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Roman pottery: terra sigillata

Terra sigillata (literally 'sealed or slipped clay'), was inspired by wares from the eastern Mediterranean and rapidly took over the Italian pottery market. Centres of production in Pisa, Pozzuoli, Rome and Arezzo (hence the common name 'Aretine Ware') boomed, with their exports reaching every corner of the Roman world. Mass production and a remarkable degree of standardisation was achieved through use of moulds, and workshops working singly or together produced pottery on an almost industrial scale.

Strangely, perhaps because of the increasing distance between Italy and the growing markets of Rome's furthest provinces, Italian sigillata was fairly rapidly supplanted by other industries. In southern, central and eastern Gaul Gaulish sigillata or Samian ware was produced, and this became the most common Rome fineware in Britain and the rest of the northern empire. The Mediterranean markets were supplied by African Red Slip ware, produced in workshops in central and northern Tunisia, and by other wares from the East Mediterranean. African Red Slip Ware remained the most popular fine ware throughout the empire until the sixth or seventh centuries, when Mediterranean trade largely collapsed.