The Romans in Britain | A Castor ware cup

Castor ware cup | Ceramic | 2nd Century AD | The Hunt Collection | PD

The Romans have a well-documented history in Britain stretching from approximately 43AD to 410AD. From Julius Caesar’s writings of his failed attempt at an invasion of Britain to the histories written by the ancient author Tacitus about Emperor Claudius’ successful invasion to the famous writing tablets found at Vindolanda, we know of the triumphs and failures of the Roman army against the British tribes. Perhaps the most well-known conflict is the
Boudiccan Revolt in 60-61AD. British tribes, led by the formidable noblewoman Boudicca, attacked Roman forces in London and other towns, resulting in considerable losses for the Romans before Boudicca was eventually defeated.

There have been many impressive Roman archaeological discoveries throughout Britain, most notably Hadrian’s Wall which stretches across approximately 135km of northern England. Other major discoveries include those of the Roman villas of Fishbourne and Bignor, which contain extremely impressive mosaics.

Section of Hadrian's Wall | quisnovus (via wikipedia) | CC BY 2.0

The dolphin mosaic at Fishbourne Roman Palace, West Sussex, England. | By Charlesdrakew - Own work, Public Domain,

But what of the smaller finds which give us an insight into people’s everyday lives in Roman Britain? One such example is this Castor ware cup in the Hunt Museum. The name “Castor” refers to a place in England where many of these vessels were made and found. However, archaeologists have determined that some of these Castor ware cups were actually made in Lezoux, in central France. This cup is decorated in relief with a hound chasing a hare; these
shapes are cast in a mould and then applied to the main vessel when dried. This technique is known as Barbotine and was used as early as circa. 3000 BC by the Minoan civilisation on Crete.

This cup was found in the Nene valley, Northamptonshire and dates to the second century AD, approximately the same time that Hadrian’s wall was being built. It has been suggested that this cup was used for drinking wine. The imagery on the cup gives us an insight into life in Roman Britain in that it suggests that hunting was a popular past-time as well as a necessity. It is referred to as a “hunt cup” due to its decoration. This was a very common form of vessel in the early production stages of Nene Valley pottery.

Map showing the location of Northamptonshire (findspot of Castor ware cup), outlined in red.

Get fun and creativity in your inbox

Enter your details to sign up to our newsletter.