Roman pottery in Wales
The Romans brought many things to Wales - roads, baths and towns among much else - but one of their most significant introductions was mass-produced pottery.
Pottery had been used in Wales for 4,000 years prior to the Roman conquest, but its production had always been small scale.
A hundred years after the Roman invasion Britain was awash with potteries, selling their wares across whole regions of Britain. Pottery was everywhere, and was used by almost everyone.
Pottery, the indispensable material
One of the key forces behind this change was the Roman army. The legions used pottery to store and transport food, drink and other raw materials. Pottery was used for cooking and serving food, and for building, plumbing and roofing. In short it was an indispensable material.easily carried far and so, on arrival in a new area the Roman legions had to make sure that they had a fresh sources of supply.
One of the first legionary fortresses in Wales was at Usk (Monmouthshire), established between AD55-60. Here the garrison maintained itself by making its own pottery, and by importing items from conquered territories in England and on the continent.
When a fortress was established at Chester, its pottery supply was guaranteed by the building of its own potteries at Holt (Wrexham). Military kilns also exist at other Welsh forts.
Although Welsh potters were at first unable to service the Roman army, over the years local industries developed to meet the needs of this enormous market. In the Usk region potters began to produce jars in a style known as 'South Wales Grey Ware'. Other cooking and serving vessels were also produced, but these faced stiff competition from the 'Black Burnished Ware' industry of southern Britain.
It was not just the army that benefited from these new industries. The massive quantity of pottery now being produced in Wales also found a market among the civilian and native population. On archaeological sites of this period across Wales, the presence of Roman pottery is a defining characteristic.
While for many native Britons baths and villas would have remained foreign concepts, Roman pottery became an acceptable element of the conquest and occupation - part of the Romanization of Britain.
A Pocket Guide: Roman Wales by W. H. Manning. University of Wales Press and The Western Mail (2001).
Report on the Excavations at Usk 1965-1976: The Roman Pottery edited by W. H. Manning. University of Wales Press (1993).
Article Date: 10 May 2007