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Villa Landscapes in the Roman North

Villa Landscapes in the Roman North: Economy, Culture and Lifestyles

Nico Roymans
Ton Derks
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  • Book Info
    Villa Landscapes in the Roman North
    Book Description:

    This edited volume presents a synthesis of recent research on villas and villa landscapes in the northern provinces of the Roman world. It offers an original, multi-dimensional perspective on the social, economic and cultural functioning of villas within the context of the Roman empire. Themes discussed include the economic basis of villa dominated landscapes, rural slavery, town-country dynamics, the role of monumental burials in villa landscapes, and self-representation and lifestyle of villa owners. This study offers a major contribution to the comparative research of villa landscapes and the phenomenon of regionality in Roman rural landscapes.Amsterdam Archaeological Studies is a series devoted to the study of past human societies from the prehistory up into modern times, primarily based on the study of archaeological remains. The series will include excavation reports of modern fieldwork; studies of categories of material culture; and synthesising studies with broader images of past societies, thereby contributing to the theoretical and methodological debates in archaeology.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1483-0
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

    (pp. IX-X)
    Nico Roymans and Ton Derks

    • Studying Roman villa landscapes in the 21st century. A multi-dimensional approach
      (pp. 1-44)
      Nico Roymans and Ton Derks

      The incorporation and integration into the Roman empire had a profound impact on the socio-political, economic and cultural order of the peoples in the Gallic and Germanic provinces. The key material example was without doubt the introduction of Roman-style towns and the associated urban culture. Just as important, however, and inextricably linked to this, was the profound transformation of the countryside, where at least 90% of the population lived. A key factor was the large-scale appearance of Roman villas from the second half of the 1st century AD onwards. Because of their attractive physical manifestation (multi-roomed houses with tiled roofs,...


    • Reflections on the Iron Age background to the emergence of villa landscapes in northern France
      (pp. 45-60)
      Colin Haselgrove

      Thanks to the pioneering research of Roger Agache,¹ the courtyard villas of Picardy have come to symbolise the Roman rural landscape in northern France. One of the consequences of this is that the “Picardy model” is often invoked as a yardstick against which to assess settlement developments in other areas of Roman Gaul.² There are several problems, however, with this approach. First, it rather assumes that the character of rural settlement would be similar from one region to another, although if anything the evidence is to the contrary.³ Second, it downplays the role and significance of other types of rural...

    • Exploring villa development in the northern provinces of the Roman empire
      (pp. 61-82)
      Diederick Habermehl

      Settling in a changing world, creating a new place for oneself in the rapidly evolving environment of the Roman provinces, and the impact this had on each and every dimension of the lives of local people – that is the core theme of this paper. In general terms, the development of the northernmost provinces of the Roman empire involved the creation of a new administrative structure that includedcivitatesand their capitals, many other urban and rural centres connected by a network of well-constructed roads, and a series of military camps concentrated along the Rhine in particular. These developments can be...

    • On the origin and development of axial villas with double courtyards in the Latin West
      (pp. 83-106)
      Nico Roymans and Diederick Habermehl

      One of the key material manifestations of the integration of the Gallic and Germanic provinces in the Roman empire was without doubt the introduction of Roman-style towns and – inextricably linked to this – the wide-spread appearance of Roman villas¹ on the countryside from the second half of the 1st century AD onwards. There is a long tradition of research into the origin, development and social interpretation of villas. Villas by no means represent a homogeneous category, and we are able to distinguish different types on the basis of their architecture and spatial layout.² When looking for the origins of this kind...


    • Town-country dynamics in Roman Gaul. The epigraphy of the ruling elite
      (pp. 107-138)
      Ton Derks

      In the western half of the Roman empire, the foundation of towns and the introduction of a system of civic self-administration constitute the most important changes of the Roman era, alongside the rise of villas.¹ The precise organisation of the new administration differed fromcivitastocivitasas in most cases it was partly built upon existing indigenous structures. However, as a result of a process of political integration, referred to in the recent literature as ‘municipalisation’,² the institutional organisation of the local communities developed along much the same lines and finally became fairly uniform across the Gallic and Germanic...

    • Ethnic recruitment, returning veterans and the diffusion of Roman culture among rural populations in the Rhineland frontier zone
      (pp. 139-160)
      Nico Roymans

      An old, yet still topical theme of discussion within Roman archaeology is the army’s role asKulturträgerand mediator in the diffusion of Roman cultural forms among indigenous groups in the frontier provinces. For the areas north of the Alps, most studies emphasise the critical role of the army in this dissemination.² In his recent book on Roman Britain, however, David Mattingly seeks to qualify the army’s importance in this regard. He stresses the ‘essentially self-serving use of material culture within the army, which to a large extent developed a separate version of Roman identity, distinguishing soldiers from civilians rather...

    • Indications for rural slavery in the northern provinces
      (pp. 161-178)
      Nico Roymans and Marenne Zandstra

      Written sources, in particular the handbooks of the agronomists Varro, Cato and Columella, show that slaves were systematically deployed on the large villa complexes of Italy. Historians long regarded them as the principal form of labour.¹ Unfortunately, we have almost no written sources that paint a picture of the situation in the countryside in the northern provinces.² Our question then is to what extent were slaves deployed there too to work the estates of villa owners? What archaeological evidence is there? Can slavery even be ‘captured’ in archaeological terms?

      Slavery is a much neglected topic within archaeology. The literature on...

    • The idea of the villa. Reassessing villa development in south-east Britain
      (pp. 179-194)
      Jeremy Taylor

      A look at the landscape of south-eastern Britain in the Roman period shows a widespread, if uneven, pattern of the stone founded, sometimes elaborately furnished buildings that archaeologists call villas (fig. 1). But what are we to make of these buildings and their significance to the landscapes of the western Roman provinces? Over the years much archaeological debate about villas has tended to centre on two rather different perspectives. In one, the villa is seen as primarily an economic institution; the core of an estate whose presence is an indication of a ‘Romanised’ agricultural landscape producing food and other materials...


    • The role of mortuary ritual in the construction of social boundaries by privileged social groups within villa landscapes
      (pp. 195-210)
      Laura Crowley

      This article concerns itself with the privileged burials of the villa landscapes between Cologne and Bavay, in a period spanning the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD. The term ‘privileged burials’ derives from francophone scholarship, where it is employed to describe a burial which fulfils one or more of three criteria: 1) it is indicated by a particularly prominent marker; 2) it is accompanied by ‘valuable’ grave goods;² or 3) it enjoys a special location in the landscape.³ Because of these characteristics, these burials have previously been referred to as elite burials, a label which is deliberately avoided here, for...

    • Monumental funerary structures of the 1st to the 3rd centuries associated with Roman villas in the area of the Treveri
      (pp. 211-234)
      Jean Krier and Peter Henrich

      The focus of research into the funerary monuments in the area of the Treveri has thus far consisted of the stylistic classification of reliefs, the analysis of scenes shown on the reliefs and the architectural construction.² This is mainly because the majority of funerary monuments have only survived as sculptured blocks reused as spoils.³ Until now it has been virtually impossible to make direct statements about the sepulchral context and location of funerary monuments in terms of topography and their relationship to villas, as relatively few monument foundations have come to light during archaeological excavations. They are also very difficult...


    • Roman rural settlements in Flanders. Perspectives on a ‘non-villa’ landscape in extrema Galliarum
      (pp. 235-258)
      Wim De Clercq

      For a long time, Belgian archaeology of the Roman period was dominated by intellectual discourses often rooted in colonial and ideological backgrounds, leaving little or no place for the agency of indigenous groups nor for the cultural diversity which developed under Rome’s global umbrella. The contact of these societies with Rome was primarily seen as a one-way trajectory in which superior Roman culture was adopted or not adopted by native groups. Differences as reflected in material culture were very much viewed as culturally relevant levels of ‘romanisation’.²

      This idea was particularly prevalent in research into rural landscapes, which up till...

    • Evaluating settlement patterns and settlement densities in the villa landscapes between Tongres and Cologne
      (pp. 259-274)
      Karen Jeneson

      This article focuses on the Roman settlement landscapes of the fertile loess soils between current-day Tongres (Belgium) and Cologne (Germany). The commonly presented view regarding these landscapes is that in the course of the later 1st century AD they became almost completely dominated by villa-type settlements, characterized by one or more stone-built structures.² In the rare instance that a different type of rural settlement is suggested, it is not quantified, which means that there are at present no estimations of the proportion of villas to other types of rural settlement for this region. With regard to settlement density, an average...

    • The villa landscape of the Middle Aare valley and its spatial and chronological development
      (pp. 275-284)
      Caty Schucany

      The landscape to be discussed - the Middle Aare valley on the south foot of the Jura range – comprises a stretch of land, roughly 60 km long, in the centre of the Swiss plateau (fig. 1).¹ In antiquity, this area was part of thecivitas Helvetiorum. The valley is positioned to the east of Lake Biel and between the Jura and the Napf hills, a prominent rise of the Alpine foothills. It is a landscape strongly moulded by glaciers, a river valley with a width of 20-25 km with the Aare meandering at a height of 420-430 m above sea...

    • Roman villa landscapes of the lignite mining areas in the hinterland of Cologne
      (pp. 285-300)
      Wolfgang Gaitzsch

      The Rheinische Bodendenkmalpflege (Rhineland Archaeological Heritage Service) has conducted a comprehensive investigation of numerous Roman rural settlements in three large opencast mining areas within the Jülich loess belt: the Hambach mine (HA), located 30 km west of Cologne, the Inden mine (WW) situated just to the south of the small Roman town of Juliacum (Jülich), and the Garzweiler mining area (FR) located on the Aachen-Neuss Roman road in the hinterland of the Rhine frontier (fig. 1). In terms of natural features, this is the core area of the Jülich loess belt in the southern part of the Lower Rhine basin....


    • The Roman villa complex of Reinheim, Germany
      (pp. 301-316)
      Florian Sărăţeanu-Müller

      The large villa complex of Reinheim is situated on the German side of the German-French border between the villages known today as Reinheim (Saarland), in Germany, and Bliesbruck (Moselle), in France. In ancient geographical terms, the villa is situated about 75 km to the east of thecaput civitatisof the Mediomatrici (Metz), and just a few hundred yards to the north of the small town (vicus) of Bliesbruck (fig. 1). The most prominent feature of the countryside around the villa is the small stream named the Blies, which runs through rolling hills rising no higher than 400 m above...

    • The Roman villa at Borg. Excavation and reconstruction
      (pp. 317-330)
      Bettina Birkenhagen

      The Archaeological Park of the Roman villa at Borg is situated in a wooded area between the modern villages of Borg and Oberleuken in the German Bundesland Saarland, close to the point where the present-day borders of Germany, France and Luxembourg meet (fig. 1).¹ The villa stands on the fertile limestone soils (Muschelkalk) of the Saar-Mosel-Gau between the rivers Moselle and Saar. This site was directly adjacent to the important Roman road between thecivitascapitals of Augusta Treverorum/Trier and Divodurum Metromatricorum/Metz. Constructed in the Augustan period, this road was part of the long-distance link between Cologne and Lyon.² A...