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Vesuvian Sigillata at Pompeii

Vesuvian Sigillata at Pompeii

By Jaye McKenzie-Clark (Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome 20). Pp. xi + 162, figs. 32, color pls. 4, tables 29, CD-ROM 1. The British School at Rome, London 2012. £19.95. ISBN 978-0-904152-62-3 (paper).


This slim volume defines and examines locally produced Roman fine ware from excavations at Pompeii. It is the ware identified at Benghazi some 40 years ago by Philip Kenrick and called Tripolitanian Sigillata (later Campanian Orange Sigillata) and Campanian Orange Sigillata produzione A by Gianluca Soricelli. The evidence presented here does not justify pinpointing a Vesuvian production center for the ware, only showing that this is the predominant local ware at Pompeii. I would suggest that Campanian Orange Sigillata be retained unless or until a production site is identified. McKenzie-Clark provides a history of investigation of this ware and a thorough consideration of fabrics attributed to the vicinity of Pompeii; she presents the results of petrographic and chemical analyses of samples as well as a catalogue of six categories of vessels from recent British excavations at Pompeii. The remainder of the volume consists of a discussion of the process of manufacturing the ware, applying what the author, who is a potter, knows about pottery production to sigillata, a section on where and by whom sigillata was used at Pompeii, and a very theoretical chapter on "market supply" and "consumer demand." It is the fledgling work of a scholar with considerable potential to change how we think about sigillata. The accompanying CD-ROM provides a spreadsheet showing 28 attributes of the 481 samples in the study and PDFs reproducing pages 153–54 and figures 4.1–4.25, but not the color plates from the hard copy.

Chapter 5, on the manufacturing process, has the broadest interest and might well be assigned as an introduction to any university class that is studying ancient pottery. It is a paradigm of careful technical observation and explanation. A single correction (114): sintering is the beginning of melting, and sigillata producers took steps to ensure the stacked plates did not stick together. In Eastern Sigillata A and Pergamene Sigillata production, they used three circular pads to separate the base ring from an underlying plate floor when they were stacked in the kiln; such pads also allowed the kiln atmosphere to circulate better. In Italian sigillata, the makers of large platters used three curving rectangular pads, and the purpose of the rouletting on the platter floors (immediately above the foot ring) is certainly to prevent the pads from marring the glossy surface. The off-center scar over the rouletting in plate 5.1 number 3 illustrates how rouletting alone protected the surface of smaller plates because the resting surfaces were narrow, incidentally demonstrating the primarily utilitarian function of rouletting.

The remainder of the book is mostly of interest to scholars studying Italian sigillata or Pompeiian ceramics. In chapter 3, the author argues that microscopic and petrographic analyses show that the Italian sigillata controls are from two groups (suggesting Arezzo and Pisa) and that the Campanian Orange Sigillata also belongs to two groups. But the petrographic division of the Italian sigillata into a volcanic group and a group lacking volcanic inclusions (table 3.3) does not correspond with what is known of the origin of the potters' stamps. Is it not possible that higher firing (which would account for the darker color and crystallization of calcium) and finer fabric, rather than different clays, account for the differences observed in hand specimens? Chemical analyses (24 elements were measured) were limited to only 15 samples assigned to 9 groups, and I am not sure how much weight can be attached to the conclusions drawn from them. They clearly distinguished a group of Campanian black gloss and Vesuvian Sigillata 1 (high levels of Rb, Th, Na, K, Ce, Zr, and very low Ni); unfortunately, the effect is so strong in the principal component plot shown in figure 3.2 that all other samples analyzed, including the Italian sigillata and those sherds identified as Vesuvian Sigillata 2, are relegated to a single group. Further exploration and illustration of the chemical compositions would be necessary to confirm the existence of a separate Vesuvian Sigillata 2 group. Furthermore, an outlier on the left side of the plot, originally identified as Eastern Sigillata A but reassigned to Italian sigillata after the petrographic analysis, is deficient or enriched in precisely the same elements that distinguish the Campanian group. Its chemical composition does not match that of the Italian sigillata samples, but it does appear to fall within the range of the Eastern Sigillata A we analyzed by neutron activation analysis from Tel Anafa (K.W. Slane, "The Fine Wares," in S.C. Herbert, ed., Excavations at Tel Anafa: The Hellenistic and Roman Pottery. JRA Suppl. 10.2.1 [Ann Arbor 1997] appx. 1). One wonders whether greater exploration of the published chemical data for other wares (we analyzed Campanian black gloss, too) might not provide further matches for these data.

Since every sherd of Campanian Orange Sigillata is attributed as Vesuvian Sigillata 1 or 2, one wonders why this subdivision was not tested in the analysis of the forms (ch. 4) or stratigraphy (ch. 6). That is, if the two fabrics are distinguishable by eye, why not treat them as two groups and investigate whether the groups could also be distinguished by form or date? Nevertheless, an important contribution of this book is to present the first typology of these local wares in the form of a catalogue of examples subdivided by type. The typology is theoretical, assuming differences in function among platters, plates, bowls, dishes, cups, and flagons on the basis of rim diameter and proportion of height to diameter. However, plates and bowls share the same range of diameters, likewise dishes and cups, while a platter is anything with a diameter greater than 30 cm. That is very unfortunate, because one of the striking characteristics of Augustan (and not later) sigillata is the production of platters with diameters ranging from 40 to 60 cm, while plates of 16–18 cm and 32–36 cm were made from the middle Augustan through the Flavian periods. Furthermore, a well-known advance in the mass-production of Eastern Sigillata A and then Italian sigillata was standardization of forms, some of which were available in several standard sizes. And both developed directly out of earlier black-gloss industries so that in their initial phases, the forms are those of the earlier black-gloss wares. This seems to be what McKenzie-Clark has also found for the Pompeiian ware. The catalogue provides comparanda for each entry (rather than each form), most frequently to Morel's catalogue of black-gloss pottery or Kenrick's catalogue (P.M. Kenrick, "The Fine Pottery," in J.A. Lloyd, ed., Excavations at Sidi Khrebish Benghazi [Berenice]. Vol. 3, pt. 1. LibAnt Suppl. 5 [Tripoli 1977]; J.-P. Morel, Céramique campanienne: Les formes. BÉFAR 244 [Rome 1981]) of this ware at Sidi Khrebish (unfortunately the author used Kenrick's estimate of the period when Tripolitanian Sigillata was imported to Sidi Khrebish [1–40 C.E.] to date each of the forms found there, e.g., at cat. nos. P1.3.2, P1.4.1, P1.6.1, P1.6.2, P1.7.1, and P1.9.2, rather than using their contexts). McKenzie-Clark also neglects to point out the many forms (e.g., those with hanging lip or molded rim) that are clearly related to, and probably derived from, Italian sigillata.

Some reidentifications (ch. 4): catalogue number C.1.2 (compared to a black-glazed Morel form of the third century B.C.E.) is a good candidate for an Eastern Sigillata A vessel. It can be more convincingly paralleled in Eastern Sigillata A (TA type 25, the hemispherical cup characteristic of this ware [Slane 1997], noting particularly the concave band on the outer face of the base and the offset between the base and the wall). BA.4.4 might also be Eastern Sigillata A because of the shape and arrangement of the stamps (five around an identical center stamp rather than four).

Chapter 6 reports the analysis of nine pottery assemblages from three properties. It is considerably strengthened by the addition of the stratified pottery from Regio I.9 to the original dissertation data (adding two of the three stratified assemblages). What is reported from the House of the Surgeon (VI.1, 10) is problematic and merits reexamination. The rim C.4.2, which imitates the Italian sigillata form Consp. 23 (E. Ettlinger et al., Conspectus formarum terrae sigillatae Italico modo confectae [Bonn 1990])—introduced 20–10 B.C.E. and one of the most typical late Augustan and later forms—comes from a phase 1 context, and C.9.1, which imitates Consp. 13 (a "middle Augustan" form) or contemporary silver, comes from a phase 3 context dated 200 B.C.E. If the phasing is secure, there appear to be significant pieces of contaminating material in the early strata of this house.

The conclusion of the analytical chapter (33) calls into question the accuracy of previous identifications at Pompeii of sigillata imported from outside Italy (Eastern Sigillata A, Eastern Sigillata B, and Cypriot Sigillata in particular), and McKenzie-Clark returns to this point at the end of the book. Although there may be a few unrecognized imports (as mentioned above), they are no reason to question the predominance of two locally produced groups of Campanian Orange Sigillata from the three excavation areas under consideration. But there is equally no reason to question the previous identification of eastern imports by Pucci and Hayes (G. Pucci, "Le terre sigillate italiche, galliche e orientali," in M. Annecchino, ed., L'Instrumentum domesticum di Ercolano e Pompei nella prima età imperiale. Quaderni di cultura materiale 1 [Rome 1977]; J.W. Hayes, "Sigillate orientali," in Atlante delle forme ceramiche II: Ceramica fine romana nel bacino mediterraneo. EAA Suppl. [Rome 1985]): the pieces they have discussed are recognizable by eye to anyone who has handled the eastern wares—and they tend to be whole, so presumably from the 79 C.E. destruction layers. We are left with the conclusion that the consumption of imported sigillata varied from place to place within the city. This unsurprising conclusion reinforces McKenzie-Clark's point that the consumption of Italian sigillata from outside Campania also varied among the individual properties she studied. One hopes that she will continue to refine the Campanian Orange Sigillata typology and identify the mid first-century and later forms, if any. Another iteration of the typology/stratigraphy relation might well reveal that its use, like that of the non-Italian imports, varied from period to period as well as from property to property.

Kathleen Warner Slane
Department of Art History and Archaeology
University of Missouri
Columbia, Missouri 65211

Book Review of Vesuvian Sigillata at Pompeii, by Jaye McKenzie-Clark

Reviewed by Kathleen Warner Slane

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 2 (April 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1182.Slane

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