Rhagor - Opening our national collections

Roman pottery in Wales

[image: The Roman pottery kilns at Holt. These kilns were established by the 20th Legion to provide pottery for their fortress at Chester.]

The Roman pottery kilns at Holt. These kilns were established by the 20th Legion to provide pottery for their fortress at Chester.

[image: Black burnished Ware. This pottery was originally produced by the Durotriges tribe in Dorset and was widely used by the Roman army and civilians in Britain.]

Black burnished Ware. This pottery was originally produced by the Durotriges tribe in Dorset and was widely used by the Roman army and civilians in Britain.

[image: Here we see two South Wales Grey Ware vessels and a Caerleon grey ware bowl. South Wales Grey Ware was developed in the Usk region, and was notable for its storage jars and containers.]

Here we see two South Wales Grey Ware vessels and a Caerleon grey ware bowl. South Wales Grey Ware was developed in the Usk region, and was notable for its storage jars and containers.

[image: Range of vessels found at Usk Roman fortress - a flagon for drinking, a jar for storage, a bowl for mixing or cooking, and a large lid, probably used during cooking.]

Range of vessels found at Usk Roman fortress - a flagon for drinking, a jar for storage, a bowl for mixing or cooking, and a large lid, probably used during cooking.

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.

Background Reading

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

5 comments

Amgueddfa Cymru on 27 September 2011, 11:51

Dear Jason, the number you supplied was invalid. If you could email your details to rhagor@museumwales.ac.uk, then we can look into this for you. Thank you

jason barrett on 22 September 2011, 21:55

I have recently uncovered what could be a roman building at my home in tonteg pontypridd .i have tried to get help to verify this. but to mo avail.could you.please.there are lots of what could be coins etc. to help with any conclusions to what it may be .contact number 0144320387.

Karen, Student on 17 May 2011, 08:47

What a good Roman Musuem like the Roman Coins display, the Roman pottery is Good. Are there any talks about Roman shields this year. Shall look on here again sometime in the next Month.

Amgueddfa Cymru on 29 November 2010, 11:26

Dear Carline, thank you for your comment. It may be best to enquire at an archaeological institution such as http://www.archaeology.ncdcr.gov/ who may be able to offer further advise on your items.

Caroline Willis on 29 November 2010, 11:16

I think I have a few Items from the Iron Age that I recieved from my Father when He passed. He was a Professor of Religon for 48 years (Majored in Theology), and traveled to Europe many times to go on digs for the college. Please advize me as to where I need to go to get these item dated and classed. I have pictures and these items are in near pristine condition. I also have many fragments of jar handles and other pieces of pottery. Thank you for your time, Respectfully.... Caroline Willis
lwillis33@suddenlink,net
( 252 ) 474-8992
North Carolina, USA

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