‘Terra sigillata’ is a type of fine red Roman pottery with glossy surface slip, which was made in specific areas of the Roman Empire. Terra sigillata is most easily identifiable by its clear and shiny red paint, as well as by the relief decoration, which was modelled, embossed, or applied. In addition, some vessels are impressed with stamps or “seals”. The terra sigillata pottery style was common throughout the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 7th century, with the main bases of production in the African province (modern day Tunisia and Algeria) and the city of Aretium (modern day Arezzo). The interior reliefs were likely attached using liquid fired clay and moulded into the shapes. Alongside Roman mythology, other divine representations from other ancient religions were adorned onto redware pottery, with biblical stories becoming a prominent feature on this type of pottery. Bacchus was commonly portrayed in these kinds of vessels, given his association with wine and banquets.
According to Ancient Greek and Roman mythology, Dionysus (or Bacchus) was the god of grapes and wine. In connection with these attributes, Dionysus was also associated with release and with extremes of state: from the giver of sensual pleasures, to more chaotic and destructive passions. Part of Dionysus’ power and mystery derives from the fact that he was a relatively young god, and the final addition to the pantheon of the twelve Olympians.
Silenus was the rustic god of wine-making and drunkenness, and always depicted as an old man. He was the foster father, tutor, and companion of the god, Dionysus, who was entrusted to Silenus’ care by Hermes after his birth from the thigh of Zeus. Silenus rode in the train of Dionysus, seated on the back of a donkey, and it was believed that he could predict the future when intoxicated.
To discover more about the cult of Dionysus please visit our relevant blog post: Dionysus: Madness, Release, and Wine.