BMCR 2008.06.17

Cosa: The Black-Glaze Pottery 2

, Cosa: The Black-Glaze Pottery 2. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008. xi, 221; b/w pls. 68. $80.00.

The excavations of the Latin colony of Cosa by teams from the American Academy at Rome began sixty years ago and have been a mainstay of the archaeology of Republican Italy ever since. Ann Reynolds Scott’s publication of the black-gloss wares from Cosa makes a fitting and long-awaited contribution to this respectable anniversary.1 For it is now just over half-a-century since Doris Mae Taylor produced the first (and, until now, only) publication of this type of material,2 which may justly be regarded as the single most important class of ceramic fine-wares from the site, both in terms of its quantity and as the subject of socioeconomic investigations.

Much has changed since Taylor’s day, when the study of black-gloss wares was still in its infancy, barely five years after the publication of N. Lamboglia’s ground breaking ‘Classificazione preliminare’.3 Largely owing to the efforts of J.-P. Morel, great advances have been made in the typology of black-gloss ceramics and their—in places debatable—chronological significance.4 And for the last decade or so, archaeometric studies have become increasingly important with regard to black-gloss wares, as in other areas of Roman pottery studies.5 While showing familiarity with the most important publications that fall into the latter category, the author of the work under review explicitly limits herself to the typological approach, combined with visual (macroscopic) analysis of the fabrics, using Munsell charts as her primary point of reference.6

The main body of the book consists of a detailed catalogue of Cosan black-gloss wares from excavations dating (in a few cases) back to the earliest campaigns. In a number of cases, Scott had to pick up the pieces of Taylor’s unfinished work, only to find herself grappling with poorly recorded or mistakenly conflated contexts and lacunose stratigraphic records. Cataloguing ceramics can be an arduous task at the best of times; dealing with pottery excavated recorded to somebody else’s standards many years before can lead to downright frustration, as anyone who has stood up to the challenge will know all too well. Scott should be commended for having persevered and restored the material to order, as far as possible. Her catalogue, follows the excavators’ (and, in most cases, Taylor’s own) terminology—Deposits A from the Arx (pp. 17-50), F from the Forum (pp. 51-110), Deposits B and C (pp. 111-114), deposits connected with the Forum Temple (pp.115-136), deposits from the houses (pp. 137-168), the ‘Atrium Public Room 13 (pp. 169-176), ‘TJ’ and Deposit D (177-206). She provides for each diagnostic fragment the following criteria: Morel number (where attributable), fabric (colour, texture, feel), glaze (colour, wear, feel), rim/base diameter, class (if identifiable).7 Most of the pieces are usefully illustrated by the author’s own profile drawings at the end of the volume. Tables at the end of each section summarise chronological information, as well as worthwhile statistics relating to stamped decoration or distribution of shape by fabric class.

In short, Cosa: The Black-Glaze Pottery 2 represents an immaculate specimen of its kind: a weighty catalogue of diagnostic pieces, contextualised as far and as well as possible, by the standards of the accepted typological system. There cannot be any doubt that this will soon become an invaluable source for comparanda for anyone working in Republican archaeology, even though its contribution to our understanding of the chronology of this material is somewhat disappointing, owing to the residual nature of most deposits. The introduction to the volume is particularly informative with regard to black-gloss studies in general and at Cosa and thus makes an important contribution to research and even teaching. The indices, illustrations and concordances between catalogue and Morel numbers at the end of the volume all conform to the high standard to which this volume has been produced.

This is not to say the work is perfect, and there are three areas which merit further consideration. First, there is the absence of any kind of archaeometric data. though I admit there are considerable logistical difficulties and cost involved in obtaining these. Indeed, these factors often render archaeometric analysis unviable for the study of small to medium-sized deposits. In a substantial and high-profile publication like the book under review, however, one might with good reason expect such analysis. Scott’s promise of a forthcoming article (see my note 6) offers some consolation of this material.

Second, one might quantify the assemblages beyond a simple count of diagnostic fragments we find here, and systematically approach residuality, to shed light on the ‘archaeological history’ of some deposits. Had this been done, Scott might have been able to come up with plausible answers to some of her own questions, such as those regarding the life time, breakage and replacement of black-gloss pottery, as well as the usage of certain shapes (pp. 209-10).8. In addition, a large corpus of material such as the deposits available to Scott’s study might have profited from a more explicit discussion of the ‘technical’ properties of the fragments, in as far as these relate to different production techniques. I am aware that this area has not been much explored in Roman pottery studies: these tend to be dominated by a concern for typological sorting that does not provide much scope for the description of such features. However, archaeologists working in other areas have demonstrated that such analyses may shed light not only on issues such as the organisation of production but also on questions of cultural change. These should be of particular interest to scholars working on subjects within the comples of ‘Romanisation studies 9

Third, there might be further exploration of the economy of Roman Italy,. In fact, owing to Scott’s reliance on Morel’s chronological (and thereby his culture-historical) framework, e.g., with regard to the bowls of the atelier des petites estampilles as a marker of Romanisation (pp. 26-7) or the production and export of Campana A as evidence for an economic boom during the early second century BC (pp. 208-10), she appears to adhere to a model of the Republican economy that has increasingly come under review in recent years. First, the growing importance of the Campanian economy and, along with it, the dating of some Campana A forms may have to be raised significantly into the third century. Second, the Etrusco-Latial productions—this includes the third-century ateliers(s) des petites estampilles as well as the cerchio della Campana B —now appear to show more heterogeneous patterns of production and distribution than previously assumed.10 For a site like Cosa, therefore, it remains to be tested whether the ceramic evidence really does allow us to phase its history according to supposedly certain dates such as the second draft of colonists in 197 BC, let alone support something as fanciful as Brown’s suggestion that ‘the paving contract for the colonnade [and therefore the street leading out of the Forum] was let out but not filled for some years after the new draft of colonists’ (cf. pp. 107-9).

In any case, Scott’s volume has finally given us the much needed publication of crucial evidence from one of the main Republican sites in Italy. Many other assemblages never make it through to press. One may disagree with the author’s approach, but Scott’s knowledge of her material, her methodical approach to typological analysis and enthusiasm about black-gloss pottery at Cosa are some encouraging signs for the present state of Republican pottery studies.


1. Scott (p. 2, note 5) continues to use the older—yet technically incorrect—term ‘black-glaze’.

2. D. M. Taylor, Cosa: The Black-Glaze Pottery, MAAR 25 (1957), 65-193.

3. N. Lamboglia, ‘Per una classificazione preliminare della ceramica campana’, in Atti del I Congresso Internazionale di Studi Liguri (1950) (Bordighera 1952), pp. 139-206.

4. J.-P. Morel, Céramique campanienne: les formes (Rome 1981).

5. E.g., P. Frontini and M.T. Grassi (eds), Indagini archeometriche relativi alla ceramica a vernice nera: nuovi dati sulla provenienza e la diffusione, Milano 22-23 novembre 1996 (Como 1998).

6. Scott (p. 6, note 38) promises a forthcoming article on thin-section analysis of Cosa black-gloss wares.

7. Following the tradition of black-gloss studies, these fabric classes are defined polythetically, i.e., as a combination of fabric and slip.

8. In addition, such a large corpus of material would benefit a more systematic approach to the ‘technical’ properties of the fragments, insofar as these relate to different production techniques.Archaeologists working in other areas than typology have demonstrated the benefit of such analyses for the organisation of production and for questions of cultural change, the significance of which scholars of Roman pottery ignore at their own peril. J. Evans and M. Millett, ‘Residuality revisited’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 11 (1992), 225-40; applied to Republican black-gloss wares in R.E. Roth, Styling Romanisation: Pottery and Society in Central Italy (Cambridge 2007), 95-108; for wider issues regarding the ‘life cycle’ of Roman pottery, see now the fundamental study by J. T. Pen~a, Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record (Cambridge 2007).

9. E.g., O. P. Gosselain, ‘Social and technical identity in a clay crystal ball’, in M. T. Stark (ed.), The Archaeology of Social Boundaries (London/Washington D.C. 1998), 78-106; C. Knappett, ‘Ceramic production in the Protopalatial Mallia ‘state’, in P. Betancourt and R. Laffineur (eds), TEXNE: Craftsmen, Craftswomen and Craftsmanship in the Aegean Bronze Age (Aegaeum 16 (1997)), 305-11.

10. For alternative chronologies and more nuanced pictures of ceramic production, see now (a small selection): F. Cibecchini and J. Principal, ‘Per chi suona la Campana B?’, in E. De Sena and H. Dessales (eds), Metodi e approcci archeologici: l’industria e il commercio nell’Italia antica./Archaeological Methods and Approaches: Industry and Commerce in Ancient Italy (Oxford 2004), 159-72; A. F. Ferrandes, ‘Produzioni stampigliate e figurate in area etrusco laziale tra fine IV e III secolo a.C. Nuove riflessioni alla luce di vecchi contesti’, Archeologia Classica 57, n.s. 7 (2006), 117-174; E.A. Stanco, ‘La seriazione cronologica della ceramica a vernice nera etrusco laziale nell’ambito dell III sec. a.c.’, in Surburbium II. Il suburbium di Roma dalla fine dell età monarchica alla nascita del sistema delle ville. On Morel’s typology and underlying socio-economic approach, see Roth (op. cit. note 8, 44-62); idem, ‘Ceramic integration? Typologies and the perception of identities in Republican Italy’, in idem and J. Keller (eds), Roman by Integration. Dimensions of Group Identity in Material Culture and Text ( Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplement 66 (2007)), 59-70. It is, furthermore, illuminating that a number of Scott’s profile drawings display considerable degrees of variability between vessels of the same (or closely related) shapes (e.g., TB7-12 on pl. 36; H24-31 on pl. 47). This has serious implications for the extent to which pottery production became increasingly standardised during the period under study, which lies at the heart of the approach underlying Morel’s typology.