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Late Roman London: an assessment of the ceramic evidence from the City of London

R P Symonds and R S Tomber, with contributions by D Lakin and B Richardson

The late Roman period remains one of the least understood in London’s history. Not only are the structural remains of the city open to numerous interpretations, but the dating framework derived from ceramics is unclear. Compared with what is available for the 1st and early 2nd centuries AD, there are few well-stratified sequences or deposits. Ceramic chronologies are largely based on accepted date ranges for regional types, which lack the precision available for samian ware.

In London, the Antonine period (c AD 140 – 160) appears to mark a dramatic break in continuity. The present study, therefore, is based on quantified data for five groups ranging from AD 140 to 400+. These are supplemented by reference to a large number of other sites and pottery finds, notably the very large, published group from St Magnus House (AD 180 – 245). The paper includes an illustrated form series and graphs which express changes in the supply of wares or forms from period to period; an appendix provides descriptions and references for each ware.

One of the most distinctive aspects of London’s late Roman assemblage is the absence of locally produced pottery. The Verulamium Region and Highgate Wood industries, which had supplied the city in the 1st and early 2nd centuries, were in decline by AD 160, and several large regional potteries – Oxfordshire, Nene Valley and Alice Holt – came to dominate the market. In contrast with rural sites, London continued to draw some of its pottery from overseas, though the St Magnus House assemblage is atypical in the quantity of imported Continental and Mediterranean wares. In conclusion, the paper isolates uncertainties in the ceramic chronology – the periods AD 160-200 or the early 3rd century, for instance – but at the same time stresses the latent potential of London groups for refining and dating both form and ware series.

[Transactions 42 (1991), pp 59 – 99; abstract by Francis Grew, 09-Oct-97]

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