.g. Déch. 64, 66, 68, 72, 74, Drag. 40 Black samian
Red fabric/black slip Distinctive thin-walled beakers with zoning and rouletting, and some cups Central Gaulish black-slipped ware

Simpson's listing of the incidence of these vessels, specifically vases (Simpson 1957; 1973), indicates a wide distribution but one with a strong association with major civil centres and, to some degree, smaller centres (such as Alchester and Ancaster) and villas. In evaluating this incidence it should be recalled that there was a strong bias in the type of sites of the Roman era that received archaeological attention before c. 1980/1990, with smaller centres and rural sites being comparatively under-examined. There are indeed few examples from (non-villa) rural sites in Simpson's lists, doubtless because relatively few excavations at rural sites had taken place by 1973; hence her list might not reflect the actual pattern in the case of rural sites.

Some aspects of the distribution are potentially significant:

6.5.4 Summary

Marsh's (1981) study suggested that Britain received far more South Gaulish samian during the early decades of Roman rule than it received from Central Gaul in the 2nd century. This, however, was not actually so, as we now know that Central Gaulish Lezoux ware must have been imported into Britain in much greater quantity than was the case with South Gaulish ware. Marsh was, of necessity, drawing on what we can now see as a circumscribed set of site assemblages, reflecting the types of site that had, in Britain and on the continent, seen the most excavation prior to the 1980s, namely early military sites and major towns, which tend generally to have more South Gaulish than Central Gaulish ware. On the basis of the evidence from these sites, he assumed that the pattern at these sites was universal for the province. Evidence now available shows that his sample of sites was not representative; what he had revealed was the pattern characteristic of early military sites and major towns, such as London, whereas the overall pattern for the province is of much greater levels of Lezoux ware than could be seen from samples available to Marsh (Willis forthcoming d).

Britain was a major recipient of Lezoux samian through the 2nd century. It appears at all types of site, permeating rural society and major town alike. Import and consumption rise to a peak in the mid-Antonine period. In Britain this standardised Lezoux red ware was supplemented by comparatively low levels of samian from three other sources. These comprised vessels from East Gaul, plus the small-scale industry at Colchester and the work of the 'Aldgate-Pulborough' samian potter (cf. Appendices 6.4 and 6.9).

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