Terra sigillata north of the Norican-Pannonian Limes

South-western Slovakia, southern Moravia, northern Lower Austria

See this text in

The territory of contemporary SW Slovakia together with adjacent parts of S Moravia and N Lower Austria belonged to the broader fore field of the Norican-Pannonian Limes during the Roman Period. It was a territory of remarkably intensive contacts between Romans and local inhabitants – Germanic tribes of Marcomanni and Quadi that, assisted by Romans in the first half of the 1st cent. AD, resettled from Bohemia closer to the middle Danube. Mutual Roman-Germanic relations are evidenced not only by historical sources but also by numerous archaeological finds. Particular position among them belongs to the products of the Roman provinces, the occurrence of which north of the Danube was strongly influenced by contemporaneous economic, political and cultural conditions. Imported tableware – thanks to its high technical quality, as well as its design even outside the Roman Empire very popular terra sigillata – also belongs to the group of provincial goods.

Terra sigillata along with majority of Roman provincial goods that reached Barbaricum was involved in the Roman-Germanic trade relations. Supplies of these goods beyond the frontier of the empire were influenced so by volume of production and distribution of the pottery manufacturing sites as by the demands of the local population. This ceramic ware reached described parts of Barbaricum through provinces Noricum and Pannonia, specifically through their border zone. It is supposed that the military forts (fortresses) of the Danubian Limes played specific role in the cross-border, as well as in the long distance trade. Primary position among them can be assigned to Vindobona, Carnuntum, Brigetio (since Marcomannic Wars enclosing also its fore fort in Iža-Leányvár), Gerulata and Solva. Historical sources and discovery circumstances evidence that objects could have reached these sites as gifts, part of support, booty, soldiers´ pays or as elements of the gear of Roman army on its campaigns. As for historical studies terra sigillata finely reflects the course of major events and meaningful changes in economic, social and political life.

Terra sigillata known from the north Danubian Barbaricum does not stem from one location. Studied territory was supplied from different provincial manufacturing sites.

Earliest terra sigillata

The majority of terra sigillata was imported to Marcomanni and Quadi from the western Roman provinces (Gallia, Germania and Raetia). It was manufactured in the large pottery manufacturing centres La Graufesenque, Banassac, Lezoux, Rheinzabern, Westerndorf and Pfaffenhofen. Relation of contemporary S Moravia, N Lower Austria and SW Slovakia with Mediterranean and Italy itself can be attested only by few terra sigillata fragments from the beginning of the Roman Period (1st cent. AD). Even though these finds did not belong to the regular deliveries of the provincial goods, their occurrence on this territory is noteworthy so from archaeological as from historical perspective.

At the first place early Italic terra sigillata from Bratislava-Devín (W Slovakia) can be listed that represents particularly important and unique group of finds at the northern border of Pannonia, in the fore field of Carnuntum. Majority of this kind of terra sigillata was found in late Late Iron Age settlement contexts and layers. For that it was considered to be an import of Roman pottery in the Celtic environment. Its occurrence was related to the short-term presence of Romans at the mouth of the river Morava to Danube in 6 AD, i. e. at the time of historically well-known military campaign of Tiberius against Marcomannic king Marobudus when Roman Army was assembled in Carnuntum. Italic terra sigillata from the Celtic oppidum in Staré Hradisko (central Moravia) is supposed to have connection with this event and with late Late Iron Age occupation of Moravia, too.

Recent excavation at the Devín castle hill yielded further important discoveries that attested Italic terra sigillata in the contexts of Roman architectures going back to the era of Augustus. These finds could be connected with up to now unconfirmed Roman military building and production activities at this site as soon as at the beginning of the 1st cent. AD (Plan). These new finds together with unearthed archaeological situations change meaningfully up to now knowledge about the occupation of this strategical point above the confluence of the rivers Morava and Danube and at the main line of the Amber Route around the break of era. They bring evidence that Romans came to contact with the local Celtic population that was still settled at this territory in the first decades of the 1st cent. AD. Around the same time Germanic tribes also started to penetrate the southern part of Morava river valley that is evidenced by early cemeteries of Germanic population (Devín, Devínska Nová Ves). These facts have again braoder historical consequences and they will contribute to the new interpretation of the relationship between Celtic, Roman and Germanic population.

Early contacts of the north Danubian Barbaricum with Italy can be affirmed also by a fragment of Italic terra sigillata with applied decoration (so called terra sigillata tardopadana) from Drösing-Huttmansdorf (N Lower Austria) (Photo). It is dated to the eras from Claudius to Domitian and it represents the earliest fragment from the Germanic site in the region.

Boom of terra sigillata inflow

Beginnings of frequent occurrence of terra sigillata north of the Danube at the end of the 1st and at the beginning of the 2nd cent. AD can be related to shifting Roman military power from the Rhine valley to middle Danubian region, as well as to the construction of limes and to the change of the political conception of the relationship to Barbarian tribes introduced by emperor Domitian. As for imported pottery, the group is represented by south Gallic terra sigillata during this historical period (La Graufesenque products), Foto that reached fore field of the Norican-Pannonian limes during the rule of the Flavians and emperor Hadrian. Its occurrence did not depend on regular trade connections but more likely on the occasional contacts that could have existed thanks to the presence of Roman troops at the Danube. During the rules of Hadrian and Antoninus (first half of the 2nd cent. AD) so called south Gallic (Banassac products) and early central Gallic terra sigillata (Lezoux products) is appearing in a very limited number north of the limes.

The greatest spread of terra sigillata in the north Danubian Barbaricum falls to the period from the second half of the 2nd to the first half of the 3rd cent. AD. Well datable exemplars evidence limited but uninterrupted inflow of this ware even during the Marcomannic wars, i. e. from 166 to 180 AD (Lezoux and Rheinzabern products). After the wars, in the late Antoninus era, it came to short stagnation of import. New growth of the trade was not stimulated by anything but stabilization of the economy under the Severan dynasty (193 – 235 AD) that is evidenced by the finds from the last third of the 2nd but above all from the first third of the 3rd cent. AD (Rheinzabern, Westerndorf and Pfaffenhofen products).

Germanic raids on the upper Germanic-Raetian limes in 233 AD had negative consequences for developed and blossoming trade relations and caused diminution and later even absence of terra sigillata at the studied territory. Further Germanic invasions to the territory of empire in 259/260 AD brought decrease and followingly the end of the mass production of terra sigillata. It was assumingly the turmoil within Germanic tribes on the middle Danube under Gallienus (253 – 268 AD) that caused the total termination of the terra sigillata import to the fore field of Norican-Pannonian limes in the middle of 250s AD after it was already significantly reduced since 230s AD.


Terra sigillata by Marcomanni and Quadi

At the studied territory settled by Marcomanni and Quadi (i. e. at the territory of contemporary SW Slovakia, S Moravia and N Lower Austria) terra sigillata is found at various sites and in various contexts. Majority of terra sigillata comes from Germanic sites (settlements, cemeteries, single graves) and from so called Roman military stations or from the sites with Roman buildings or with the buildings erected in Roman style.


Terra sigillata from Germanic settlements

The largest number of terra sigillata is uncovered from the common Germanic settlements. In this environment the products from western Roman provinces prevail (from pottery manufacturing sites in Lezoux, Rheinzabern and Westerndorf). Regarding typology the bowls with relief decoration (Drag. 37) and undecorated plates (Drag. 18/31 and 32) and cups (Drag. 33) are most frequent and most popular.

South Gallic terra sigillata (from La Graufesenque pottery manufacturing site) dated to the period from Flavians to Hadrian was the first that got to the Germanic settlements (Bratislava-Devínska Nová Ves, Brno-Chrlice, Komořany, Drösing-Huttmansdorf, Enzersfeld, Wollmannsberg-Waschberg). Late south Gallic terra sigillata from Banassac pottery manufacturing site (Branč, Drösing-Huttmansdorf, Ringelsdorf-Neues Feld, Seebarn, Stillfried) and early central Gallic terra sigillata from Lezoux pottery manufacturing site (Bratislava-Devínska Nová Ves, Bratislava-Vajnory, Pobedim, Tvrdošovce, Uherský Brod, Seebarn) from the Hadrian and Antoninus eras (first half of the 2nd cent. AD) are also detected in limited number. Regular inflow of terra sigillata is attested by the finds from the Antoninus to the Severan dynasty era (second half of the 2nd – first half of the 3rd cent. AD) when ordinary Germanic settlements were mostly supplied by terra sigillata from the biggest western Roman pottery manufacturing centres (Lezoux, Rheinzabern and Westerndorf). [Map] Well datable terra sigillata finds evidence its inflow even during the Marcomannic wars and the highest intensity of its import during the rule of the Severan dynasty. In spite of the decrease of the terra sigillata import in 230s AD, it is possible to follow its inflow till the rule of emperor Gallienus.

Numerous finds and sites are the evidences of intensive Roman-Germanic relations. The largest complexes of finds come from the Germanic settlements in Chotín (fore field of Brigetio and its bridgehead) and in Pobedim (in the middle Váh valley). Considerable number of the finds is detected also in Veľký Meder, Branč, Bíňa, Drnholec, Mušov-Na pískách, Uherský Brod, Vlčnov-Dolní Němčí. [Diagram] These find sets can perhaps testify certain stage of romanization of local population.

Terra sigillata from Germanic graves

Less numerous group of the terra sigillata finds can be related to the burial rite of the local population. It was found in the cremation graves or at the cremation cemeteries (Abrahám, Očkov, Sládkovičovo, Šaľa-Veča, Šitbořice), in one solitary cremation (?) grave (Borský Mikuláš-Borský Peter), in one inhumation grave (Krakovany-Stráže) and in two supposed grave contexts (Bešeňov, Závod). Regarding typology these finds do not exceed beyond the scale of the types known from the Germanic settlements. Even in the environment of cemeteries bowls with relief decoration (Drag. 37) and from undecorated shapes plates (Drag. 18/31 and 32) and cups (Drag. 33) prevail. Exclusively terra sigillata from Lezoux, Rheinzabern and Westerndorf dated to the era from Antoninus to the Severan dynasty (second half of the 2nd – first half of the 3rd cent. AD) was unearthed at the cemeteries.

At the cemeteries or in the graves terra sigillata is present at three basic stages of preservation. Most common are fragments that can be interpreted with highest probability as so called foreign sherds intentionally placed into urn. They assumingly come from the vessels broken during burial ceremony. Complete terra sigillata bowls were found only in three cases. They belonged to the grave goods and only one of them was used as urn. Considering the circumstances of discovery and accompanying finds, complete exemplars can be characterized as exceptional phenomenon in studied Germanic environment. They can probably be associated with the individuals with higher social status (so called aristocratic graves – Očkov, Krakovany-Stráže, Borský Mikuláš-Borský Pete.

On the basis of above described facts it can be assumed that terra sigillata was used in different ways in burial rite of Marcomanni and Quadi. It reflects not only unique burial habits, however, but probably also the social status of the buried individuals. Assumingly, woman buried in the cremation grave in Očkov had certain power and social status. Inhumation grave in Krakovany-Stráže can be perhaps connected with Germanic hereditary tribal and military aristocracy. Disturbed grave from Borský Mikuláš-Borský Peter could have contained cremation burial of provincial or it could have been Germanic inhumation grave.


Terra sigillata from so called Roman stations

These special settlement types with different structure, function and chronology and with Roman or Roman-like architecture have very unique position within the Germanic settlement structure. At many of them the building techniques and/or objects of daily use attest coexistence of Roman and Germanic element. [Plans] This unique position in the fore field of Danubian limes can be testified also with the help of terra sigillata that was completely analysed and published only from the sites in south-western Slovakia (Bratislava-Devín, Bratislava-Dúbravka, Stupava a Cífer-Pác). Although terra sigillata from these sites has its origin mainly in the western Roman provinces (at the pottery manufacturing centres in Lezoux, Rheinzabern, Westerndorf and Pfaffenhofen), it is also possible to detect the products of other manufacturing sites, e. g. Italic terra sigillata from Bratislava-Devín that evidences early contacts of this territory with Mediterranean. Exceptional are also terra sigillata fragments with origin in Schwabmünchen manufacturing site that belong to the rare finds also in neighbouring Pannonia. Spectrum of the undecorated terra sigillata shapes is similar to that from the other common Germanic sites; nevertheless, the assortment of the most popular types differs from that. It contains primarily plates (Drag. 18/31 and 32), beakers (Drag. 54) and grinding bowls – so called mortars (Drag. 43). Most of the finds are dated to the era from Antoninus to the Severan dynasty (second half of the 2nd – first half of the 3rd cent. AD). Most intensive inflow can be seen during the Severan dynasty, especially in the first third of the 3rd cent. AD.

Roman influences on the periphery of the antique world

Typological composition of terra sigillata in individual contexts, buildings, graves, at the settlements and cemeteries was probably not accidental. It is not possible, however, to explain this patterning with the help of available sources. It also impossible to define the way of use of terra sigillata in Germanic environment north of the Danube. Regarding the fact that it is predominantely found at the settlements, it is possible to assume that it was used as decorative or table ware by local population. Except bowls with relief decoration (Drag. 37) undecorated plates (Drag. 18/31 and 32) and cups (Drag. 33) belonged to the most popular forms. As for the use of terra sigillata by Marcomanni and Quadi the question of the rate of impact of this imported pottery from the Roman provinces on the original nutrition habits and board culture of local inhabitants is arising.

The neighbourhood of provinces Noricum and Pannonia, the Roman presence at the territory of Marcomanni and Quadi, multidimensional Roman-Germanic relations, peacefull coexistence of these two elements, as well as their military confrontations led to the deepening of the influence of antique world on the Germanic society. All these factors were involved in the process of romanization that found its expression in the environment of pro-Roman oriented Germanic aristocracy mainly in architecture and inventory of their residencies and in the graves with rich equipment.

Klára Kuzmová

English by Lucia Benediková


E. DROBERJAR 1991, Terra sigillata in Mähren. Funde aus germanischen Lokalitäten. Brno.

E. DROBERJAR 1995, Zur Frage der ältesten germanischen und römischen Siedlungsfunde in Mähren. In: Kelten, Germanen, Römer im Mitteldonaugebiet vom Ausklang der Latène-Zivilisation bis zum 2. Jh. Brno - Nitra, 21-37.

T. KOLNÍK 1984, Sigillata in germanischen Gräbern der ČSSR. In: Studien zur römischen Keramik. RCRF Acta 23-24. Kallmünz-Opf., 69-80.

K. KUZMOVÁ, P. Roth 1988, Terra sigilata v barbariku. Nálezy z germánskych sídlisk a pohrebísk na území Slovenska (Terra Sigillata im Barbaricum. Funde aus germanischen Siedlungen und Gräberfeldern aus dem Gebiet der Slowakei). Materialia Archaeologica Slovaca. Nitra.

K. KUZMOVÁ 1997, Terra Sigillata im Vorfeld des nordpannonischen Limes (Südwestslowakei). Nitra.

K. PIETA, V. PLACHÁ 1999, Die ersten Römer im nördlichen Mitteldonauraum im Lichte neuen Grabungen in Devín. In: Germanen beiderseits des spätantiken Limes. Spisy Arch. ústavu AV ČR Brno 14. Köln - Bonn, 179-205.

A. STUPPNER 1994, Zu den Auswirkungen der Markomannenkriege im niederösterreichischen Limesvorland. In: Markomannenkriege - Ursachen und Wirkungen. Brno, 285-298.

A. STUPPNER 1995, Einige Bemerkungen zu den frühkaiserzeitlichen, römisch-germanischen Handelsbeziehungen im nördlichen Niederösterreich. In: Kelten, Germanen, Römer im Mitteldonaugebiet vom Ausklang der Latène-Zivilisation bis zum 2. Jh. Brno - Nitra, 199-215.