Roman Pottery

Pottery was produced in enormous quantities in the Roman Empire, mostly for utilitarian purposes.

 Samian ware flask from Southern Gaul, c. 100 AD. Hercules is killing Laomedon.

There is no direct Roman equivalent to the artistically central vase-painting of Ancient Greece, and few objects of outstanding artistic interest have survived, but there is a great deal of fine tableware, and very many small figures, often incorporated into oil lamps or similar objects, and often with religious or erotic themes.

It is usual to divide Roman domestic pottery broadly into coarse wares and fine wares, the former being the everyday pottery jars, dishes and bowls that were used for cooking or the storage and transport of foods and other goods, and in some cases also as tableware, and which were often made and bought locally. Fine wares were serving vessels or tableware used for more formal dining, and are usually of more decorative and elegant appearance.

Fine Wares

The Roman red-gloss ware of Italy and Gaul made from the 1st c. BC to the late 2nd c. AD are traditionally known as terra sigillata. Aretine ware from Italy and Samian ware from Gaul.

Terra sigillata with winged victory.
Romano-British beaker with barbotine decoration depicting chariot-racing. (c) AgTigress

Terracotta Lamps

Artificial lighting was commonplace in the Roman Empire and so hundreds have survived the test of time.

Gladiators. (c) Marcus Cyron

Most of these clay lamps were shaped using moulds in workshops that turned out large numbers of standardised products.

The range of decoration included deities, myths and legends, genre scenes from everyday life, animals, hunting, public entertainments such as gladiatorial combat and chariot-racing, and erotic scenes.

Victory holding a cornucopia, flanked by two Lares. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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