As part of a continuing attempt to identify and re-evaluate un/under-published Roman material from Scotland north of the Antonine Wall, the writer was able to reanalyse a quantity of glass from the legionary fortress of Inchtuthil and the Gask system forts of Ardoch and Bertha. All three assemblages came from 19th or early 20th century excavations or surveys and had only previously been published in the most cursory form. In view of modern advances in the study of this material and especially in the light of the forthcoming reports on the glass from Newstead and Cardean (Hoffmann forthcoming a & b), it seemed worthwhile making a full re-examination of the finds and comparing them with the corpus from the rest of Roman Britain. The author wishes to express her gratitude to Mr F. Hunter of the National Museum of Scotland for locating the material and making it available for study.
The Glass from Inchtuthil
31 Fragments of glass have been deposited in the museum from the 19th century excavations at Inchtuthil (Abercromby et al, 1902). No fragments of cast or mould-blown glass survive. The assemblage is divided as follows:
- colourless: 1
- fragment greenish: 2
- fragments blue/green: 12
- fragments Bottle glass: 10
- fragments objects: 2
- fragments window glass: 2
There are also two modern fragments in the assemblage.
Only eight fragments warrant closer attention. One is an indented colourless fragment (1), which probably came from an indented beaker or cup, popular in the second half of the first century. Both types are occasionally decorated with wheel-cut or abraded lines, and tend to be of a cylindrical or slightly convex shape over a flat base or pushed-in base ring (Price and Cottam 1998, 85-88 – Cool & Price 1995, 70). These beakers were extremely popular throughout the Roman world and occur in blue/green and greenish glass, as well as the colourless glass used here. Parallels from the North of Britain include similar blue/green cups from Corbridge (Charlesworth 1959, 166 fig. 22, 1-3 – Allen 1988, 293 fig. 132, 41), York Blake Street (Cool et al. 1995, 1571 fig. 740, 6040), Doncaster (Buckland 1986, 17 fig. 11) and Castleford (Cool and Price 1998, 146; 159 fig. 54, 91). A greenish-colourless indented beaker was found at Strageath (Price 1989, 198 Fig. 100,7). As the latter originated from the Antonine occupation of the fort, it is debatable whether it belongs to this group or a later version of the indented beaker. It shares with the other quoted examples the rim treatment (knocked-off and ground smooth) and the wheel-cut lines, both of which are common in Flavian beakers. That indented beakers were available after the Flavian period in the North of Britain is documented by the Housesteads specimen, which is dated to the later second century (Charlesworth 1971, 35-6 fig. 6). At Vindolanda indented vessels were found in unstratified contexts during the excavation of the third century vicus buildings and none are yet known from the Flavian levels. It cannot be ruled out, therefore, that the single indented vessel from Newstead may belong to the Antonine period rather than to the Flavian occupation. (Cool and Price 1998, 145 on post-Flavian indented vessels).
The other piece of tableware recovered is part of a yellow/green long-necked jug (2). Even though the general shape of the body has not survived, the handle-attachment with its nicked extension of the central rib suggests that it originally had a conical body similar to the Turiff jug from Aberdeenshire (Thorpe 1934). These jugs exist in a number of varieties, differing in colour, shape and decoration. The pale yellow/green example from Turiff shows some diagonal ribs on the body, but nothing suggest that the Inchtuthil specimen was similarly decorated. While the strongly coloured examples of this jug appear to be mainly limited to the second half of the first century, some colours (viz. yellow/brown, blue/green and yellow/green) appear to continue into the third quarter of the second century AD, with the yellow/green example from Felmongers-Harlow (Price 1987, 193-5 fig. 3,20) being the latest closely dateable example (from a context dating c. AD 160-170).
Further yellow-green conical jugs are known from the Pre-Flavian levels at Usk (Price 1995, 179 fig. 46, 100), from a pit dated AD 70-130 from Chichester (Charlesworth 1978, 269 no. 30 fig. 10.23), from Richborough, pit 122 (dated c. AD 130-150: Bushe-Fox 1949, 148 pl.67, 367), two near complete vessels from pit DD II 29A at Alcester (dated AD 150-60), Towcester, Park Str. (Price 1980, 66 fig. 15, 7-8 (dated c. AD 155-165)), and from the Antonine levels at Strageath (Price 1989, 198 no. 9). A further possible Antonine piece comes from Carlisle, The Lanes (Price & Cottam forthcoming I,13) dating to period 8), as well as unstratified handle fragments from Corbridge (Allen 1988, 289 fig. 131,6), Watercrook (Charlesworth 1979, 232 fig. 93, 169), Doncaster (Allen 1986, 103 fig. 24, 1), Shepton Mallet (Price and Cottom forthcoming b) Verulamium, King Harry Lane (Price 1989b, 45 fig. 27,305) and Colchester (Cool & Price 1995, 124 fig. 8.3 no. 895). Three possible pushed-in base rings from Caersws (AD 100-130+): Cool & Price 1989, 39 fig. 21, 34), Baldock (?: Charlesworth 1986, 193 fig. 84, 876) and Puckeridge-Braughing (Price & Cool 1988, 83 fig. 35, 10), as well as a yellow-green ribbed neck and shoulder from Gorhambury (Neal et al. 1990, 203 fig. 163, 22) may all belong to similar vessels.
Fragments 3 and 4 form part of prismatic containers. These storage vessels, most commonly square in section and often decorated with geometric (or far more rarely figural) patterns on the base, became the most common glass vessel on Roman sites. They appear to have been used mainly as storage containers for liquids, although some large examples have large enough openings to allow the storage of small objects (e.g. eggs). Neither rims nor bases of these vessels survive amongst the Inchtuthil material, but the fact that 10 sherds out of 30 probably came from glass containers, either of this type or the slightly earlier circular variety attests to their frequency in Northern Scotland. The majority of such containers are found in contexts dating to the middle of the first to the end of the second century AD (Price and Cottam 1998, 194-202).
Reuse of materials, especially of glass is a common enough feature on Roman sites but the dark blue fragment (5) appears to have been reworked into a squarish shape, which is slightly unusual. The most common form of reuse of glass fragments appears to be their conversion into gaming counters, e.g. from Carlisle (Cool & Price 1991, 176 fig. 155, 684), but the unusual diameter of this piece and its shape makes appear look unlikely for the Inchtuthil ‘counter’.
The material also contained one glass melon bead. Dark blue melon beads are a less common variety of the ubiquitous frit melon beads. Both types appear particularly common on military sites of the first and early second century, and then seem to continue in very much reduced numbers into the later second and third century AD on both military and civilian sites (Guido 1978, 100). They are often associated with horse harness (Böhme 1978, 288-9), but also occur on other forms of military equipment. One of the highest concentrations of melon beads within the province appears to be Newstead with over 129 melon beads (both frit and glass) recorded to date (Hoffmann forthcoming).
The remaining two fragments are Roman window glass, both showing the characteristic combination of matt/glossy finish that comes from casting the material. Recent experiments conducted during the making of the BBC television program ‘What the Romans did for us’, showed that this process most likely involves a bun of hot glass being pulled into shape with tweezers and then being reheated in the furnace. This process could be repeated until the desired shape was achieved. Window glass of this type is first recorded in a Claudio-Neronian context in Colchester (Harden 1947, 306) and appears to have been gradually replaced by the thinner blown window glass during the third century AD (Boon 1966). The occurrence of window glass at the fortress of Inchtuthil (a further piece was recovered by Richmond’s excavations) suggests that even in Scotland glazing in at least some windows formed part of Roman fortress design from the start. The prime candidate for such ‘luxury’ would have been the hot room of the bath block. However, as none of the fragments can be associated with an exact find spot, it is impossible to confirm or deny this.
Comparison with other glass material known from Inchtuthil
The excavations within the legionary fortress in 1952-1968, produced a further 75 fragments of Roman vessel glass and another melon bead, as well as the one fragment of window glass already mentioned. The glass recovered belonged to various forms of vessel glass, including a pillar-moulded bowl, a hemispherical cup, a further five long-necked jugs (including a yellowish green discoid jug), an unguent bottle, one square bottle and six cylindrical bottles. With the addition of the current indented cup, a further jug and another 2 prismatic (square?) bottles. The assemblage now presents a good cross-section of the most popular glass vessels on northern military sites of the late first century. The omission of the facet-cut beaker, known from other contemporary sites, may be due to the comparatively small number of fragments recovered from the fortress overall. Only the hemispherical cup found in the 1952-1968 excavations still forms an unusual marker and is hard to explain on a site that presumably started only in 83-89, as these beakers are usually associated with sites in occupation in Britain in the Pre-Flavian period and possibly extending into the early seventies, although an heirloom should perhaps not be ruled out. In fact in many ways (e.g. the high number of long-necked jugs and the indented beaker) the Inchtuthil glass assemblage would also not cause comment in a fort that had an Antonine as well as a Flavian occupation (compare, e.g. Strageath (Price 1989)), although no indicators for such a reoccupation have been found in the case of Inchtuthil.
1. FY 156/11 1 body fragment, colourless. Indented beaker. One indent surviving. no bubble. No weathering. Dims: 25 x 19 Th: 1.5 EVE: 0.20
2. FY 156/29 1 body fragment, yellow/green. Conical long-necked jug. Lower handle attachment of Handle with central rib, Handle drawn out over body and nicked in regular intervals. Elongated bubbles. No weathering. H(ext): 57 W(handle): 30 EVE: 0.14
3. FY 156/21 1 fragment, body. Blue/green. Straight sided prismatic container. One edge preserved. Small bubbles. No weathering. S: 45 S2: 11 H(ext): 87 EVE: 0.14
4. FY156/24 1 body fragment, blue/green. PrismaticBottle. Dims: 40 x 32 Th: 2 EVE: 0.14
5. FY156/27 1 fragment. Dark blue, transparent. Round glass object, chipped into shape rectangular section. Scratched. One small bubble. No weathering. D: 46 Th: 14.
6. FY156/31 1 Glass melon bead, dark blue. Grey surface. L: 21 D: c.30 D (int): c. 7
7. FY156/13 Window glass. Dims: 21 x 37 x 4
8. FY156/25 Window glass. Dims: 29 x 67 Th: 3
Surface finds from the Roman fort at Bertha
The NMS preserves 14 fragments of Roman glass from the fort at Bertha, near Perth. The majority of these were deposited on March 13, 1781 by Mr Anderson and Mr. Marshall of Perth. As to their find circumstances the following information is given in the ‘Account of the Institution and Progress of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’ (Smellie 1782,
‘The remains of some Roman cinereal urns of yellow clay, and some fragments of glass vessels, of a bluish colour, lately dug up on the north bank of the river Almond, near its influx into the Tay, where there had been a bridge built by Agricola over this last river, of which some remains still exist.’
The claims that these glass vessels belong to the remains of Roman burials is hard to verify, especially as the find spot is likely to have been long since eroded …