Samian, a glossy brick-red tableware, is the most recognisable Roman pottery found in Britain. It was industrially produced on a scale unequalled until the 18th century. One centre is estimated to have turned out a million vessels a year. Samian has been intensively studied, and the Museum has one of the largest collections in Britain - though at present only the more complete vessels are available online.
Samian was primarily used for displaying and serving food. Bowls, dishes and plates are common, along with smaller 'cups' that may have been used to serve condiments and snacks rather than been used as drinking vessels. Some samian was decorated with elaborate floral or figural designs that were made by throwing the pot within a mould.
Samian was first produced in north Italy at the end of the 1st century BC, but by AD43 it was nearly all being made in Gaul (France). The principal factories remained there for the next two centuries, although there were small-scale producers in Colchester and perhaps in London. Many vessels are stamped with the potter's name.
The Gallic factories closed around AD260, but other industries (see Finewares) made samian-style pottery of inferior quality until AD400.
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