Roman-British Cup

This Roman-British drinking cup was found in Sint Bernardusstraat in the city of Maastricht, Netherlands. It deptics a hunting scene in barbotine decoration involving a dog following what seems to be two deer. Due to the elite nature of hunting, dogs and scenes depicting dogs were popular symbols of wealth in Roman culture. Due to Maastricht’s Roman origins, innumerable remnants of that period have been found in almost all parts of the city (Maastricht Marketing, 2023). These kinds of cups were mainly used for formal events and festivities, ranging from dinner banquets among prosperous families to the Roman military’s festivities after conquering a new territory (Aarts, personal communication, March 13, 2023).

3D model of the Roman-British Drinking Cup

Even though the object was broken and then reconstructed, the cup is still in remarkably good condition. The material, a black-burnished ceramic also called Terra nigra, belongs to a pottery technique commonly used in Roman times.

This object belongs to the following theme:



Place of Origin
Sint Bernardusstraat, Maastricht,
The Netherlands

Time Period of Use (ca.)
293 BCE

Terra nigra

Dimensions (cm)
Length: 4, Width: 8, Height: 12

3D Model

Canon EOS 250D

Processing software
Agisoft Metashape Professional Edition

Lorena Stile & Julia Ezcurdia

Raising a Glass to History: The Story of a Roman-British Drinking Cup

The 3D model shows what the Roman cup looks like – but what does it feel like? To the touch, its surface is rough and you can feel the relief decoration with your fingers.

3D Model of the Roman Cup

If you close your eyes and focus on the bare touch, it is possible to notice the cracks where the object was broken and reconstructed. You can also see how the reconstruction of the cup also affected its colour, for there is a variation on the surface, i.e. reddish vs. more grey areas. By holding the cup in your hands, it is striking to notice its size. Its dimensions, ca. 12 cm high and 8 cm wide, feel quite big in comparison to current drinking cups. However, the weight is lighter than expected: while it may look like a heavy artefact, it is quite easy to lift up. If you look inside the cup, you will be able to see a different, more subtle motive of decoration and a reddish colour in some parts.

This Roman cup was found in an archeological excavation in the current street of Sint Bernardusstraat, near Maastricht’s Stadspark. While there is little information available for this specific cup, it is possible to discover the history that surrounds it by focusing on its material, its decoration motif and the time period in which it was created.


At first glance, the cup’s material might seem as made out of some metal due to its dark grey colour and the shiny reddish spots, which can be confused with the metal getting rusty. However, if you pay closer attention to the object, you will be able to see it is actually made out of ceramic, a highly characteristic material of Roman tableware. The material of the cup is made from a black burnished ceramic, also called terra nigra (Aarts, personal communication, March 13, 2023). The materiality of the ceramic included sand in a variety of dark-grey or black colour with abundant quartz and black iron (Tyers, 2014). While pottery used to be hand-built with a wheeled throne in the earlier stages of Roman history, mass production through the use of moulds became more and more popular around the 2nd century BCE (Historic England, 2018). After creating the cups, Romans would burn them in a bonfire or clamp kiln (Ídem). Moreover, the shiny spots of the cup are due to a burnishing process. You can see in this video how it is done.

Burnishing is a type of pottery treatment used in the Roman period, where the surface of the cup or its decorations is polished using a smooth tool such as a wooden-bone spatula or a polished stone. This process is done before the ceramic is completely dried, and after firing it, the burnished surface becomes shiny (Von Dassow, 2009).

The decoration, a hunting scene depicting a dog following what seems to be two deers, was made separately and later applied to the cup, by piping on the surface before firing it (Harrsch, 2020).

This kind of decoration is called barbotine decoration, a design technique for pottery styling.

Barbotine Decoration Technique (video source)

Sipping Through History

But where does this cup come from? Its distinctive features, such as the decoration motif, situate the cup within a broader hoard of fine Roman pottery. Similar hunting scenes and ornamentations were produced between 200 and 300 CE in the Nene Valley, a region in Roman Britain (currently East England) quite known for its specialised pottery workshops. A variety of tableware with similar themes would be manufactured in the area, and their more expensive items were characterised for having relief decoration – such as our cup’s barbotine motif (Potted History, 2023; The Met Museum, n.d.).

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Terracota Cup with Barbotine Decoration
Gallo-Roman hunting cup
“Caster Ware” Vase with Hunt Scene
Corbridge ‘Hunt Cup’
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This particular type of fine ware was considered quite ‘fashionable’, for it depicted scenes related to hunting and other activities representative of eliteness (DeSandes-Moyer, 2013). Therefore, these objects would often be reserved for more elegant and formal occasions (Roman Pottery, n.d.). Due to the speciality of the manufacturing process and the artefacts, these were highly demanded across the Empire. For instance, this type of pottery was largely used by the Roman military after the conquest of a new territory. Due to the exclusivity of the object, it would be carried with the military when exploring new territories to be used in the festivities celebrated once the territory was conquered, for it is how the Romans symbolised bringing a new way of life (Aarts, personal communication, March 13, 2023). Moreover, this Roman cup and similar fine ware would also be used as personal objects to be buried with, for many of these cups and similar fine ware were ‘predominant in the more privileged tombs’ (Dananai and Deru, 2018).

Roman Soldiers Drinking and Gambling – Werhner 1791
In vino veritas
“In wine there is truth” would be used in Ancient Rome to  suggest people are more likely to speak their hidden thoughts and desires under the influence of alcohol.

But how is fine ware different from coarse ware? One of the aspects to address is the intention for which they were created. While our cup – and similar fine items – were reserved for special and formal occasions, coarse ware was conceived to be used every day. For this reason, the objects were made intentionally thicker so they could resist daily cooking, storage and transportation (Banducci, 2014 p.1331). Furthermore, since the purpose of coarse ware items was their utility, they would often lack any kind of decorative appearance. One could say that is the most obvious difference between the two types of pottery: fine ware was acquired by prosperous families, and its use was reserved for special and formal occasions. Thus, as a symbol representative of status and wealth, it required a distinguished feature such as the decoration motif.

Selection of fine pottery found in Roman Britain
Selection of Roman coarse pottery
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Coarse ware, however, was not expected to be anything else than the utilitarian purpose for which it was created, which is identifiable in its plain-looking appearance. Moreover, everyday objects such as coarse pottery were deemed to be broken quite often due to their recurrent use and thus expected to be cheap – or not expensive like fine ware was. A further difference was the manufacturing and transportation process: while fine ware was highly demanded throughout the Empire, and thus transported across regions due to its exclusivity, coarse, everyday ware would be often locally made and bought (Ancient Roman pottery facts, 2021).


The Maastricht Collection’s Power & Politics theme depicts several objects that were representative of status and wealth in the era they were created. The Roman cup was a symbol of these in more than one way: first, this cup is considered fine ware and was primarily used for formal events. Second, this type of pottery was largely used by the Roman military after the conquest of a new territory, bringing a new economic and political system along. Finally, these cups and similar fine pottery would also be used as personal objects, for many were found in grave tombs. It is for all these reasons that this cup has earned its place as part of the Maastricht Collection.

Written by Lorena Stile & Julia Ezcurdia