Category Archives: Moved Communities: Social Projection and Cultural Conformity in the Archaeology of the Roman Limes

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.


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.

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.

Early Roman Pottery in the Civitas Tungrorum: Towards an Integrated Analytical Approach – Barbara Borgers (Brussels), Marc De Bie (Brussels), Patrick Degrysed (Leuven) and Patrick S. Quinn (University College London)

The Early Roman period in Gallia Belgica is characterized by distinct changes in ceramic style. The civitas Tungrorum district, in Belgium is no exception. During the first centuries AD, stylistic diversification is accompanied by the introduction of new supra-regional pottery types thought to have played an important role in exchange, the negotiation of identity and the display of social status. However, little is known about the integration of these new types in local manufacturing traditions.

In addressing this question, an approach was adopted that integrates a more general characterization of pottery technology (macroscopic analysis) with the detailed examination of compositional variability (thin section petrography and ICP-OES analysis) within and between sites. The principal aims are to demonstrate the potential value to taking ceramic studies beyond regional typological studies, and to explore the place of pottery in Early Roman cultural tradition and examine the possible reasons for its adoption. In order to achieve these aims, six case-study sites from the civitas Tungrorum were selected from a variety of archaeological settings. As the results show, the detailed examination of ceramic technology offers a means to explore the movement of pottery and people within the civitas Tungrorum.

Diasporas in Roman Napoca – Carmen Ciongradi (Cluj-Napoca)

One particularity of the social make-up of Dacia is that, unlike other provinces in the area, it provides significant evidence for the establishment of larger groups of immigrants as a result of Roman conquest. These ethnic communities bring with them their own organisation and hierarchy, customs and material culture. Through types and decoration of monuments made by their own craftsmen, individuals of these groups communicate among other things, not just their ethnic, but also their religious and social identity.

A Hadrianic municipium which later becomes a colonia under Marcus Aurelius, Roman Napoca experiences generational developments in the social behaviour of its inhabitants in parallel with its political, demographic and economic development. By combining epigraphic and archaeological evidence, the paper will explore the nature and mechanisms behind the evolution in social behaviour and identity display of the inhabitants from the beginnings of the town, when diasporas of Norico-Pannonians and north Italians were living there alongside indigenous Dacians, to its second generation shift in emphasis from ethnic to wealth-related identity markers, while new ethnic presences from Asia Minor and possibly Moesia are making an appearance.

Geographical and Cultural Bonds in the Roman Auxilia – Alexander Meyer (Duke University, North Caroline)

This paper examines evidence for social ties based on geographical and cultural factors among soldiers of the Roman auxilia.  Specifically, it examines a small number of inscriptions in which the tribal or geographical origins of individuals can be identified.  This information is then used to illuminate the preservation and dissolution of social ties based on shared geographical or cultural origins and the means by which these bonds may be detected in the archaeological record.

The close examination of the epigraphic record suggests, for instance, that Spanish and Pannonian soldiers of the first century maintained bonds with soldiers sharing a similar cultural and/or geographical background. This leads to a discussion of possible interpretations of this material and theoretical frameworks that may be applied to it. Finally, this paper moves from the epigraphic record to an exploration of the potential for archaeology to identify similar geographically and culturally based communities in the material record.