Decline and fall? Social and cultural dynamics in the Low Countries in the Late Roman Empire (AD 270-450)

The project aims to present a new overview of the social and cultural transformation of the Low Countries in the Late Roman Empire. Late Roman written sources mention invasions of Germanic groups and lament the cultural decline and loss of territorial control by Rome. This negative picture became known to the wider public through Gibbon’s Decline and fall of the Roman empire (1776). In the 19th/20th centuries, this view was also adopted by archaeologists, who tried to ‘prove’ Germanic invasions by mapping artifacts seen as typical of Germanic groups.

Nowadays, scholars have realized that the relationship between ethnic/cultural identity and material culture is ambiguous and complex. Germanic immigrations did occur, but rather than assuming a simple clash between Romans and Germans, we will focus on transformational processes such as social integration, hybridization of (material) culture, and the ethnogenesis of new groups.

Since the early 1990s, settlements have been excavated that are indicative of immigrated groups of Germanic origin. Around these buildings native pottery of the Rhine-Weser Germanic style is found, as well as provincial-Roman material culture. This new excavation evidence, in addition to the evidence produced by a systematic inventory of Late Roman gold coins (Figure 1 and 2) and other metal finds, enables us to remodel the social dynamics and cultural transformations.

Rather than the simple narrative of ‘decline and fall’, our research focuses on new formations and transformations of society in the Late Roman frontier zone of the Low Countries. This takes the discussion beyond the dichotomies of Roman-Germanic and military-civilian, and allows us to clarify processes that transformed the use and significance of material culture. The result may have been a more hybrid cultural package used by descendants of both immigrant and indigenous provincial-Roman groups.

The Late Roman gold hoard excavated in 2014 at Echt by the VU project team.
Figure 1. The Late Roman gold hoard excavated in 2014 at Echt by the VU project team.
Distribution of Late Roman gold coins in the Lower Rhine frontier zone (364-455)
Figure 2. Distribution of Late Roman gold coins in the Lower Rhine frontier zone (364-455). The total Roman gold influx in this area can be estimated at several thousand kg. (red dot: single solidus; square: gold hoard)











Project details


Funding

NWO, programme Dutch-Flemish cooperation (2012-2016)
Budget: EUR 224,982

Project leader
Prof. Dr. Nico Roymans (VU Amsterdam/CLUE+)

Researchers
Dr. Stijn Heeren, post-doctoral researcher (VU Amsterdam/CLUE+)
V. van Thienen, PhD-student (Ghent University)

Supervisors
Prof. Dr. Nico Roymans
Prof. Dr. W. De Clercq (Ghent University)

Contact
Prof. Dr. Nico Roymans
E-mail: n.g.a.m.roymans@vu.nl

Dr. Stijn Heeren
E-mail: s.heeren@vu.nl

Publications

 

Publications 2016

  • Roymans, N., S. Heeren & W. De Clercq (eds), 2017: Social dynamics in the Northwest Frontiers of the Late Roman empire. Beyond decline or transformation, Amsterdam (Amsterdam Archaeological Studies 26).
  • Roymans, N. & S. Heeren, 2017: Introduction. New perspectives on the Late Roman Northwest, in N. Roymans, S. Heeren & W. De Clercq (eds), Social dynamics in the Northwest Frontiers of the Late Roman empire. Beyond decline or transformation, Amsterdam (Amsterdam Archaeological Studies 26), 1-9.
  • Roymans, N., 2017: Gold, Germanic foederati and the end of imperial power in the Late Roman North, in N. Roymans, S. Heeren & W. De Clercq (eds), Social dynamics in the Northwest Frontiers of the Late Roman empire. Beyond decline or transformation, Amsterdam (Amsterdam Archaeological Studies 26), 57-80.  
  • Heeren, S., 2017: From Germania Inferior to Germania Secunda and beyond. A case study of migration, transformation and decline, in N. Roymans, S. Heeren & W. De Clercq (eds), Social dynamics in the Northwest Frontiers of the Late Roman empire. Beyond decline or transformation, Amsterdam (Amsterdam Archaeological Studies 26), 149-178.
  • Heeren, S., 2016: Over ontvolkingen en Germaanse Romeinen. Zuid-Nederland van de derde tot de vijfde eeuw, Archeobrief 20-3, 2-10.
  • Verhagen, J.G.M. & S. Heeren, 2016: Castra Herculis: de naam van de Romeinse militaire versterking in Nijmegen herontdekt, Westerheem 65-5, 239-249.     


Publications 2015

  • Heeren, S. (2015). The depopulation of the Lower Rhine region in the 3rd century. An archaeological perspective. In N.G.A.M. Roymans, A.M.J. Derks & H.A. Hiddink (Eds.), The Roman Villa of Hoogeloon and the Archaeology of the Periphery (pp. 269-292). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Kluiving, S.J., Roymans, N.G.A.M. & Bekkema, M. (in press).  Mass migration through soil exhaustion: Transformation of habitation patterns in the southern Netherlands (1000 BC-500 AD). Catena.
  • Roymans, N./M. Fernández-Götz, 2015: Caesar in Gaul. New perspectives on the archaeology of mass violence, in T. Brindle/M. Allen/E. Durham/A. Smith (eds), TRAC 2014. Proceedings of the Twenty Fourth Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Oxford, 70-80.

Publications 2014

  • Heeren, S. (2014). Brooches and burials: variability in expressions of identity in cemeteries of the Batavian civitas. Journal of Roman Archaeology, 27, 443-455.
  • Heeren, S. (2014). The material culture of small rural settlements in the Batavian area: a case study on discrepant experience, creolisation, Romanisation or globalisation? In H. Platts, J. Pearce, C. Barron, J. Lundock & J. Yoo (Eds.), TRAC 2013. Proceedings of the Twenty-Third Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Kings College London (pp. 159-173). Oxford: Oxbow Books.
  • Heeren, S. (2014). Archeologisch onderzoek op de vindplaats van gouden munten en hakzilver uit de 5de eeuw bij Pey, gemeente Echt-Susteren (Zuidnederlandse Archeologische Rapporten, 57). Amsterdam: CLUE Vrije Universiteit.
  • Heeren, S. & Feijst, L.M.B. van der (2014). De fibulae van de Late IJzertijd tot de Ottoonse tijd. In Odyssee op het Kops Plateau 2, Aardewerk en fibulae uit Nijmegen-Oost (Archeologische Berichten Nijmegen, 47) (pp. 81-120). Nijmegen: Bureau Archeologie Monumenten gemeente Nijmegen.
  • Heeren, S. (2014). De vindplaats Maren-Kessel/Lith: van heiligdom naar legerkamp. Centrale plaatsen langs de Maas van de late ijzertijd tot in de laat-Romeinse periode. In R Jansen (Ed.), De archeologische schatkamer Maaskant. Bewoning van het Noordoost-Brabantse rivierengebied tussen 3000 v. en 1500 n. Chr (pp. 253-268). Leiden: Sidestone Press.
  • Heeren, S., Roymans, J. & Roymans, N.G.A.M. (2014). De laat-Romeinse goudschat van Echt en het einde van het Romeinse gezag in Nederland. Archeobrief, 18(3), 2-7.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M., Huisman, H., Laan, J. van der & Os, B. van (2014). La Tène glass armrings in Europe. Interregional connectivity and local identity construction. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt, 44(2), 215-228.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. (2014). Material culture and multiple identities. The case of La Tène glass armrings in the Lower Rhine region,   Hamburg. In J. Brandt/B. Rauchfuss (Ed.), Das Jastorf-Konzept und die vorrömische Eisenzeit im nördlichen Mitteleuropa, Tagung Bad Bevensen 2011 (pp. 193-203). Hamburg.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. (2014). Material culture and multiple identities. The case of Latène glass arm rings in the Lower Rhine region. In J. Brandt & B. Rauchfuss (Eds.), Das Jastorf-Konzept und die vorrömische Eisenzeit im nördlichen Mitteleuropa (pp. 57-67). Hamburg: Archäologisches Museum Hamburg.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. (2014). The Batavians between Germania and Rome: The emergence of a soldiering people. In M.A. Jankovic, V.D. Mihajlovic & S. Babic (Eds.), The edges of the Roman world (pp. 232-251). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. (2014). Imperialism, mass violence and integration. Re-assessing the Caesarian conquest of Northern Gaul.

Publications 2013

  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. & Verniers, L. (2010). Glass La Tène bracelets in the Lower Rhine region. Typology, chronology and social interpretation. Germania, 88(1/2), 195-219.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. (2013). Over Keltische goudschatten en de ontdekking van het oppidum van de Aduatuci 21. Lunula. Archaeologia protohistorica, 21, 167-168.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. & Hiddink, H.A. (2013). Aan de vooravond van de Romeinse verovering. De latere IJzertijd. In Limburg. Een geschiedenis I. Van prehistorie tot Vroege Middeleeuwen (pp. 61-72).
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. (2013). Imperialism, genocide and integration. Re-assessing the Caesarian conquest of Northern Gaul.

Publications 2012

  • Heeren, S. (2012). Twee laat-Romeinse militaire gordelsets. In E. Blom, L.M.B. Van der Feijst & H.A.P. Veldman (Eds.), Plangebied Keizershoeve I. Archeologisch onderzoek op 'De Grote Aalst' te Ewijk (ADC Rapport, 2000) (pp. 275-281). Amersfoort: ADC Archeoprojecten.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. & Scheers, S. (2012). A coin hoard with an animal-headed gold bracelet from the vicinity of Philippeville. In N. Roymans, G. Creemers & S. Scheers (Eds.), Late Iron Age gold hoards from the Low Countries and the Caesarian conquest of Northern Gaul (pp. 109-115). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. & Scheers, S. (2012). Eight gold hoards from the Low Countries. A synthesis. In N. Roymans, G. Creemers & S. Scheers (Eds.), Late Iron Age gold hoards in the Low Countries and the Caesarian Conquest of Northern Gaul (pp. 1-46). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M. & Dijkman, W. (2012). The gold and silver hoard of Maastricht-Amby. In N. Roymans, G. Creemers & S. Scheers (Eds.), Late Iron Age gold hoards from the Low Countries and the Caesarian conquest of Northern Gaul (pp. 171-213). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Roymans, N.G.A.M., Creemers, G. & Scheers, S. (Eds.). (2012). Late Iron Age gold hoards from the Low Countries and the Caesarian conquest of Northern Gaul (Amsterdam Archaeological Studies, 18). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Scheers, S., Creemers, G. & Roymans, N.G.A.M. (2012). Three gold hoards from Thuin. In N. Roymans, G. Creemers & S Scheers (Eds.), Late Iron Age gold hoards from the Low Countries and the Caesarian conquest of Northern Gaul (pp. 71-108). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University.