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THE MEDIEVAL CERAMICS OF THE CASTLES AND CITY OF TRAKAI

Justina POŠKIENĖ

 

The article examines the Medieval (from the fourteenth to the first half of the sixteenth century) Trakai castle and city household ceramics complex, which consists of over 17 000 pieces of ceramics from the fourteenth to the first half of the sixteenth century. By studying the ceramics it is sought to reconstruct the Medieval pottery of Trakai and to use the data obtained to interpret the development of the trades and the genesis of the castles and city.

During the Middle Ages locally produced and imported household ceramics were used at the castles and city of Trakai. Three kinds of household ceramics were produced at Trakai: traditional, black, and ‘town’ ware. During the fourteenth century only traditional ceramics were used (with the exception of imported green-glazed white-clay pitchers) at the Senieji Trakai castle site and the old settlement. From the fifteenth century until the first half of the sixteenth century traditional ceramics comprised over half of all the vessels used. Black ceramics in the cultural layers of Naujieji Trakai and Senieji Trakai (the Benedictine monastery) from the fifteenth century until the first half of the sixteenth century comprised from a quarter to half of all the household ceramics. In the first half of the sixteenth century, Town’ ceramics comprised on average 2-20% of all the finds in the cultural layers, significantly increasing later (comprising up to 33% at individual locations).

During the fourteenth century, the principle traditional ceramics vessel used at Senieji Trakai castle and the old settlement was the pot, which performed all the household ceramics functions. Black ceramics at the same time provided an assortment of tableware and vessels for preparing food. This testifies that at Naujieji Trakai both a supply and a demand for more diverse household ceramics appeared in a brief interval. Black ceramic table and food preparation vessels were mostly used in the homes of wealthy town and castle residents. An effort was made to acquire good quality attractive tableware while kitchen ware during the entire period under discussion remained almost unchanged. At the beginning of the sixteenth century 'town' ceramics began to be produced and used in Trakai, showing that vessels of poorer quality and a more modest assortment satisfied the needs of the consumers. The artisans who produced the ‘town’ ceramics offered a broader assortment of wares than the traditional ceramics artisans but nothing comparable to the production of black ceramics. The small quality of imported ceramics shows that household ceramics were not an intensively traded or exchanged object in the Middle Ages.

The formation of a professional potters’ trade in Trakai should be connected with the local production of black ceramics, which could have begun even at the end of the fourteenth century and was well established during the fifteenth century. The production of black ceramics in Trakai was probably not begun by local artisans (from Trakai) but by artisans who had come from elsewhere. Those local potters who produced traditional ceramics organised its professional production only at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The technology for black ceramics production is close to that for traditional ceramics but the standard vessel forms, decoration, and abundance of finds testify about their being produced for wide sale.

According to data from investigations of the household ceramics complex, the appearance of both the old settlement of Senieji Trakai and the city of Naujieji Trakai was determined by the needs of the castles, which were one of the primary residences of the Medieval Lithuanian dukes. The settlement of Senieji Trakai should be called a castle economy, the traditional ceramic production of which satisfied the needs of the local elite. Naujieji Trakai was created from the start as a city, some of its inhabitants moving there from Senieji Trakai and some from elsewhere. The high quality black ceramics found in Naujieji Trakai from the end of the fourteenth century testifies to this. The ‘town’ ceramics that appeared in the Trakai market from the beginning of the sixteenth century testify to a regression of the pottery trade, which should be connected with the loss of the significance of the Trakai Castle residence and the general stagnation of the city.