Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga
Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga

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Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga

2.4 African Red Slip ware

Between about 30 BC and AD 75 the most common type of ceramic tableware in the empire was terra sigillata (often known as Samian ware). This was a shiny red-surfaced ceramic which was first made in Arezzo in Tuscany, Italy and then widely imitated in many areas such as Campania, Rome, southern and eastern Gaul, and Asia Minor. The forms of this pottery were typically cups, bowls, plates and dishes. Beyond the areas where it was produced, the pottery was widely traded and it has been found on countless sites, including North African sites from the Atlantic to the Nile. In many of the areas where the terra sigillata was imitated by local potters, the original Italian prototypes were closely copied and there was little or no innovation in the shapes or forms of decoration. However, in the region of Carthage workshops were established before the middle of the first century AD which produced pottery that initially copied the shapes of the Italian wares, even though its colour and texture were slightly different (see Plate 5). Later a range of new shapes and forms were developed that broke free from the Italian originals and began a tradition of tableware manufacture which continued until the latter part of the seventh century AD. No ancient name for this pottery has survived, but it is known to archaeologists as African Red Slip ware because of its distinctive bright orange glossy surface created by the application of a slip to the vessels. In the second century African Red Slip ware became the most common tableware in the Mediterranean area, and in most places replaced the Italian terra sigillata and its other imitators (see Plate 6). Although originally Italian in inspiration and function, the fine ware developed a range of original shapes and decoration, and new forms, particularly large shallow dishes, became common. How much this spread of African material culture was due to technological superiority, economic production, changes in eating practices or simply changes in fashion is still the subject of study.

Please click to view Plate 5: (a) Italian terra sigillata [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . (John, C. (1971) Arretine and Samian Pottery, London, British Museum Press: © British Museum) (b) African Red slip ware. (Hayes, J.W. (1997) Handbook of Mediterranean Roman Pottery, London, British Museum Press, p. 58; © British Museum) (PDF, 1 page, 0.9 MB)

Please click to view Plate 6: African Red Slip ware jugs, third century. Bardo Museum, Tunis. (Photo: Musee National du Bardo, Tunis), (PDF, 1 page, 1.8MB)

Activity 3

Consider which of our four models best fits the case of African Red Slip ware. Write down your choice (or choices), and note down the evidence which supports your choice in your Learning Journal.


Although you only have limited evidence to go on, this case study is more clear cut than the previous ones. It is discussed further when the models are reassessed.


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