Provincial Roman pottery in the region north of the Middle Danube

See this text in

Provincial Roman pottery belongs to the most numerous Roman products in the prevailingly settlement objects of the Danubian Suebi. The oldest evidence of these goods within the region in view are represented by the finds from Devín, to the west of Bratislava near the mouth of the Morava into the Danube – apart from the fragments of an early terra sigillata common ceramic products were found too at this site (small cylindrical and semi-circular bowls, jugs and amphorae. However this group of Roman pottery, narrowly defined both in terms of region and chronology (from the last decade of the 1st century BC to the first two decades of the Christian era), cannot only be exclusively considered an evidence of imports (in the narrower sense of the word articles of trade), and above all these vessels are not found within the context of the Germanic settlement of the Roman era (Pieta/Plachá 1999). Thus they cannot be evaluated from the point of view of the relation of the Germans settled to the north of the Danube to the Roman provinces.

At the initial stage of the Germanic settlement of the territory in our view the provincial Roman pottery is only sporadically represented in the finds collections; this testifies to rather non-standard, mostly individual forms of acquiring rather than to a regular trading exchange. Nevertheless these are proofs that even at the time when the Germanic settlement structures have only been formed, and in the territory of the province of Pannonia the economic structures including the local pottery production have not been fully developed, there was a certain form of contacts between these cultural spheres. This may be exemplified by the data from the Bratislava-Dúbravka settlement dated to the middle and the third quarter of the 1st century AD. The average share of the provincial Roman pottery at this site amounts to 1.4% of all finds of ceramic, despite the fact that the legionary camp in Carnuntum, founded during the reign of Emperor Claudius, is only located at a 13 km distance (Elschek 1995). Even the contemporaneous or somewhat later settlement in Vlčkovce does not reach a higher value (2.6%). On the grounds of sporadic finds, mostly from surface surveys, it is also possible to figure on the first wave of the Roman pottery import to the territory of Lower Austria to the north of the Danube during the last third of the 1st century AD. In the narrow band along the Danube and the Morava rivers (i.e. alongside the most important roads) we observe some early forms of the provincial Pannonian grey ware with grey-black surface (the so-called "Glanztonware") and yellow ware with yellow-orange surface (Stuppner 1997). So far the inland including the territory of South Moravia has not shown the presence of provincial pottery from this era. Because of the hitherto absence of a greater number of closed settlement objects coming from this chronological horizon, mainly from the territory to the west of the Morava River, the issue of representativeness and statistical significance of the pottery collections from the 1st century remains open.

It is interesting to note that apart from a small number of non-typical, yellow-clay (Pannonian?) pottery fragments, vessels which do not belong to the usual forms of import have been found in the Quadian settlements from this period. A so-called “Netzwerkschale” from the sphere of early Italian fine goods was found in Bratislava-Dúbravka. An amphora from Vlčkovce which represents the first ever typologically classifiable amphora from the Quadian region is of Adriatic origin. Goods transported in amphorae – wine, olives, olive oil or spicy fish sauces – apparently have not attracted much interest of the local Germans even later on (and wine could have been imported in other packing as well, e.g. in wooden casks). A double-handle amphora from Vlčkovce belongs to the Dressel 6B type; originally it was used for the transport of olive oil from Istria. These amphorae occur in relatively great numbers in Pannonia during the 1st century until the first third of the century to follow (roughly until the reign of Emperor Hadrian). An unusual group of early Roman import is represented by glazed pottery with a relief decor. It is found exclusively at three cemeteries located not far from one another (Abrahám, Kostolná pri Dunaji and Sládkovičovo). Only two types of vessels are represented – skyphos and kantharos – decorated with geometrical and plant ornaments, with a figure wearing a suit of armour depicted on one of the vessels. The glazed drinking cups originate from north Italian pottery workshops (Kolník 1984; Krekovič 1992). Their narrowly delimited territorial and chronological occurrence (phases B1b and B1c according to Kolník 1977) suggests that it might have been a one-off supply of goods. Earlier on T. Kolník has expressed an assumption that these vessels could have been brought from Northern Italy by the Germanic military retinue headed by Sido and Italicus after their victorious performance in the battle of Cremona in the year 69 (Kolník 1977).

Pottery collections of greater informative value, and more suitable for statistical evaluation, are available from the B2 chronological phase, i.e. roughly from the stretch of time in the 2nd century AD preceding the Marcomannic wars. At this period it is already possible to adequately inquire into the phenomenon of import of the provincial Roman vessels into the Germanic (Quadian and Marcomannic) territory to the north of the Danube, both in the Slovak, Lower Austrian and Moravian environments.

At the South-Moravian site Mušov Na Pískách four sunken floor huts from this horizon have been unearthed. An average share of imported pottery in these four objects is approximately 2.8%. At this site only the yellow ware has been picked up, with a roughly equal division into the types with slip, with painted stripe decoration, or without surface treatment. The provincial Roman pottery from the B2 horizon objects at Mušov Na Pískách has enabled the determination of two basic shapes – in nine cases these were jugs, in one case a pot with a horizontal profiled edge. According to the material contents of these four objects it would seem that not even this settlement horizon shows a marked increase of the share of the provincial Roman goods in the ceramic collections of the local Germanic population (Komoróczy 1999). However the small extent of reliability of such a small sample for the purpose of overall conclusions is evident if we take a view of the other objects of the B2 horizon. In the four selected sunken floor huts of the settlement in Křepice the share of the provincial Roman pottery amounts to 28%, while values exceeding 20% have to be considered an outstanding phenomenon. If we examine the entire overview of the provincial Roman pottery in all 17 sunken floor huts of this settlement, we will find out that there is not a single object occurring here in which at least three types of the provincial pottery would be found (Droberjar 1997). Variants of the yellow ware with the 88 per cent are clearly dominant, 9 per cent may be put down to the fine- and coarse-grain grey ware with no surface treatment, two per cent to fine-grain grey ware with slip (not quite precisely called the „pannonische Glanztonware“), and one per cent belongs to terra sigillata from the central Gallic workshops in Lezoux. Jugs, storage vessels and the so-called Ringschüsseln are almost equally represented among the shapes. If we extend the scope by other settlement objects of B2 horizon in South Moravia we have to state that among the number of thirty we find only three in the ceramic spectrum of which there are only two types of the provincial Roman pottery. It is obvious from the statistic tables that the yellow provincial ware or its decorated variants are not missing in any of these settlement objects. During their processing E. Droberjar has stated that the average quantity of the provincial pottery in the collections closed in the period preceding the Marcomannic wars and in their course varies in the order around 12 to 16% of all earthenware. Therefore in the light of this the quantity of the imported pottery in the older settlement horizon at the Mušov Na Pískách site cannot be considered representative as the explanation is beyond phenomena capable of generalization.

In Slovakia too the products of the Roman-provincial pottery workshops currently become a regular component of the finds collections from the Germanic settlements. In comparison to the preceding period their share increases more than quaternary. The 7% proportion in Branč and 12% proportion in Bratislava-Trnávka may be used as an example. For the Záhorie region to the west of the Lesser Carpathian Mountains K. Elschek adduces 11.9% in the overall pottery inventory of the Germanic settlements. Although terra sigillata also appears ever more often, the most numerous is the common utility pottery production from Pannonia, with its parallels mainly from Carnuntum, Brigetio and other borderline forts. Popular vessels of Pannonian origin were probably imported in entire sets. We may provide the examples of the grey bowl imitating the Drag. 37 form from Štúrovo and from Veľký Meder or a yellow ware bowl with the so-called marbled decor from Branč.

A similar picture is provided by the settlement objects of C1 horizon (roughly from the Marcomannic wars till the half of 3rd century AD) in Slovakia, Lower Austria and Moravia. The late Antonine and Severan periods have brought a mighty inflow of terra sigillata into the Quadian and Marcomannic zone to the north of the Middle Danube. The numerous occurrence of the terra sigillata from Rheinzabern, Westerndorf and Pfaffenhofen facilitates the dating of the finds ensembles and simultaneously enables to set off the settlement horizon of C1 grade.

Three sunken floor huts from the C1 group at the Mušov Na Pískách site show an average proportion of the provincial Roman pottery amounting to 14.5% (Fig.). Here the spectrum of types has become markedly enriched, and in the total compliance with other collections of the C1 horizon (e.g. Starý Lískovec, Klentnice, Pasohlávky) the grey ware, both with and without slip, is represented by an absolute majority. Out of all imported goods the terra sigillata from Rheinzabern and Westerndorf is represented by ten per cent in one hut, and as much as 26 per cent in another at Mušov Na Pískách. Among the definable forms of the common provincial pottery 28 pieces of the so-called Ringschüsseln absolutely dominate over storage vessels and jugs. Despite the fact that for this settlement horizon we have a smaller number of collections capable of a statistical evaluation available, it seems that the proportion of the Roman-provincial pottery in the South-Moravian objects of the C1 group keeps to be around 15-17% of all ceramics. Generally it may be noticed that the import from the provincial pottery workshops has an increasing tendency also in the Slovak territory at this period of time. This is also corroborated by some settlements like e.g. Chotín or Veľký Meder.

An increased quantity of the provincial Roman pottery has also flown to into the territory around the Morava River and to Záhorie in the Severan period (Elschek 1999). Therefore it is surprising at first sight that some sites show an inverse tendency. For instance in the Quadian settlement in Branč the proportion of imported goods has decreased from 7% in the 2nd century to 6.4% in C1 phase, similarly as from 12.4 to 9.1% in Bratislava-Trnávka. Also at some settlements in South Moravia E. Droberjar has observed a stagnation of the import of pottery (from 16.5% in B2 to 11.7% in C1 phase – Droberjar 1997). Admittedly these data admonish to an increased carefulness of evaluation. The economic prosperity of the province of Pannonia in conjunction with the stabilization of the settlement circumstances in the territory to the north of the Danube in the decades following the Marcomannic wars have created very favourable conditions for the upswing of trade relations. This was reflected in a regular flow of the terra sigillata, glass and pottery vessels to the Quadian-Marcomannic territory. On the other hand the individual settlements have also manifested specific development features of their own (often incapable of being specified by archaeological methods), and the quantity of import goods must have been dependent i.a. on the availability of the Roman markets, on the position of the settlement relative to the trade routes, on the individual needs of their inhabitants and mainly on the role each of the settlements has played in the social structure and the redistributive economy of the Germanic community itself. The settlements in the immediate foreland of the Pannonian limes in Slovakia (Chotín or Veľký Meder, both at the 7 km distance from the Danubian frontier) which were very well supplied with Pannonian products may be used as examples. The producers and merchants settled in the surroundings of the nearby Ad Statuas camp have no doubt participated in the supplies of the Pannonian pottery into Veľký Meder (this is testified e.g. by the fragments of provincial stamped vessels with an almost identical decor). At the same time it is not true that the proximity of the limes alone means a greater proportion of the Roman import. A group of settlements in Bratislava-Trnávka is also located only at a 7-8 km distance from the limes, and the proportions of import only reach half values here.

Since the middle Roman era the structure of ceramic import has gradually changed. Although even in the 3rd century the table pottery prevails over kitchen ware, the range of the imported vessels is broader and more varied. However this tendency is only clear in the conditions of the late Roman era (phases C2-C3) when the spectrum of the imported pottery from the barbarian settlements (e.g. Veľký Meder) was almost identical with the content of the pottery collections in Pannonia.
Let us briefly apply ourselves to the distribution of the provincial pottery in the objects of B2 and C1 horizons (i.e. roughly in the 2nd and the first half of the 3rd century) from a broader perspective (the general distribution map records more than 283 sites). The yellow ware with miscellaneous variants of surface treatment is found in Slovakia, Lower Austria and Moravia in virtually every settlement.. According to an analysis of the Lower Austrian finds, jugs take up an absolute majority in the range of determinable shapes (Stuppner 1997). Appearing among these are also the relatively early forms from the last decades of the 1st century, the shapes from the 2nd and to a smaller extent from the 3rd century are represented very abundantly. Jugs stemming from the typological range known from the individual larger provincial sites (Carnuntum, Brigetio) are prevalent. In the western part of Lower Austria the shapes paralleled in Noricum and eastern Raetia are represented in a smaller number. Fine- and coarse-grain grey provincial ware with no surface treatment is recorded in at least 86 settlements in Moravia and Lower Austria; grey ware with a surface treatment which is known from at least 110 sites from the entire settlement area of the Danubian Marcomanni was even more popular. Within the best documented Lower Austrian material its shape spectrum is very homogenous: out of 476 specimens the shapes of the full 423 profess the so-called Ringschüsseln, which amounts to 89% of this earthenware. Three identified specimens belong to plates and 50 to small semi-circular bowls. On the grounds of stratigraphical observation both of these forms with a minority representation may be roughly assigned to the B2 settlement horizon. Contrary to that the Ringschüsseln, despite a certain development of their shape, have stayed on even in the 3rd century.

The shape range of the Roman pottery in the barbarian territory from the 1st to the 3rd century does not attain the variety of the provincial sites. The quantity of Ringschüsseln and jugs with striped handle or handles is especially remarkable. This marked orientation of the Danubian Suebi to a limited number of shapes may be explained by a motive belonging to the economic sphere – a preference or a demand. Even in Pannonia the Ringschüsseln have served as a certain cheaper substitute of less available sigillata, and this substitutive linkage appears as suitable also with the Germans. In case of jugs with striped handles it seems that the demand was also caused by an absence of a high-quality analogous shape in the Germanic ceramic production. A collection of types of imported vessels from the 2nd century is illustrated e.g. by the settlement in Branč. The main imports were jugs, yellow and grey ware bowls and partly also drinking cups, i.e. table pottery. Pots and storage vessels appear less frequently. With such comparison to the situation in Pannonia it is also possible to rely upon the finds collections of the provincial country communities, e.g. the settlement in the proximity of the fort Gerulata (Bratislava-Rusovce in Slovakia) or at Szakály in Hungary (cf. Varsík 1999; Gabler 1982). A comparative example corroborating that the make-up of the imported provincial pottery is dependent on the local demand which stems from the local technological craftsmanship and production capacities is provided by the Sarmatian settlement objects to the east of Pannonia. In this region terra sigillata has by far the greatest representation among the ceramic imports. Sarmatian settlements provide a testimony of high-quality pottery production facilities, manufacturing their goods on potter's wheels, primarily jugs and miscellaneous variants of semi-circular bowls and small bowls, so that in this area we observe a much smaller demand for the import of these forms from the provincial workshop (e.g. the Kompolt-Kistér settlement; Vaday 1999).

On the grounds of dating of the individual types in the provinces it is generally possible to state that the import of the provincial Roman pottery into the regions to the north of the Middle Danube is sustainable from the half of the 1st century AD; from the end of the 1st/beginning of the 2nd century its volume markedly increases to reach – around the half of the 2nd century – the level at which it more or less remains until the middle or the end of the second third of the 3rd century. This level lies somewhere within the range of 12-17 per cent of the share of the pottery equipment. Although it may seem, according to the current state of research, that the share of provincial goods on the pottery equipment is lower at some Slovak sites (eg. Bratislava-Trnávka, but also Mušov Na Pískách in Moravia in the period B2), this phenomenon cannot be definitely interpreted. A more precise determination of the percentage, deviations in the orders of only a small number of per cent etc. are the phenomena which – with regard to an uneven source base (a non-existence of a greater number of wholly excavated settlements, an ambiguous interpretation of the emergence of material filling of the settlement objects, in most cases an impossibility to make a precise determination of the manufacturing location of the vessels, an impossibility to establish the basic economic unit of the Germanic society and its reflection in the archaeological structures etc.) – cannot be unambiguously interpreted and generalized, and often these may be a play of a statistical error.

It is discernible on the distribution maps that at some localities virtually every kind of the imported pottery occurs in greater numbers. These include for example the Lower Austrian sites of Drösing, Ringelsdorf, Bernhardsthal, the Moravian Blučina and Křepice, the narrower region around Mušov or Chotín and Veľký Meder in Slovakia. In the first place this may be a reflection of a better research status, though it cannot be excluded that it is a deeper phenomenon of a structural nature (the central role in the redistribution economy). For the territory in our view it is apparently necessary to reckon with the standard „cross-border trade“. The direct evidence of its existence are especially the products of the provincial pottery centres, functioning primarily for the customers in the military and civilian settlements at the Limes, not for the „foreign” trade. Therefore this production was generated by the local provincial demand in which the Germanic customers have only played a secondary role. At the time when this production was still undeveloped in Pannonia itself and focused exclusively on the saturation of local needs, it was not encountered with very often in our territory (see the example of the Bratislava-Dúbravka settlement). Generally it may be stated that its boom days in Pannonia only came as late as in the last third of the 1st century, an since this period of time until the fundamental changes in the Roman economic structure caused by the all-empire crisis after the half of the 3rd century the local potters were producing provincial ceramic in such quantity and quality that was sufficient for the satiation of the local demand, at the same time enabling to offer a certain percentage on the “outer market”. For the time being it is not quite clear whether the distribution of these products has been under a direct control of the manufacturing centres, or whether the mediating merchant link has been inserted, but this is insignificant from the aspect of sale in the Germanic territory. Contrariwise it is significant that this pottery has apparently reached all levels of the barbarian society to the north of the Danube. On the grounds of some archaeological phenomena and comparisons to examples from other regions it seems that with the distribution of the provincial Roman pottery inside of the Germanic community it is necessary to allow for a certain „centralization” of this process during which the „centre” amasses the overproduction of the concrete region (above all quite certainly agricultural products), consequently there is the trade itself followed by the redistribution of the acquired goods back to the basic elements of this structure at the barbarian part (cf. Fig. ). The economy of the Roman-era Germans was not wholly market-directed; therefore it is impossible to perceive the spread of the provincial pottery goods as an exclusively market-directed distribution. This is testified inter alia by the relatively homogenous range of provincial pottery in the territory under our view, and the fact that among the settlements in central positions or close to roads we find such that by far exceed the others by the volume of imported goods.

The provincial Roman pottery in the territory of the Germans settled in Slovakia, Moravia and the part of Lower Austria beyond the Danube mostly do not belong to pretentious archaeological finds. However the pottery is an immensely important indicator of the intensity of the links of the barbarian communities – not only their social elites – outside of the Empire to the unified Roman culture, and a peripheral reflection of the socio-economic development of the neighbouring province.

Balázs Komoróczy, Vladimír Varsík


Droberjar, E.: Studien zu den germanischen Siedlungen der älteren römischen Kaiserzeit in Mähren. Fontes Archaeologici Pragenses Vol. 21, Praha 1997.

Elschek, K.: Die germanische Besiedlung von Bratislava-Dúbravka während der älteren römischen Kaiserzeit. In: Tejral, J./Pieta, K./Rajtár, J. (Hrsg.), Kelten, Germanen, Römer im Mitteldonaugebiet vom Ausklang der Latene-Zivilisation bis zum 2. Jahrhundert. Spisy Archeologického ústavu AV ČR Brno 3 (Brno-Nitra 1995), 39-52.

Elschek, K.: Die Aussagekraft des römischen Importes entlang der March auf der Bernsteinstrasse. In: In: Roman Frontier Studies. Proc. of the XVIIth Int. Congress of Roman Frontier Studies. Ed. N. Gudea. Zalau 1999, 859-865.

Gabler, D.: Aspects of the development of Late Iron Age settlements in Transdanubia into the Roman Period (Evidence based upon the excavations at Szakály in southern Hungary). In: Studies in the Iron Age of Hungary. BAR Int. Ser. 144, Oxford 1982. 57ff.

Kolník, T.: Anfänge der germanischen Besiedlung in der Südwestslowakei und das Regnum Vannianum. In: Symposium Ausklang der Latène-Zivilisation und Anfänge der germanischen Besiedlung im mittleren Donaugebiet. Bratislava 1977, 143-171.

Kolník, T.: Sigilllata in germanischen Gräbern de ČSSR. In: Sudien zur römischen Keramik. Vorträge des 13. internationalen Kongresses der Rei Cretariae Romanae Favtores in München. Kataloge der Prähistorischen Staatssamlung, Beiheft 1, Kallmünz Opf. 1984, 69-79.

Komoróczy, B.: Zpráva o výzkumu fortifikace římského krátkodobého tábora a objektů sídliště z doby římské na lokalitě Mušov-Na Pískách v letech 1995-1996, PV 1995-1996 (1999), 165-196.

Krekovič, E. 1981: Rímska importovaná keramika na Slovensku. Slovenská Arch. 29, Bratislava 1981, 341-372.

Krekovič, E.: Glasierte Keramik im mitteleuropaeischen freien Germanien. Acta RCRF 29/30, 1991 (1992), 149-156.

Pieta, K./Plachá, V.: Die ersten römer im nördlichen Mitteldonauraum im Lichte neuen Grabungen in Devín. In: Fischer, Th./Precht, G./Tejral, J. (Hrsg.), Germanen beiderseits des spätantiken Limes. Spisy Archeologického ústavu AV ČR Brno 14, Brno 1999, 179ff.

Stuppner, A.: Römische Keramik im nördlichen Niederösterreich anhand ausgewählter Fundplätze. Unpubl. Diss. Wien 1997.

Vaday, A.: A szarmata telep kiértékelése. In: Vaday, A. et al.: Kompolt-Kistér. Eger 1999,179-232.

Varsik, V.: Die Notgrabung einer römischen Siedlung des 2.-3. Jhs im Hinterland des Kastells Gerulata (vorläufige Ergebnisse 1995-1997). In: Tejral, J. (Hrsg.): Das mitteleuropäische Barbaricum und die Krise des römischen Weltreiches im 3. Jahrhundert. Spisy Arch. ústavu AV ČR Brno 12, Brno 1999, 215-234.

Varsik, V.: Die kaiserzeitlichen Siedlungen im pannonischen Vorfeld (Slowakei) im Lichte des keramischen Importes. In: Limes XIX. Proc. of the 19th Int. Congress of Roman Frontier Studies in Pécs Hungary 2003. Ed. Zs. Visy. Pécs 2005, 281-291.