Tools used for the production and decoration of roman pottery

Dear colleagues,

I was wondering if someone knows and can recommend me bibliography on tools (made in various materials) that are used in the production and decoration of roman pottery which can be found in (and around) pottery workshops. I’m especially interested  in tools that were used in decorating vessels (such as tools for the making of incised decoration, and other).

Thank You in advance for Your replies!

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Mirna Crnkovic
Posted by: Mirna Crnkovic
Phd candidate at the University of Zadar (Croatia)
The title of thesis: "Thin - Walled Pottery from Roman Mursa"

From recently employed in the position of curator in Vučedol culture museum -


  1. Dear Mirna,
    by fortune I saw your contribution for our blog as pending and gave it free for publishing immideately. I hope only, you had waited not too long time for this and must beg you pardon for it. Perhaps I can say for apologize, that I receive at the blog every day a lot of registrations of new “contributors”, which only write contributions like spams. For this we have installed an automatic filter against the spam contributions, but could be, there would be deleted also a serious contribution.
    But now I hope, you will receive many answers for your interesting question.
    For normal tools for pottery production we must say, that many of them could be of wood as material and don’t exist no more. On tools of iron will be difficult to decide, whether they are used especially for pottery decoration.
    Only at clay tools will be easier. So we know for the production of Sigillata the stamps for the names and also for the figure motivs. And you could mention the cylindric little wheels for the Argonne ware of the 4. century and similar ones, used for decoration at the Terra Nigra and other wares. We can name the moulds for appliques. I could add from my excavations at Rheinzabern two flat clay platelets with figure motives (a dolphin and a little amor) as negatives. I suppose, the platelets were provided to make clay stamps for Sigillata moulds. They seem to be copies from reliefs in other material (silver?), but until now we cannot find these motives on Sigillata bowls or moulds for them.
    We must also ask, how would be produced the Barbotine decoration. One possibility is the use of little vessels with a thin tube as spout to put the thin clay painting on the surface of the vessels (in German: “Malhörnchen”). For Sigillata as well as for Nigra and other wares.
    For tools you can count also the stones used for smoothing and polishing of the outside surface of the pottery.
    It’s really a wide field. Perhaps you would like to narrow down your question?

  2. Dear Mirna,

    The tools used for decorating pottery are several, as Fridolin mentioned in his comment, and from different materials. Will be better for you and for the fautores if you will be more specific for what are you looking for!
    But let’s start to help you – I can recommend you an article that summarizes the tools used for decorating Roman pottery in province Dacia – see Sorin Cocis, Les instruments pour décorer la céramique en Dacie, Specimina Nova, 12, 1996 (1998), 109-118, where you could find different kind of tools discovered mainly in pottery workshops (poinçons, roulletes etc.), made by clay, but also by bone. The new tools discovered after 1995-1996 could be find in another articles or synthesis from the same province:
    • Ioan Mitrofan, Materiale și ustensile folosite de olarii romani (Materiaux et ustensiles utilisées par les potiers romains – résumé), Apulum, XXXII, 1995, 175-188;
    • Mihaela Ciaușescu, Early pottery production in Apulum (Partoș) – an overview of recent research, Acta RCRF, 39, 2005, 322-323, fig. 4-5, 9-10;
    • Viorica Rusu-Bolindeț, Ceramica romană de la Napoca. Contribuții la studiul ceramicii din Dacia romană/Roman pottery from Napoca. Contribution to the study of ceramics from Roman Dacia, Bibliotheca Musei Napocensis XXV, Cluj-Napoca, 2007, 17-18 (stage of research in Dacia); 40-45, 512-513 (English version), pl. XII-XIII (tools and molds from Napoca) (
    For Lower Moesia, from the pottery workshop from Durostorum (Crișan Mușețeanu (în colaborare cu Dan Elefterescu), Ateliere ceramice romane de la Durostorum/Ateliers céramiques romains de DurostorumMonografii IV, Muzeul Național de Istorie a României, București, 2003) see an interesting bone hairpin, considered to be used also like poinçon – p. 33-34, 167, pl. 7/1 etc.
    If you couldn’t find the articles mentioned, just let me know and I will send you PDFs of it. If you will define better what your particular interest is, I could help you more (if I will know!).

  3. Dear Mr. Reutti and Mrs. Rusu-Bolindet,
    thank you so much for your answers and help especially for bibliography on this subject.
    In the rescue archaeological excavations of roman Mursa (present day Osijek in north-east Croatia) conducted in the years 2003.-2005. eight pottery kilns were found.
    Two of the kilns were found inside of structures described as buildings of artisan – merchant character and in and around this area many pottery shards and molds were found.
    Also some bone artefacts were found that are not yet identified so I was wondering if they could be used as tools for pottery decorations and from this thought came my question.
    I will start with bibliography that you have recommended and I hope other members will also be interested in this subject.
    Thank You and I’m wishing You all the best for the holidays!

    1. Dear Mirna,
      many thanks for your answer. Indeed, you and also Viorica are right, I forgot bone as material for artefacts as possible potter’s tools. It would be very interesting to see your finds from Mursa (as pictures here attached?). Then we can also ask working potters, whether these artefacts could be potter’s tools and for what they could be used. I am very curious.
      Merry Christmas!

      PS. To post a picture, please look here below under “POST COMMENT”:

    2. Dear Mirna,

      Now is better understandable your question! And the answer is YES, the bone artifacts (and not only!) could be used/re-used/adapted for decorating pottery! In the bibliography what I indicated it you are two variants of tools made by bone used for decoration pottery from Dacia and Lower Moesia:
      1. Typical tools produced intentionally for decorating pottery: one roulette (Cociş 1996, 109, catalog no. 20, pl. IV/20) and two sigilla (Cociş 1996, 110, catalog nos. 18-19, pl. IV) discovered on the same settlement, at Porolissum, in Roman Dacia;
      2. Bone objects adapted for this purpose: on the pottery workshop from Durostorum, the hairpin with detachable head in a rosette form discovered in one of the waster/refuse pits was considered by the authors of monograph like an adapted poinçon for decorating pottery – Muşeţeanu 2003 p. 33-34, 167, pl. 7/1 or, in a separate article – C. Muşeţeanu, Un poanson de la Durostorum, SCIVA, 50, 1998, 1-2, 83-84.
      For the way in which the different kind of tools from different materials could be adapted for producing and decorating Roman pottery in workshops, please look at this very interesting article of Elisabeth Murphy and Jeroen Poblome, 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, 2012, 197-217 (available also like PDF at this link There you will find also another very good references on the topic in which you are interested! If you need more help, just let me know!

      Have a nice Christmas Holiday and an excellent New Year!

  4. Dear Mirna,
    perhaps an article of our Romanian colleague Ana Cătinaş about potter’s tools from Potaissa could be of interest for you:
    Ana Cătinaş, Instrumente şi tipare din atelierele ceramice de la Potaissa, In:
    Studia Archaeologica et Historica : in honorem Magistri Dorin Alicu / Editori: Viorica Rusu-Bolindeţ, Tudor Sălăgean, Rada Varga. Cluj-Napoca 2010.
    pp. 214-240.

    She presented the subject also on a poster during our RCRF-congress at Cadiz 2008.

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