Study Group for Roman Pottery

National Research Framework: North of Britain

Military sites and military supply

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Edited by Jeremy Evans & Steven Willis on behalf of the SGRP, Northern Regional Group. October 1997; selectively revised 2002


Research into the supply of pottery to the Roman army on the northern frontier, with all its ancillary dimensions, has traditionally been a corner stone of Roman studies in northern Britain. Such work has added a great deal to our knowledge of the period. Within this field of studies a range of priorities can be identified.

3.1 Quantitative Study

Many northern military sites have been excavated, some extensively. However, in many cases this was some time ago and modern and quantified data tend to come from a much smaller subset of recent excavations, many of which are yet to be published. It is considered extremely important that projects involving quantitative study are supported.

3.2 Scotland

Scottish military sites are of international importance because of their limited periods of occupation with which ceramics are associated. Given their significance a project aimed at the re-examination, re-cataloguing and quantification of targeted pottery assemblages from Scotland, by experienced specialist(s) employing current standards, is desirable. This could be combined with further analytical work and linked to the study of pottery production within Scotland, particularly during the Antonine period.

It is worth noting that to date there is a weak record of quantification for pottery assemblages from Scotland. Any synthetic study requires a person(s) with wide pottery knowledge as the pottery recovered from Scottish military sites typically derives from a variety of sources and is site specific.>

The publication of the Severan ceramics from Carpow is extremely important to the chronology of Romano-British pottery studies and, given the small quantities so far recovered there, further excavations with the specific aim of producing a large sample of ceramics and other finds thence are also of high priority (cf. 15.3 below).

3.3 Mortaria

A study of 1st and 2nd century northern English mortaria production centres is a priority in order to understand the relationship between their production and supply to the Roman military. The movements of mortarium makers in Scotland is a specific realm requiring further attention.

3.4 Flavian-Trajanic groups

Full publication of pottery samples from Flavian-Trajanic military sites is of high importance since the pottery of the period tends to be specific to each garrison. Such studies are beneficial for the evidence they can provide on unit origins and movements.

Enhanced knowledge of the pottery from the Stanegate sites is important, especially for establishing the arrival date of Black Burnished Ware at sites in the North. Systematic comparison of assemblages from Stanegate sites with those from Hadrianic foundations is likely to be valuable with regard to this and other questions.

Assessment of the pottery from the pre-Hadrianic levels at Vindolanda will help provide clarification of the date of the arrival of BBW on the northern frontier as well as aid with other questions of chronology.

3.5 Locating pottery deposits

Excavators need to take account of the small quantities of pottery and other finds often recovered from the interiors of military sites, which tended to be kept clean. The immediate environs of forts should be examined for locations of potential 'rubbish' deposits. (This may be the case also with some types of non-military site such as the indigenous rectilinear enclosed settlements of the North-East of England and South-East Scotland).

3.6 Gillam's 'Types'

The importance of the revision of the Gillam (1968) type series is stressed by Fulford and Huddleston (1991). Its extensive updating is necessary for its continuing role as a very useful and highly accessible overview of pottery in northern Britain which serves both specialist, excavator and student alike. Since many types present in the North originate from Southern Britain and the Midlands its utility extends nationwide.

3.7 Deeply stratified sites

There are a number of deeply stratified forts in the region (eg. Binchester, Newstead, South Shields, Vindolanda) which have suffered much less from post-Roman disturbance and are easier to sample than most urban sites. These would be particularly suited to examining spatial and chronological variations in the composition of their pottery and other finds assemblages. Work at Usk has demonstrated the value of the ceramic side of spatial approaches (Greene 1993, 80-96) whilst Cool (Cool et al. 1995) and Hoffman (1994) have started to show the value of an integrated approach to the entire finds assemblage.

3.8 Samian

Turning to Samian ware from military sites two areas seem to be of particular interest. Firstly, there exists a quietly running controversy over the dating of later Antonine material, closely connected with the dating of the Antonine Wall (King 1981; 1984; 1991; Bird 1993; Ward 1993) in which there seems to be a growing divide between Samian and other pottery specialists. The resolution of this debate is important to the chronology of both the Antonine Wall and later 2nd-early 3rd century northern pottery assemblages.

Secondly, there is the question of the nature of military supply and how separately this was organised from civilian supply. This and other questions have been addressed for the early period (ie. the first century A.D.) by Willis (1993; 1996; 1997a), who has examined the distribution of South Gaulish ware, but follow-up work is required. Middleton's arguments (1979) have not been tested for the later period of Samian importation but readily could be using northern military assemblages if the relevant data were available (see 8.1 below).

3.9 Ceramic evidence for the organization of the Roman army

Recent studies (Swan 1992; In Press; Swan & Bidwell In Press) have demonstrated the rich potential of the ceramic evidence from military sites (especially, though not exclusively, in the North of Britain) to inform on aspects of the organization of the army, such as its ethnic composition and movements.

3.10 The role of military markets in developing and sustaining regional pottery industries in southern Britain, north Gaul and the Rhineland

Important questions to be considered at a provincial and inter-provincial level include how far military demand in the north of Britain stimulated and sustained a market for regional pottery industries located outside the region. How significant a factor was military demand as opposed to growing civilian markets?

3.11 Long term effects of the presence of the Roman army

The range of relevant questions under this head include the following. What was the impact of the army on local potting traditions? Did army supply stimulate local pottery industries or inhibit their creation? Did this vary with time? What impact did the army's presence have on the 'Romanization' of ceramics in the region? How does this compare with army impact on 'Romanization' on other material culture?

Many themes considered below under other headings are also applicable to pottery from military sites (eg. 14.3).

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