Can you tell your Mortaria from your Amphora?

12 January 2017

The finds from the site to date have mainly consisted of pottery. However, several Roman bronze coins have also been found including one of the emperor Carausius (286-293), Britain's very own Roman emperor.

Carausius was a military commander of humble origin who usurped power in 286, declaring himself Emperor in Britain and northern Gaul. He was very aware of the political importance and propaganda value of coins and minted his own which were usually very well made. Carausius used his coins to appeal to the native population's dissatisfaction with Roman rule as they featured legends such as Restitutor Britanniae (Restorer of Britain) and Genius Brittanniae (Spirit of Britain). He held power for seven years but was assassinated by his finance minister Allectus, who then assumed power.

The sherds of pot found to date at Chester Farm belonged to various vessel forms from jars, bowls and dishes, flagons, mortaria, beakers, cups and amphora.

An amphora is a type of container, usually ceramic, of a characteristic shape and size and were used in the Mediterranean by the Romans in vast numbers for the transport and storage of a variety of products, but usually wine or olive oil but sometimes even a sauce made from rotten fish.

Mortaria are a unique type of Roman pottery kitchen vessel. Bowl shaped they often have a pouring spout formed in the rim and have grit embedded in the inner surface to aid the grinding of food. Helpfully Mortaria often feature stamps indicating the potter's name and location so they are great indicators for archaeologists of trade networks.


​Within the finds there was a vessel with finger-tipping on the rim dated from the Iron Age. Other vessels ranged from the 1st – 4th century with grog tempered, grey samian and imitation samian present.  The range of fabrics and forms indicates that the pottery was derived from mixed activities spanning both utilitarian and domestic and including some which might be considered as being of a higher status. Much of the pottery assemblage is likely to have been produced locally with possible sites for some of the wares being in or near Irchester.

Pottery from regional production centres in the Lower Nene Valley, Mancetter-Hartshill , Oxfordshire and south Dorset are also represented and much of the later shell-gritted ware is probably from the kilns at Harrold in Bedfordshire. Continental imported wares comprise South and Central Gaulish samian ware and Spanish amphora.

Samian ware is a glossy brick-red tableware and the most recognisable Roman pottery found in Britain. Produced on a huge scale, first in north Italy, but by AD43 nearly all made in Gaul (France), although there were small scale producers in Colchester and perhaps London. Some samian ware features elaborate designs, produced by pressing into a mould. Many vessels are stamped with the potter's name. Samian-style pottery of inferior quality was also produced.


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