COMMUN POTTERY IN
FROM THE END OF THE FIFTH
TO THE MIDDLE OF THE SEVENTH CENTURIES AD
SECTION IV - Ipotești-Cândești pottery
SECTION IV takes a global look at the Ipotești-Cândești pottery, discussing, chapter by chapter, the fabrication, the decoration, the morphology, the capacity and the function.
Chapter 11 is dedicated to the fabrics and begins with the issue of clay paste content. The old scheme with two major areas (Cândești with crushed sherds and Ipotești without crushed sherds) is replaced with a more refined scale: Târșor cultural horizon with crushed sherds in the paste, frequent and large sized (up to 1 cm. or more) as a general rule (most common in northern Muntenia); Străulești cultural horizon with crushed sherds in the paste, incidentally present and small dimensions, sometimes slip treatment (most common in central Muntenia); Dulceanca cultural horizon without crushed sherds, sometimes excessively sandy (western Muntenia, especially early settlements), usually with slip treatment (p. 162-164). It should be noted that these fabric types are connected with old practices in the same area. The fabrics of vessels from Oltenia are similar to those of western Muntenia, but some crushed sherds inclusions are mentioned there. The pottery handicraft from the former centuries did not have this additive, the earliest horizon from the fifth century seemingly did not either, its appearance probably being due to migrated elements (shapes resembling to Târgșor cultural horizon have been already identified in Vadu Codrii and Făcăi settlements). The schemes presented above are susceptible of improvement and detailing, if more attention will in future be paid to the manufacturing techniques in archaeological reports. It should be mentioned here that study of methods of fabrication can provide important arguments in global judgment of the sites, as it happened in the case of the Gropșani site, turning upside down the chronological terms, in a new order: Gropșani B (without crushed sherds) Gropșani A (with some, incidentally, crushed sherds in pots paste; p. 165).
Now we come to forming techniques. Here we reject refinements like hand-made pottery retouched on the wheel, slower fast wheel or enhanced slow wheel which mean nothing more than funny ways to described uncertain facts. Here we use instead relatively abstract notions as fast-wheel (for that with continuous spinning) and slow-wheel (for discontinuous movement, come-and-go type). The effective use of one tool or another is only presumed, the objective observation consists of determining the presence or absence of wheel marks or the evaluation of symmetry. For the sixth century the use of the slow wheel is doubtful. At the level of actual data (pathetically low) I guess that the slow-wheel pottery of the sixth century has a poor sorting of pebbles in the clay which renders the shaping of vessels on a fast wheel impossible; this is probably the reason why this type of pottery was not often decorated, or is very simply decorated (its not easy to make nice incisions on rocky fabric!). Resuming, the speed of the wheel that can be used depends on the raw material (a comparison with eighth century slow-wheel forming and decoration is instructive). The fact remains to be confirmed by attentive observations in the future.
The evolution of the pottery of the Ipotești-Cândești culture demonstrates a general tendency from a high ratio of fast-wheel pottery (as in previous cultures) to the exclusive use of hand-made ceramics; this final point is an expression of deep local social crisis, but also the disintegration of the system of organization of handicrafts over a wider region. The development is not a linear progression, and not homogenous in all micro-regions. At sites of the same period, the frequency of use of the potters wheel decreases from west to east and from south to north. The technical involution is only a key-word to keep in mind; in fact, the involution is not a continuous process. The final part of the fifth century is a period of convalescence for both society and handicraft organization. The peak of the pottery production is presumed to be contemporary with the short period of monetary circulation bloom from the third decade of the sixth century (OBERLÄNDER 2000). This is followed by a new crisis, until the final ruin of the pottery production, in the late sixth century. The process of adopting the slow-wheel, in the domestic craft practice, takes another century. The general cause of all these facts is too obvious to be written (p. 167-168).
A particular aspect of the manufacture of pottery is the thickness of the pot walls (taken as a relative dimension, depending on general dimensions of the vessel). In the last half a century it has been repetitively asserted, hundreds of times, that Slavic pottery is badly shaped, awkwardly formed (in the opinion of Romanian archaeologists, of course), the thicker walls were therefore adopted as an identification tip. It now seems that based on averages of hundreds of measurements, for each cultural group that what we have heard so many times is nothing other than a scientific myth. The figures for Slavic pottery look better than Ipotești-Cândești pottery, especially for the thickness at the foot of the vessels (p. 168-169).
For the sixth century, in Muntenia, we know of more pottery-kilns. We have scant information about some of them (Budureasca, Dămăroaia), while others are of doubtful functionality (Băleni, Sf. Ioan cel Nou, including the enhanced type from Radovanu). Stays on consideration the kiln from Dulceanca, that is not good but not bad, in comparison with other cultures, less barbarian (for example Getic culture, v. TROHANI 2000). To these should be added the Mărăcinele kiln, from Oltenia (see again chapter 9), that is a professional installation, of almost Roman standards. There are no pottery firing pits, but some domestic ovens (especially the type with chimney) could have been used not only for cooking food, but for pottery firing too (p. 169-170).
I think that the study of pottery kilns is important but not a priority. The main source for technological issue is the most frequent archaeological find: potsherds. An attentive look at these objects (colour, hardness, composition, etc) and laboratory analyses could say exactly enough what kind of installation was used. The Compass System doesnt record the type of firing (oxidized/ reduced), considering it redundant, but the colour. The author recommends the use of the general colours (yellowish, reddish, brown), at least in one database field. A detailed investigation could require also the recording of precise shades, as possible on fresh broken sherds; that would be an additional field in the database. In the evolution of the pottery of the Ipotești-Cândești Culture, there is a very visible trend from reddish-grey to brick-red (in cases where the best technical condition has been achieved), and turning to brown towards the end. These differences have no cultural meaning and reflect only the variability of the technological conditions of the pottery fabrication (p. 171).
Chapter 12 is concerned with decorative techniques and patterns. The hand-made pottery is usually not decorated, only about 10% (or less) being the exception. The variability of decoration on wheel-made ceramics is more important, seeming to be connected to fabric quality; therefore, only 30-40% of the material from early and late periods are decorated, and up to 80% for the pottery from settlements dated to the middle of the period (p. 173-174).
For the early sites the decoration of wheel-made
pottery is characterised by simplicity (horizontal incisions, most usual
with a single point tool, on the shoulder); the involuntary decoration is
another early character. In the better days of Ipotești-Cândești pottery, the
incision became larger and deeper, and, accidentally, one can see horizontal
ribs, as a sign of influence from the area to the south of the
Almost half of the decorated hand-made pottery follows as good
as possible the decoration themes from the wheel-made pottery. It need not be
said how ugly these imitations are
Among the remaining examples, the most
frequent decoration consists of finger or thumb-prints on the rim (less typical
are knife-cuts on the rim). This pattern appears from the early settlements,
including on wheel-made pottery. In order of frequency comes next the
crosses on wet clay (sometimes as crux gammata) The pattern is rare but
is nowhere absent in extensive excavations. The significance of this
sign in relation to Christianity is uncertain (for the gammata version it is
out of question), but it is a fact that this pattern occurs all over the area
north of the
Chapter 13 alphanumeric morphology brings into the focus three sets of facts: angularity, rim morphology and base morphology.
Angularity of vessel form is associated with professional pot making, on high-speed spinning wheel and with a fine fabric. Therefore, the angular forms are absent in pottery production from societies that never had such traditions. The most frequent angularities are the nervures (see illustration, k and k1), the arch breakings (discontinuities; see illustration, a and b) and the sills (see illustration, e and f), often marking the line between the body and the neck of the vessel. This kind of shaping is usual on pottery from the Chilia-Militari culture, Sântana-Cherniakhov culture or on Roman pottery. In the settlements from the Romanian Plain, of the sixth century, only 5,4% of the vessels would maintain the tradition of advanced shaping. A significant group of these are hand-made vessels (obviously, a difficult task with often pitiful results), which is a testimony to old cultural patterns (p. 183-184).
The main conclusion of the study of rim morphology
is a great disappointment. The rim cross-sections are less relevant than the
archaeologist would wish to have us believe. The morphological variability is
high, the rim shapes being more a personal signature than a cultural mark.
The disappointment is linked to the limited ability to demonstrate any
typological developments or demonstrate the identity of a particular area. This
does not mean that the major cultural identities could not be observed with the
help of rim morphology (but it would be easier with other methods). Some
regional characters could however be mentioned. In comparison with sites in
The comparison between south-Carpathian and central Ukrainian rim morphology for hand-made pottery demonstrates important differences; the first area is characterised by externally thickened rims, S shaped ones and those slightly bevelled, while the latter area by a more frequent occurrence of the cut-up ends (rectangular rims). More perceptible differences occur in the so-called (in the Compass System) rim district (or the dial of the rim; see the theoretical illustration and statistical report; p. 187-188).
The study of the type of shaping of the base of the vessel
concludes that the so-called ogival base is not a Slavic character (as has
repeatedly been suggested); on the contrary, the thick base looking like an
ogive (upside down) is a quite local tradition, and appears also on the
wheel-made pottery. This is not a characteristic inherited from the Romans, but
is an old Getic practice. The most common bottoms have a flat exterior, with
extremely few exceptions (that have a concave exterior, like late Roman
pottery). Adding these facts to the observations made for decorative patterns, supports
the hypothesis that the potters had few connections with the traditions from
south of the
Chapter 14 is dedicated to numeric morphological analyses. The procedure has as a starting point with a cascade classification of all known shapes (including some half preserved shapes, possible to classify), that begins with a site (and site phase) typology, after that the typological averages are used to construct a regional classification that includes all pots from the Ipotești-Cândești area (p. 191-192).
This regional (and cultural) taxonomy is used, further, for making a sites serial table. The table is headed by the Gropșani settlements, followed by the Dulceanca settlements, Soldat Ghivan, Ciurel, Budureasca, Vadu Codrii, Străulești, Sărata Monteoru, Cățelu Nou, Târgșor and Băleni. Excepting the leading settlements (Gropșani), all other positions taken by sites in the table are determined strictly by the morphological types it produced and by the rule of smallest difference. Ones first observation is the excellent homogeneity of the Gropșani pottery, all shapes belonging to only 6 morphological groups (or subgroups, this doesnt matter here). These 6 groups represent only 13,3% of the serial entities (45 groups or subgroups), but contain one third of all Ipotești-Cândești pottery. These six groups are well represented in other settlements too (Dulceanca, Ciurel, Soldat Ghivan, Vadu Codrii, and, less, Budureasca). With one single type exception (CR_18, absent in Muntenia), the morphological groups from Gropșani all have Roman analogies. This is why the Ipotești-Cândești culture cant be discussed today without sites in Oltenia; these groups are dominant (as number of pots) and provide the dominant character for the whole culture (p. 193).
Things look similar for the next group of forms (8), which are dominant at Dulceanca (but are absent to Gropșani). The statistic weight for those groups is also beyond average (17,8% of groups, representing 26,8% of pots). The analogies are going also to Soldat Ghivan, Ciurel and Budureasca, with the addition of Străulești. Those eight groups have not a homogenous cultural description; three of them seem to have a Roman origin (following the automatic analogies and the relative analogies), another three have a Getic-Sarmatian origin (an indistinct category, because in the sixth century the distinction between Getic and Sarmatian original elements is almost impossible to determine), the other two groups belonging to the Târgșor cultural horizon (supposing a movement of population, as already mentioned for Oltenia). Over all (Gropșani leaded types and Dulceanca leaded types, see table), the pottery from the settlements from Dulceanca has as a dominant character a Roman morphology (about two thirds), and other ancient local elements (Getic, probably) as a secondary character (p. 196-198).
The morphology inherited from the Romans is diluted the further we move east. At the Soldat Ghivan site a settlement still with nice forms the Roman morphology declines to two fifths of the assemblage, the same as for Carpic background shapes (Străulești cultural horizon), the last fifth belonging to Getic-Sarmatian look-alikes. The settlement at Ciurel seems to be culturally isolated, the morphologic types frequently having no analogies. Even the groups with supposed Roman origins look degenerated (not all but most), without direct analogies, making together a strange majority. The Getic-Sarmatian component forms a low percentage, and the post Carpic morphology is simply absent, in spite of close proximity of the Străulești and Soldat Ghivan settlements. The lot of classified shapes from Ciurel is the largest, for the Romanian Plain, but the singularity rate (see table; on the second column the number of classified shapes; on the fourth column the singularity rate) is the highest (one third of morphological groups fails to find an analogy whatever in the Romanian cultural landscape or Slavic world). The better morphological analogies of Ciurel go for Dulceanca II, thus not mean a western history for the Ciurel community (the decorative patterns are not matched). The situation from Ciurel suggests that the post-Carpic elements have their southern border between Colentina and Dâmbovița rivers (see map 3); this conclusion has to be checked on other sites (Militari perhaps, if ever published; p. 199-200). It should be noted that in the third century the situation was exactly the same (BICHIR 1973, 1984).
Budureasca has a perfect balance between supposed Roman, Getic-Sarmatian
and post-Carpic cultural elements. This kind of mixture is unique in Muntenia.
There is also a Kolocin-like shape (parallels from the middle Dniepr river).
The analogies address all major studied regions: Oltenia, Dulceanca,
The Măicănești, Lunca and Cățelu Nou settlements make together the Străulești cultural horizon. The basic character is a blend of post-Carpic shapes (tall, made exclusively by hand), Getic-Sarmatian shapes (tall also, but not so tall, made sometimes by wheel), and a tiny, sporadic presence of Roman-type products. The post-Carpic shapes are the most particular (and peculiar), and could occur in other sites too (Soldat Ghivan, Budureasca, etc). In this cultural horizon, the Romanized culture is reflected in some imported pots. The Roman shapes are not cultural assimilated, because there are no replicas on hand-made pottery (p. 201-202).
We have already had occasion to describe the mixed-up
situation at Sărata Monteoru. The analogies address a lot of sites from
Muntenia, but the ratios are poor (under 20%; p. 202). Anticipating here the
final conclusions, the pottery from the famous necropolis can be ascribed
neither to Slavic primitive world nor the Ipotești-Cândești culture. The
origins have perhaps to be sought in southern
One last subchapter deals with a direct comparison of the morphological types from Romanian Plain (noted CR*) with those made in the Slavic world (noted CSV*). Some experiments have been carried out. The first is the resuming of cascade classification (third stage), using the CR and CSV types for building up a new taxonomy. The procedure is blind (we can see the clusters but we dont know the content; exemple, see graphs 1 and 2) and produces new typological groups, named inter-cultural types. The goal is to bring out analogies, the possible influences (or just the morphological resemblance). The main conclusion from this experiment is that the two series do not have very much in common. From over one hundred entities, identity problems were found only for 13 of them (10 from Romanian Plain sites, 3 from the Slavic world). For neighbouring territories, similar pottery shapes does not imply, mechanically, the direct influence, and even less a migration. Nevertheless, a detailed analyses brought up some morphological groups from the Romanian Plain for which the direct influence of Slav ceramics cant be excluded: the group CR_07B (rare: one pot at Străulești and one from Budureasca), the intricate group CR_14B (three hand-made pots from Sărata Monteoru, but another one fast wheel pot; it cannot be excluded that the potter could have followed a model demanded by the client, hand-made originally), the group CR_25 (one pot, also Sărata Monteoru); to this should be added the CR_21 shape, that belongs to the Kolocin culture, perhaps an indicator of part of the bow-wave of a Slav migration. Between Slav ceramic groups with identity problems one may also count the most important of all, CSV_08A, so-called Slavic western pot (its resemblance to Roman types has already been explained), the CSV_10D type (isolated, only Slovakia, post-Roman shape) and the CSV_13 type (an isolated pot from Hucea, Basarabia, representing probably micro-regional experiences; p. 205-206).
Chapter 15 considers the capacity of vessels produced in the Ipotești-Cândești culture. At the outset it should be mentioned that the current practice, that is classifying the vessel size based upon general dimensions (height, but mostly rim diameter), it is an illusion (vessels with the same rim diameter could have very different capacities). The users of the pots were concerned about the shape, colour and maybe water and fire resistance, and the capacity, rather than absolute dimensions. The aim of this study was to determine the average dimensions (including capacity) for each settlement (level or phase) and a comparison of these values between cultures. As a secondary aim, we have to determine whether the capacity figures are compatible with the idea of a system of capacities.
Hypothetically, the morphological groups should be specialized for diverse activities (cooking, storing water, milk, cereals, etc); the hypotheses has been proved convincing only for Gropșani settlements, that became a reference for the whole culture. Thus, the pots from three morphological groups cluster around Roman standards for solids (grains, respectively the modius, semi-modius and a quarter-modius), two groups clustered around Roman standards for liquids (congius, half-congius and three congius), and two other groups suggesting the existence of another measure, around 5 litres (and a fraction). We dont know the name and the utility of such a measure, but some tests made on Roman assemblages, as a comparison, confirm the clustering tendencies around 5 litres (and multiples; for example Capidava, graph 9, groups marked for 4.28 l. and 5.6 l.; p. 208-209). The study for half preserved forms, including those not classified morphologically, was necessary to complete the data about capacities used in Gropșani vessels, finding absent measures on the entire-shape range. The study of half preserved shapes was helpful including for the most numerous lots, as Ciurel (compare graph 1, with entire-shapes capacities, and graph 2, with deduced capacities; this last concept is based on known upper capacity and on the solidarity between the members of the same morphological type, meaning that the ratio of the upper capacity on total capacity is considered to be a constant figure).
In pottery assemblages from Muntenia the specialization of the morphological groups in capacity classes of the same kind (solids, liquids or 5 litre measures) could not be revealed. Unless they seem to produce further ceramics with (some) control about capacity (including hand-made pottery), the inhabitants of Muntenia lost the adapted shapes for each activity (theoretically, a specific pot shape should have a specific function, like in the Roman culture). This is an aspect connected with the losing of cultural content (or barbarisation) and the simplification of the functional range of shapes. It cannot be excluded that the measure of the ceramics that cant be recognized just by looking the shape was marked directly on the pot, one way or another, using a light paint. Repeated tries to unlock the functional code (at the decoration level, or at the rim morphology level) havent produced any result (p. 211). It is obvious on the other hand that some social events (like distribution of supplies) required that at least some ceramics (especially large vessels) would correspond to some measurement.
The capacities classes frequency table (p. 212) shows the differences between the Slavic world and Ipotești-Cândești sites (the latter with a preference for small pots). The same table shows the differences between early and late sites; the first have a wider range of options, with a relatively balanced ratios between middle-large ceramics (6, 8 litres) and middle-small and small recipients (3.2 litres or less); the last lacks the large pots (excepting storage jars) and using only small pots instead. The result is that the site (level or phase) averages are decreasing. In a sociological view, we could say that the diminishing of the resources (see the dominance of the small pots) led to their concentration (see the storage jars) to allow the community to survive (p. 213).
The chapter is concluded with two tables (for hand-made pottery and wheel-made pottery) that bring together rim diameter averages and half (upper) capacities from Romanian Plain sites and some referential figures for other cultures (in Antiquity or Slavs). Some conclusions became obvious: the capacity averages for Ipotești-Cândești vessels are only two thirds of those in the Slavic world; for a change, the hand-made pottery assemblage from Capidava (sixth century) fits Romanian Plain settlements all along comparison terms (rim diameter, upper capacity, upper height ratio to general height); the two major technical types (wheel-made and hand-made) of Ipotești-Cândești pottery have similar proportions and dimensions, which suggests the cultural identity (it should not be forgotten that these are statistics showing global trends, missing the details). Due to the dimensions decreasing through the sixth century (as a general trend), these two tables gives some suggestions for the chronological sequence, beginning with Ipotești and Gropșani and ending with Șuvița Hotarului, Vadu Anei and Vadu Codrii (p. 214).
A serious debate about the capacity classes of the ceramic containers leads, sooner or later, to an evaluation of the social resources, demographical trends, supplies management. We have to deal than with storage pits (including those inside huts), and some special facilities, like chimney ovens (usable for drying cereals), subjects that ends with the same conclusion: the communal resources are severely diminishing in the second part of the sixth century.
The section on the pottery ends with the issue of the function of vessels (chapter 16). As a theoretical aim, the classification of the recipients as plate, dish or bowl and so on should be the result of some morphological definitions, inside well-designed limits. In practice, the objects are given names by archaeologists directly from intuition and personal background. The result is that the attempts to statistically compare site inventories using a report using these names produces only confusion. The numeric morphology is the single proper answer to get back the order and a real meaning of words. The ceramic vessels function cant be the beginning of the pottery study as usually happens but its end, because a functional judgment depends on all other data (fabrics, decoration, morphology, capacity; p. 218).
The functionality issue for the early middle ages is the most blurred of all. The more or less absence of classical shapes (pitcher, jug, bowl, etc) makes the recognition of functions difficult. A more detailed study is performed only for the Dulceanca settlements; the situation for all other settlements which seems very similar is globally analysed.
In the Chilia-Militari culture (second to third centuries in central Muntenia) the ratio of handless pots in pottery inventories is between 47% and 57%. Later, in the Cireșanu cultural horizon (northern Muntenia, end of fourth century and the beginning of the next) the figures rise to 67-71%. For the Ipotești-Cândești culture the ratio is usually between 70% and 90%. The simplification of the functionality range reflecting social crises and a growing poverty is thus an older historical process, but became most marked in the sixth century The handless pot ratio is only 70% in Gropșani B level (see table) and Dulceanca IV (the earliest in their areas), but grows to 76,5% for Dulceanca II and 82% in Gropșani level A (the one with the predominance of the wheel-made pottery!); the ratio is around 80% for Soldat Ghivan and Ciurel level B (the earliest of two), and, closer to the end of the sixth century, rises up to 87% in Ciurel level A and over 88% in Dulceanca I. For Vadu Codrii cultural horizon settlements, the handless pot seems to become the exclusive ceramic object! (p. 227).
The pans present a quite surprising evolution. The peak of the frequency
is just in the beginning, in the Gropșani settlements (level B, that would be
chronologically the first), where 22% of the ceramic inventory consist of pans
(a unique frequency, never seen in the Slavic world or elsewhere). In the rest
of the sites, the occurrence of the object is from 4 to 10%, with a decreasing
trend towards the final stage of the culture (1% for Dulceanca I). So far, not
a single clay pan has been found in an assemblage of the Vadu Codrii
cultural horizon. The scheme is not always respected however; there are
some relatively early settlements that have no pans (Ipotești, Copăceanca,
Târgșor). The frequency of the pans in the Slavic world is only incidental in
the sixth century, increasing in the seventh century. The origin of the pans is
not a simple issue, because there are early pans (beginning of the sixth
century or earlier) in both central
There is no entire amphora discovered in a sixth century settlement from the Romanian Plain. Fragments however have been found in secondary position, which means that supplies were hidden outside the settlements. The peak of these imports is recorded for an early stage (Dulceanca IV) and does not match the peak of the local pottery production (in the next generation, for Gropșani A and Dulceanca II; p. 228)
One can say very little about other functional forms (bowls, jugs, lids, even one lighter most of them made by hand!) except that they are incidentally present, but never absent from a micro-region. The absence of one or another from one specific location looks more due to random factors (for example in cases perhaps where not all sherds were picked up ). Their occasional occurrence suggests that the names that attribute a function to them are dubious, because the type of distribution makes it more likely that these objects had cultic (religious or magic) functions (p. 229).
A very characteristic element of the Ipotești-Cândești culture is the miniature pot (6 cm height or less). Always made by hand, the frequency of this vessel type on sites on the Romanian Plain is sensitive higher than in the Slavic settlements. These little recipients are inherited from the previous Chilia-Militari and Cherniakhov cultures. Regarding the history of the objects, at least some of them had symbolic functions (p. 229).
further Section V
back to the Summary index
the Romanian version general index
back to the National Museum Publications
back to the National Museum index
 The identity problem issue is the result of a frequently association with shapes came from other cultural horizons; each graph from that sub-section provided a table of characters for each entity, using 5 descriptors: specificity (S), exclusivity (E), Romanian Plain (A), Slavic area (B), and mixed-up (absent from the table). In the end, for each entity resulted a concatenated line, like SA; SA; SB; SA; SA; the example gave would be normal for a type known for Romanian Plain, but would be a identity problem for a Slavic type (see table; bold for identity problems).
 8,732 l.
 3,275 l.
 For the both tables, the first column is the name for a culture or site/level (in parentheses the ratio upper height/height as a cultural average), the second column is the rim diameter, the third column mean the number of pots measured for rim diameter, the fourth column is the upper capacity (from belly diameter to the neck diameter) and the last is the number of pots with known upper diameter.
 From up to down: amphora, jug, lid, bowl, cup, handless pot, handle pot, lighter, retort (small), pan, pitcher, provision jar.