Institute of Archaeology


RAC/TRAC Session 36: Theorising arts and crafts

Details of the RAC/TRAC Conference session 'Theorising arts and crafts.'

Conference Sessions and Abstracts - Saturday 13 April 2024

36. Theorising arts and crafts

Kaja Stemberger Flegar – PJP d.o.o. Arheološko podjetje
Jason Lundock – Full Sail University

As in any social environment, craft production was essential both inside the Roman Empire and on its borders. There is a great diversity of these goods from the Roman period, ranging from mass produced items that were manufactured on an industrial level and intended for wide distribution, all the way to the handiwork of local workshops and households. End products of crafts and the material means of production can be preserved in the archaeological record and the archaeological remains sometimes provide insight into the production process and use life of the materials involved.

This panel seeks to open the discussion on how crafts influenced identities and how artistic expressions affected life in the Roman world. We will welcome papers exploring how crafts and craftspeople could be interpreted as conveying aspects of identity, communicated on micro and macro levels, as well as how these processes affected the lived experiences of those involved. The papers shall cover many aspects of crafting that are observed through processes such as space utilisation, procuring and storing ingredients, and manufacturing tools. Other topics related to crafts, such as the spreading of production techniques and the adoption of knowledge from inside and outside the Empire, will also be warmly welcomed.

Session schedule 

Saturday 13 April (AM)              Room 4 - Clarke (Level 3)
09:40The reuse of glass and pottery objects as a craftsman’s tools (Kaja Stemberger Flegar & Rafko Urankar)
10:00AIDA and the metalworker – a theoretical approach to marketing metalwork in the Roman world (Stefanie Hoss)
10:20Craftworking in Roman military communities – developing a fresh understanding (Amy Baker)
10:40                                               BREAK
11:10What the Romans did for us. And how. And why. Roman technologies in context (Adam Sutton & Owen Humphreys)
11:30Pottery Production in Roman Noricum – potters as communities in contact (Martin Auer)
11:50Credat emptor: Trustworthiness in visual commemorations of craft and trade (Nicole Brown)
12:10The Art and its Craftsman: Approaches to the Artist in the Roman World (Jason Lundock)


 The reuse of glass and pottery objects as a craftsman’s tools
Kaja Stemberger Flegar – PJP d.o.o. Arheološko podjetje       
Rafko Urankar – PJP d.o.o. Arheološko podjetje

Roman recycling and the reuse of objects have received only limited attention in Slovenian archaeology. While working on a number chronologically and geographically disparate Roman sites, we noticed that several broken glass and pottery objects had been reused in a curious manner. Here we present the preliminary analysis of the knapped objects through the lens of the prehistoric lithic methodology. We have recognised different types of objects, namely scrapers, blades, drills, and combined tools. As their names suggest, each of these had a specific purpose. In the Roman period, however, a wide variety of specialist tools was utilised in the different crafts, which are also documented in e.g. art. In this paper, we aim to interpret the use of the knapped objects discovered near a Roman pottery kiln in Colonia Ulpia Traiana Poetovio (modern day Ptuj, Slovenia) in the context of pottery making.

 AIDA and the metalworker – a theoretical approach to marketing metalwork in the Roman world
Stefanie Hoss – Universität zu Köln

To attract attention, rouse interest and thus make a purchase probable, a metalworker could use that important innovation of the Roman era, the shop: a room with a counter open to the street, allowing the customers to see the wares. According to the modern AIDA model of marketing, Attention is followed by Interest, inducing Desire and finally provoking Action (purchase). However, in order not to lose money, the metalworker had to produce objects for display that were likely to find a customer. He thus had to walk a tightrope of following a known pattern that had sold in the past and innovating fashion to keep customers interested in buying. In addition, metalworkers were of course able to take commissions, but even then, the customers would have had to have an idea of what objects to order and whether the metalworker was able to work in the desired manner, a fact demonstrated by the objects on show in the shop. In my paper, I would like to share some thoughts on the conditions and limitations of a metalworker marketing his wares in the Northwestern Provinces, as a stepping-stone towards developing a theory of Roman marketing in the NWP.

 Craftworking in Roman military communities – developing a fresh understanding
Amy Baker – Newcastle University

Craftworking in Roman military spaces is poorly understood – rife with assumptions as to how it was organised, how communities engaged with it, and who undertook it – and yet it can answer questions around the use of space and social practice in military communities. The material culture of craftworking can also highlight the presence and labour of different identity groups, including soldiers, civilians, slaves and women. This paper will present a theoretical framework for the examination of craftworking from Roman military sites and how studying tools and structures can highlight the fruits and challenges of applying them. It will highlight the preliminary results of PhD research currently being undertaken in Antonine-period Scotland. Important social theories of craft activity used more widely in prehistoric archaeology, such as cross-craft interactions, will be described as relating to Roman military archaeology – finds, structures, and spaces – to sketch some early insights into the organisation of craft that go beyond the purely functional perspective applied in much previous research. Although this research is not complete, it will hopefully highlight the importance of looking at crafts in Roman military contexts with fresh eyes.

 What the Romans did for us. And how. And why. Roman technologies in context
Adam Sutton – Museum of London Archaeology        
Owen Humphreys – Museum of London Archaeology

Technology occupies a strange place in Roman studies. Amongst the public, technological sophistication is a core component of the Roman ‘brand’. The ‘achievements’ of Roman engineering, architecture and manufacturing are ‘what the Romans did for us’. However, in academia technology studies are marginalised, often reduced to arcane technical reporting divorced from interpretation and seen as separate from studies of ‘society’. This need not be the case. Studying technologies provides insights into the culturally-conditioned practices that practice theory tells us to interrogate, the knowledgeable actors that agency theory has us seeking, and the materials that any new materialism must investigate. Technological change is a defining interface in the cultural maelstrom of the Roman conquest. Change and stability, ‘innovation’ and ‘conservatism’ are all evidence of the wider cultural, social and economic interactions playing out at multiple scales, within and between different demographics. The rapid changes seen in the Roman period provide countless case studies which we are only beginning to explore. This paper will explore the opportunities provided by technology studies on five key themes (innovation, the longue durée, imperialism, the economy, and lived experiences) and outline where technology studies can go from here to capitalize on these gains.

 Pottery Production in Roman Noricum – potters as communities in contact
Martin Auer – Universität Innsbruck

The Roman Province of Noricum, located in the Alpine region encompassing Southern Germany, Austria, and Slovenia, exhibits a distinct type of pottery commonly referred to as "Noric pottery" in scholarly research. This term implies a uniform pottery style across the province. While the overall appearance of ceramics in many parts of the region is indeed quite similar, characterized by gray-black fired clay mixed with lime or quartz, displaying high functionality and undergoing gradual morphological changes, a closer examination reveals noteworthy regional distinctions. Various combinations of materials and raw resources are utilized, and production techniques may differ from one area to another. Furthermore, localized decorative patterns emerge, enabling us to attribute these products to specific workshops. These workshops also leave their mark on the vessel crafting techniques employed. Consequently, vessels with similar shapes may be crafted differently by various potters. This suggests an organization of pottery production in small workshops, potentially operating at the household level. Nevertheless, these workshops influence each other and exchange ideas regarding forms and ornamentation. Therefore, one can deduce that pottery makers maintain connections with each other, collaboratively shaping the material culture of Noricum as part of a shared community of practice.

 Credat emptor: Trustworthiness in visual commemorations of craft and trade
Nicole Brown – Williams College

During the first and second centuries CE, funerary monuments became an important means by which working Romans could communicate a sense of pride in their skills, and celebrate their commercial achievements. In this effort, visual elements often played a crucial role, whether in the style of portraiture used for the deceased or through the representation of tools and workplace scenes. Recent scholarship has rightly tended to emphasize the overall positive attitude toward physical work and trade—in contrast to elite views—that such monuments sought to convey. But it is also true that ancient craftspeople and retailers inhabited a social environment in which their trustworthiness and integrity was continually doubted, while needing to rely heavily on their own personal relationships, networks, and word-of-mouth to ensure prolonged success. While collegia may in some instances have helped with reputation-building, this paper uses a reappraisal of certain well-known workplace scenes (e.g., the Coppersmith Relief from Pompeii and the Relief of a Butcher and his Wife from Ostia) to show how funerary art also offered a valuable opportunity to showcase a business’s trustworthiness—specifically, its ability to provide long-lasting goods to the customer, and therefore, long-lasting security to the business owner’s successors. 

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 The Art and its Craftsman: Approaches to the Artist in the Roman World
Jason Lundock – Full Sail University

Post-humanist approaches have had a wide impact in how we discuss human-thing relations and the paradigms we construct in order to understand them. This paper shall discuss the relation between the craft product and the craft producer, principally utilising theoretical approaches from the Marxist and Post-humanist schools of theory. By acknowledging the agency of the craft product itself and theorising the producer as the passive agent reacting to its influence on their actions and self-awareness, this paper seeks to contribute to the wider dialogue of how an art can form its artist and what effect this may have on how the producer constructs their identity and perceives themselves within a wider social context.