BMCR 2020.05.25

North Tunisian red slip ware: from production sites in the Salomonson Survey (1960-1972)

, North Tunisian red slip ware: from production sites in the Salomonson Survey (1960-1972). Babesch supplement, 37. Leuven: Peeters, 2019. 142 p.. ISBN 9789042939868. €54,00 (pb).

The study of pottery from the ancient Mediterranean basin, and in particular, of Roman pottery, has come a long way in the last 25 years, even if many of our objectives and practices remain constant. Our seemingly mystical behavior in the pottery shed is aimed at distinguishing the nuances among fabrics and forms, which allows us to provide excavation teams with crucial evidence regarding site formation and to explore a wide range of questions pertaining to the production, distribution, and utilization of pottery. The primary difference today is our greater reliance upon technology and science in our analyses and publications: digitization of drawings, digital microscopy, computer modelling, and archaeometry.

The pottery record from every site is clearly unique and while many pottery assemblages are eventually published in one manner or another, some projects are abandoned due to a lack of funding and/or time. In some cases, assemblages of pottery excavated decades ago are re-examined with fresh eyes and new approaches. In the 1960s and early 70s, Jan Willem Salomonson conducted a survey of Roman-Byzantine sites in North Tunisia and Algeria, seeking evidence for the manufacture of African Red Slip ware (hereafter, ARS). Salomonson published his results (1968, 1969, 1971), helping to define this pottery and to prompt a stronger interest in the study of Roman pottery. Considering that much of the pottery from the Salomonson survey derived from pottery workshops, Carina Hasenzagl decided to reassess and present the material and the Salomonson archives in a manner consistent with 21st-century practices.

Following a brief introduction, chapter 2 commences with a history of research on ARS. Lamboglia, Waagé, Salomonson, Hayes, and Carandini are all familiar names to Roman pottery specialists and their contributions to the early study of ARS are duly noted. Hasenzagl highlights the well-known fabric and form typologies of Hayes (1972 and 1980) and the Atlante delle forme ceramiche (Carandini, et al. 1981). Moreover, she recounts how Carandini and his colleagues were among the first scholars to utilize pottery like ARS to elucidate trade patterns within the Roman Empire. The more recent contributions of scholars such as Fulford and Peacock, Bonifay, and Mackensen are also reviewed insofar as such scholars deepened and broadened the study of ARS through traditional and archaeometric means. The second half of chapter 2 reviews the characteristics of the ARS clays (fabrics A-F) and their association with production centers in Tunisia. The characterizations are presented in a very clear manner that scholars will appreciate.

Chapter 3 briefly summarizes the history of the study of ceramic fabrics and outlines the methods of visual and archaeometric analysis of ancient pottery.

Hasenzagl provides a detailed narrative of the survey conducted by Salomonson in chapter 4. Personally, I enjoy learning about the history of archaeological projects, and insights are presented in this chapter which were not expressed in Salomonson’s articles. Salomonson was at the forefront of a new paradigm in Roman studies characterized by a greater interest in the provinces and the adoption of a more anthropological framework for the study of ancient Rome. Foreign archaeologists were not permitted to excavate in many parts of the Mediterranean, but they were invited to conduct regional surveys. In his survey, Salomonson focused upon the question of pottery manufacture in Africa Proconsularis. He surveyed 18 sites located in modern-day Tunisia and Algeria and excavated in Uzita, Tunisia, including 7 pottery production sites and 2 amphora manufacturing sites (2 more sites were provisionally identified as pottery manufacturing sites, while 8 other sites were settlements, necropoleis, or of an undetermined function). He paid close attention to the pottery as well as the manufacturing equipment, such as molds and components of potter’s wheels. Within the narrative, Hasenzagl indicates some of the problems encountered in her use of Salomonson’s material: occasionally imprecise documentation, deteriorating hand-written notes, or crude plans sketched on fragments of brown packaging paper. Nevertheless, Hasenzagl was able to achieve her goals.

Chapter 5, “The North Tunisian tableware from the Salomonson survey,” is the heart of the book. It is here that Hasenzagl discusses and analyzes, in great detail, the ARS from 5 production sites in the northeastern-most area of Tunisia: Bordj el Djerbi, Henchir el Biar, Oudna, Pheradi Maius, and Sidi Rherib. The author examined 456 sherds of the approximately 2000 pottery fragments that Salomonson collected from the sites he surveyed in Tunisia and Algeria and are currently housed in the Archaeology Department of Ghent University. In this chapter, Hasenzagl presents a brief overview of each site and of archaeological work conducted there, a discussion of the types of vessels and nature of decorative motifs from the sites, and a chronological analysis of the vessel types found at each location. Of particular interest are analyses of the ceramic fabrics from each site, supported by very clear, color images of sectioned sherds at magnitudes of 8x, 16x, 25x, and 40x. The sites are situated in 4 distinct geographic regions of Tunisia and, therefore, the images illustrate differences between the fabrics that specialists will recognize.

Chapter 5 is supported by two appendices and a catalogue. Appendix 1 lists the ARS forms represented in the Salomonson survey, whilst Appendix 2 summarizes the attributes of 6 fabrics from the 5 production sites. The catalogue consists of 16 pages of tables which indicate the catalogue, inventory, and plate numbers, form type, fabric, diameter of the rim or base, along with succinct notes. Images in the Plates are all very clear and informative. The form profiles illustrate the attributes of the exterior and interior of the vessels. Stamped and relief decorations are documented with both drawings and photographs.

While not revolutionary, this is an important reference for Roman pottery specialists and, I believe, serves as an excellent model for pottery specialists working in Europe and the Mediterranean region. Hasenzagl’s book does not supersede any of the established typologies; however, the depth of her analysis and presentation of the fabrics will allow those of us who work outside of Tunisia to recognize more precise patterns of trade. The book also presents food for thought as to how to present evidence from pottery production sites.


Andrea Carandini, Lucilla Anselmino, Carlo Pavolini, Lucia Saguì, Stefano Tortorella, Enrico Tortorici, Atlante delle Forme Ceramiche, I, Ceramica Fina Romana nel Bacino Mediterraneo (medio e tardo impero), Roma, 1981.
John W. Hayes, Late Roman Pottery, London, 1972.
John W. Hayes, A Supplement to Late Roman Pottery, London, 1980.
Jan Willem Salomonson, “Étude sur la céramique romaine d’Adrique. Sigillée claire et céramique commune de Henchir el Ouiba (Raqqada) en Tunisie centrale,” BABesch 43, 1968, pp. 80-145.
Jan Willem Salomonson, “Spätrömanische rote Tonware mit Reliefverzierung aus nordafrikanischen Werkstätten. Entwicklungsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zur reliefgeschmückten Sigillata Chiara C,” BABesch 44, 1969, pp. 4-109.
Jan Willem Salomonson, “Roman Pottery. A Source of Information for Historians and Archaeologists,” BABesch 46, 1971, pp. 173-192.