Podcast Season 2, Episode 11 – Seize the Clay: Pottery Workshops in Sagalassos with Elizabeth Murphy

Headshot of Dr. Murphy, who is standing in front of a brick wall.
Dr. Elizabeth Murphy

On this episode of the Peopling the Past podcast, we are joined by Dr. Elizabeth Murphy, an assistant professor of Roman Archaeology at Florida State University, where she works on the history and archaeology of labour production and technology in the Roman world. She’s the co-director of the Landscape Archaeology of Southwest Sardinia Project and has excavated in at several sites ranging from Turkey to Montserrat. She is currently working on a book titled “Craft Communities and Working Practices: The Pottery Industries of the Eastern Mediterranean during the Roman and Late Antique periods”.

Listen in, as Dr. Murphy takes us through her research on pottery workshops with a particular focus on the workshops in Sagalassos, Turkey, and what the excavation of these sites can reveal about methods of production, the people involved in pottery production, raw material acquisition and the changing dining habits of citizens in the Roman Empire.

Interested in learning more? Check out these related articles by Dr. Murphy:

Murphy, E. A., and J. Poblome. 2013. “Technical and social considerations of tools from Roman period ceramic workshops at Sagalassos (Southwest Turkey). Not just tools of the trade?” Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 25(2): 197-217.

Murphy, E. A. 2016. “Roman Workers and Their Workplaces: Some Archaeological Thoughts on the Organization of Workshop Labour in Ceramic Production. In: Work, Labour, and Professions in the Roman World, edited by K. Verboven and C. Laes. Leiden: Brill, 133-146.

Murphy, E. A., and J. Poblome. 2016. “From Formal to Technical Styles: Production Challenges and Economic Implications of Changing Tableware Styles in Roman to Late Antique Sagalassos.” American Journal of Archaeology 121 (1): 61-84.

Looking for a transcript of this episode? Click here.
Topographic map of the city plan of Sagalassos, Turkey, which highlights several key buildings within the city. The pottery workshops are signified by a red bubble in the north east part of the map, outside of the city walls.
Figure 1. City Plan of Sagalassos (SW Turkey). From the first until the seventh century CE, the pottery workshops of the city were largely concentrated in the eastern suburbs, just beyond the city’s theater (indicated in red). Image source: Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project.
photo of the excavations of the pottery workshop at Sagalassos. The remains of the building are limited to the stone foundations of several distinct rooms.
Figure 2. Excavation of a pottery workshop complex at Sagalassos. The workshop shown specialized in the production of molded wares and was active from the mid-fourth until the mid-sixth centuries CE. Much of the building that remains is the stone foundation upon which mudbrick walls would have been constructed. Image source: Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project.
Photo of a drinking cup from one of the workshops at Sagalassos. The cup is short and red with a large crack visible across the front of the cup.
Figure 3. Example of a pottery drinking cup (a “mastos cup”) manufactured in one of Sagalassos’ workshops. While the workshops produced a range of ceramic household items (including lamps and figurines), most specialized in making glossy red-orange pottery used in dining. These tablewares have been termed Sagalassos Red Slip Ware by archaeologists. Image source: Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project.
3D reconstruction of an assemblage of vessels made in the workshops of Sagalassos, including plates, bowls, cups, and serving vessels.
Figure 4. 3D reconstruction of vessel assemblages made in the workshops of Sagalassos at different periods of its production history. The vessel assemblage in the upper corner is dated to the second century CE, and the vessel assemblage below is dated to the sixth century CE. The shapes and sizes of the local tableware (Sagalassos Red Slip Ware) changed over seven centuries of production. Among the many changes in pottery styles that has been observed is a shift from small bowls and cups to larger bowls, plates, and platters. These are thought to reflect different ways of dining, from eating with small individual servings to sharing food from large vessels. Image source: Elizabeth A. Murphy.
Photo of a "potter's rib", a tool used for scrapping and shaping clay. The too takes the shape of a "pizza wedge" and has a Greek inscription that was likely the name of a person associated with this tool.
Figure 5. Many hand tools have been found in the workshop excavations; these tools offer important information regarding the working lives and material worlds of these artisans. The most common type of tool found in the workshops of Sagalassos is the potter’s rib (a tool used for scraping and shaping clay). This example was likely made in one of the workshops as it is composed of the same clay used for the pottery products. Letters (in Greek script) were inscribed on one side and are thought to have been part of a personal name. Image source: Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project.
Additional Resources Related to this Podcast

Hasaki, E. 2012. “Craft Apprenticeship in Ancient Greece: Reaching beyond the Masters.” In Archaeology and Apprenticeship: Body Knowledge, Identity, and Communities of Practice, edited by W. Wendrich, 171-202. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Hasaki, E., ed. The WebAtlas of Ceramic Kilns in Ancient Greece, University of Arizona (https://atlasgreekkilns.arizona.edu)

Kamp, K.A., N. Timmerman, G. Lind, J. Graybill and I. Natowsky. 1999. “Archaeology Discovering Childhood: Using Fingerprints to Find Children in the Archaeological Record.” American Antiquity 64 (2): 309-315.

Lawall, M.L. and J. Lund, eds. 2011. Pottery in the Archaeological Record: Greece and Beyond. Acts of the International Colloquium held at the Danish and Canadian Institutes in Athens, June 20-22, 2008. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.

Leibner, U. 2010. “Arts and Crafts, Manufacture and Production.” In: The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine, edited by Catherine Hezser, 264-296. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lund, J. 2009. “Engendering the Potters of Hellenistic and Roman Cyprus.” Medelhavsmuseet. Focus on the Mediterranean, no. 5, 2009. Proceedings from the International Conference ‘Finds and Results from the Swedish Cyprus Expedition 1927–1931: A Gender Perspective’, March 31–April 2, 2006, 165-170. Stockholm: Medelhavsmuseet.

Peacock, David P. S. 1982. Pottery in the Roman World: An Ethnoarchaeological Approach. London: Longman.

Peña, J.T. 2007. Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Verboven, K. and C. Laes, eds. 2016. Work, Labour, and Professions in the Roman World. Leiden: Brill.

Wilson, A. and M. Flohr, eds. 2016. Urban Craftsmen and Traders in the Roman World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Interested in learning more about pottery in the ancient world? Check out this podcast by Sanchita Balachandran on potters, painters and ceramic production in ancient Greece.

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