[Back] [Forward] [Contents] [Home]

9.9 Samian accompanying burials in Britain and on the Continent: comparison

Samian occurs widely as a grave inclusion in the north-west provinces of the empire, for instance, at Argenton-sur-Creuse, Indre, in cremation and inhumation burials (Allain et al. 1992), at Asciburgium on the Rhine, associated with cremations (Rasbach 1997), in cremation graves in Luxembourg (Polfer and Thiel 1998) and at Baralle, Pas-de-Calais, within a cremation cemetery (Hosdez and Jacques 1989). Examination of some graves and cemeteries from this region enables the incidence of samian in burials in Britain to be seen from a wider perspective.

At Asciburgium on the Rhine, excavations at the northern cemetery in 1984 revealed c. 100 cremation burials covering, broadly, the mid 1st century to the Antonine period (Rasbach 1997). Up until the period c. AD 83-5 there was a Roman military installation at the site, but following redeployment the associated civil settlement continued. Around 30% of the burials had samian vessels present. As with the sample from southern Britain examined above, dishes and cups predominate (including Drag. 18, 18/31, 31 and 27). At this cemetery, though, four decorated samian bowls occur, plus a pedestalled bowl/crater; all, however, are seemingly examples of South Gaulish ware, four being Drag. 29 (Rasbach 1997, 36-8), the other vessel being a Drag. 11. Hence these vessels probably, on the basis of chronology, relate to burials during the era of the fort when the military unit may have exercised a particular rite. Subsequently, during the civil era, no decorated bowls are included in graves, mirroring the pattern seen in the evidence from Britain.

The cemetery excavated at Baralle in 1987 is essentially of Claudian-Trajanic date, and relates to a smaller civil centre lying adjacent to the Roman road from Cambrai to Arras (Hosdez and Jacques 1989). Around 100 cremation graves were excavated, with these graves tending to yield one or two, to several, ceramic grave goods. In her discussion of the pottery from this cemetery, Tuffreau-Libre (1989) demonstrates that samian vessels are particularly associated with a type of rectangular burial cut and that they only become prominent in the latter part of the 1st century AD as Terra Rubra and Terra Nigra vessels diminish in frequency (cf. Section 9.2), coincident with other discernible changes in burial rites. Again, among the samian, cups (Drag. 27 plus 24/25) and dishes/platters are the predominant forms represented (Drag. 15/17, 18 and 18/31); no decorated samian bowls are represented.

In eastern Belgium a series of furnished cremations of 1st and 2nd century AD date have been excavated. At Berlingen, near Hoepertingen, north-west of Tongeren, a tumulus and cemetery in a rural context was extensively excavated between 1968-70 (Roosens and Lux 1973). One grave (Number 26), of Flavian date, was particularly well furnished, with some resemblance to the two Flavian burials from Grange Road, Winchester (Biddle 1967; Appendix 9.1). The grave was furnished with a structured arrangement of accoutrements including, in glass, a jug, a jar, a tankard, two 'saucepans' in dark blue glass and two flasks, ceramic lamps, pottery flagons, pottery beakers and a jar, plus a series of metal items and twelve samian vessels which constituted the majority of the pottery vessels. The samian is South Gaulish and was recovered largely intact and in good condition; it comprised: seven Drag. 27 cups, three Drag. 18 platters (all bearing a stamp with the same samian die), one Drag. 18R large dish/platter and a plain hemispherical bowl of unusual form, resembling Ritt. 12 or Curle 11 minus the flange, and in this case with spout and handles (Roosens and Lux 1973, 26-9). No decorated samian bowls (or beakers) occur; the only open forms within the burial are samian vessels. Animal bones lay within the Drag, 18R and elsewhere in the grave. This grave is suggested as that of a person of status in the local community (Roosens and Lux 1973). Other graves at this site generally lack samian, partly because of their chronology, partly also perhaps due to disturbance, and perhaps as a function of who the deceased was.

At Helshoven, a short distance south-west of Berlingen, by the Roman road between Tongeren and Tienen, a tumulus over four furnished cremation burials was excavated in 1970, in this case dating to the mid 2nd century AD (Roosens and Lux 1974). Again the context of the burials is essentially rural (Roosens and Lux 1974, fig. 3). Grave 1 contained an especially rich furnished assemblage, including a copper-alloy handled flask with spout, a brooch, ceramic bowl with lid, pottery jars, pottery flagons, a mortarium, four coarse red ware dishes similar in appearance to samian, and beakers, glass beakers, bottles and a dish, ceramic lamps, strigils and the fittings of a box, plus eleven samian vessels. The latter comprised of six Drag. 27 cups (two with the same die stamp), four Drag. 18/31 dishes and a Drag. 18/31R dish. As at Berlingen, no decorated samian bowls (or beakers) occur, while the only open forms within the burial (the mortaria apart) are samian vessels, or pseudo-samian. Animal bones lay within several of the samian vessels. A second grave, No. 2, included a range of pottery vessels (with flagons and jars) and a pair of Drag. 18/31s bearing the same die. A third grave contained a range of pottery vessels, but only one samian form, namely a Drag. 18/31. The fourth burial yielded no samian. Graves 1-3 are dated to the period c. AD 125-150. Grave 1 at least might be seen as continuing the same tradition seen at Berlingen in the Flavian period.

Other burials from this area of Belgium display a similar rite of rich ceramic furnishing. That at Eben-Emael/Kanne, of 1st century date, contained two Drag. 27s and four Drag. 18s; a burial at Rosmeer included one Drag. 27, one Drag. 18/31, an 18/31-18/31R and a Drag. 38; the burial at Gors-Opleeuw contained four Drag. 27s and four Drag. 18/31s; and that at Riemst had eight Drag. 33 cups (with repeated dies), four Drag. 18/31s all with the same die, a Drag. 18/31R and a Drag. 38 (Roosens 1976). In all cases no decorated samian bowls (or other forms) occur, mirroring the pattern seen with the samian in burials in southern Britain. The emphasis on Drag. 27 and 33 cups and the dish/platter forms 18 and 18/31 is the same between southern Britain and these burials from the Limbourg. One variance is that in four of these burials, one example of a larger samian dish occurs in the form of a Drag. 18R or 18/31R, while in three cases a small plain samian bowl is also present.

Overall, this brief examination of burials in the north-west of the Roman mainland of Europe shows that samian present within graves was highly selected, with repeated patterns through time and space, as in southern Britain. The samples suggest the existence of either: (i) a shared cultural consciousness regarding which vessel types it was appropriate to include (and exclude) with the burial; (ii) differing social definitions and practices which had the same outcome. The existence of levels of similar patterning with regard to samian inclusion in graves is remarkable, given the great range of variables operative or potentially operative within the milieux of human burial. On the other hand, actions around death and burial were a domain deeply influenced by social laws, cultural rules, repeated 'norms' and traditions within the communities of north-west Europe at this time (cf. Pearce 2001).

[Back] [Forward] [Contents] [Home]

© Internet Archaeology URL: http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue17/1/9.9.html
Last updated: Mon Mar 7 2005