6. Feminists at the gates

6. Feminists at the gates. Frontier research by female academics
Wednesday, 24 August 2022, Bleu Room

Session Chair: Anna Walas
Affiliation: University of Leicester, United Kingdom

Session Abstract: Traditionally Roman frontier archaeology acquired a reputation as field led by brilliant men. Research by women has broadly tended to focus on ‘softer’ topics such as analysis of finds assemblages, study of literary sources, approaches to leisure on the frontier, and more recently, the study of environmental material. Gendered differences in the choice of subjects studied often mirrored the division of roles during the excavation of archaeological sites. Conversely, the voices leading on tackling the ‘bigger picture’ questions, addressing issues of frontier systems, structural archaeology of frontier installations and tackling chronology and phasing of individual sites has mostly been accomplished by male scholars.

The Roman frontiers research community is also renown for its openness and collegial support. In the last two decades, there has been a marked increase in the quantity of research produced by female scholars, inviting the opportunity to reflect on this changes and its meaning for the discipline. What approaches are being represented by female scholars? Does gender play a part in the way female scholars approach the archaeological material? Does the increase in the representation of female scholars necessitate engagement with feminist approaches, or not?

The session invites female scholars to present on subjects relating to all themes in archaeology of Roman frontiers in order to review the breadth and scope of research led by women, while reflecting in the discussion on the role of gender in the production of knowledge about Rome’s frontiers.

I would be delighted to chair the session to provide both an opportunity for a celebration of achievements of female scholars and a glimpse into the future through reviewing current themes and interests represented by female Roman frontier archaeologists worldwide.

Time Presenter (s) Presentation


13.30 Introduction
13.50 Catherine Teitz Walls don’t stop women. An urban approach to frontier sites
14.10 Joanne Ball The visible invisibles: The epigraphic footprint of Roman women on the frontier in Britannia.
14.30 Anna Mech Woman and Roman religion in provinces. Case study: Dalmatia
15.20 Mirna Cvetko Female archaeologists and Roman military research in Croatia
15.40 Regine Fellmann Women in Vindonissa. A glimpse at pioneer female researchers around 1950
16.00 Kseniya Danilochkina Britannia Romana: ambiguous image of a province
16.20 Rebecca Jones Discussion
16.40 Rebecca Jones Discussion

Walls don’t stop women. An urban approach to frontier sites
Catherine Teitz, Stanford University

Roman frontier archaeology of the past century focused on the military – its architecture, its influence, and its men. In the last 30 years, research by female scholars on women, children, and other non-combatants transformed our understanding of the military community. While these groups are now well-attested, military frameworks still dominate our perception of the spaces they occupied and limit our understanding of their lived realities. Civil and extramural areas were thought to be divided from military ones until recently, and remain marginal spaces in excavation and analysis. I propose that frontier sites should be interpreted more broadly, encompassing places and people once overlooked. Urban studies, another male-dominated field, has grappled with both representation and knowledge production, and offers a model for Roman frontiers. Urbanism (at any scale) includes diversity in people and activities, structures that serve multiple functions over time, and relatively dense habitation. At frontier sites, transcending the civil-military typology through an urban approach shifts the perspective, revisiting the narrowly prescribed expectations for who is present and how a place is occupied. It consciously holds space for the larger community and challenges the traditional interpretations of structures without valorizing or minimizing any group’s influence. My research at Vindolanda and Corbridge demonstrates the benefits of an urban approach for frontier sites of different scales and relationships to the military. I reevaluate the archaeological evidence, analyzing site plans, structural changes, and artifact distribution, and I consider the long-term use and development of military-built structures and private strip-buildings at both sites. Despite the differences between a fort and a military town, an urban perspective, one deliberately inclusive of women and other non-combatants, reveals how the sites physically adapted to a wide variety of needs for its many inhabitants. The socio-spatial framework of urbanism offers a bridge for our perceived military-civil divide.

The Visible Invisibles: The Epigraphic Footprint of Roman Women on the Frontier in Britannia
Jo Ball, University of Liverpool

Inscriptions provide an important source of evidence for understanding life in Roman Britain, particularly in the military frontier zones where the epigraphic habit was particularly keenly practiced. However, this can prove detrimental when considering women within Britain, as here, as in many other provinces, women are a minority among the surviving inscriptions, with only an estimated 10% of inscriptions associated with a female subject – and some of these are only a name (Allason-Jones 2005). The lack of female authors within the epigraphic record from the British limes renders this large part of the Romano-British population functionally invisible – particularly in earlier, male-dominated studies of the province’s archaeology. Going forward, we must consider how best to work with the corpus of female-related inscriptions, to understand how they relate to the wider epigraphic tradition on both the British frontier, and the wider Empire. This paper explores the imbalance between male- and female-associated inscriptions in the British frontier zone, and contrasts the quantity and quality of the epigraphic record from the military areas with those from civilian communities. It considers what impact the lesser visibility of women in the epigraphy has had historically on the study of women in Roman Britain, and discusses how this can be mitigated to produce a more accurate impression of female lives in the province going forward. Allason-Jones, L. (2005). Women in Roman Britain. 2nd Edition. York (Council for British Archaeology).

Women and Roman Religion in provinces. Case study: Dalmatia
Anna Mech, University of Warsaw

Female religiosity in Roman provinces and frontiers is still an emergent field of study. Even if situation presented in anachronic and Rome-centric literary sources tells us almost nothing about female participation in religious life in provinces, epigraphic and archaeological evidence combined with the developing adoption of new interpretative tools and perspectives into ancient religious studies, provide us with a much more nuanced picture. This is especially true in the case of religious activities of women in the provinces, where epigraphic monuments are the best (sometimes even the only) source of evidence for female presence in public places and religious agency, and the methods of history of Roman religion as a research approach have important limitations. The aim of this paper is an attempt to analyse the female religiosity in Roman provinces using Dalmatia as a case study. Roman Dalmatia is the province with the highest proportion of finds related to the public cult activity of women among all the provinces of the Empire. This may be related to pre-Roman local customs and peculiarities of social organisation which gave women more religious agency than in other provinces. Thanks to the application of several academic frameworks and interpretative tools to this case study, it will be possible to better understand female identity and representation in a provincial setting, including the questions of how women participated in religion in the provinces, what was the social framework within which they operated or how they could be socially visible during their religious acts.

Female archaeologists and Roman military research in Croatia
Mirna Cvetko & Iva Kaić, University of Zagreb, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Archaeology

Archaeological excavations and study of Roman military sites in Croatia were scarce and mostly in the domain of male archaeologists. It was all to be changed in 1997, when prof. dr. Mirjana Sanader started her groundbreaking archaeological excavations of the Roman legionary fortress of Tilurium. The excellent results achieved during more than 20 years of excavations of Tilurium showed the great importance of the site, both for national and international archeology, primarily due to the fact that it was the first Roman military site in Croatia where systematic archaeological excavations were carried out. Prof. Sanader made an outstanding contribution to the research of the Roman military in Croatia not only through the Tilurium research, whose results were published in five monographs and numerous scientific papers, but also in her management of several scientific projects concerning the Roman military at the Delmataean and Danubian limes in Croatia.

Women in Vindonissa. A glimpse at pioneer female researchers around 1950
Christine Meyer-Freuler, Kantonsarchäologie Aargau/Switzerland & Regine Fellmann, Kantonsarchäologie Aargau Switzerland

In Switzerland female researchers entered only after World War II the field of Roman Frontier Studies. The most well known of them are Elisabeth Ettlinger, who established roman pottery research initially at Augusta Raurica and then at Vindonissa and Victorine von Gonzenbach, who was employed as the first female conservator in Vindonissa. Both worked together closely at the excavations at the famous “Schutthügel” and created their own method to understand the stratigraphy and to cope with the enormous amount of pottery. Due to their research and the extraordinary material (leather, writing tablets e.g.) coming from the layers, the “Schutthügel” gained the interest of the international scientific community. Due to some special objects Victorine von Gonzenbach early recognized the presence of women in the legionary camp of Vindonissa, a subject, which got more and more attention in the last decades through Valerie A. Maxfield, M. Roxan, L. Allason-Jones and Carol van Driel-Murray who introduced a session at the Limes Congress. The biography of the two researchers Elisabeth Ettlinger and Victorine von Gonzenbach are very different and reflect their relation to military topics. Beginning from their work in Vindonissa we try to give answers to several questions: Stood they in the shadow of male scholars, who were foremost excavating and publishing? Did they have any chance at their time to make a career? Could they choose their own topics and how relevant were these for the academic discourse? In an outlook we will provide a small sketch about the actual situation of women researchers at Vindonissa.

Britannia Romana: ambiguous image of a province
Kseniya Danilochkina, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), Moscow, Russia

Ancient authors from Caesar and Tacitus to Claudian show us the Province of Britannia adding characteristics that make its image dual. It was often created based on assumptions and prejudice that describe Britannia as a ferocious and barbarian land. At the same time Roman literary tradition and some other types of representation make us think of Britannia as of a woman’s personification due to grammatical gender of the word itself, but also because of images we can see on coins and epithets or metaphors with which _she_ was described. But this figure or image was not the same in the eyes of Rome during the whole period of Romano-British contacts’ existence. Instead, it was constantly changing because of different circumstances (like political situation, war/peace shifts, etc.), and they also changed perception of different parts of the island. And those “barbarian” land became “civilised”, because they were part of the Roman Empire. For example, Hadrian’s and Antonine’s Walls (being limites of the Empire) added some details to the image that made dualism more vivid by separating the island in two parts. Moreover, the ambiguity of Britannia at some point reflects the dual and more archaic way of representation of women. This paper is going to discuss how the image of Britannia as a land of opposites was reflected in ancient literature and what influenced the dualism, and also what it influenced on. And that may be seen not only in antique times but also influences our own perception of this cultural and historical phenomenon. And we still know Britannia as a helmeted female warrior that is the national personification of Britain.

Rebecca Jones, Historic Environment Scotland

Gender Archaeology and Feminist Theory is a significant research area in Archaeology, also now reflected in the EAA’s Archaeology and Gender in Europe (AGE) Community. My intention is to lead the discussion session following the papers on female scholars, research pioneers and women on Roman Frontiers.