A Roman buffware mortarium bowl from the Roman site of Scole 'Villa Faustini' on the Suffolk-Norfolk border in England. It comes from a collection of Romano-British pottery found during excavations at the site in the 1960's and auctioned earlier this year. Complete mortaria are scarce Roman antiquities for sale.
Roman food tastes favoured the use of sauces, relishes and blended herbs and spices. Such ingredients often needed to be ground or puréed, and a strong mixing-bowl with a grit-roughened interior was, therefore, a Roman kitchen essential.
Mortarium (pl. "mortaria") were hemispherical or conical bowls, commonly with heavy flanges and with coarse sand or grit embedded into the internal surface. Stamps on some early Roman mortaria record the name of the potter, from which it is possible to trace their movement between workshops.
Mortaria first appear in Britain before the Roman conquest, implying that there were people who enjoyed Roman cuisine, just as there were British aristocrats who eagerly imported wine from the Roman world.
Condition: Very good. No cracks or repairs. Ancient loss to rim.
Provenance: Ex. private collection, Norfolk, UK; auctioned in 2020.
The Roman site at Scole appears, from casual finds and limited excavation, to be a major roadside settlement or small town. Its position on the major road running between the Roman towns of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund and Camulodunum at Colchester has led this site to be associated with the 'Villa Faustini' site of the Antonine Itinerary, a Roman road map, although this link is not certain. However, this may well indicate its origins as the site of a villa which developed over time into a thriving local community.
The remains cover an area of some 35 acres, and finds indicate occupation throughout the Roman period. Modern buildings and roads now cover half of the Roman settlement, and some of the areas subject to agricultural activity have been badly damaged. An excavation in advance of the A140 bypass construction in 1993 recovered a large quantity of evidence, including thousands of coins, pottery sherds and metal objects. The proximity of the river has resulted in the rare recovery of a number of waterlogged items. These include fragments of a Roman writing tablet, timber-lined wells, timber framed buildings, and the remains of the first Roman roofing timbers to be recovered in Western Europe. Excavation indicates that Roman occupation was not limited to the roadside, but that settlement stretched back either side of the road. Evidence such as two rare unfinished wooden bowls also indicates that the occupants did not rely entirely on the road for trade, but undertook industrial activity such as tanning, leather working, iron smelting and smithing themselves. Iron smelting evidence has been recovered at a nearby site, and to the east a Romano-Celtic temple and possible cremation cemetery has also been discovered. However, occupation of this site is not limited to the Roman period, but also includes the remains of Iron Age and medieval settlement. It should also be noted that there is evidence that this site may have extended to both sides of the River Waveney, particularly if the Roman road it centred upon crossed the river at this point.
There have been numerous excavations at the site between 1949 and 1993, including those between 1964 and 1968 from which this vessel comes. They spanned the River Waveney and revealed roman settlement, craft and industrial activity dating from across the period of the Roman occupation.
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