Potsherd: Atlas of Roman Pottery

Lyon ware

Cups and beakers in a fine pale colour-coated ware with darker colour-coated, decorated with barbotine or rough cast, produced at Lyon (Rhône/FR) and widely distributed across Gaul, the Rhineland and Britain during the 1st century AD.

Fabric and technology

A fine buff-white fabric with a distinctive greenish-tinge (5Y 8/2-9/2) which is usually hard with a fairly clean fracture, although this may have degraded in unfavourable soil conditions. The typical slip is a dark greenish-brown (2.5YR 4/4-4/2) with a lustrous sheen, but may vary from red-brown to almost black. Wheel-thrown.

The commonest decorative technique is a roughcast of quartz sand, which may cover the entire surface of the vessels. A rich variety of rusticated, applied, stamped, rouletted and barbotine motifs are also employed, often in combination with roughcast sand.


Cups are the commonest type, but beakers occur in smaller numbers and there are other rare forms such as flagons. Some of the rarer cup types imitate the style of contemporary Spanish (SPAN) or Italian colour-coated wares.

Greene’s type-series of Lyon ware covers the principal variations:

Type Decoration
1 roughcast
2 rusticated
3 rounded imbricated scales
4 applied scales
20 roughcast
21 folded and roughcast
22 rusticated
23 imbricated scales
25 barbotine hairpins
26 rouletted
40 roughcast

Table 1.  Classification of Lyon ware forms (after Greene)


Production of roughcast cups probably commences in the Tiberian period, but the wide distribution of the ware can be dated to c. AD 40-70. Greene suggests that production terminates in AD 69 (Greene 1979). In Britain, Lyon ware is largely confined to pre-Flavian sites, but occurs in small quantities on Flavian foundations, such as York, Caerleon, Chester and Newstead.


Lyon, at the La Butte site.


The continental distribution is principally east and north of Lyon, towards the Rhineland and Rhaetia. There are a few vessels from western France, but the fabric is not common south of Lyon.


Carlisle fabric 324. Chelmsford fabric 5. Colchester fabric EB. Gloucester fabric TF12H. JRPS bibliography fabric lyc. Leicester fabric C14. Kent fine fabric 11. Sidbury fabric 26. Silchester fabric E26.


The fundamental study of the ware is by Greene (1979). The evidence from Lyon itself has been described by Grataloup (Grataloup 1988), who also gives valuable descriptions of the Augustan-Tiberian precursors of Lyon ware – not found in Britain. The final reports on all the Lyon kiln sites are anxiously awaited.


Grataloup 1988. Grataloup, C., Les céramiques à parois fines, Rue des Farges à Lyon, British archaeological reports. International series, 457, Oxford, (1988).

Greene 1979. Greene, K. T., The pre-Flavian fine wares, Report on the excavations at Usk, 1965-1976, 1, University of Wales Press [for] the Board of Celtic Studies of the University of Wales,, Cardiff:, (1979).

Distribution of Lyon ware in Britain
Roman Pottery in Britain (Tyers 1996)
  • Fabric code: LYON (p.148)
Thumbnail images (click for higher resolution):
National Roman Fabric Reference Collection
(Dore & Tomber 1998, Museum of London Archaeology Service Monograph 2)
  • Fabric code: LYO CC (Lyon Colour-coated ware, p.59).
Thumbnail images
Worcestershire ceramics online database
(Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service)
  • Fabric no. 26 (Lyons ware)
Thumbnail images (click for higher resolution):
La céramique romaine en Gaule du Nord
(Brulet, Vilvorder and Delage 2010)
Images and text not available on-line. See also the listings of International Fabrics Reference Collection for Roman Ceramics at Louvain (text in French).
Museum of London ceramics catalogue
(Museum of London) Catalogue includes some images, but may include vessels of other types.
Lyon ware
URL: http://potsherd.net/atlas/Ware/LYON • © Text 1996, 2014: Layout 2012, 2014. Some images may be linked to other web sites.