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7.2.5 The frequency of samian at smaller civil sites

There has been a rapid expansion in our knowledge of smaller civil centres of the Roman period in recent years through publication and fieldwork. Sites allocated to this category include 'Small Towns', roadside settlements and smaller 'centres' such as Heybridge, Elms Farm, Essex. As with the major civil centres, the more that has been learnt about sites of 'middle rank', the clearer it has become that they encompass variety and are not a homogeneous phenomenon (e.g. Brown 1995). Many, nonetheless, share a series of characteristics, and their grouping here is appropriate. It was possible to collect 31 samples for sites of this category where weight is the measure, and 22 samples by EVE. These samples considerably extend the modest numbers available previously (cf. Tables 21 and 22). To these may be added two samples arising from systematic surface collection at the smaller centre and industrial site of Ariconium, Herefordshire, quantified by EVE. Among one group from 1986 with a date range of c. 70 BC-AD 400 and EVE of 6.10, 4.9% of the pottery was samian, while in another group collected from a different area of the same field, pottery from c. 70 BC to AD 400 (EVE total 13.09) had a level of 3% samian (Willis in press, Analytical Groups 8 and 9).

Reference to Tables 23 and 24 shows that, by weight, samian comprises modest and often very low proportions within groups from these sites. Equally by EVE, proportions within groups formed by samian are moderate to low, with only two groups (of 22) having percentages for samian above 10%, but neither of these is a normal site deposit (Tables 27 and 28). The percentages are particularly low among groups of 1st century AD date. This is of interest, as other indicators suggest that sites of this type did not begin to flourish before the end of the 1st century. Samples of 2nd century date from a range of sites show significantly higher proportions of samian, and this is especially true of samples dating to the Antonine period. This trend probably reflects, in part, the increasing economic vitality of these sites during the 2nd century and the fact that samian imports into Britain evidently rose during the early to mid Antonine era. One or two sites are conspicuous when seen alongside the general trends within the sample. The 'Small Town' at Neatham has very low proportions of samian among its quantified groups, which is a consistent pattern across a series of groups. Likewise the samples from Heybridge, Elms Farm (Tables 23 and 24), generally verify that samian was a relatively infrequent find at this site, independent of date. In the round, from the Conquest period, if not before, the site appears to be one of moderate standing, of local significance (Atkinson and Preston 1998).

Quantification of the pottery assemblage from the extensive excavations at the Elms Farm site enables more data on the relative frequency of samian at this site to be presented. Table 30 shows the relative frequency of samian among a wide range of features at the site by weight, while Table 31 lists equivalent data by EVE. Of the 32 groups measured by weight (Table 30), three-quarters have percentages for samian at less than 3%. Measurement by EVE shows, as is normally the case, higher levels for samian: around one-third of the 27 groups forming the sample by EVE register percentages for samian of over 10%. It is apparent from both Tables 30 and 31 that samian is generally somewhat more frequent in groups of 2nd rather than 1st century date (cf. above). There is one group with a very high proportion of samian, namely that from well 6280 (fill 16083), with 15.5% samian; this is undoubtedly a structured deposit which has involved the selective inclusion of samian vessels. The next highest proportion by weight is 6.7% from pit 4211 (Table 30), and this feature also has the highest proportion of samian by EVE in all the groups of the site (Table 31).

In contrast, the two samples from Meole Brace have high proportions, at a level similar to that of the major civil centres (cf. Tables 23 and 24). The site lies west of Wroxeter, adjacent to the Roman road to/from mid Wales. It is not clear why these proportions are conspicuously high at this site. Samples from Shepton Mallet show varying levels of samian; two groups have high percentages of samian by weight (where one is a particularly late group (Tables 23 and 24)). These variations seen at Shepton Mallet are doubtless largely associated with specific functional or status differences between areas/buildings (see the notes Information on some of the groups appearing in this table under Tables 23 and 27), and taken as a whole emphasise the value of acquiring multiple samples from sites, wherever possible, in order to develop a nuanced archaeological picture.

Coggeshall is a site which can be assigned to this category, but the two samples from the site in the current dataset illustrate the fact that the circumstances and context of any sample has to be considered in evaluating results. The small group from The Lawns is associated with a building (or buildings) probably lying within its own compound, adjacent to Stane Street. Dressel 20 amphora sherds from southern Spain occur in this phase, as does a sherd from an Italian wine amphora (Martin 1995). The building/s is suggested to be a possible mansio or villa (Isserlin 1995). In contrast, the sample from St Peter's School, 1984, Phase 4.1, derives from trackside ditches and associated gullies, relating to land organisation features on the edge of the Roman settlement. No contemporary structures were identified within the excavated area, while sherds from five near-complete vessels account for some 55% of this group by weight, their strong representation depressing the representation of samian. Similarly, at Wantage, a site probably representing a smaller centre of some type (Holbrook and Thomas 1996; Barber and Holbrook 2001) the excavations at Mill Street, 1993-4, Phase 1, encountered and examined ditches interpreted as land organisation features associated with agricultural production; occupation was presumed to occur nearby, but was not directly identified within the trench. It is possible that sites on the periphery of major and smaller civil centres will yield pottery assemblages more akin to rural sites.

It is worth noting that while the 'Small Towns' and roadside settlements forming this dataset are associated with generally low levels of samian, many of them lay on main arterial roads between major centres which themselves have high levels of samian. This is the case, for instance, with Neatham, lying on the road between Chichester and Silchester; Kelvedon, on the Roman road between London and Colchester; Braintree, Coggeshall and Great Dunmow on the road between Colchester and Verulamium; Shepton Mallet between Bath/Cirencester and Ilchester; and Alchester, between Verulamium and Cirencester. Evidently, large and frequent quantities of samian ware passed through smaller civil centres across the province on its way to major towns. The data suggest that comparatively little was acquired by inhabitants of smaller civil centres as this fine ware passed through. The evidence points to samian being 'pulled-in' to the civitas capitals and other major centres. Something of the organisation of samian trade might therefore be suggested, with the following potential scenario: that this fine ware travelled as consignments to merchants and traders based at the major centres, which then acted as main points of marketing and redistribution. The comparatively high proportions of samian at major civil centres and low percentages at smaller civil centres implies that the pattern of consumption of this ware follows the settlement hierarchy. The situation may not, however, be entirely straightforward and is discussed further below (7.2.8).

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