two Roman potters’ stamps from Williams & Griffin

Today (16th June), Trust archaeologist Steve Benfield was looking at two Roman potters’ stamps from our excavation within the Williams & Griffin store in the High Street at Colchester. (Steve is our Roman and prehistoric pottery specialist.) The two complete stamps were excavated from the first of three sites which we are excavating in the store. Roman potters’ stamps are a relatively common find in Colchester, but these two together provide an interesting contrast.

One of the stamps reads BELINICCI.M. This is the stamp of a potter or workshop named Beliniccus, who or which produced samian ware pottery at Lezoux in Central Gaul in the Roman empire. The fragment with the stamp represents the base of a cup. Samian ware was a glossy, red, fine ware pottery, used at the table. Lezoux was a very large centre of samian production in the 2nd century, and its samian wares were exported to the northern frontier provinces of Gaul, Germany and Britain. As an import into Britain, and to Colchester, this cup would probably have been part of a quite classy set of table ware. This stamp is early-mid Roman and it is dated to circa AD 125-50. Samian ware is not uncommon in Colchester, and this is actually the second BELINICCI.M stamp that we have found here.

The other stamp is very interesting; it is what is known as an ‘illiterate’ stamp. It consists of linear marks which look like numerals. The fragment with this stamp represents the base of a bowl which was made of Oxford red colour-coated ware, which would have been brought to Colchester to trade. Oxford ware is a less common find than samian ware in the town. This stamp is late Roman and it is dated to the late 3rd-4th/early 5th century, probably the mid 4th-early 5th century. This stamp is interesting because it has been stamped even though the potter must have been illiterate. Steve thinks that Roman potters stamped their wares in this way because their customers expected pottery to be stamped. The Lezoux samian ware pottery was all stamped because the individual potters or workshops fired their pottery in large batches in shared large-scale kilns, so each item had to be identifiable by name. The Oxford potteries, however, were on a much smaller scale and their items probably didn’t need to be identifiable.

For two quite small finds, the two stamps present a lot of information about Roman Colchester and the empire, ranging from cultural practices, industry, and international trade, to pottery techniques, and a glimpse into the lives of two potters or workshops, far apart in space and time, but both operating within the Roman empire.

The Trust’s excavation in the Williams & Griffin store is being funded by Fenwick Ltd.

The images show the two Roman potters’ stamps (BELINICCI.M is on the left) and Steve’s pencil rubbing of the ‘illiterate’ stamp.


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