Ware/Ware Family

Eastern Sigillata A (ESA)

Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean

Hellenistic, Roman

late 2nd century BCE - 2nd century CE

Ware/Ware Family: Eastern Sigillata A (ESA)

Ware/Ware Family Name, Origin, and Date

Eastern Sigillata A (ESA)

Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean

late 2nd century BCE - 2nd century CE

Hellenistic, Roman

Eastern Sigillata A is a fine, red-slipped table ware first produced c. 140-135 BCE in the region of greater Antioch (modern Antakya), in the Hatay region of Turkey, the capital and heartland of the Seleucid empire (the discovery of very over-fired/misfired ESA vessels from Antioch itself offers circumstantial evidence for production in the near vicinity of the city; see photos below, in related images). ESA vessels were intended to satisfy a growing demand for elegant vessels for table service, drinking, and dining inspired by banquets given by royalty and elites.

ESA was not the first fine table ware made in this region. It is a further development of a ceramic industry established here at the start of the Seleucid era. It is the immediate successor to BSP, a black-slipped ware used to make a series of vessels for both individual and group service. BSP is itself a kind of successor to the first of the fine Hellenistic-era table wares produced in this same area: Cilician Hellenistic slipped fine ware. In both of these predecessor wares, potters produced standard small Hellenistic-era shapes such as incurved and everted rim bowls and small saucers. However in BSP and its successor ware, ESA, potters also began making large serving platters with offset rims and wide shallow dishes with upturned rim - vessels intended for elegant group service.

All three of these wares share the same petrographic clay profile, indicating a common geological and geographic origin. ESA is the ultimate product of a lively, innovative ceramic industry that thrived along the northernmost Levantine coast for four hundred years.

ESA vessels were popular from the very beginning of production, and became common throughout the eastern Mediterranean, the Levant, and the Aegean. In the 1st c. BCE they began appearing also in Italy, where they inspired Italian potters to turn away from the production of black-slipped table wares (Campana wares) to red-slipped vessels, but in different shapes inspired by metal work. The Italian products made their way east, and in turn inspired ESA potters to adapt their shapes to the new Roman styles. ESA potters also tweaked the color of the slip to make it a bit more brown, making it more similar to the slip color of Italian red-slipped (Sigillata) vessels.

ESA was the first mass-produced fine ware of the Hellenistic East. It precedes, and was an inspiration for, subsequent red-slipped productions, specifically ESB, an industry that began in the general region of Ephesus, Pergamene Sigillata/Eastern Sigillata C (ESC) and Cypriot Sigillata/Eastern Sigillata D (ESD). All of these wares carry the designation 'sigillata,' which is Latin for stamped - even though only some of the vessels produced were in fact stamped.

The first typology and chronology of ESA was published by John W. Hayes in 1985, and his categorization remains widely used. 

"Pergamene" ware

Very clean, moderately hard, dense light pinkish brown (5YR 7/4-7.5YR 8/4) with no visible inclusions, fully fired. Semi lustrous to lustrous smooth red slip, applied by dipping vessels into vat of slip. Often a darker band of slip appears across the middle of the vessel, from that portion having been dipped into the slip twice.

Site Distribution

Coptos (Egypt/Upper Egypt)

'Akko, Railway Station (Israel/Northern Coastal Plain)

'Akko, Harbor (Israel/Northern Coastal Plain)

Gamla (Israel/Golan)

Gezer (Israel/Shephelah)

Horbat Rodem (Israel/Beth She'an Valley)

Horbat Zefat 'Adi (Israel/Northern Coastal Plain)

Horvat Omrit (Israel/Hula Valley)

Jerusalem, Western City (Israel/Central Highlands)

Maresha/Marisa (Israel/Shephelah)

Qedesh (Israel/Galilee)

Tel Anafa (Israel/Hula Valley)

Yavneh (Israel/Southern Coastal Plain)

Ḥorvat Tefen, Qalat Tufaniyeh (Israel/Galilee)

Tall Jawa (Jordan/Central Highlands)

Dunayba, Danaba (Syria/Hauran)

Kawm al-Raḥīl, Kôm Rahil (Syria/Hauran)

Kawm al-Rummān Ouest/3, Kôm er-Rumman/3 (Syria/Hauran)

Kuraym Sud, Kreim sud (Syria/Hauran)

Tall Qiswa, Tell Jessoua (Syria/Hauran)

Antioch/Antakya (Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean)

Antiocheia ad Cragum (Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean)

Charadros (Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean)

Gocuk Asari (Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean)

Gurcan Karatepe (Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean)

Kenetepe (Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean)

Kestros (Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean)

Kinet Höyük (Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean)

Laertes (Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean)

Sardis (Turkey/Aegean)

Sirkeli Höyük (Turkey/Eastern Mediterranean)

Zeugma (Turkey/Central Euphrates)

Vessels 132
Break Photos 63
Petrographic Samples 3
  1. Hayes, J. W.. "Sigillate orientali" in Atlante delle forme ceramiche II. Ceramica fine romana nel bacino mediterraneo (tardo ellenismo e primo impero) , ed(s). A. Carandini. Enciclopedia dell'Arte Antica classica e orientale. Supp. 2 Rome: 1985, 1-96