1: Names on Terra Sigillata: an essential practical resource for archaeology
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Unit of AssessmentClassics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Language Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
The University of Leeds has a long-established reputation for research
into the identification of
stamps used by potters on terra sigillata (`samian ware'), a key
dating indicator for archaeological
excavations on sites in the western Roman empire.
Publication of the illustrated index of these names in nine volumes,
complemented by the ongoing
release of the data to an online database, has made this research more
The index has given archaeologists — primarily community and commercial
academia — a powerful resource for identifying samian pottery and dating
the strata where it is
found. It has also provided a valuable tool for museums' educational work.
Leeds's pre-eminence in Samian Pottery Stamps is founded on four decades
of research by Dr
Brian Hartley (Senior Lecturer at Leeds to 1995). After his retirement
Hartley continued, supported
by the Department of Classics, to analyse and develop the material until
his death in 2005. Leeds
colleagues, including his long-time collaborator Brenda Dickinson
(Honorary Visiting Fellow in
Classics 2006-12), brought the project to fruition.
The Leeds Index of Samian Pottery Stamps (as the project is
widely known) collects around
300,000 stamp-die records and signatures, the product of over 5,000
different potters creating the
fine red ware popularly called `samian ware', or more technically terra
sigillata, which was
manufactured in the first to the third centuries by workshops in south,
central and eastern Gaul.
This is the first catalogue of its type to appear since 1931. The
importance of samian as a tool for
dating archaeological contexts and the vast increase in samian finds since
then prompted the
authors to record the potters' work in greater detail, illustrating, where
possible, each individual
stamp or signature which the potter used, and enumerating examples of each
vessel type on which
it appears, together with details of where it was found and is now held.
Dating of the potters'
activity is supported, where possible, by corroborative evidence - the
occurrence of material in
historically-dated contexts or its association with other stamps or
signatures dated by this method.
The bulk of the material was examined personally by the authors, from
kiln sites and occupation
sites in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Britain, but the catalogue
also includes published
records, which they were able to verify, from across the Roman Empire.
It is a unique resource &mdaSh; distinguished both by its size and its
extensive use of images — and
illuminates the organisation and distribution mechanisms of one of the
major industries of the
Roman empire, providing an invaluable supplement to the evidence of coins
and other datable
material in the construction of excavated site chronologies.
The importance of the research is indicated by the level of funding the
project has attracted: a
British Academy grant of £71,707 (10/2006-9/2007) for the pilot The
Leeds Index of Samian
Potters' Stamps, followed by an AHRC grant of £408,527 for The
Samian Pottery Industries of
Roman Gaul (3/2008-2/2012), including two PhD studentships. Prof.
Mike Fulford (Reading) is
named as Principal Investigator on both grant applications, but all the
research was carried out at
Leeds, where the project was managed by Dr Roger Brock
(1990-present, Senior Lecturer since
2002). Prof. Robert Maltby (1987-2011, Professor of Latin Philology from
2000), and latterly Dr
Steve Green (2004-13, Senior Lecturer from 2008), supervised Andreas
studentship into `A study of the names on terra sigillata in Gaul
from the 1st to the 3rd centuries
AD'. A second studentship was held at Reading, under Prof. Fulford's
Rosemary Wilkinson (Research Assistant in Classics at Leeds, 2006-2012)
prepared the Names
on Terra Sigillata volumes  for publication and marked up
entries for the ongoing process of
integration with the online database in the suite of Samian Research
databases at the Römisch-
Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz . A separately published set of
DVDs makes available
images of the original rubbings of stamps made by Hartley and his team .
Two international conferences have begun to explore the potential of the
database as a research
tool: the Mainz Names on Terra Sigillata Workshop (Mainz 09/09),
and Seeing Red: new economic
and social perspectives on Gallo-Roman sigillata (Reading 04/11).
Andreas Gavrielatos (the
Leeds PGR) gave a paper at the latter; Dr Penny Goodman (Lecturer in
Classics at Leeds from
2006) gave papers at both, one published in the interpretative volume 
which combines papers
from the two conferences.
References to the research
1. Brian R. Hartley & Brenda M. Dickinson, Geoffrey B. Dannell [et
al.] Names on Terra Sigillata:
an index of makers' stamps & signatures on Gallo-Roman terra
sigillata (samian ware). London,
Institute of Classical Studies, 9 vols 2008-12 (ISBN 978 1905 670
260/314/338/383/390). A review of volume 1 in Britannia (40 (2009)
385-386) describes the
index as `a major achievement' and `an enormous boon', which `makes the
identification and dating vastly easier'. A complete set of volumes is
available on request.
2. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz Samian Research
(http://www.rgzm.de/samian/home/frames.htm). This database provides
it is searchable by numerous parameters including kiln-site, potter, site
and form, with various
forms of plotting available; it is accessible in the field from Android
4. M. Fulford and E. Durham (eds), Seeing Red: new economic and
social perspectives on Gallo-
Roman sigillata, London, Institute of Classical Studies 2013 (ISBN
9781905670475). The volume is
available on request.
Details of the impact
The key impact of the Index is that it puts the expertise of
University of Leeds researchers at the
disposal of the archaeological community at large, including commercial
archaeologists operating outside academia, such as those on rescue
excavations and in museum
and local authority teams. (It is estimated that 90% of archaeological
investigations in Britain since
1990 have been undertaken by commercial organisations [A].)
Representatives of this community describe the Index as
`indispensable', `essential', `unique',
`authoritative' and `infinitely superior to any previous method of
identifying and dating stamps'; one
says it `is a tool which has been needed for decades' [B §§2-5]. `A
number of commercial
archaeology units have invested in the Index to make their work
more efficient' [B §1]; `it is
essential for doing any work on samian stamps and its possession would be
assumed by anyone
commissioning [commercial] work' [B §3].
The Leeds Index enhances professional practice in archaeology in
- The scale and detail of the data which it makes available increases
the precision of the
information provided by the widely distributed terra sigillata
for the western Roman empire.
Since pottery is one of the key dating indicators in archaeological
investigation, this enhances
stratigraphic and chronological analyses of individual excavation sites.
- It allows the archaeological community direct access to the data,
enabling them to process
material themselves, more efficiently and accurately than ever before.
Their comments include:
`for the first time it is possible to quickly and reliably identify
stamps' [B §1]; `I now have a quick
and reliable way of identifying stamps, mould stamps and signatures' [B
§5]; `there are no
alternative methods of identifying and dating samian potters' stamps
reliably' [B §4]. The
comprehensive use of images is `invaluable in making secure
identifications' [B §1].
- Practitioners have emphasised the extent to which the Index
`speeds up analysis and reporting'
[B §6]: `It has saved an enormous amount of time' and is `vastly
quicker' [B §3], `probably a
75% saving of time' [B §2]. Efficiency gains on this scale bring
obvious commercial advantages
since much rescue archaeology is linked to property development.
- The database makes it possible to contextualise finds and assess the
significance of patterns
of trade and communication revealed by the distribution of the wares of
different potters and
workshops geographically and across time - not least because owning this
fine, decorative and
moulded pottery denoted a certain social status. Commercial
archaeologists have recognised
that this makes samian ware a tool for addressing broader socio-economic
issues: `It has
stimulated me to look at wider questions of dating and trade patterns' [B
§2]; `the index
contains a mass of data which can be used to look at wider economic and
social questions -
how pottery was marketed, who used it etc' [B §3]; it is `an
invaluable tool providing a basis not
only for identification and dating, but as a data-source for social and
economic studies' [B §6].
The volumes have been distributed in Europe, the US, Australia and South
Africa and are already
held by university libraries around the world. Sales details from the
publishers of both the volumes
and the DVDs [C, D] show that their distribution goes well
beyond research libraries. Citations of
the Index in excavation reports also confirm it as a standard work
of reference, e.g.:
- the report from a community excavation at Middlewith in Cheshire,
which applies the
Index's dates to stamped samian finds from the site [E(i)]
- the report from excavations at Piercebridge Roman Fort, in the care of
Council, carried out by independent consultants Barbican Research
Over 3,500 scientific data requests received online through the RGZM
database further confirm the
Index's widespread application [F]. Even so, its full
`impact on the archaeological community ... is
just beginning to be felt' [B §1].
By enhancing the identification and social contextualisation of samian
ware, the Index also opens
up new possibilities for museums to use their collections for educational
and public engagement. A
representative of Leeds Museums and Galleries said the knowledge gained
through the use of the
Index was informing her own work and that of education staff in
enhancing information held about
the collection to in turn enrich public engagement opportunities. She
adds: `The enhanced
cataloguing of the Samian ware will enable the museum service to take
fresh approaches to its
display and interpretation...not only for KS2 groups studying the Romans,
but groups of up to KS4
learning to use objects as historical tools'. `The improved understanding
and knowledge of the
Leeds Samian ware collection would enrich and potentially alter
interpretation of pieces on display
in permanent galleries focused on Ancient Worlds.' [G].
Sources to corroborate the impact
A. M. Fulford `The impact of commercial archaeology on the UK heritage'
B. Report collated from responses to a questionnaire circulated to the
Roman Pottery Study
Group, November 2012.
C. Institute of Classical Studies: sales figures and distribution for the
Names on Terra Sigillata
volumes: c.200 copies each of vols 1-9 sold or exchanged, c.100 of vol.10
to September 2013.
D. Oxbow books: 25 DVDs created and all sold.
E. Citations in archaeological reports:
F. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz: hits on the RGZM website -
Data Requests (as opposed to simple hits) received by September 2013.
G. Statement from Curator of Archaeology, Leeds City Museum.