The globalised world of the Roman Empire 1 – Terra sigillata

Terra sigillata was a characteristic Roman pottery type: these glossy red vessels spread throughout the empire and successfully competed against the glassware which was becoming increasingly common. Important workshops operated in Gaul and Germany (1–2), and in North Africa: the latter are easily recognisable by the lighter colour of their red slip (3–4). Following Hellenistic technique, the relief decoration was achieved by pressing the bowls in a mould (1). Appliqué ornaments created from separate moulds were also frequent (5), as was decorating vases with liquid ceramic slip dripped onto the surface, the so-called barbotine (2). Plastically modelled vases continued a centuries-old pottery tradition (3–4, 6–10). Although other types of fine pottery – like vessels glazed with green lead (6) – also remained popular, terra sigillata was the most successful, and was produced from the 1st century BC to the 7th century AD.

Storage amphorae, mostly used for transporting wine and oil, are important reminders of Roman imperial commerce, which spanned three continents. The shapes of the amphorae are indicative of where they were made and what they transported. For instance, amphorae that were made in the region of today’s Catalonia, and became widespread in the entire empire (10), testify to the popularity of the wine grown there.