The Roman and the Indigenous: social projection and cultural conformity in the Roman Empire – Ioana Oltean (Exeter)

All available evidence to date suggests that the provinces along the boundaries of the Roman Empire developed a distinct social environment, where spatial and social mobility triggered an apparently puzzling variety of reactions affecting individuals and communities. Nevertheless, the social environment along the limes developed more shared features and patterns of social interaction and of cultural change than it had with areas closer to the core of the empire. This introductory paper intends to review the nature of the archaeological and epigraphic evidence from limes provinces on the Lower Danube and to assess its relative value for providing reliable support to  the  identification of migrant and indigenous identities and to  the  interpretation of  the  dynamics of social psychology within a Roman provincial context.


Sulpicia Lepdina and Elizabeth Custer: A Cross-Cultural Analogy for Military Wives in a Frontier Context – Elizabeth M. Greene, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

In the last twenty years an important trend in archaeological research has sought to investigate the Roman army as social groups of individuals rather than simply a tool of imperial control (e.g. James 2002, 42-4). This approach has centered largely on examination of the military as a community, both the identity of individuals and of the collective whole (James 1999; Haynes 1999), and the realization that this group comprised significant numbers of non-combatants such as women and children is one of the more important results towards a paradigm shift (Driel-Murray 1998; Allison 2008). The community supporting the army should be understood as a distinct social group whose complex identity was derived first from the military (Sommer 1988, 627-37), as well as from other axes of identity such as ethnicity and gender.

But what more can we say of this population or of the individuals—particularly non-combatants—living in the Roman military context? We are still able to offer very little about the social role of these individuals, their lived reality, or anything of their daily life. However, the robust body of archaeological, documentary, and literary evidence available that informs the lives of non-combatants attached to the Roman army is enviable and can be used successfully in analogical parallels to other military and frontier conditions. This paper uses the letters of military wives on the frontier in the American west, particularly those of Elizabeth Custer, in conjunction with the Vindolanda tablets, military diplomas and inscriptions, to hypothesize by ethnographic analogy the social reality of military wives and families on the Roman frontiers.

Allison, P.M. 2008. “The women and children inside 1st- and 2nd- century forts: comparing the archaeological evidence,” in Brandl, U. (ed.) ‘Frauen und Römisches Militär’ (Oxford: BAR)
Driel-Murray, C. van. 1998. “Women in Forts?” Jahresbericht – Gesellschaft Pro Vindonissa (1997), 55-61.
Haynes, I. 1999. “Military service and cultural identity in the auxilia,” in A. Goldsworthy and I. Haynes (eds.), The Roman Army as a Community (Portsmouth/RI) 167-74.
James, S.T. 2002. “Writing the Legions: The Development and Future of Roman Military Studies in Britain,” Archaeol.J. 159, 1-58.
James, S.T. 1999. “The Community of Soldiers: a major identity and centre of power in the Roman empire,” in C. Forcey and R. Witcher eds., TRAC 1998 (Oxford: Oxbow) 14-25.
Sommer, S. 1988. “Kastell vicus und Kastell,” Fundbericht aus Baden-Württemberg 13, 457-707.

Batavians on the Move: Emigrants, Immigrants and Returnees – C. van Driel Murray, Amsterdam Archaeological Centre, University of Amsterdam

Quite apart from the actual troop movements during times of conflict, military society was always highly mobile, and the officer class, especially, multi-ethnic. Officers changed posts every few years, accompanied by their complete households, and, contrary to general belief, for certain units, ethnic recruitment remained the norm till well into the 3rd century. Soldiers’ dependents formed part of this mobility. ‘Diaspora’ is perhaps a misleading term, since movement was not necessarily one way, nor was it involuntary or irreversible. Evidence of movement, the choices available to recruits and the effects on civil society both at home and the place of service will be explored, focusing amongst others, on the well-researched example of the Batavian ethnic units.

R. G. Collingwood and the scientific study of Hadrian’ Wall: Richard Hingley, Durham University

This paper considers Collingwood’s claim (1921, 52) that research on Hadrian’s Wall since the 1890s had emerged from a ‘tentative’, ‘amateurish’ and ‘pre-scientific’ study of the subject into a ‘science’. It addresses the nature of Collingwood’s scientific study of the Wall and its origins in the earlier works of John Horsley and Francis Haverfield, focusing upon a genealogical perspective. It argues that, rather than constituting a break with past scholarship on the Wall, Haverfield and Collingwood built on methods of study that originated during the later sixteenth century. The main contribution that was made by Collingwood and Haverfield was, effectively, to narrow-down research to a primary focus of attention on the chronology, sequence and function of the Wall. David Breeze (2003) has suggested that the attitude to certainty that pervades this research has damaged the subject and this paper re-evaluates this argument, drawing upon Collingwood’s contribution. It is suggested that the science of Wall studies distanced the Wall from its own living history, serving to reduce its broader social, political and cultural significance in the wider community (Hingley 2010; Witcher et al 2010).

Breeze, D. J. (2003). ‘John Collingwood Bruce and the Study of Hadrian’s Wall.’ Britannia 34: 1-18.

Collingwood, R. G. (1921). ‘Hadrian’s Wall: A History of the Problem.’ Journal of Roman Studies 11: 37-66.

Hingley, R. (2010). ‘“The Most Ancient Boundary between England and Scotland”: genealogies of the Roman Walls.’ Classical Reception Journal 2: 24-43.

Witcher, R., D. P. Tolia-Kelly and R. Hingley (2010). ‘Archaeologies of Landscape: Excavating the Materalities of Hadrian’s Wall.’ Journal of Material Culture 15(1): 105-128.

Session Abstract – Moved Communities: Social Projection and Cultural Conformity in the Archaeology of the Roman Limes

Last year a RAC session Roman Diasporas – Archaeological Approaches to Mobility and Diversity in the Roman Empire looked at identification of individual migrants and diasporas in archaeological contexts, largely from the perspective offered by Roman Britain and Italy.

Our session will expand the discussion by looking for evidence for communities of migrants outside these well-known examples, in other Roman provinces on the fringes of the Roman Empire. It will debate the extent to which the ethnic or cultural markers, or the processes and dynamics experienced as an effect of cultural interaction by the groups and individuals of the Diaspora can be identified archaeologically, and the relative value of theoretical frameworks (such as identity stress; cultural conformism or resistance; ethnoscapes, etc) to furthering our understanding of Roman society. Particularly welcome are papers that examine comparatively the interpretations from two or more types of evidence (e.g. combining pottery analysis or small finds and historical data – in memory of late Vivian Swan) or explore a wide range of methods which can be used to look for migrants or even diaspora communities: epigraphical or linguistic, historical or archaeological.

Overall this session attempts to highlight once more the significance of the study of communities of migrants in the Roman Empire and to break down existing division in the studies of migrants in the Roman Empire between epigraphical and archaeological research. The goal is to allow for a more open session which as a result, we believe, would give a more balanced and geographically wider view.

Session Abstract – Towards an Anthropological Archaeology of Roman Colonialism

This session aims to encourage engagement with anthropological studies of colonialism that have shown great effectiveness in conceptualizing the long-term dynamics of cultural contact at the local level. Roman studies have tended to neglect anthropologies of colonialism, which have a long and productive history of engaging with social theory and other critical approaches to such things as the constitution of colonial landscapes, the recontextualization of ‘foreign’ material culture, and the effects of hybridization processes on local identities, practices and ideologies.      

Social processes unfolded, and were experienced, differentially within and among communities, across regions and over time, as certain social spheres reacted to local transitions and as historical actors experimented with diverse strategies in negotiating new realities shaped by colonialism. Uncovering the specific historicity of past communities in transition will help our understanding of discrepant experience and the movement of people, goods and ideas through local and inter-regional networks in the Roman Empire. The goal of using anthropologically informed local approaches to Roman colonialism is not to replace the ‘Romanization’ meta-narrative with that of a plurality of ‘Roman colonialisms’ but to allow the exploration of the possibilities of human action under colonial conditions by focusing on the contexts of local interactions, the materials by which such interaction was made possible, and by relating these to macro-scale processes and developments.

Anthropologies of colonialism can furthermore serve as a valuable source of comparative information to inform our work. Reversely, with one of the largest archaeological and historical datasets at their disposal, roman archaeologists can make valuable contributions to anthropological studies of colonial encounters commonly concerned with the more recent past of European colonialism. Lastly, an ‘anthropology of archaeology’ could explore how Roman colonialism has and continues to shape archaeological perceptions, practices and interpretations in other colonial contexts.

Session Abstract – Oh, the Humanity! Improving the Model Army, in Theory

Roman military archaeology needs humanizing – it needs theory.

Arguably, it is the creative and critical use of theoretical paradigms that have brought the most humanity to Prehistoric and Early Medieval archaeology. Yet, Roman archaeology, particularly its military archaeology, rests behind the ramparts of excellent excavation reports and robust historical frameworks.

Contemporary post-colonial studies of the Roman empire have presented the Roman army as a violent, if multi-cultural instrument of an aggressive state, spreading empire with the point of a sword. This stance avoids the complexities of politically, economically, and socially managing a geographically widespread military diaspora – soldiers were more than mere killing machines or ethnic auxiliaries removed from their homelands.

There are vast quantities of data from across the empire, and more than two generations of sociological and psychological analysis of modern militaries. Roman military archaeologists can potentially lead the field in the application, development and testing of theoretical paradigms and models. But generals are needed!

This session seeks papers that provide a new outlook or insight on Roman military archaeology through the use of theory, at both the grand scale and the small keyhole evaluation.

Session Abstract – The Devil is in the Detail- Practicalities of Trade and Consumption

Trade, commerce, and consumption have, for many years, provided popular subjects for discussion in Roman studies and continued to push the boundaries of our knowledge and understanding of the Roman Empire. Approaches typically focus on questions concerning how material groups were supplied to consumers and how patterns of trade and commerce can be identified based primarily on ceramic evidence, such as from ship wrecks or site deposits. While these patterns can be approached using macro-analysis of find groups as a whole, investigations into the micro-details of traded goods provide much potential for understanding the organisation and processes of commerce and consumption.


Tituli picti and stamps on find groups, such as amphorae, provide one of the best examples for understanding the implications of micro-details in Empire-wide trade.  Pottery stamps on fine and coarse ware can also be used to understand the organisation of workshops and the scale of supply, while additionally offering new perspectives of the implications of consumer choice.

This session will therefore explore micro-details within a variety of form groups that have been the subject of short and long distance trade. The material will be analysed within a wider context of commerce and practicalities of supply, such as private trade, merchant organisations, or the annona. Further emphasis will be placed on the detailed analysis of distribution networks and the possibilities of personal consumer preference. Some aspects that have often been overlooked are trade goods and vessels that rarely survive in the archaeological record (i.e. wooden items, animal skins) but which undoubtedly played a crucial role in long and short distance trade.
Based on the analysis of these micro- details, and a consideration of how various material groups were originally used, this session will offer new theoretical perspectives on commercial exploits throughout the Roman Empire based on what we know about the organisation of local markets and individual trade.

Session Abstract – Identity Studies Theory and the Methodological Challenges

Humans produce and use artefacts not only for physical tasks but to mediate social, economic and political relationships and to create, express, and maintain social, economic and political identities. For this purpose artefacts possess what appears to an endless variability over space and time leading to choices between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, which is how we differentiate ourselves and others. Until the middle of the 20th century, archaeologists focused on the stylistic variabilities as a means of discriminating chronologically between artefacts and their contexts, whereas modern archaeology recognises a much wider range of artefact variability. For instance technological artefact studies tease out the practices followed by producers in detail and use these to map the world of the producer. Whether or not we apply formal typologies, ethnoarchaeological or experimental archaeological analogies, artefact variability continue to be the two main archaeological tools for classifying material culture. Classification lies at the core of human conceptualisation of the world around us by identifying, grouping, and naming different kinds of objects and phenomena. The scholarly change in focus from cultural history to processes of social and cognitive history has developed our sensitivity to a growing range of artefact variability. Under the influence of theory borrowed from sociology and anthropology this process has developed as a continued breaking down of analytical units, for instance in acculturation studies where we have moved from cultures to ethnicities to identities. The monoliths of Greek and Roman culture have become fragmented though the concept of ideas of subcultures, regional cultures and identities, which arguably formed the constituent parts of a heterogeneous yet comparatively unified way of life. Identities are flexible and dynamic social constructs emerging within the context of an individual’s multiple overlapping social relationships and locations and the challenge to archaeology continues to be the definition of criteria of material culture to mediate this analytical unit.

Session Abstract – R. G. Collingwood- An Early Theoretical Archaeologist?

R. G. Collingwood (1889-1943) had two intertwined careers as a philosopher and an archaeologist. Interest in Collingwood as a philosopher has grown steadily, and there have been many studies of his work and life, including a recently published biography. They are generally sympathetic to his philosophy, but responses to Collingwood’s achievements as an archaeologist have been mixed. His works of synthesis are sometimes regarded as too fixed in their views, giving no space to alternative narratives, and some of his archaeological reports have been thought to force the evidence to fit his preconceptions. Yet many of Collingwood’s ideas remain important, particularly his attempts to define the limits of historical thought and the place of archaeology within it. He never distilled his thoughts in a summary directed at archaeologists, though parts of his Autobiography (1939) went some way towards this, and some of his most important philosophical books were assembled by others after his early death from lecture notes and incomplete drafts. Although his philosophical writings are models of clarity, their presentation is far from straightforward, and subsequent analyses of his work are essential to understanding the development of his thought. His archaeological work is much easier to appreciate, being published in his life time, even if occasionally in obscure journals such as The Vasculum. It deserves the same close attention from archaeologists as from those studying his philosophy of history. Over the last forty years some philosophers have come to recognise that study of his archaeological work is essential to understanding his wider thought. Although Collingwood’s main historical interest was in Roman Britain, his fieldwork was confined to northern England, and the meeting of TRAC in the region which engaged so much of his attention is an opportunity to consider whether he could be described as an early theoretical archaeologist and whether his ideas are still important.