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7.2.2 The frequency of samian at military sites

Considering samian at Roman military sites, there are 16 samples available by weight (Tables 23 and 24) and 8 by EVE (Tables 27 and 28). It is a little surprising that quantified samples from military sites are not more commonly available, as such sites have been a focus for fieldwork. Partly this reflects the manner in which some pottery assemblages have been reported in the past, while there may also have been somewhat less excavation at military sites in recent years (at a time when quantification was becoming more customary) as preservation has become more to the fore. That only limited quantification of pottery assemblages is available for sites associated with the northern frontier has been previously noted (Evans and Willis 1997, 23); publication of recent work at sites such as Newcastle, Newstead, Wallsend and South Shields will be helpful.

The earliest samples from the military sites come from the Claudian fortress at Colchester, specifically the site at Head Street excavated by Howard Brooks (Tables 23 and 24). The proportions of samian are quite low: 2.6% by weight and 5.2% by EVE. These are the lowest proportions for any of the samples from military sites bar Hayton, East Yorkshire. The explanation for these comparatively low proportions might lie in the nature of the area investigated, which is provisionally thought (in 2003) to be part of the fortress hospital. However, there is little in the way of comparative data available from contemporary military horizons in Britain (including Colchester) and it may be the case that during the early Claudian period supplies of samian to the military were at a lower level than was subsequently to be the case. From Table 24 it appears that samian may have formed relatively modest proportions of military assemblages in the Claudian-Neronian era (as at Exeter), but became more frequent from the Flavian period. This is a question of some interest in terms of the dynamics of samian supply to Britain.

The low proportion of samian at Hayton fort (0.4% by weight) is conspicuous. This may be a function of the nature of the area of the fort from which the sample was collected, being a section of a barrack block and part of the defences. Spatial variations are likely to be a factor in group composition at most sites, especially forts, where a variety of differing functional and status milieux occurred within a confined area. The military installation at Pomeroy Wood too has a low level of samian (3.1% by weight); this contrasts with much higher proportions from the fort at Tiverton and from Kingsholm, both also in the south-west. Such variations might relate, by degree, to supply arrangements or garrison, especially during the Conquest era (Darling 1977). Both Hayton and Pomeroy Wood were 'campaign forts', which may be significant.

Tables 24 and 28 show that pottery groups at Birdoswald and Castle Street, Carlisle (1981-2), have remarkably high proportions of samian present. This is a pattern that endures at these sites over time, suggesting a greater level of supply and consumption than at other sites, military or otherwise. It is possible that the group from the ditch section investigated under Tullie House in 1990 (Tables 25 and 29; Caruana 1992) represents a structured deposit (Willis 1997a), but this does not appear so with the other samples from Carlisle. The samples from Castle Street, Carlisle, lay within the annexe attached to the Annetwell Street fort; it is possible that some fort annexes, or parts of annexes, were areas of higher status residence. If this were so in this case it might perhaps partially explain the high levels of samian from dated horizons at this particular site, but this is not proven. Jeremy Evans (in preparation) has suggested that it is possible to discern several discrete supply zones to the Roman military in the north-west of England. It is possible that Carlisle and Birdoswald were part of the same zone, one that received high proportions of samian. It is likely, of course, that Carlisle was a supply node for the western side of Hadrian's Wall and its hinterland, with samian arriving for redistribution; if so there was evidently a high level of consumption at this centre.

To summarise, Roman military sites show generally high levels of samian in comparison with other types of site. This is what one might expect, given the articulation of such sites with wide exchange networks and the identity of the consumers, many of whom will have been familiar with Roman-style pottery forms and their employment in eating and the etiquette of shared meals. Further, these data support the identification of Carlisle as an especially important centre. Only when more samples are available from a wider selection of sites will it be possible to consider whether there are differences in the levels of consumption of samian at Legionary sites as opposed to forts occupied by auxiliaries. Further samples will also improve our understanding of other aspects of supply to the military.

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