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7.2.3 The frequency of samian at extra-mural sites, outside military installations

There are six site group samples available by weight for extra-mural settlements (Tables 23 and 24) and four by EVE (Tables 27 and 28). The six samples measured by weight, however, come from just three sites (Greta Bridge, Carlisle and Brancaster). The latter two sites are also those for which EVE data are available. The three groups from Carlisle come from the Blackfriars Street site and show a consistently high level of samian at around 9% by weight (Tables 23 and 24), while data by EVE show that samian vessels account for approximately one-third of the recovered pottery (Tables 27 and 28), which is a remarkably high proportion for a fine ware. At Greta Bridge, a sample extending from the late 2nd into the 4th century was 15% samian by EVE and 11.5% by weight, again indicating a high level of samian consumption. Finally, the samples from both the west and the east vicus outside Brancaster fort had proportions of samian by weight of 5%; these proportions are fairly high, especially since here too the date-range of the samples extends into the late Roman period, by which time the supply of samian to Britain had tailed off. Data from these sites, combined with information from other extra-mural settlements such as South Shields (M. Snape, pers. comm.) and the canabae at Caerleon (Evans 2000) indicate fairly high levels of samian use at settlements of this character. Further, it is possible that the pottery forming the two samples from The Spur at Birdoswald, with their high levels of samian (cf. 7.2.2, Tables 23, 24, 27 and 28), derive not from the fort but from the extra-mural settlement. Of course this pattern of high levels of samian at vici may result from differing factors, site to site. Yet the nature of vici suggests that high levels of samian in such domains is to be expected: not only were such sites closely articulated with the exchange systems of the empire via the road system and association with a fort, but, too, a large percentage of their occupants are likely to have been accustomed to Roman material culture and practice. Vici will have included venues of entertainment and consumption for military officers and men, and may have contained the households of soldiers' wives and families and also, perhaps, alternative accommodation for officers and equestrians seeking respite from the fort. Additionally, a proportion of occupants within vici are likely to have been traders, retailers, money lenders and others 'on the make', relatively affluent people with the accompanying domestic accoutrements of moderate wealth. The use of samian in all these milieux is likely, and this appears to be borne out by these samples. Eckardt (in press) has observed that there is a high incidence of drinking vessels among the glass items from the area of the fortress canabae at Balkerne Lane, Colchester, which seems consistent with the picture emerging from the samian evidence at these types of site.

7.2.4 The frequency of samian at major civil sites

A large number of samples are available for major civil settlements: 37 samples by weight and 35 by EVE. These sites include London and the Southwark suburb, Canterbury, Carlisle, Colchester, Dorchester, Exeter, Leicester and Silchester. These sites are of broadly similar scale, morphology, status and function, though indeed the degree to which they differed in these respects should not be underestimated. On the whole the samples from these sites have relatively high proportions of samian. The majority of the sites have levels greater than 7% by weight (Tables 23 and 24). The three lowest levels recorded in the tables are associated with Silchester from periods pre-dating AD 60, and Canterbury before c. AD 70/80 (Tables 23 and 24, and Tables 27 and 28). These low levels probably reflect the somewhat smaller scale of samian being imported into Britain in the years before the general surge after c. AD 70, and perhaps also, and importantly, the identity of these sites as major centres of the pre-Roman era, for at such sites imported Gallo-Belgic pottery typically continues to dominate fine ware assemblages (rather than samian) in the era before c. AD 60, seemingly reflecting the exercise of cultural preference among indigenous consumers (Willis 1997a). The pre-Boudiccan sample from Head Street, Colchester, relating to the early colonia has a higher level of samian by weight than is the case at the same site during the preceding fortress phase (cf. above). By comparison, the percentage of 5.7% in the case of the early colonia places it in the middle of the range for contemporary sites in Roman London and Southwark (Tables 23 and 24).

Samples from London and Southwark generally display particularly high percentages of samian through the second half of the 1st century and into the 2nd century. In a number of cases the percentage is over 10% by weight. This presumably reflects both the status of the site and the identities of its inhabitants, as well as its function as an entry port for samian shipments, as attested by warehouse and other evidence (Symonds 2000). At the extraordinary site at New Fresh Wharf, samian accounts for c. 63% of all the Roman pottery recovered, as calculated by EVES (Richardson 1986, 98). Excavations at Wellington Row, York, on the south bank of the River Ouse, between 1987 and 1991, similarly yielded some strikingly high proportions of samian, in this case though dating to the late 2nd century and perhaps early 3rd century and residual (Monaghan 1998, 1113-15); this material, much of it in large pieces, comes from Trench 7 where it is associated with a substantial building. Given the proximity of the waterfront it has been speculated that the material relates to a warehouse deposit, or discarded stock or cargo (Monaghan 1998, 1115).

An exception to the general picture in London is a sample from 76-80 Newgate Street (the GPO site) dating to c. AD 50-60. In this case the relative frequency of samian was low at 2.1%. The site lies on the western side of the city in an area at some distance from the core of the settlement where early development was perhaps relatively organic. Moreover the sample came from a phase including buildings in the vernacular round-house tradition (Perring et al. 1991, 3-26; Willis 1998a) implying migrants to the embryonic city. Hence it is conceivable that the occupants were less able to afford samian and/or were less interested in acquiring it than were other inhabitants of the city.

Three other samples with low proportions of samian occur at Dorchester, Canterbury and Leicester. Among the pottery from Period 2 at the County Hall site, Dorchester, samian amounts to just 2.8% (Tables 23 and 24). One explanation for this low frequency is the liminal nature of this site at this time, away from the hub of the settlement. Indeed, during Period 2a ditches likely to be field boundaries were encountered, while during Period 2b a street was laid across the area but with no indication of associated buildings. At Canterbury, Marlowe Car Park, Period 2, the low frequency of samian (Tables 27 and 28) may be attributed to the fact that this area was a suburb at this time, used more for cultivation than civil occupation (Willis 1998a). In contrast, while a sample of Hadrianic-early Antonine date from St Nicholas Circle, Leicester, has a similarly low percentage of samian (2.5% by weight), in this case the sample is associated with a likely public building at the heart of the Roman city which may be a temple (N. Cooper, pers. comm; the site is not yet published; cf. Clay and Pollard 1994). As noted previously, religious sites and foci are often associated with low levels of samian (Willis 1998a).

Three groups covering the late 2nd and first half of the 3rd century stand out as having noticeably high levels of samian. Again these are from Carlisle (Tables 23, 24, 27 and 28), indicating a sustained supply and turnover of samian despite the change in this case to civil occupation at this time (McCarthy 1991, 334).

By EVE it is clear that samian formed between 10 and 20% of the pottery from these major civil centres during the early and mid Roman periods; in other words 1 in 6, or 1 in 5, vessels in use at these sites was a samian item.

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