21. Funeral at the frontier

21. Funeral at the frontier

Session Chairs: Arjan Ruiter & Lourens van der Feijst
Affiliation: ADC ArcheoProjecten, the Netherlands
Affiliation of co-organiser: ADC ArcheoProjecten, the Netherlands

Session Abstract: A small number of large and well published sites have dominated our idea of what a typical Roman burial is within specific regions. Recent research however, has increasingly shown variation in burial practices and the cemeteries itself. For example, excavations in the Netherlands have made apparent differences in burial practices between, relatively small, stretches of the limes zone. In particular cases this may be visible on the civitas or tribal level. The session aims to promote a comparison on the supra-regional level along the frontier of the empire. This is necessary in order to establish the uniqueness of, or similarities between, certain practices and burial goods. In addition it is to be expected that the significant influx of soldiers and people from the Mediterranean into the limes zone had an impact on the aforementioned aspects.

Regional variation is, not exclusively, expressed through; treatment of the deceased body, material culture in the form of burial goods, the organisation and layout of cemeteries in both rural and urban environments and the visibility through above ground structures, such as tumuli, tombstones, steles and funerary gardens. It raises a number of questions, i.e.: Which regional variations have come to light in other countries along the limes? Do such differences derive from context, i.e. rural, urban or military, or rather from the availability of goods and raw materials? Which aspects of burial practices along the border are anchored in pre Roman burial traditions and developed regionally and which are influenced by outside, Mediterranean, ideas about the afterlife?

The session welcomes contributions on the following subjects: Roman and local believes in the afterlife, burial rites, material culture in the form of burial goods, types cremation burials and tomb forms, funerary monuments, funerary gardens, military cemeteries and civilian cemeteries.

Time Presenter (s) Presentation


13.30 Introduction
13.50 Henry Bishop Wright Across the Southern Frontier: Roman objects in Meroitic graves at Faras, Sudanese Nubia
14.10 Kaja Stemberger Flegar Overview of burial customs in Roman period Slovenia
14.30 Bebina Milovanovic Burial in lead sarcophagi on the Roman limes – examples of Viminacium


15.20 Joep Hendriks The rural burial landscape in the hinterland of Roman Nijmegen
15.40 Frederique Reigersman van Lidth de Jeugde Buried with the dead
16.00 Neeke Hammers The significance of bulbous oat grass (Arrhenatherum elatius ssp. bulbosum) finds in cremation graves along the Dutch Limes
16.20 Lisa Huber Life and Death at the Danube Limes. The Cemeteries of Lauriacum/Enns
16.40 Adjournment

Across the Southern Frontier: Roman objects in Meroitic graves at Faras, Sudanese Nubia
Henry Bishop-Wright, Independent Academic

When Octavian entered Alexandria in 30 BCE, Egypt was in uproar. The final decades of the Ptolemaic administration were characterised by dynastic infighting, rising debt, and the increasing involvement of Rome. Consequently, the first task of Rome’s newly-installed prefect was to restore order and consolidate the southern frontier at Aswan. Beyond this frontier was the independent Kingdom of Meroë (c.300 BCE – 350 CE) which promptly entered conflict with Egypt. The ensuing Romano-Meroitic War concluded with a peace treaty in 21 BCE and the inauguration of a “frontier zone” between Aswan and the Second Cataract (Lower Nubia). Meroë remained independent and, for the next three centuries, maintained a relatively amicable relationship with Egypt. During this period, Lower Nubia functioned as a conduit for material, political, religious, and social interaction between the two powers. This paper examines the use of Roman objects in funerary assemblages from a major Meroitic cemetery situated within Lower Nubia, just 150 km south of the Roman frontier. The cemetery – Faras – was excavated in the early 20th century but was never fully published. Its 2220 graves were reassessed by the author in a PhD thesis (2018-21) that utilised unpublished excavation records housed in the Oxford Griffith Institute. Faras’ proximity to the Roman frontier granted it access to wide-ranging material networks, hence early Roman pottery, metalware, and glassware were common grave goods. This paper discusses how such imports were only utilised in assemblages if they could be redeployed in local ritual or aligned with pre-existing custom. Despite three centuries of sustained contact with Roman Egypt, there is no evidence that this conservative funerary tradition was significantly altered. Faras, therefore, presents a curious case of cultural resilience on the edge of the Roman Empire and its inhabitants were certainly not acculturated by a “predatory Roman regime”.

Overview of burial customs in Roman period Slovenia
Kaja Stemberger Flegar, PJP d. o. o.

In this paper I aim to present the variety of Roman funerary practices across Slovenia from the Roman occupation at the end of 1st century BC until the end of 4th century AD. Mortuary archaeology is not studied as a separate discipline in Slovenia. To provide the necessary context, I will first address the conception of Roman funerary practices in Slovenian archaeology, and the associated terminology and typology. In the first part of the presentation I will discuss the variety of burials in the 1st and 2nd century AD. These predominantly come from urban cemeteries. This period is rich in grave furnishings as well as in terms burial styles. While several aspects are universal – oil lamps, cremation, and simpler burial manners – clear distinctions are observable between the regions into which most of the territory of modern Slovenia was divided in Roman times: Regio X, Lower Illyricum (later Pannonia), and Noricum. The differences between the regions can at least in part be explained by trade and local traditions. In terms of the latter, several cases from modern day Dolenjska, which was a part of Pannonia heavily influenced by the pre-Roman Taurisci and Latobici, are examined more closely. The second part will focus on the period after the shift from cremation to inhumation. The 3rd century offers little reliable material to be discussed, but Late Roman burials from the 4th century AD will be addressed. In the latter period, the burial manner becomes much less variable and the grave goods less numerous. More variety, however, is found in urban settlements, with some of the female graves being exceptionally rich. Last but not least, this paper will attempt to provide a blueprint for the first general overview of Roman funerary archaeology in Slovenia.

Burial in lead sarcophagi on the Roman limes – examples of Viminacium
Bebina Milovanović, Snežana Golubović, Ilija Mikić, Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade, Serbia

Viminacium was the capital city of the province of Upper Moesia and was located on the northern border of the Roman Empire. Thanks to its geographical position it was exposed to centuries-old intertwining of western and eastern influences, which are best reflected through burial forms and grave inventory. During the first two centuries of the new era, the burials of cremated deceased in specific pits of more or less rectangular shape, fired walls that eventually get the second level, and rarely the third. At the same time, skeletal burial of the deceased is performed, most often in ordinary pits or in wooden coffins. Significant changes have been happening since the second half of the 3rd century, when cremation disappeared from the area of Viminacium necropolises and was replaced by inhumation. Burial in lead sarcophagi was present in Viminacium from the 2nd to the middle of the 4th century. In lead sarcophagi, the deceased were mostly skeletally buried. This form of burial is represented in larger urban centers in which, as we have previously stated, ethnically diverse population is represented, but also in smaller places and mines from which lead was exploited, i.e. in which there were raw materials. During archaeological excavations at the necropolises of Viminacium, lead sarcophagi have been found in recent years that have not been analyzed and interpreted from an archaeological and anthropological point of view so far. In nine of the mentioned sarcophagi, the skeletal remains of the deceased have been completely or at least partially preserved. Therefore, a special review in the paper is the anthropological analysis of the skeletal remains of the deceased who were buried in this way.

The rural burial landscape in the hinterland of Roman Nijmegen
Joep Hendriks, Municipality of Nijmegen

Across the river Waal, to the north of the Roman urban and military complexes of Nijmegen, lies the flat and dynamic riverine area of the village of Lent and the Waalsprong. Back in the days, it was part of the greater ‘island of the Batavians’, directly under the smoke of Ulpia Noviomagus and at c. 15 km northbound of the Limes as the crow flies. For a long time, little was known in detail about this countryside, but during the past 20 years several indigenous Roman settlements and cemeteries have been excavated and partly published. Post-ex analysis is now making progress and it is finally possible to tell more about this densely populated landscape. In an area of more than 13 square kilometres at least six rural settlements have been discovered and five cemeteries (consisting of c. 200 burials), dating to the Early and/or Middle Roman period. Since most of the cemeteries can be directly linked to a nearby settlement, it is possible to analyse the chronological development of these cemeteries in close relation to the habitation rhythm of the local population. Detailed information about the grave constructions, furnishing and physical anthropological data make it interesting to present an overview of these cemeteries, focussing on their differences and similarities, with particular attention for some extraordinary burials and the social aspects of their constitution. The analysis of the burial landscape of Nijmegen-North takes place against the background of questions about it’s relation with the surrounding Batavian countryside, the Limes zone in the north and the complexes of Roman Nijmegen in the south. For instance, to what extent do the Waalsprong cemeteries differ from other well studied rural cemeteries and areas in the Batavian civitas (e.g. Tiel, Wijk bij Duurstede, Wijchen)? And is it possible to trace back the direct influence of living and dying so close to the Roman town of Ulpia Noviomagus?

Buried with the dead
Frederique Reigersman-van Lidth de Jeude, ADC ArcheoProjecten

In the Dutch eastern river area, just south of the Roman Limes, many large and small settlements and cemeteries are known and are still to be discovered. Up till now at least eleven cemeteries in the area between the rivers Rhine and Waal and three cemeteries along the river Maas dating from Roman times have been investigated by ADC-ArcheoProjecten. The gifts that accompanied the dead in their graves will be the subject of this presentation. Most gifts are ceramics, and the focus will therefore be on the pottery found in the graves. Other kinds of gifts like metal, glass or bone objects will be given less attention, since they occur in far less graves than pottery. The investigations have shown a development over the years from the 1st to the late 3rd and even 4th century AD. This development involves in the first place the change in fabric and forms as well as the quantity of pottery and other gifts buried in the graves. Apart from these general developments the gifts in the cemeteries show differences in wealth and standing. Moreover, differences concerning the local rituals can sometimes also be noted. The investigations also include the choice made by the family and other relatives for certain objects related to gender and age. Although this is perhaps the most difficult to distinguish it certainly is one of the most interesting and appealing questions in order to understand the Roman society and ritual in the course of time. With the analysis and comparison of the burial goods in the above-mentioned cemeteries we can propose answers to these questions.

The significance of bulbous oat grass (Arrhenatherum elatius ssp. bulbosum) finds in cremation graves along the Dutch Limes
Neeke Hammers, Cornelie Moolhuizen, ADC ArcheoProjecten

Archaeological finds of bulbous oat grass (Arrhenatherum elatius ssp. bulbosum) have on occasion been associated with grave sites and possible ritual use. The root bulbs are found throughout Northwestern Europe from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages, at grave sites as well as settlements and arable fields, with regular occurrences in Denmark and southern Sweden, the UK and parts of France. While the majority of bulbous oat grass finds in Northwestern Europe date to the Neolithic and Bronze age, the few finds in the Netherlands have all been found at Roman sites along the Limes, in association with cremation graves. This paper will discuss the use of botanical remains as grave goods and (food) offerings in the Roman Age in the Netherlands and surrounding countries, with a special focus on bulbous oat grass. Furthermore, will we discuss the implications of these finds for the interpretation of cremation rituals along the Dutch part of the Limes.

Life and Death at the Danube Limes. The Cemeteries of Lauriacum/Enns
Lisa Huber, University of Salzburg, Maria Marschler, Andrea Stadlmayr, Natural History Museum Vienna, Stefan Traxler, OÖ Landes-Kultur GmbH

Lauriacum/Enns was the base of the legio II Italica from the late 2nd century into Late Antiquity and the most important military location in the province of Noricum. Several larger and smaller burial sites with a total of approx. 1,500 documented individuals constitute outstanding sources of life and death at the Danube Limes from the 1st to the 5th century. In the course of the Heritage Science Austria-project Life and Death at the Danube Limes. The Cemeteries of Lauriacum/Enns (Heritage_2020-046_LDDL) the Kristein-Ost and Am Lagergraben cemeteries will be anthropologically-archaeologically examined and evaluated together with the already processed cemeteries at Steinpaß, Ziegelfeld and Espelmayrfeld. Due to the permanent exchange between the main disciplines of archeaology and anthropology, as well as the cooperation with other scientists dedicated to parasitology, DNA studies, stable isotope analyses, as well as archaeozoology and archaeobotany, data and information on Noric cemeteries are being gained at a depth and quality not previously available.