The history of Roman pottery dovetails with the history of civilization. Today, Roman pottery can be found throughout the former Roman Empire as a testament to the immense volume of pottery that was created by Roman craftsmen. The history of Roman pottery can be divided between the every day pottery that was used during daily ancient Roman life and the finer ware that were pieces that were crafted to be used for dining.
Finer Ware History
The finer ware history of Roman pottery is based on those pieces used to serve food rather than to cook. There were many different kinds of fine pottery made and used for different purposes, the most common was glazed with a red gloss and is referred to as terra sigilata.
Made in what is now Italy between 100 BC and 200 AD, the pottery items made in this style have color ranging from pale orange to a fiery red. Later variations made in further regions of the Roman empire, including what is now France and areas of Africa, Asia, and the Iberian peninsula, used similar processes.
Finer Ware Decorations
Much of the finer ware created in the Roman Empire was not only glazed with a red gloss but also featured decorations. The most common decorations were created in relief. This means that both the inside and outside would be decorated by the artisan prior to firing the clay vessel.
The inside of the clay vessel was often decorated with stamps that had been made from clay. Often repeating designs were used to create borders. Potters began to mass-produce their designs by using one master bowl as the mold for future bowls. This was limited to open vessels like bowls, as it would be too difficult to do with closed vessels like jugs or jars.
Other fine wares were created in the regions of the Roman Empire that is now Belgium. These were decorated with a variety of patterns made with contrasting colors of slip. While the design could be as detailed as a hunting scene it also could be much less specific.
History Of Roman Pottery – Coarse Wares
When looking at the history of Roman pottery, it is important to not leave out coarse wares. Coarse wares are those every day essential pieces of pottery that were used to prepare food. Although bronze and metal utensils were used in the Roman Empire, for cooking, pottery was the most inexpensive option.
Home cooks used a variety of earthenware pans, pots, and bowls to cook in their homes. While some bowls and pots were used for general purposes, there were many specialty pieces of cooking pottery in Roman kitchens. Some of the pieces that have been identified by archaeologists have included presses specifically for cheese, as well as mortars and amphorae.
Mortars were shallow bowls that were used in conjunction with a pestle to crush and grind ingredients. Roman cooking involved complex recipes and the use of seasonings. This meant grinding herbs and spices to be used in their dishes. Many modern anthropologists have compared the mortar and pestle to today’s food processor.
Amphorae were the pottery jars that individuals used to carry food. The ancient Roman equivalent of today’s lunch box, the amphora was made in many regions. Often, amphorae were manufactured in the same area as a food that was being processed and would need to be transported. Often the amphorae were shaped to symbolize the amphora’s contents. Popular items included olive oil, fish sauce, fruit, and wine. Similar to our habit of reusing empty plastic bottles, the Romans often would reuse their amphorae to carry water.