North African Red-slipped ware is the name given to a number of related fabrics which were manufactured throughout the area of modern Tunisia from the late 1st to the 7th century AD. Not surprisingly, in a ware which was produced over such a considerable period and in numerous centres, there is a fair degree of variation, mainly in fabric texture and slip quality.
General appearance/hand specimen
The colour of the break is typically orange-brown (2.5YR 6/8) or red-brown (10R 6/8) while the slip is ‘generally a shade or two deeper in tone than the body-clay’ (Hayes 1972, 14), that is, red-brown (10R 5/8 or 6/8) on our samples. Hayes (ibid) describes the slip as ‘of good quality but (it) lacks the reflective powers and glossiness of that on terra sigillata, except in rare instances . . . when thickly applied it has a smooth, faintly lustrous appearance; thinner coatings tend to be matt and to merge with the body clay’. The earliest forms imitate samian vessel types, but soon after a wide but distinctive range of bowls and dishes, with characteristic stamping in the later period, becomes synonymous with the ware.
Broadly speaking, three main fabric groupings can be distinguished, loosely derived from those proposed by Lamboglia (1941). Due to the paucity of NAF RS in Britain they are presented here under a single common name. Fabric variants are united by being fairly fine textured and quartz rich, with varying amounts of limestone. Although fine silver mica is visible in all our samples, the sparsity of mica in NAF RS – in comparison to other Mediterranean red-slipped wares – is one of the hallmarks of the fabric.
The earliest fabric is illustrated by BM registration no. 1995.7-26.3 and is particularly associated with forms imitating samian. In colour it is orange-brown (2.5YR 6/8) with red-brown (10R 5/8) surfaces, uniformly hard with a smooth fracture and smooth feel. The slip is of good quality, even and lustrous, although there may be a slightly ‘pimply’ surface underlying it. Inclusions are common ill-sorted quartz (average 0.1–0.3mm, occasionally to 0.7mm), sparse red and black iron-rich grains, probably including clay pellets amongst the larger fragments (0.1–0.3mm), and sparse fine limestone (c 0.1mm).
The second fabric grouping, as exemplified by BM registration no. 1995.7-11.138, is characteristically very dense and fine, with a warm red-brown (10R 5/8) surface and orange-brown (2.5YR 6/8) break. It is hard, with a smooth fracture and smooth feel, covered with a fine, smooth and slightly lustrous slip. The fabric is virtually inclusionless, with common well-sorted silt-sized quartz and sparse black iron-rich grains. Only the occasional quartz grain exceeds 0.1mm. The ware is particularly associated with 3rd century forms, such as Hayes 50.
The third fabric grouping (illustrated by Plate 44) is less well defined with greater variation. It is equated with the later forms, including Hayes 99. Samples of this variant share surface and break colours either as red-brown (10R 6/8) or orange-brown (2.5YR 6/8), and are hard with an irregular fracture and smooth feel. Generally speaking the slip is thin and barely lustrous. Quartz is abundant, well sorted and quite fine (usually c 0.1mm, but occasionally to 0.2 or 0.5mm); other inclusions are sparse and comprise limestone (0.1–0.3mm, but occasionally to 1.0mm) and red-brown and black iron-rich grains (c 0.1mm).
A single sample was examined in thin section, belonging to final group described above. It contains abundant well-sorted quartz and sparse limestone and opaques to c 0.15mm in a clay with low birefringence. Other inclusions comprise chert, polycrystalline quartz and feldspar; rare larger grains of limestone, fine-grained sandstone, opaques and clay pellets occur up to 0.4mm.
Few actual kilns are known, but they cover a wide area from the Carthage region in the north (Mackensen 1993) to more southerly locations (Peacock et al 1990), and it is clear from variation in fabric that numerous other centres were in operation throughout the region.
Museum of London
Department of Greek & Roman Antiquities, The British Museum; Museum of London (Leyton Collection)
Bird, J, 1977 African Red Slip ware in Roman Britain, in Roman pottery studies in Britain and beyond. Papers presented to John Gillam, July 1977 (eds J Dore & K Greene), BAR Int Ser 30, 269–77
Hayes, J W, 1972 Late Roman pottery
Hayes, J W, 1977 North African flanged bowls: a problem in fifth-century chronology, in Roman pottery studies in Britain and beyond. Papers presented to John Gillam, July 1977 (eds J Dore & K Greene), BAR Int Ser 30, 279–87
Hayes, J W, 1980 A supplement to late Roman pottery
Lamboglia, N, 1941 Terra sigillata chiara, Rivista di Studi Liguri 7, 7–22
Mackensen, M, 1993 Die spätantiken Sigillata- und Lampentöpfereien von el Mahrine (Nordtunesien), Münchner Beiträge zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte 50, Munich
Peacock, D P S, Bejaoui, F, & Ben Lazreg, N, 1990 Roman pottery production in central Tunisia, J Roman Archaeol 3, 59–84
Thomas, C, 1981 A provisional list of imported pottery in post-Roman western Britain and Ireland