Apolline Project

illuminating the dark side of Vesuvius

A brief overview of the pottery in Pollena Trocchia


In the last phase before the final eruption, spoliation and dumping activities affected earlier strata, therefore all contexts include artefacts dated from the mid-5th century to AD 472. Sherds with earlier dates were quite scant and were judged to be residual components in later strata. Potsherds were present in a variety of classes and shapes. The majority of the ceramics were produced in Campania (87%), and for some of these (at least 7%), a more local origin may be hypothesised, i.e.: Neapolis and the environs of Vesuvius. A Campanian origin can be reckoned in vessels of disparate classes: coarse ware, cooking ware, and tableware. Among the other classes, it is noteworthy that amphorae were attested in a rather small quantity (4%), and lamp sherds were quite scant as well (1%). Imported pottery is attested to in a low quantity and mostly consisted of African products: 5% ARS, 5% amphorae, 0.7% African cooking ware (mostly residual). Imports from Pantelleria, Spain, and the Near East sum to just 2%.


The study of the amphorae is still in progress therefore the following is only a broad outline of the most notable objects. Amphorae mostly consisted of imports from northern Tunisia and Tripolitania associated with the transportation of oil and salsamenta. Among the Iberian imports, Southern Spanish amphorae, probably for salsamenta, were the most commonly attested. Oriental imports were very scant and consisted of one Egyptian LRA7, one LRA2 produced in Chios, and one LRA1 from Syria or Cyprus, used to bury an infant.

Cooking ware

Cooking ware made up 30% of the sherds. This group includes these classes: African cooking ware, Pantellerian ware and local coarse ware. It almost exclusively consisted of local products (93%), while the imports (7%) were predominantly residual in each context. Among the imported goods, it is worth noting the Hayes 197 casseroles with their Hayes 196 lids in African cooking ware, and the local imitation of the Hayes 23 casserole, in burnished ware. Other local imitations included the Pantellerian ware casseroles, attested as being both hand-made and produced on the wheel. Imports mostly consisted of shallow casseroles with rounded rims, more or less flaring walls, and squared or ear-shaped handles. Local typology includes imitations of casseroles with rounded walls and thickened inward rims, with ear-shaped handles. Local coarse ware (i.e. pots for food preparation and storage) and cooking ware were attested in equal proportions. In some cases the vessels had a partially or completely polished surface. Coarse ware was produced almost exclusively on the wheel, with more or less fine fabrics, commonly with uniform firing. Food was prepared in bowls with flaring walls and flattened rims on the outside, similar to the Hayes 61 in ARS, or with a triangular profile rim thickened on the outside, with a shape similar to Carminiello ai Mannesi type 8. Commodities were stored in small-sized amphorae, produced both in plain ware and, more frequently, in slipped ware. These vessels commonly present with an ovoid body and the rim is often moulded; in other examples it is rounded and thickened outside. One kind of storage amphora had a characteristic shape, which consists of a big globular body, with double moulding rim and a handle on the rim and the shoulder. Its fabric is characterised by firing in a reducing atmosphere, while the surface, with oxidised firing, shows a light orange slip (Mus. 10R 6/6). Both the shape and the kind of firing are not attested elsewhere, thus this type might be unique to the environs of Vesuvius.
The cooking ware was, on average, of good quality, with standardised shapes; it was wheel-made by professional potters, using well-compacted fabrics with large amounts of inclusions. The most commonly attested shape was the casserole with convex walls, a thickened and inward folded rim, and an ear-shaped handle on the rim or on the wall (Carminiello 2-3). The rim was found with both more, and less thickened shapes, with triangular or rounded profile. A variant of this casserole had a plain rim and a handle on the rim, with the wall decorated by digital impressions. Another shape of casserole, not attested elsewhere, had a thick and square rim with hollowing to host the lid. Of further interest was another casserole, with a square rim with the upper part of the body lightly off-set, an echo of mid-imperial vessel design. Within this typology was another exemplar with squared rim. Lids were attested in many shapes: with plain rim (more or less rounded), conical body, and knob handle. The position in which potsherds were discovered does not allow the matching of lids with pots; nevertheless typological analogies with the findings from Somma Vesuviana allow the association of lids with simple pointed rims with casseroles (and cooking pots) with hollowing to host these. Similarly, lids with upturned rims might be related to casseroles with rounded and thickened inward folding rims, hence creating a sort of flange that covers the rim. Cooking pots mostly had ovoid bodies, plain rims, small collars, and flat or disk bases, sometimes with handles.
In summary, the coarse and cooking ware in Pollena Trocchia were of quite good quality, mostly produced locally, with a varied range of shapes and good fabrics. This type of production manufactures pottery which is amply attested on both micro- and macro-regional levels, though with specific characteristics in both the technique used (e.g. sandwich firing) and the typology adopted (e.g. the storage amphora with moulded rim).


Tableware constitutes 48% of the sherds and only 5% were imported. This group includes these classes: ARS, slipped ware, painted ware, plain ware and burnished ware. The ARS was found with bowls and plates, mostly in D production. The bowls had broad flat rims (Hayes 58 and 59); rolled rims and broad flanges on the exterior below the rim; were hooked at the edge (Hayes 91); had rims with triangular profile (Hayes 61); and plain rims with straight walls (Hayes 50A). Of particular interest is the bowl from D2 production with a broad horizontal rim, similar to Hayes 78, but differing from it in that the base, was decorated with feather rouletting.
The slipped ware was present in a more substantial quantity, (37%). This kind of pottery is commonly dated from the second half of the 4th century to the end of the 5th centuries AD. Kilns have been identified in the field survey of the ager Falernus, but other areas might also have been involved in the production of this class. The slipped ware is characterised by a slip that covers the entire vessel up to the external part of the rim. It has been dipped totally, or in part, in a solution of water and clay. The typology imitates in part that of the ARS. Among the bowls or basins, the most representative types are Cotton 20, Carminiello 62, 8, 11, and Carminiello 69; they have a diameter of 30-50cms and were used for liquid food. Bowls with smaller diameters were more frequent, they were found with rims of various types: with short flanges; thickened inside with almond shape rims; with hooked flanges; and with straight rims with flanges. These types of bowls were also found in both plain and painted ware, and constitute respectively 36% and 12% of the total tableware sherds at this site. Among the closed shapes, noteworthy are the jugs or small amphorae in slipped or painted ware, with moulded rims and hemispherical bodies, which are also attested in Pratola Serra, Carminiello ai Mannesi, and Ordona. These vessels might have been used as drinking vessels or to store liquid commodities. They were wheel-made, with uniformly thick walls, quite fine fabrics, and they were well-fired. Surface colours range from rosy (Mus. 5YR 7/4, 7.5YR 8/4) to beige-orange (Mus. 5YR 7/6, 6/8; 7.5YR6/8). The colour on painted ware jugs is applied with a cloth (a straccio) or a brush with thin layers. The colour was irregularly applied on the surface, with drippings either on the internal surface and the rim or on the external surface. Burnished ware constitutes 5% of the total number of sherds found. In this site the most representative shape was the jug, which was found with various rims. The exterior surface clearly exhibited polishing of the slip with a tool to create an external impermeable film. The fabric is made up of hard and compact clay, with sparse volcanic inclusions: quartz, mica, iron oxide and scarce limestone. This class has been identified by Arthur (1994; 1998), who also described Neapolis as a centre of production for “fabric A” in the 5th century AD. These features together represent a class of pottery with a very distinctive character, and for this reason, this grouping has been chosen as a marker to investigate regional trends.
In summary, regional and more local workshops of tableware can be well discerned, and these provide substitutes for, or are integrated with, imported fineware, commonly through imitation of forms. A similar situation has been reported in inner Apulia, especially at Ordona, where pots in plain ware, painted ware and slipped ware are attested in higher percentages than imported ARS. The predominance of local pottery can be explained either as poor penetration of imported goods into inner areas, or as self-sufficiency of the regional market (which competes with the African imports but still imitates their most common shapes). Data are currently insufficient to resolve this question without further investigation, which is currently underway.