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6.7 East Gaulish samian in Britain

6.7.1 Sources and chronology

Production of samian wares was underway in Eastern Gaul before the end of the 1st century AD. The source area was the region of the Argonne forest, the Moselle region and the mid Rhine valley (cf. Marsh 1981). Imports into Britain from this region (in number) make their debut in the early Hadrianic period; one of these early sources is Blickweiler (cf. Appendix 6.3). They continued to arrive in Britain until the mid 3rd century. The main sources of East Gaulish samian in Britain are Trier and Rheinzabern. These sources, as present in Britain, date particularly from the mid to late 2nd century to the mid 3rd century. These sources, for example, dominate the important East Gaulish assemblage from St Magnus House/New Fresh Wharf (Bird 1986a, 142). They therefore continued to supply Britain after the decline of the Lezoux workshops around the end of the 2nd century. Although not necessarily frequent site-finds, 3rd century samian items can be particularly helpful as a source of chronological information given that chronologically diagnostic pottery can be relatively elusive in the 3rd century (cf. Fulford and Huddleston 1991, 40; Going 1992a). The later chronology of these sources is somewhat complicated, not least as old moulds were reused (cf. Bird 1986a; 1993). Argonne samian is another reasonably common ware, and in Britain dates from c. AD 130. Joanna Bird has produced two substantive papers dealing with the typology and chronology of East Gaulish samian in Britain.

6.7.2 The distribution of East Gaulish samian in Britain

Comparatively little by way of synthetic study of the supply and distribution of East Gaulish samian in Britain has been undertaken. The present project has yielded some information on the character of the supply and consumption of East Gaulish ware in the province.

East Gaulish samian is conventionally seen as occurring mainly in the east of England, with a fall-off of frequency to the west as distance increases from the source; the largest assemblages of the ware in Britain are said to have come from the south-east of England (e.g. Tyers 1996, 114, illustration 100). Webster, for instance, states '... distribution is biased towards the south, the south-east and the northern military zone' (1996, 98; cf. Bird 1986a, 142). A survey of the incidence of East Gaulish wares for this project verifies the geographical patterning. The conventional view is essentially sustained by the assembled site evidence, with the minor clarifications that some East Gaulish ware reached many sites in midland and western Britain, and that some sites in eastern England have yielded comparatively large quantities of East Gaulish ware. The collected evidence is outlined below.

Dickinson has stated of the Blickweiler industry that, 'its wares are usually found in the south, though a few pieces have been noted in northern military contexts' (1997c, 945). A listing of finds of this ware compiled for the present project shows that the distribution in this case is concentrated in the east of England (Appendix 6.3: Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, London, North Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire).

Similarly, Mills notes that East Gaulish samian is not represented among the samian assemblage recovered from the roadside settlement at Pomeroy Wood, east Devon (Mills 1999). She observes that samian from this source is very rare at Exeter and generally in the south-west of England, and suggests that east Devon is near to the western limits of its distribution (1999, 293). This view may be supported by the evidence from the County Hall site, Dorchester. These excavations, in the north-west quarter of the Roman town, recovered only four sherds of East Gaulish samian from four vessels (Mills and Corney 1993). Mills and Corney state that the 'paucity of Eastern Gaulish samian may simply be a reflection of the fact that Dorchester is at the western extreme of the area of Eastern Gaulish samian supply' (1993, 43; cf below).

The supply of East Gaulish samian to Hadrian's Wall and its hinterland is an ongoing subject for research. It had appeared that the western forts received little or no samian from this source. Recent excavations in the fort interior at Birdoswald, Cumbria, and on Birdoswald Spur immediately adjacent to the Wall fort (Dickinson 1997b; Wilmott forthcoming; Willis forthcoming f), show that the wares from this source did travel as far as this comparatively remote section of the Wall (cf. Section 6.7.3). East Gaulish samian is also present at Birrens (Wild 1975), Ribchester (Dickinson 2000a) and at Carlisle, for instance, at the Castle Street 1981-2 site.

At sites associated with Hadrian's Wall the general trend is for Rheinzabern ware to be the most common source among the East Gaulish samian, followed by Trier and Argonne items. This is the case at Castle Street, Carlisle (Dickinson 1991a, 344; Taylor 1991), Birdoswald Spur (Willis forthcoming f), Birdoswald 1987-92 (Dickinson 1997b, 257; with, in this case, marginally more Argonne than Trier samian), Vindolanda (Pengelly 1985) and South Shields (Hartley and Dickinson 1994). Sources range beyond these three types, as, for instance at Castle Street, Carlisle, which, in addition, produced examples from Toulon-sur-Allier, La Madeleine, Lavoye (Taylor 1991, 416). At Ribchester 10% of the East Gaulish ware came from La Madeleine (Dickinson 2000a). Whether the supplies of East Gaulish samian arrived at only or mainly the east end of the Wall and travelled west, or arrived at both ends is a matter still for clarification.

Apart from Hadrian's Wall, some sites in the west of the British Isles produce examples of samian, though it might be argued that these tend to be on or near the sea and hence may have received sea-borne samian. East Gaulish samian, for example, occurs on the Channel Islands. A Drag. 31R stamped 'HONORATI' in East Gaulish fabric, probably from Trier, is reported from excavations in King's Road, St Peter Port, Guernsey (Sebire 1981; identification by Brian Hartley); it was recovered from an amorphous feature, possibly a burial. There is also significant East Gaulish samian from Alderney (Wood 1990). Rural sites on Anglesey have also produced examples, including a Drag. 30 in Trier fabric from Cefn Cwmwd (Willis forthcoming i), as has Segontium (King and Millett 1993, 243). On the whole, the quantities reaching the west of Britain do appear to be consistently low, and Segontium is a case in point (King and Millett 1993, 243).

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