Samian Ware

When digging a Roman site, the discovery of even the smallest sherd of Samian Ware brings a smile to any archaeologist. It is beautiful stuff! Instantly recogniseable, smooth surfaced, rich red-brown in colour and sometimes finely detailed, it is the classic Roman ceramic find.

Samian was the fine tableware of Roman Britain. It was mass-produced and the finished pieces often had a manufacturer’s stamp which provides excellent information about distribtion and dating.

Samian Bowl Base with stamp of maker. 'Photo © M.C. Bishop'For example, this bowl base found at excavations in Chester le Street (County Durham) has the stamp QVINTIM. Translation: ‘Made by Quintus’. This tells us that it dates to the second half of the 2nd century A.D. from a factory at Lezoux in France. (‘Photo © M.C. Bishop’)

Samian pottery is found throughout the Roman Empire from the Augustinian period onwards. It has been found all over Roman Britain although it is almost always in pieces (well it is about 1800 years old).

Other names for Samian Ware are “Arretine Ware” named for the region of Arretium (modern Arezzo, Italy) where it was first produced and in Europe and the USA Samian is more commonly refered to as “terra sigillata.”(1)

Most Samian Ware found in Britain was originally imported from Gaulish factories, although the earliest examples of Samian ware were from Italy. The word Samian probably derives from the Greek island of Samos because this style of pottery originated there. In Britain, some native Samian was produced at Pulborough (Sussex) , Colchester (Essex) and possibly London during the second century AD. The Samian ware from British Potteries is of a lower quality than the Gaulish examples.


Greene, K. P157


The Archaeology of the Roman Economy by Kevin Greene
University of California Press, Los Angeles 1990

Further information:

Books About Samian Ware: la Bedoyere Samian Ware, Shire Archaeology, Princes Risborough, 1988. – out of print

Arretine and Samian Pottery, Catherine Johns, British Museum, London 1971
Second Hand copies sometimes available from Amazon!