Background to the project

The Gallo-Belgic pottery industry (as defined for this study) was established in Northern Gaul (Gallia Belgica) in the Augustan period (later 1st century BC) continuing until around c AD 70-80. Its inspiration stems directly from the Roman fine ware pottery industries first established in Italy (Campanian and arretine wares) and then later Southern and Central Gaul; essentially forming the northern-most link of this pottery tradition. The products made mainly comprise fine tablewares, ie cups, platters and beakers, used functionally, or symbolically, for the serving and eating of food and drink. Three principal wares were made: terra nigra, a black or grey ware; terra rubra, an orange or red ware and white wares. The latter mainly feature as beakers and flagons and may derive from different kilns to the black and red wares. Further sub-divisions can be made on the basis of colour and finish, particularly for the terra rubra wares.

The industry represents a fusion of indigenous native and Roman forms but using technology belonging to the latter. This new technology is marked by the use of a fast potters wheel and more sophisticated permanent kilns. Some products carry potters' name stamps or marks, which were positioned radially or centrally on the upper surface of the finished vessel before firing. The legible names suggest some are part Romanised in form adopting the Latin ending us; others preferred the Celtic (or Gallic) name ending - os. In some cases the Gallic word or abbreviation 'avot' follows the name, being the equivalent of the Latin 'fecit' (made by) more commonly found on products of the arretine or samian industries. One potter may have used several different dies within his working life and one die cutter may have worked for several different potters.

Few production sites have been scientifically excavated but in the 1970's and 1980's a large complex of kilns with associated waste was investigated at Reims; the University of Lille is currently preparing this material for publication. At present the production sites seem to fall into two main geographical groups: one in the Marne, especially in and around Reims; the other to the east in the Moselle and Bas Rhin. In addition there is a scatter of other workshops in the peripheral areas of Gallia-Belgica and beyond whose products are labelled with the same terminology but are likely to be separate to those under consideration here.

Gallo-Belgic wares have been found on many sites in north-east Europe with particular concentrations at the Rhine frontier forts, for example, Novaesium, Haltern, Hofheim and Xanten and on some of the large oppida, for example, the Titelberg, Luxembourg. It also features in many cemeteries. Finds to the south and west beyond the Somme and Oise are rare and occurrences east of the Rhine are specifically associated with the army. From around the last two decades of the 1st century BC Gallo-Belgic pottery appears in southern Britain on a large number of sites mainly within the presumed tribal territories of the Atrebates and Catuvellauni, (ie Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and Hampshire). The wares appear in a number of different depositional contexts, the most recurrent being those associated with burials and settlement, both military and native. The largest concentration of pre-conquest finds by far are associated with the large territorial oppidum at Camulodunum. Significant but much smaller concentrations can be found at the other southern territorial oppida such as Silchester, Canterbury, Leicester, Braughing and Bagendon. At least twenty-five cemeteries or individual burials have produced Gallo-Belgic wares. In the post-conquest period there are certain changes in pattern, which becomes more extensive. Some forms show particular, although not exclusive, links with the military forts.

The appearance of such imports thus had great significance for economic, social, cultural, technological, and symbolic reasons. They signal a considerable increase in cross-channel contact; their presence provides a useful chronological indicator, and they were to have a marked impact on the development of the ceramic repertoire through the introduction of new forms and decorative styles, which became widely copied. In addition, they reflect social stratification; communicate changes in eating and drinking habits, not only in content but practice, and act as one index of the considerable economic change in the period immediately preceding the Roman conquest.

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