The organization of mass production of terra sigillata in the Roman Empire
Results of research on the production and distribution of terra sigillata are frequently used as weighty arguments in the discussion of the character of the Roman economy as a whole. Still, many substantial problems remain under discussion, among them the important question of how the mass production of this ware was organized. By re-examining and combining evidence from various production centres, the present thesis aims to develop a comprehensive model for the organization of terra sigillata production. It employs comparative and complementary approaches to interpret the archaeological and epigraphical material, and also analyzes the underlying social and legal structures. Theoretical conceptions of the organization of pottery production are dealt with, and the role of terra sigillata production in models of ancient economy is discussed. The principal focus of the study is on some of the most important centres of terra sigillata production in Italy, Gaul, Germany, Spain, and Africa. Although each production centre has its own individual features, common ones prevail. The application of producers' signatures can be explained by the joint use of production facilities, especially drying sheds, and the exchange of moulds. Similarities in the use of signatures are interpreted as indicating similarities in the organization of production, whereas irregularities in their application are looked upon as the result of varying production conditions. The interpretation of the potters' graffiti enables us to postulate the existence of a leasehold system in which the lessor entered into contracts with lessee workshop managers to deliver set numbers of vessels. Firing masters, who were potters themselves and responsible for the operation of the kilns, acted as middlemen or directly on behalf of the lessor, approving and controlling the potters' work. The mode of production in all centres appears to have been a nucleated workshop industry rather than a manufactory, based on a leasehold system and regulated by large-scale traders, with the producers' social status being of little relevance. Thus all arguments founded upon the distinction of Italian slave manufactories and cooperative production of free men in the western provinces are no longer plausible.