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Pottery: (Roman) Fine Ware

Ratna Drost (NL)

The Romans had and used different types of pottery. Normally, Roman pottery falls into three categories: Amphorae, pottery used for transportation and storage, usually undecorated; Coarse ware, used for everyday necessities and extremely common; Fine ware, a combination of functional and decorative requirements. Therefore it might be painted or glazed. In Archeon, we have all three types and its possible to make all three of them yourself. It all depends on your preferred type of clay, your skills of decorating and the availability of pigments and glaze. The instructions given, are for Terra Sigilata using a mould.

Fine, reddish clay, made out of red earth from Lemnos, Germany or France (home-made or bought
A plaster mould
Decoration equipment (knives, pins, terracotta moulds)
Oven or kiln
Potter’s wheel

Instruction for a Roman fine ware pot:
1. Firstly, you need to make a plaster mould in the desired shape. You can make the mould by hand or by using a potter’s wheel.
2. When the mould is finished, you can press hollow decorations on the inside of it. The Romans had standardised patterns of decoration they could use, which you can imitate. You can be as precise as you like.
3. After finishing with the decoration, you can set aside your mould to dry and bake.
4. Place your mould onto a potter’s wheel. While spinning the wheel, you can press the fine Terra Sigilata clay into the mould. Make sure that the layer of clay remains thin and that you fill up the hollow parts of the mould.
5. Set aside the clay-filled mould, leaving the clay to dry. While drying, the clay will shrink, making it easy to be removed from the mould. When desired, you can now add handles etc.
6. When satisfied with the result, you can bake your pot in a kiln. It’s best off course to do so in a Roman kiln, but you can also use a modern one. They practically work the same. Read the instructions for using your modern kiln carefully. When using a Roman kiln, make sure is adequately made. It will take some practice to use it properly and successfully considering the different stages of sintering and baking. Your baked object will me thin, red and shiny all by itself.

Of course you can also make plain Terra Sigilata using a mould. When desired, you can at blotches of red clay onto the surface of you object after removing it from the mould. You can also scratch patterns into the clay after removing the mould. It’s possible to make a mould solely for the making of decorations. You can then transfer the decorative strips to a plain Terra Sigilata object before baking it.



oman pottery kiln
Roman pottery kiln 2
Opening up the kiln.
Terra sigilata cup. Valkenburg, ca. 70-100 AD
Roman Pottery Oil Lamp with Poseidon. Roman...
Archeon's Roman potter at work