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The National Roman Fabric Reference Collection: a Handbook

Hand specimen picture panel
Thin section picture panel


Appendix 1: Keywords and Definitions
Appendix 2: Physical Layout of Sherds Housed in the NRFRC


Céramique à l'éponge Marbled ware (EPO MA)

Four samples

General appearance

The colours of the break on our samples are essentially pale oranges (5YR 7/6–7/8) or pinks (5YR 8/3–8/4), usually banded in thin, slightly contrasting shades. On the surface, orange-brown (2.5YR 5/8) slip is ‘sponged’ over a pale orange (5YR 7/6) background, producing an even, semi-lustrous effect. Other sherds may have an off-white break, and it is not uncommon for the slip to tend towards dark brown or black in conjunction with orange-brown colours (M Wood, pers comm). The fabric is hard, with an irregular fracture and a smooth surface. In Britain flanged bowls, imitating Dragendorff 38, and flagons are the most common forms.

Hand specimen

This fabric is composed primarily of well-sorted common and rounded quartz <0.1mm (occasionally to 0.2mm) set in a finely micaceous (silver) matrix. The remaining inclusions are ill-sorted and sparse, but red-brown iron-rich grains (some quartz-rich, 0.1–1.0mm) and, less frequently, orange clay pellets (0.5–1.5mm) and large fragments of sandstone (1.0mm>) can be seen.

Thin section

Inclusions comprise common well-sorted fine material (to 0.1mm) set in a micaceous (primarily muscovite but some biotite) matrix. These inclusions are primarily quartz, but opaques regularly occur, as do rare feldspar and ferromagnesian minerals. Sparse clay pellets (0.15–0.5mm but occasionally up to 1.5mm) and quartz (to 0.2mm) are also visible, as are rare fragments of siltstone (0.1–0.15mm). In thin section this is somewhat similar to a previously analysed sherd (Williams 1990) which contained micaceous siltstone.


On distributional grounds a source in south-west France between the Loire and the Gironde has been suggested (Richardson 1986, 130). The sherd analysed by Williams (1990) was also subjected to heavy mineral analysis which supported this origin. Production of Raimbault form 6 is now known from Bordeaux, in a fabric that would appear to match the London examples (Sireix & Convertini 1997). The similar geology of the two potential source regions means that their fabrics could easily contain the same range of inclusions.


Canterbury Museums; Museum of London


Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter; Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery; Museum of London; God’s House Tower Museum, Southampton


Clément, M, Fulford, M G, & Galliou, P, 1980 La diffusion de la céramique ‘á l’éponge’ dans le nord-ouest de l’empire romain, Gallia 38, 265–78

Fulford, M G, 1977 Pottery and Britain’s foreign trade in the later Roman period, in Pottery and early commerce. Characterization and trade in Roman and later ceramics (ed D P S Peacock), 35–84

Raimbault, M, 1973 La céramique gallo-romaine dite ‘à l’éponge’ dans l’ouest de la Gaule, Gallia 31, 185–206

Richardson, B, 1986 The waterfront group: coarsewares and non-samian finewares, in The Roman quay at St Magnus House, London. Excavations at New Fresh Wharf, Lower Thames Street, London 1974–1978 (L Miller, J Schofield & M Rhodes), London Middlesex Archaeol Soc Spec Pap 8, 106–38

Simon-Hiernard, D, 1991 Du nouveau sur la céramique à l’éponge, SFECAG. Actes du Congrès de Cognac, 61–75

Sireix, C, & Convertini, F, 1997 La céramique à l’éponge de la région Bordelaise: la céramique marbrée d'Aquitaine, SFECAG. Actes du Congrès du Mans, 321–33

Williams, D F, 1990 Un tesson de céramique ‘à l’éponge’ provenant du New Fresh Wharf à Londres, Gallia 38, 277–8

Williams, D F, & Wood, M, 1995 Autre exemple de la nouvelle forme de céramique ‘à l’éponge’ et étude pétrographique des tessons de cette céramique provenant de Southampton et de îles anglo-normandes, SFECAG. Actes du Congrès de Rouen, 151–5

Wood, M, 1993 A new form of céramique à l’éponge from Roman Britain, J Roman Pottery Stud 6, 119–22

See the related record on the Atlas of Roman Pottery on the Potsherd website

Plate 39: Fresh sherd break of EPO MA (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 39: Fresh sherd break of EPO MA (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 39.1: Photomicrograph of EPO MA (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 39.1: Photomicrograph of EPO MA (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)

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