Studying the history of African Red Slip ware allows us insight into the culture of North African Roman society as well as the industrial history of the period. It is my intention to look at the history and the significance of African Red Slips Ware through the archaeological and literary records available.
African Red Slip Ware (henceforth ARS) is named so by archaeologists since there is no name for this type of pottery in the historical record. Archaeologists coined this phrase due to the red glaze or slip, which was applied on top. The production of ARS is of importance to the history of North Africa, since it was a local production which went on to supply Roman citizens throughout the Empire.
The production and trade of ARS can be seen as a mechanism for both spreading and defining a ‘Roman’ material culture and, indeed, a Roman identity. This is due to the fact that ARS was a product that developed in North African long after the Roman occupation and archaeological evidence has not unearthed any pottery similar to ARS with pre-Roman characteristics.
Italian sigillata was the main imported fine-ware in the 1st century CE. In the first half of the 2nd century, however, as Italy became a mass consumer of merchandise, Italian sigillata disappears from the Corinthian market. Throughout the 2nd and most of the 3rd century, Eastern Sigillata B (ESB) and Candarli ware from Asia Minor were important imports. But Candarli ware nearly disappears from Corinth in the early 4th century and is replaced by ARS, which forms at least 30 percent of all fine-wares in both the 4th and 5th centuries (Slane, p.331).
ARS was manufactured in several distinct areas of Tunisia, in the North near Carthage and Cap Bon, in the Sahel, and on the high steppe near Sbeitla. Despite the immense interest in ARS, some type remain rather vaguely dated, particularly those of the later second and early third century and those of the fifth century (Mattingly & Hitchner, p.201)
The lack of information regarding ARS has led to difficulties in understanding the ‘material culture’ of the Romans identity. Nevertheless, the study of ARS will continue to shed light on the Roman industrial history and on the people themselves.
Mattingly, David J. & Hitchner, R. Bruce (1995) Roman Africa: An Archaeological Review, The Journal of Roman Studies, Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.
Slane, Kathleen Warner (2003) Corinth’s Roman Pottery: Quantification and Meaning, Corinth, American School of Classical Studies at Athens.