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One British Thing: A Fifth-Century Ceramic Beaker

  • Robin Fleming

A post-Roman folded beaker allows us to see traditional Romano-British material culture and material practices continuing into the fifth century and helps us understand the problem of the blanket labeling of all objects made after ca. 400 as “Anglo-Saxon.”

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1 Evison, Vera, An Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Alton, Hampshire (Stroud, 1988), 1820, 51; Speake, George, Anglo-Saxon Animal Art (Oxford, 1980), 5458 and plates 5–7.

2 Evison, Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Alton, 37–38, 41–45.

3 Myers, J. N. L., “The Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes,” Proceedings of the British Academy, no. 56 (1970): 145–74, fig. 7.3; Colgrave, Bertram and Mynors, R. A. B., eds. and trans., Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford, 1969), 51.

4 Evison, Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Alton, 25.

5 Evans, Jeremy, “Forms of Knowledge: Changing Technologies of Romano-British Pottery,” in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Britain, ed. Millett, Martin, Revell, Louise, and Moore, Alison (Oxford, 2016), 510–31. Although some pottery from the early fifth century used organic tempers, it is now understood that vegetable tempers only came to dominate in England from the early sixth century on. Hamerow, H., Hollevoet, Y., and Vince, A., “Migration Period Settlement and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Pottery from Flanders,” Medieval Archaeology, no. 38 (1994): 118.

6 Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith J. and Fleming, Robin, “The Perils of Periodization: Roman Ceramics in Britain after 400 CE,” Fragments, no. 5 (2016): 133, at 12.

7 For explanations as to why this happened, see Evans, Jeremy, “The End of Roman Pottery in the North,” in The Late Roman Transition in the North, ed. Wilmott, Tony and Wilson, Peter, British Archaeological Reports (BAR) British Series 299 (Oxford, 2000), 3946, at 41; Mark Whyman, Late Roman Britain in Transition, ad 300–500: A Ceramic Perspective from East Yorkshire (Ph.D. diss., University of York, 2001), 357–62.

8 On the much smaller-scale but continued production of Roman wares into the fifth century, see the articles in Gerrard, James, ed., Romano-British Pottery in the Fifth Century, special issue, Internet Archaeology 41 (2016),; Fitzpatrick-Mathews and Fleming, “Perils of Periodization.” For older ideas that all Roman-style pottery ceased to be made after 400 CE, see Fulford, M. G., “Pottery Production and Trade at the End of Roman Britain: The Case against Continuity,” in The End of Roman Britain, ed. Casey, P. J., BAR British Series 71 (Oxford, 1979), 120–32; Evans, “End of Roman Pottery in the North,” 39–46; Ward-Perkins, Bryan, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford, 2005). For arguments that all pottery produced after 400 CE was based on the household-centered craft traditions of Germanic settlers, see Myers, J. N. L., The English Settlements (Oxford, 1986), 6373.

9 Cooper, Nicholas J., “Searching for the Blank Generation: Consumer Choice in Roman and Post-Roman Britain,” in Roman Imperialism: Post-Colonial Perspectives, ed. Webster, Jane and Cooper, Nicholas (Leicester, 1999), 8598, at 85.

10 Fitzpatrick-Matthews and Fleming, “Perils of Periodization.”

11 For the New Forest beakers that were common in this part of Hampshire during the late Roman period, see P. A. Tyers, “New Forest Slipped Wares,” Potsherd: Atlas of Roman Pottery, For a general discussion of deskilling in the late Roman period across the West, see Mannoni, Tiziano, “The Transmission of Craft Techniques according to the Principles of Material Culture: Continuity and Rupture,” in Technology in Transition, AD 300–650, ed. Lavan, Luke, Zanini, Enrico, and Sarantis, Alexander C. (Leiden, 2008), xlilx. For three examples of deskilling in post-Roman Britain and the material consequences of deskilling, see Fleming, Robin, “Recycling in Britain after the Fall of Rome's Metal Economy,” Past and Present 217, no. 1 (November 2012): 345; Fitzpatrick-Matthews and Fleming, “Perils of Periodization”; Robin Fleming, “Old Buildings, Building Material, and the Death of Recycling in Post-Roman Britain,” in Recycling and the Ancient Economy, ed. Andrew Wilson (Oxford, forthcoming).

12 Philpott, Robert A., Burial Practices in Roman Britain: A Survey of Grave Treatment and Furnishing, AD 43–410, BAR British Series 219 (Oxford, 1991), 103–14; Biddulph, Edward, “Last Orders: Choosing Pottery for Funerals in Roman Essex,” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 24, no. 1 (February 2005), 2345, at 34, 36–37.

13 Steures, D. C., “How Dark Coloured Drinking Sets from Trier Were Used,” Babesch, Bulletin Antieke Beschaving, no. 77 (2002): 175–79; Cool, H. E. M., Eating and Drinking in Roman Britain (Cambridge, 2006), 147–51.

14 Biddulph, “Last Orders,” 37.

15 Allason-Jones, Lindsay, Women in Roman Britain, 2nd ed. (York, 2005), 121.

16 Evison, Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Alton, 11–12, 74.

17 Smith, Reginald A., “Jutish Finds in Kent,” British Museum Quarterly 10, no. 3 (March 1936): 131–32; Hawkes, Sonia Chadwick, “The Jutish Style A: A Study of Germanic Animal Art in Southern England in the Fifth Century A.D.,” Archaeologia, no. 98 (1961): 2974.

18 Inker, Peter, “Technology as Active Material Culture: The Quoit-brooch Style,” Medieval Archaeology, no. 44 (2000): 2552, at 49–51; Suzuki, Seiichi, The Quoit Brooch Style and Anglo-Saxon Settlements (Woodbridge, 2000), 109.

19 Evison, Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Alton, 25.

20 Millett estimates between 3.3 million and 3.66 million: Millett, Martin, The Romanization of Britain: An Essay in Archaeological Interpretation (Cambridge, 1990), 181–86. Richard Hingley's estimate is between 2.5 million and 3.6 million: Hingley, Richard, “The Roman Landscape of Britain: From Hoskins to Today,” in Prehistoric and Roman Landscapes: Landscape History after Hoskins, ed. Hingley, Richard and Fleming, Andrew (Macclesfield, 2007), 101–13, at 110). And David Mattingly's estimate is 2.5 million: Mattingly, David J., Imperialism, Power and Identity: Experiencing the Roman Empire (Oxford, 2011), 219. More recent estimates, based on the work of the Roman Rural Settlement project, suggest that population numbers peaked in Britain in the second century rather than in the fourth, and that we may need to scale back our population estimates of the late Roman period to something on the order of 1.75–2.25 million: Fulford, Michael and Allen, Marty, “Introduction: Population and the Dynamics of Change in Roman South-Eastern England,” in Agriculture and Industry in South-Eastern Roman Britain, ed. Bird, David (Oxford, 2017), 114, at 5–13.

21 Jones, Siân, The Archaeology of Ethnicity: Constructing Identities in the Past and Present (London, 1997).

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Journal of British Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9371
  • EISSN: 1545-6986
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