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7.3.4 The manufacture of decorated samian vessels: chronological trends identified

The output of the samian manufacturing centres over time is, of course, a potential key variable when considering relative proportions of form types. As noted previously (Willis 1998a, Table 4), it seems likely that proportionately fewer decorated bowls were being produced in Southern Gaul around the mid 1st century than was the case later in the 1st century, or indeed, at Lezoux during much of the 2nd century AD. The earliest groups among the sample presented in Table 35 appear to confirm this phenomenon. Taking the groups from military sites, for example, there are only five cases in which the percentage of decorated ware present is less than 20%, but four of these instances occur within the six earliest groups (with a Claudian or early Neronian start date. This comprises groups from Cirencester, Fishbourne, Kingsholm and Wall (Staffs)). Turning to the groups from extra-mural occupation outside military sites, there is one group in Table 35 of Claudian date from Sheepen, Colchester (site period 3), and this has a low proportion of decorated samian compared with other groups from this type of site, again at under 20%. The five earliest groups from major civil centres appearing in Table 35, dating around the mid 1st century AD, also show relatively low proportions for decorated samian when compared with later groups from this category of site. The data indicate that the supply of decorated samian to Britain during the period c. AD 40-60 was lower than during the Flavian era.

It seems that towards the end of the 2nd century AD and into the 3rd century, decorated forms (essentially bowls) again become somewhat less frequent (Willis 1998a; cf. Darling 1998; cf. Dickinson 2001b, 145). The East Gaulish samian kilns of the later 2nd and 3rd centuries are understood to have produced less decorated ware than did the other centres, but there also seems to have been a relative decline in the proportion of decorated vessels (bowls) being produced at Lezoux (Central Gaul) in the later 2nd century. The early 3rd century group from South Shields and those from the west vicus at Brancaster potentially hint at this trend, as does the latest group from a major civil centre within the sample, namely Dorchester (Tables 35 and 37). Low proportions of decorated vessels also occur with the early 3rd century groups from Neatham and Heybridge, Elms Farm (Table 35). At Segontium there is a low percentage of decorated samian vessels from East Gaul (Table 37), which account for just 12.5% of the samian at the site from this source (compared to percentages for decorated vessels of 28% and 30% in the case of South and Central Gaulish sources). A similar situation is apparent among the large assemblage of samian from the canabae at Caerleon, where bowls in East Gaulish ware are conspicuously infrequent (Hartley 2000, 180). An exception to the trend appears to be Catterick (recently published with quantitative data now available), where three groups from Bainesse Site 46 and one from the Bridge, Site 240, of late 2nd/3rd century date, are at variance with the general trend, displaying sustained high levels for decorated forms (Table 35). This may be taken as further indication that this complex was of considerable standing and importance at this time (cf. Wilson 2002).

Evidence from samian assemblages on the continent suggest that these trends in the frequency of decorated samian vessels over time are part of a broad picture reflecting changes in the balance of output by the samian production centres, rather than being a function of the specific supply of samian to Britain.

7.3.5 The relative frequency of decorated samian vessels at military sites

The sample of 30 groups from Roman military sites in Table 35 (summarised in Table 42) suggests that the average proportion of decorated vessels present in such groups is around 30%. The latter figure emerges from averaging the percentage totals for decorated vessels among these 30 groups as well as from establishing the medial percentage which is 29%, with 14 groups having a percentage lower than 29% and 14 a higher total. The range of percentage totals for decorated vessels among these 30 site groups is wide, but the majority of groups register between 24-35% decorated. An explanation for some of the lower percentages from these sites in the mid 1st century AD is offered above (Section 7.3.4), and the only remaining group with a percentage for decorated vessels of less than 20% is the group from the bath house at Corbridge, Red House, where the specific function of the area may be a factor (cf. Table 35).

Dickinson states of the samian from the fort at Ribchester that, 'One of the most striking features of this assemblage is the unusually high proportion of decorated ware, averaging over 30%, the same holding true for the areas excavated between 1968 and 1980' (2000a, 204). The percentage from the excavation of 1980 at this site is 35% (Table 39). Compared with the dataset assembled here, the percentage is high but falls at the top end of the range of the majority of groups in the sample of 24-35% decorated (cf. above).

There are a few groups with percentages for decorated types of above 40% (Table 35). Strikingly, three of the four highest percentages relate to one site: Birdoswald fort (Table 35). These three groups comprise the Vallum fill at Birdoswald Spur and the subsequent (middle) fort ditch at the same site, both of which have decorated vessels accounting for more than 50% of the group, while the remaining site is the Field Study Centre site within the fort. These high proportions of decorated types among the samian coincide with the fact that the site also has exceptionally high proportions of samian generally compared to other pottery types. The Birdoswald garrison thus received unusually rich supplies of samian; this may reflect the status of the site and its consumers, or perhaps a configuration in supply which saw extraordinary shipments to and consumption of samian by the Roman military in the north-west of England, as indicated at Carlisle (cf. Section 7.2.2) and the forts at Ribchester and Kirkham, Dowbridge (Table 39).

The other site with a very high level of decorated types is Tiverton fort. The high frequency of decorated vessels among the samian group from this site was identified previously as being abnormal (Willis 1998a) and within this larger sample of groups it remains conspicuous (cf. Willis 1998a, 102). Possible explanations for this unusual composition were discussed previously (Willis 1998a, 98); the bulk of the samian comes from ditch terminals either side of the western gate where deposits containing the pottery may be abandonment deposits (cf. Holbrook 1991, 66). The nature of these deposits remains of interest; it is possible that there was a ritual element to these deposits (cf. Willis 1997a, 46-7, 50). If they represent the discard of a 'life-assemblage' (cf. Orton 1989) at the time of the demolition of the fort it would appear that a high proportion of samian vessels in use within at least one milieu within the fort were decorated bowls.

The group from Period 5a at Segontium (Table 35) comes from what is in large part demolition/destruction debris and has an above average proportion for decorated samian at c. 35%. According to King and Millett, the group appears to include a 'substantial residual [component that] can perhaps be compared with the assemblages at Cirencester (Wacher and McWhirr 1982, 133) ... where the military appear to have dumped pottery during clearance phases within the forts' (1993, 242). It is possible that, like the groups from Tiverton and Cirencester, this group includes items deposited as part of a rite of termination (cf. Willis 1997a, 46-7, 50; cf. Merrifield 1987).

Among the 30 groups from military sites only the comparatively early groups from Exeter and Longthorpe come, seemingly, from legionary as opposed to auxiliary installations. Hence it is not possible, on this evidence, to pursue the potentially interesting question as to whether or not groups from legionary sites have higher proportions of decorated types present than do groups from auxiliary forts. Proportions formed by decorated forms among samian groups from sites in Antonine Scotland have been discussed previously (Willis 1998a).

Samples are available for both the fort and vicus at Castleford, dating to the early/mid Flavian period. The group from the fort is the largest sample of the 110 groups of Table 35 consisting of 521 samian vessels. The proportion of decorated vessels from the fort area is 30%, but that from the vicus is higher (sample size 122 vessels) at 37%. This difference suggests a 'richer' consumption of samian in the vicus area, which is in line with the observation in Section 7.2 that samian is usually more prominent within extra-mural settlements than within forts (see also below, 7.3.6).

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