28. Revisiting Roman imports

28. Revisiting Roman imports beyond the frontier. Investigating processes of movement

Session Chairs: Thomas Schierl, Fraser Hunter, Szilvia Bíró & Thomas Grane
Affiliation: Mühlhausen Museums, Germany
Affiliation of co-organiser: National Museum of Scotland, United Kingdom
Affiliation of co-organiser: Museum Savaria, Szombathely (HU)
Affiliation of co-organiser: National Museum of Denmark (DK)

Session Abstract: Finds of Roman objects outside the ancient Roman Empire attracted human attention even before the dawn of archaeological science, and their study has been an important research area even since. Initially, readily-identifiable Roman goods were understood as material evidence of events known from written sources, whereas today we reconstruct numerous – sometimes different, sometimes connected – mechanisms which caused often very heterogeneous distribution patterns of such objects. The causes and contexts of transmission of these items are still extensively discussed, and need to be researched in relation to place, time and context rather than assuming common processes.

On the 70th anniversary of Hans Jürgen Eggers’s pioneering book Der römische Import im freien Germanien, our session seeks to explore the mechanisms by which Roman objects and ideas moved beyond the frontier. How far was trade a factor, and how was it organised? How can we tell this from other potential processes, such as diplomatic efforts, payment of subsidies, loot, or personal gain from military service? Can we recognise different mechanisms in different times and places, or for different materials? Some regions show indications that Roman objects were valued as raw materials, suggesting an important role of foreign objects as economic resources. Beside the finds themselves, how (and how often) is it possible to confirm the transfer of ideas or techniques? And how did distance affect matters? How did relations across the frontier to the neighbouring zones differ from those with more distant areas?

For the session, papers are welcome which seek to explore the means by which Roman goods and concepts moved beyond the frontier, the ways this changed in time and space, and the implications it had.

Time Presenter (s) Presentation
09.00 Introduction
09.20 Hannes Buchmann Luxury or resources? Roman objects in Germanic settlements – on the example of Ostwestfalen-Lippe
09.40 Balázs Komoróczy Dealing with changes of qualitative and quantitative aspects of the imported Roman metal objects within the Marcomannic settlement zone in the era of metal detecting
10.00 Stanislav Sofka Spatio-temporal patterns and interpretation possibilities of Roman pottery in the barbarian context of the Middle Danube region
10.50 Karen Murad Asking ‘why’: exploring motivations behind the movement of Roman goods and concepts into Ireland
11.10 Marcus Ady Roxburgh The shadow in the North; the influence of Roman metal exports on eastern Baltic communities
11.30 Suzana Matešić Germani ite domum? Indications for transfer and Germanic reception of Roman military equipment
11.50 Anna Flückiger Hackbronze and Money. Two sides of the same coin on both sides of the Limes?
12.10 Discussion

Luxury or resources? Roman objects in Germanic settlements – on the example of Ostwestfalen-Lippe
Hannes Buchmann, MLU Halle-Wittenberg, Institut für Kunstgeschichte und Archäologien Europas, Seminar für Prähistorische Archäologie

Since the begin of research of Roman objects in the Germania magna the interpretations and theories were strongly influenced by grave finds. But in the last decades it has got obvious that those insights need to be adjusted by settlement finds. For the understanding of the Roman objects it is not only important to focus on the Roman-Germanic relationships, but also on the role of these artifacts within the Germanic communities. For my PhD research I analyzed big settlement excavations of the Roman Iron Age in the region Ostwestfalen-Lippe (Western Germany). This region is located ca. 100 km to the west of the river Rhein, but was still closely linked to Germania inferior due to the Hellweg route and the river Lippe which was very important during the Augustean occupation efforts. Ten settlement sites were analyzed, dating from Latène D to migration period, but mostly in the late Roman Iron Age. The first aim was to record all objects of Roman origin so that there is a solid base for further considerations. All in all approx. 750 finds could be described, measured and photographed. Of course, many of them are fragments and therefore sometimes a Roman origin can only be suspected, for example in the case of bronze scraps. The most finds were sherds (ceramics and glass), fragments of millstones, bronze fragments, and coins. But also parts of bronze vessels, attachments, a reins management ring, scales and much more were identified. Especially the number of Roman tools is remarkable – millstones, a drill, leather knifes and a gouge for example. In a second step the Roman finds are set into the context of the features they are from and the indigene finds from those features. This is necessary to understand the use and meaning of the Roman objects within the Germanic villages.

Dealing with changes of qualitative and quantitative aspects of the imported Roman metal objects within the Marcomannic settlement zone in the era of metal detecting
Balázs Komoróczy, Marek Vlach, Michaela Zelíková, Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Brno

During the last two decades, the use of metal detectors has become a widespread hobby activity of thousands of inhabitants within the Czech Republic. Besides many aspects of this issue intervening in various spheres of archaeology and heritage care, this development has a clear and so far scientifically unrecognized impact on the transformation of the picture that archaeology generates about the material content of various metallic stages of prehistorical development. This impact is extremely evident in the archaeology of the Roman period and is reflected in a significant change in quantitative and qualitative aspects of the spectrum of Roman imports. This shift can be quantified especially in the category of brooches and coins, and they can be best demonstrated in case of some selected residential components. The finds originating through metal detector surveys show previously unknown degree of representation of Roman imports in some stages of the scoped era. This data can thus contribute significantly to the knowledge of culturally conditioned changes in flow of imports of certain find categories and also to a more detailed differentiation of the hitherto very homogeneous image of residential components in the Middle-Danubian Marcomannic settlement zone. Equally important, however, are some find assemblages reflecting individual specifics and indicating non-standard ways of acquisition of metal objects, which occurred mainly as a consequence of the Roman military presence during the Marcomannic wars.

Spatio-temporal patterns and interpretation possibilities of Roman pottery in the barbarian context of the Middle Danube region
Stanislav Sofka, Marek Vlach, Institute of Archaelogy of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Brno

The objects of the Roman provenance occur in variable quantity and composition throughout the Germanic context of the Middle Danube region during the significant part of the Roman period. They constitute not only a proxy and indicator of contacts between the Barbaricum and the Roman Empire, but can also serve to identify relations within Germanic society. Therefore, its systematic registration, which is the subject of the ongoing project CRFB in the region of Moravia, significantly enriches the possibilities and potential of future research activities. Pottery, as most numerous category within the imported objects, provides a representative source of information for study of wide range of topics of Roman-Germanic relations and interactions during the Roman Period. Its analysis in spatial and temporal dimensions is being dealt with through the application of various geoformation and formal analysis (multivariate statistics, GIS spatial analyses etc.). On basis of material processing from this region the question of various type preferences and possible trajectories of its distribution throughout the spacious extent of the studied region of the Middle Danube are about to be addressed. The collection of Roman-provincial pottery from the region and its comparison with other types of imported goods, as well as with neighbouring regions, could mediate further insights into important questions about trade and distribution during the Roman Period.

Asking ‘why’: exploring motivations behind the movement of Roman goods and concepts into Ireland
Karen Murad, University College Dublin

The movement of Roman material and cultural concepts into Ireland has long been considered to have been brought about through the mechanisms of trade, Irish raiding, or Roman diplomacy. These interpretations help explain the importation of goods and concepts, but they do not explain why it took place in the first place. Complicating interpretation is Ireland’s close proximity to Roman Britain. One would expect to find more Roman material and more evidence for cultural influence throughout the Roman period given the nearness of the two islands; the paucity of it – particularly given the stronger presence of Roman material and influence in other, further frontier areas – raises questions about the mechanisms controlling the movement of Roman goods into Ireland. This paper is a report on a PhD dissertation in progress which is attempting to explain this very phenomenon. In this project, Roman material and cultural imports in Ireland are analyzed through the framework of elite emulation. In doing so, the products and legacies of Hiberno-Roman interactions are recast in an Irish context, and the movement of Roman material and cultural products is therefore able to be examined through Irish agentive action. This shifts the interpretation of Roman material in Ireland from the physical mechanisms of movement to the individual and social forces behind them. Centering Roman goods and concepts within Irish narratives of identity, status, and power can help explain why some aspects of Roman culture and material were imported while others weren’t, and perhaps even why there are such different expressions of Hiberno-Roman contact regionally across Ireland. This paper will present preliminary findings and identify areas of further research, as well as discuss the strengths and weaknesses of elite emulation as an explanatory framework for Roman material and concepts in Ireland.

The shadow in the North; the influence of Roman metal exports on eastern Baltic communities
Marcus Ady Roxburgh, University of Tartu

The rise of the Roman Empire brought about profound social changes to large parts of Europe, including a vast increase in the production and trade of artefacts and raw materials, greatly influencing the lives of the people living inside the Empire and its frontiers. But much less is known about the impact of long- distance contact with peoples living far outside these frontiers. The eastern Baltic is such a region, where certain aspects of this past event may still be studied. Roman influence is very apparent on the metal personal costume ornaments found here. How and why did these items enter the region, especially in terms of their adoption and ongoing adaptation by local societies? Were goods produced in the Roman provinces really reaching the northern Baltic? Or are they local copies? This important new research investigates whether these past societies were in much closer contact than previously thought, offering fresh perspectives on their place in a global history.

Germani ite domum? Indications for transfer and Germanic reception of Roman military equipment
Suzana Matešić, German Limes Commission

The finds from the Thorsberger Moor in the borough of Süderbrarup in the county of Schleswig-Flensburg, one of the Roman Iron Age weapon deposits in Scandinavia and northern Germany, comprise several thousands of finds, mostly dating to the first half of the 3rd century AD. The biggest portion was deposited within three sacrifices of military equipment but only the deposition dating around 220–240 AD contained Roman militaria. In contrast to other more or less contemporaneous find spots, the spectrum of artefacts from the Thorsberger Moor offers a wide range of Roman military equipment which indicates that a small group of Germans served in the Roman army. The analysis of the Roman militaria has yielded interesting results, e.g. concerning the origin of the weapon parts from specific provinces of the Roman Empire. A wider analysis has revealed regions, that can be described as contact zones between both sides. Furthermore, Roman military equipment had an influence on indigenous Germanic weapon production. In addition to the use of Roman militaria, the adoption of certain technologies as well as decorative motifs can be detected. Some Roman objects were reworked to suit the Germanic sense of style. A peculiarity is represented by a richly decorated scabbard slide into whose cavity of the bridge – as one of the first steps – a small lead sheet had been incorporated. This hidden sheet seems to be interpretable as a curse-tablet (defixio) in the Graeco-Roman tradition and shows a connection of the craftsman or customer with the Roman Empire and therefore the transfer of ideas. The finds from the Thorsberg Moor offer an insight into the material legacies of a group that was apparently an intermediary of Roman culture for the Scandinavian region during the Roman Imperial period.

Hackbronze and Money. Two sides of the same coin on both sides of the Limes?
Anna Flückiger, University of Basel

On either side of the Northwestern Limes, Late Roman archaeological sites repeatedly feature small, intentionally fragmented copper alloy artefacts, or pieces of ‘Hackbronze’. Beyond the frontier, their status as Roman ‘imports’ is often immediately deduced. Equally, their role as raw material for reuse and recycling remains largely uncontested.  Originating from the finds of Hacksilver hoards in several parts of Europe, particularly outside the Empire, a large field of research has for years been dealing with the values and meanings of the latter. Meanwhile, Hackbronze does not receive the same attention. It appears that because of their seemingly clear function as recycling material and – compared to Hacksilver – the dispersed find distribution (e. g. within settlement contexts), a wider discussion on the value, meaning and cross-frontier movement of these objects was never deemed necessary. Recent observations paint a different picture. Indeed, there are indications that Hackbronze not only functioned as raw material but also held bullion value and may have served as a replacement for currency. Specifically, the decline of monetary value in the 4th century and the halting of the arrival of new base metal coins north of the Alps by ca. 400 AD may have led to this shift in the value and usage of copper alloy artefacts. Starting from a case study in Kaiseraugst AG (located on the Rhine Limes in modern-day Switzerland), as well as a wider study on published material from inside and outside the Empire, this paper seeks to further explore this field and widen the notion of possible uses of Hackbronze especially for regions beyond the Limes. Particular attention goes to whether, how, and for what period we can trace such an exchange system into – and inside – Barbaricum.