Forum Archaeologiae - Zeitschrift für klassische Archäologie 7 / VI / 1998


The ability of fire to transform clay into a durable material was already recognised in prehistoric times. Pottery vessels appeared later, when more or less sedentary ways of life developed, together with agricultural economic practices. Population increase together with the development of stable, organised settlements led directly to new and more professional modes of ceramic production and trade. The scale of production was determined to a large extent by the nature of the society and its wider socio-economic networks. production should be seen as a complex process, however, and very traditional production techniques continued alongside the more innovative programmes of mass production[1]. Pottery and other products of fired clay established themselves through time as tools for a wide variety of purposes: to store, prepare, serve and consume all kinds of food, in association with religious rituals and sacred moments of life, or also as a construction material. In other words, pottery was a normal thing in antiquity. What could be made locally was made locally since the required raw materials (mainly clay, water and fuel) are nearly omni-present in nature. Ceramic production is one of the traditional crafts of antiquity, where more or less organised production units came and went in a constant but unsystematical way.

Sigillatas are another thing altogether, however. During its entire period of existence the mass production of this good quality red slipped tableware was restricted to only a few production centres. In late Hellenistic times this tableware, mainly eastern sigillata A, became common to nearly every table in the eastern Mediterranean. How, during the late Republic, red sigillata came to be produced in Italy is still open to discussion, but it is beyond any doubt that Italian sigillata would have unparallelled and far-reaching influences on the concept of tableware in the entire Roman empire. Italy not only exported pottery but also its craftsmen[2]. Within this context, the best example in the west which we know of is the production site of La Muette at Lyon[3]. A series of events in the east, in our opinion, indicates that, although the phenomenon of sigillata had already existed there for about a century and a half, similar mechanisms of imitation were working. Of the 6 common types of eastern sigillata[4], the situation is clearest in the case of eastern sigillata B, where Italian potters, like Caius Sentius and Serenus, can be linked to the origin of the tableware at the very end of the first century BC[5].

At about the same time a substantial investment was made in the regional production centre of Sagalassos. This town is located in the region of Pisidia, dominated by the western Taurus mountains. Since 1986 a large-scale, interdisciplinary Belgian archaeological research project has been directed at Sagalassos and in its territory by M. Waelkens of the Catholic University of Leuven[6]. Sagalassos had already been producing pottery in the Hellenistic period, but at the end of the first century BC the craftsmen intensified their efforts and started mass producing a wide variety of ceramic products. In economical terms, the new sets of local tableware or Sagalassos red slip ware can be considered as the most important feature of this production centre. Production of this tableware lasted into the first half of the seventh century AD, shortly after which the town of Sagalassos was abandoned. The ware was intensively traded in Anatolia and could also be identified at a series of sites in the eastern Mediterranean, showing an interesting connection with ancient Egypt[7].

The Italian link with Sagalassos red slip ware can only be hinted at in an indirect way. The region of Pisidia was only brought under more than nominal Roman control during the reign of Augustus. Following the death of the client-king Amyntas in 25 BC, his kingdom, including Pisidia, was transformed into the provincia Galatia. The southern part of this province had never been completely pacified and it took the determined efforts of a man like Augustus with the input of one legion and a substantial amount of auxiliaries to achieve this. Very little is known about their campaigns. In order to transform the military achievements into a more lasting peace, first of all, the local road system was improved and brought up to Roman standards, especially with the construction of the via Sebaste encircling the region, and secondly, veterans of Augustus' armies were settled in a series of coloniae in the region[8]. The pax Romana brought about new economical possibilities all over the empire and the southern part of Asia Minor was one of the regions that would profit very long from this peace. We cannot prove that all these new settlers, who mainly came from Italy[9], wanted Sagalassos red slip ware, but the pacification of the region, the improvement of its road infrastructure, and the settlement of these veterans, who were already in the habit of using Italian sigillata, may well have been the impetus for an investment in the already existing local potter's craft, organising it on the level of a manufactory, as defined by D.P.S. Peacock[10]. The morphological concept of Sagalassos red slip ware clearly followed the Italian fashion of the day, in the same way as the other common types of both eastern and western sigillata.

After the prelude in the Hellenistic east, sigillata developed into an Italian phenomenon, which would in turn influence both the western and the eastern part of the empire, making sigillata clearly a cultural phenomenon of the Roman commonwealth from the Augustan period onwards. Throughout the Roman empire, potters with the ambition to make a high quality tableware had to follow, from that time on, a typical Roman concept of technology and design, and, in some cases, managed to blend this with typical local features, both in the east and west, while remaining faithful to the Roman idea of sigillata. Further research is needed in order to place this evolution in a more general context of exchange of goods and people.

[1] For an excellent world-wide overview of pottery: I. Freestone and D. Gaimster (ed.) Pottery in the Making. World Ceramic Traditions, London 1997.
[2] C.M. Wells, "Imitations" and the spread of sigillata manufacture, in: E. Ettlinger, B. Hedinger, B. Hoffmann, P.M. Kenrick, G. Pucci, K. Roth Rubi, G. Schneider, S. Von Schnurbein and C.M. Wells (ed.) Conspectus Formarum Terrae Sigillatae Italico modo Confectae, Bonn 1990, 24-25.
[3] A. Desbat, M. Genin and J. Lasfargues (ed.) Les productions des ateliers de potiers antiques de Lyon, 1ère partie. Les ateliers précoces, Gallia 53, 1996, 1-249.
[4] For a general introduction: J.W. Hayes, Handbook of Mediterranean Roman Pottery, London 1997, 52-59. Sagalassos red slip ware should be added to Hayes’ list.
[5] S. Zabehlicky-Scheffenegger, Rouge et noir. Schwarzes und rotes Geschirr, Forum Archaeologiae. Zeitschrift für klassische Archäologie 4, VIII, 1997; and the cited references.
[6] For a general overview: M. Waelkens, Rise and Fall of Sagalassos, Archaeology, May/June 1995, 28-34; For the excavation and survey reports: M. Waelkens (ed.) Sagalassos I. First general report on the survey (1986-1989) and excavations (1990-1991), Acta Archaeologica Lovaniensia Monographiae 5, Leuven 1993; M. Waelkens and J. Poblome (ed.) Sagalassos II. Report on the third excavation campaign of 1992, Acta Archaeologica Lovaniensia Monographiae 6, Leuven 1993; M. Waelkens and J. Poblome (ed.) Sagalassos III. Report on the fourth excavation campaign of 1993, Acta Archaeologica Lovaniensia Monographiae 7, Leuven 1995; M. Waelkens and J. Poblome (ed.) Sagalassos IV. Report on the survey and excavation campaigns of 1994 and 1995, Acta Archaeologica Lovaniensia Monographiae 9, Leuven 1997.
[7] J. Poblome, The Ecology of Sagalassos red slip ware, in: M. Lodewijckx (ed.) Archaeological and Historical Aspects of West-European Societies. Album Amicorum André Van Doorselaer, Acta Archaeologica Lovaniensia Monographiae 8, Leuven 1995, 499-512; J. Poblome, Production and Distribution of Sagalassos red slip ware. A Dialogue with the Roman Economy, in: M. Herfort-Koch, U. Mandel and U. Schädler (ed.) Hellenistische und kaiserzeitliche Keramik des östlichen Mittelmeergebietes, Frankfurt a.M., 75-103; J. Poblome and M. Waelkens, Sagalassos and Alexandria. Exchange in the eastern Mediterranean, in: C. Abadie-Reynal (ed.) Les céramiques en Anatolie aux époques hellénistique et romaine: productions et échanges, Institut Français d’Etudes Anatoliennes, in press.
[8] For more details on the historical background: S. Mitchell, Anatolia. Land, Men and Gods in Asia Minor 1, The Celts and the Impact of Roman Rule, Oxford 1993.
[9] B. Levick, Roman Colonies in Southern Asia Minor, Oxford 1967.
[10] D.P.S. Peacock, Pottery in the Roman World: an Ethnoarchaeological Approach, London 1982.

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