4.5. Chronological overview

The main chronological trends at Elms Farm, principally the transition in the use of pottery from a template based around late Iron Age drinking practice to that based on dining in the Roman period is strikingly illustrated in the correspondence analysis of general assemblage composition by ceramic phase (Figures 16a and 16b). A classic 'horseshoe' curve (Orton et al. 1993, 176-7) is produced, denoting the passage of time from the bottom-left corner to the bottom-right. The only phase that does not fit comfortably in this diagram is the first (c. 50-15 BC), being positioned after AD 20-55, owing to the occurrence in the later period of typically earlier forms such as pedestal jars and tazze. Otherwise, the vast majority of drinking forms and Gallo-Belgic imports correspond to all three of the pre-Roman phases, with the majority of dining vessels and samian imports corresponding to the four post-Roman phases. Furthermore, cooking forms (especially jars, lids and storage jars) cluster close to the plot centre, indicating the importance of these vessel forms in all seven periods, despite them undergoing periodic changes in shape and fabric in the c. 250-year period in question. Finally, the most distinct period of the site is the last to be considered (AD 170-210), largely owing to the construction of a mortarium kiln and the likely proliferation of its products among the site's population.

The nature of the shift in emphasis described above from drinking vessels in the early stages of the settlement to dining vessels and other diagnostic Romano-British urban-style pottery from the later 1st century AD requires further comment. The evidence from both Elms Farm and sites in the broader region (Pitts 2005c), shows increased levels of table wares, flagons and mortaria to be the norm from the Flavian period (c. AD 70-100), which should be set against continuity from the Iron Age in patterns of discard, including the deposition of broken fine-ware suites and the selective disposal of consumption technology in pits and wells. This depositional patterning suggests that instead of representing a wholesale 'Romanisation' of consumption practice, the Britons merely adapted their everyday habits to suit the overarching changes to ceramic production and supply. Although the use of Roman-style pottery and instances of the deposition of samian suites could represent some diffusion of Roman culinary practice (perhaps acquired via serving in the military, or gaining citizenship) this seems to be more symptomatic of overarching patterns of supply than innate consumer choice. While Willis (2004) notes that rural sites in Essex (including Elms Farm) are distinctive for their relatively high proportion of samian cups, it is perhaps more indicative that the relative emphasis on samian cups declines at Elms Farm in virtually every successive period following the conquest (Table 23), suggesting that even this potential 'consumer choice' of drinking equipment had become subordinate to broader trends in production and supply.

Samian form 50 - 15 BC 15 BC - AD 20 AD 20 - 55 AD 55 - 80 AD 80 - 125 AD 125 - 170 AD 170 - 210 Total EVE
TSG bowls 0.00% 0.00% 20.00% 10.73% 20.00% 15.49% 10.88% 1.78
TSG cups 100.00% 0.00% 46.67% 37.57% 28.46% 30.98% 27.20% 4.39
TSG dishes 0.00% 0.00% 20.00% 6.50% 20.77% 48.82% 61.92% 4.56
TSG platters 0.00% 100.00% 13.33% 45.20% 30.77% 4.71% 0.00% 2.33

Table 23: The functional composition of the samian ware assemblage at Elms Farm

This case-study suggests that beyond the sphere of elite society, south-eastern Britons did not (and could not) choose to adopt 'Roman' consumption habits, instead being subordinate to overarching patterns of pottery production and supply. The changes in material culture described here can be explained through a combination of state intervention (through controls over production and supply) and an implicit acceptance of Roman hegemony by the generations growing up in the decades following annexation. While the changes in the political climate brought about by the arrival of Roman authority rendered indigenous feasting practices (based around consumption of locally produced beer in addition to much smaller quantities of imported wine) (Pitts 2005b), and inter-tribal warfare obsolete as means of establishing power, material changes in the production and availability of consumption technology would have encouraged a shift away from the local emphasis on social drinking.

An upsurge in Romano-British urban-style pottery at the site in the Hadrianic period (c. AD 120-140) seems best explained as a local response to the creation of the official mansio settlement at nearby Chelmsford, representing a wider regional trend among sites closer to towns and the main road network (Pitts 2005c). This pattern suggests that proximity to the urban system, rather than conscious involvement in Roman culture is the best explanation of such assemblage changes. Other rural sites in Essex, not located near to a major town or road are much slower to take up such urban-style pottery and imports, which also occur in much reduced quantities. Indeed, similar trends have been noted in the practice of commissioning monumental architecture in parts of Roman Italy, with a 'noticeable tendency for patterns of public buildings to follow the arterial road network' (Lomas 1997, 37), with such sites benefiting from better access to the movement of heavy materials along the corridors of official and elite Roman power. Moreover, Woolf (1998, 160) argued that the clustering of villas around Gallo-Roman towns should be best explained as a product of access to locally available supplies of building materials rather than any innate manifestation of a villa or market economy (contra Evans 2005). Therefore, the spread of Roman material culture beyond the urban sphere seems in many ways indicative of the geo-spatial manifestation of power in society rather than any 'free' or conscious choice to become Roman.

Finally, although patterns of ceramic deposition, the high levels of samian cups, and a resurgence in drinking practice at the end of the 2nd century AD, point towards the continuation of indigenous practices and the articulation of a regional identity, such trends pale into insignificance when compared to the patterns of consumption during the pre-conquest Augustan phase of the site. Indeed, it is somewhat ironic that the phase at Elms Farm with the strongest case for the reception of elite Roman urban ideology and eclectic continental-style patterns of consumption occurred before the official Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43.


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