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Fragile gods: ceramic figurines in Roman Britain

Fittock, M. G. (2018) Fragile gods: ceramic figurines in Roman Britain. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00080654


As small portable forms of statuary, pipeclay objects provide a valuable insight into the religious beliefs and practices of the culturally mixed populations of the Roman provinces. This thesis provides a complete catalogue of the nearly 1000 published and unpublished pipeclay objects found in Britain, including figurines, busts, shrines, animal vessels and masks. This research is the first study of this material conducted since the late 1970s. Pipeclay objects were made in Gaul and the Rhine-Moselle region but not in Britain. Attention thus focuses on where and how the British finds were made by analysing their styles, types, fabrics and any makers’ marks. This reveals how the pipeclay market in Britain was supplied and how these objects were traded, and suggests that cultural rather than production and trade factors were more influential on pipeclay consumption in Britain. A typological, chronological and distributional analysis of this material is conducted to highlight pipeclay consumption in Britannia. As in many other provinces, deities are the most common depiction and Venus figurines the most common type. Comparison with Continental collections highlights distinctive regional consumption patterns, with Britain having several rare and exotic types, especially in London. The social distribution and contexts of the British finds shows that pipeclay objects were mainly used by civilians - probably in domestic shrines and occasionally in temples and in the graves of often sick children. Rare types (both in terms of origin and fabric) probably belonged to higher status foreigners. This thesis identifies previously unidentified subtle differences between the use of pipeclay and metal figurines. While ostensibly the same function, significant differences in style and iconography show ceramic figurines overwhelmingly depicting goddesses while metal figurines tend to depict male deities. Similar numbers of each mean that both are rare in Britain, but subtle differences in their social distribution suggests different groups used ‘higher-status’ metal and ‘lower-status’ ceramic figurines in the province. Fragmentation experiments suggest that deliberately breaking figurine heads was an important ritual practice.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Eckardt, H. and Pitts, M.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Archaeology, Geography & Environmental Science
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Archaeology
ID Code:80654
Date on Title Page:2017
Additional Information:Appendix 9: digital database of finds not available in CentAUR.


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