Black slip jug with barbotine decoration
Roman, 3rd or 4th century AD
Made in Trier, in western Germany
With a Latin inscription
The jug is covered with an overall dull black slip (a coating made by dipping the vessel into a clay slurry before firing) and bears a Latin inscription in white slip which reads VITA, '[long] life'. Below this is a band of stylized plant motifs, including flowers and tendrils. The white slip was applied using the barbotine technique: liquid clay or slip was applied to the surface of the vase by squeezing it through a nozzle from a bag.
Dark-surfaced pottery decorated with inscriptions and other decoration in white and yellow slip was produced in the Moselle region of eastern Gaul. In particular it was produced in and around the city of Trier (Augusta Treverorum), an important economic and administrative centre in the mid- and late imperial period. Trier produced a range of jugs, bowls and cups (the so-called 'motto beakers'), with a wide range of inscriptions exhorting the drinker to 'fill me', 'blend me' - with water, essential in Roman wine-drinking, or 'drink me' - generally to live life to the full.
North of the Alps, in areas such as eastern France, Germany and Britain, pottery with a black or grey surface was extremely popular, both for cooking and table wares. The dark surface was achieved through firing the vessels in kilns with a reducing atmosphere (where oxygen was deliberately excluded), rather than an oxidizing (oxygen-rich) atmosphere, which produced the characteristic red and orange-brown hues of Roman pottery found throughout the Mediterranean.
J.W. Hayes, Handbook of Mediterranean Roma (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
S. Walker, Roman art (London, 1991)
P. Roberts, 'Mass-production of Roman fine wares' in Pottery in the making: world-5 (London. The British Museum Press, 1997), pp. 188-93