Transnational perspectives on the legacy of ancient pasts in contemporary Europe

Posted on September 20, 2019


Some light viewing for your weekend… A session we filmed at EAA:

This session aims to bring together researchers involved in interdisciplinary studies examining the contemporary heritages of Iron Age, Roman and Early Medieval pasts in Europe. It will present and discuss the regional variability of the methodological approaches that have been adopted and the results achieved so far. In inviting contributions, we embrace a broad understanding of heritage as the ‘uses, values and associations’ carried by the historic environment for different stakeholders (Smith and Waterton, 2012:1). This is a meaning of heritage that transcends ‘authorised heritage discourses’ and acknowledges the stakes of a wide range of individuals and groups (Smith and Waterton,
2012:2). Questions that we would like to ask are: how are different materials and ideas relating to Iron Age, Roman and Early Medieval pasts lived, enacted, and interpreted across European territories? What regional commonalities or specificities can be identified in the ways in which heritage values are shaped, and emerge from different contexts of production and consumption? What is the contemporary legacy of historical structures which cut across the roughly 1,000 years between 700BC and AD800? How have these contributed to place-making and identity trans(formation)s that are visible today? What has been the impact of formal archaeological practices and the role of archaeologists in these processes?

Author: Bonacchi, Chiara (United Kingdom) – University College London
Co-Author(s): Hingley, Richard (United Kingdom) – Durham University, Department of ArchaeologyBabic, Staša
() – Filozofski fakultet Beograd, ArheologijaPopa, Catalin (Netherlands) – Leiden University
Keywords: Iron Age, Roman, Medieval, Heritage

Insistent dualities and images of Rome in Britain and western Europe

Author: Prof. Hingley, Richard – Dept. of Archaeology, University of Durham (Presenting author)
Keywords: dualities, genealogy, nationalism

This paper will address the idea of ‘insistent dualities’, an approach first outlined by Mary Beard and John Henderson (1999). It will focus particularly upon the duality of the conception of civilization and barbarity derived from the writings of classical authors on the north-western peripheries of Europe (Gonzalez-Ruibal 2010). Although Roman archaeologists have been critiquing this conception since the 1980s, it remains prevalent in popular media in the UK (Hingley 2015). This paper will also address an issue at the heart of the current ‘Ancient Identities’ project (see—the opportunities provided by and limitations of such dualistic conceptions of the Roman past. The aim of this project is to explore the currency of ideas of Iron Age and Roman heritages for a wide variety of stakeholders in contemporary Britain; this paper constitutes an introduction to our aims and frameworks.

Beard, M. and J. Henderson 1999: ‘Rule(d) Britannia: Displaying Roman Britain in the Museum’, in N. Merriman (ed.) Making Early History in Museums. Leicester, Leicester University Press, 44-73.
Gonzalez-Ruibal, A. 2010: ‘Colonialism and European Archaeology’, in J. Lydon and U. Rizvi (eds.) Handbook of Postcolonial Archaeology. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, 39–50.
Hingley, R. 2015: ‘Working with Descendant Communities in the Study of Roman Britain: Fragments of an Ethnographic Project Design’, in C.N. Cipolla and K.H. Hayes (eds.)
Rethinking Colonialism: Comparative Archaeological Approaches. Gainesville, Fl, University Press of Florida, 161–89.

The legacies of two empires: Rome, Britain and Brexit

Author: Dr Gardner, Andrew – UCL Institute of Archaeology (Presenting author)
Keywords: Identity, Imperialism, Brexit

The momentous events of 2016 cast debates about heritage and identity in new light, as the relationships between national and international communities come under intense scrutiny, while the knowledge claims of academics and professionals are increasingly disregarded. Shaping a critical scholarly response to these events is a challenging but crucial task that must incorporate insights from the now considerable body of investigation into the historical politicisation of heritage. In this paper, I will investigate the connections between some of the identity politics surrounding the UK’s referendum on EU membership and the nature of imperial and post-colonial identities, taking the British and Roman empires as relevant contexts for recent developments. I will argue that the Roman imperial presence in Britain began processes of identity formation which, when layered and transformed with subsequent episodes in the crafting of ‘Britishness’, have left a legacy of concepts which are still evoked today in the debates about the UK’s relationship with Europe, and about its own internal dynamics as a composite nation. I will also argue that there are parallels between the transformation of Roman identity through imperial processes and similar changes to British identity over time, the latter having important consequences for some of the motivations behind the vote to leave the EU.

Empires, ‘barbarism’ and political activism: rehashing the past from the Iron Age to Brexit

Author: Dr Bonacchi, Chiara – University College London (Presenting author)
Keywords: Digital Heritage, Frontiers

This paper considers the ways in which the past, from the Iron Age to the Medieval period, is called upon in relation to contemporary discourse on mobility and frontiers. It will focus especially on articulating how the two European myths of origins as defined by Kristian Kristiansen (1996) are upheld to support the ‘pro-leave’ and/or ‘pro-remain’ camps in discussions about ‘Brexit’. The first myth stresses how such origins are to be found in the valour and freedom of ‘barbarism’, as opposed to the “despotism of the classical empires”. The second myth of origin, instead, highlights the civilising power of the Romans, which is considered to have been obscured by the ‘barbarian’ forces that some feel to have caused the end of the Western Roman Empire. Both of these two myths revolve around the centrality of the Roman Empire, an idea on which the European Union has drawn in its formative phase. The importance and uses of a second idea, that of the Holy Roman Empire, however, will also be discussed. Based on analysis undertaken using social media ‘big data’, the paper will show how ideas about the past are re-hashed, by whom and based on what political believes and ideological positions. In doing so, I will also introduce the methodological approach of the the AHRC-funded project ‘Ancient Identities Today’, of which this research is part. I will especially highlight the theoretical, ethical and technical implications of using large datasets in digital heritage research and how these can be combined with the analysis of ‘smaller data’.


Early encounters: first impressions of Iron Age and Roman people in modern Britain.

Author: DR Sharpe, Kate – Durham University (Presenting author)
Keywords: Roman, Iron-Age, Ethnography

The Ancient Identities project will explore ways in which people in modern Britain respond to, identify with, and exploit their early heritage. In doing so we will seek to understand the many and varied contexts in which public views are shaped, and the ways in which they are influenced by contemporary media, academic communications, and heritage policies. As adult participants in the world, we each draw on our own individual experiences, circumstances and ideologies when we engage with our heritage. But what about those who have yet to develop a sophisticated understanding of their personal place in society, and who are encountering the past for the first time? What messages are we
presenting to pre-school and primary age children, either directly or unintentionally, and how are these received, interpreted and built upon? This paper will present preliminary findings from ethnographic studies probing the ways in which young children first meet the ancient people of Britain and how those early encounters may impact their longer term views of these cultures.

The perception and legacy of abandoned buildings in the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire

Author: Mhr. Dodd, James – VU Amsterdam (Presenting author)
Keywords: Abandonment, Perception, Legacy

The North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire were littered with a broad array of abandoned or reused stone buildings during the immediate post-Roman period. The history of many of these buildings is difficult to discern, and the experience of abandonment has been somewhat neglected in favour of reconstructing the occupation transformations of these structures. Work has traditionally concentrated on the transformation and reoccupation without a significant break of occupation, in what is usually deemed ‘squatter’ occupation. This has demonstrated that reuse and changing circumstances are evident at a wide array of rural (Heeren 2015, Van Ossel 1992, Dodd unpublished), military (Wilmott 1997, Collins 2015) and religious (Henrich 2010, Rahtz 1957) sites. Despite this, little work has been done on the abandonment and sporadic re-use of these buildings, their legacy within the landscape and their meaning to the new early medieval elites of Western Europe. This paper will tie these together by analysing the historical and archaeological perspectives of Roman structures in the early medieval world, as well as advancing a more theoretical model for the abandonment of these building, demonstrating that each building had a unique post-occupation history, and most importantly, that the phenomenon of ‘stone robbing’ need not be as disparaging as suggested.



Searching for the Roman in the European reception of ancient Egypt

Author: Langer, Christian – Freie Universität Berlin (Presenting author)
Keywords: Egypt, Europe, Rome

Egyptology has been mainly a European-dominated academic field since its inception at the turn of the nineteenth century CE. As an effect, European audiences have widely received ancient Egypt and its rich cultural heritage, Egyptomania being only one facet. In this context, different aspects of ancient Egyptian heritage may not have received an equal amount of attention. The public sphere may perceive Egypt as a rather monolithic civilisation, mainly to be associated with pharaonic glories. That poses the question to what extent the Roman domination of Egypt is a factor in the reception of ancient Egypt. So far, studies have usually dealt with ancient Egyptian history in general, which resulted in an emphasised visibility of pharaonic Egypt in European Egyptomania and the wider reception. This contribution seeks to investigate specifically the input of Roman Egypt into European imaginations of ancient Egypt. An interesting question is whether there are different reception traditions – e.g. if there are distinct narratives utilised by the political or entertaining spheres – beyond academic research. How does the wider public regard Roman Egypt as part of Egyptian history rather than an annex to Roman history? How is Rome considered a legitimate part of Egypt beyond popular imaginations of the triangle Cleopatra-Caesar, Mark Antony, and the associated downfall of ‘true’ Egypt? What is Rome’s image connected to this? An example for the political sphere may be Egyptian obelisks, which have become a symbol of political power throughout the global north – yet in what way is the adoption of obelisks by European power elites an actual imitation of something specifically Egyptian rather than the emulation of an earlier Roman appropriation? This contribution considers various cases in approaching an answer to the Roman contribution to the reception of Egypt in Europe and assessing the influence of academic research.

Exhibiting across borders – negotiating hybridity and identities

Author: Mr Paludan-Muller, Carsten – NIKU (Presenting author)
Keywords: Hybridity, identity, Conflicts

Armenian heritage is abundantly present in the Turkish Republic. Some of the most iconic monuments from the Armenian medieval period are found in and around the walled city of Ani near the closed border to Armenia, which is also the borderlands between Anatolia and Caucasus. In 2016 Ani became included on the World Heritage List. The city has a strong symbolic significance in Armenian history. But its significance is also derived from its role as a commercial hub, a meeting place and a point of crystallization for different cultural impulses through time. It has long been an ambition to expose this material of extraordinary quality and importance in an exhibition to be shown in both Armenia and Turkey. The two countries share a common border, but do not have diplomatic ties. Often conflicts in their shared past is an obstacle to mending their relations. But in the case of the medieval past, experts from the two countries cooperate. A joint exhibition project will expose the results of this and help develop further cooperation to safeguard a shared but threatened legacy. The paper will discuss the meaning, the context and the conditions for the development of the project.


National space and the ‘age of migrations’: finding Rome’s barbarians in modern Romania

Author: Hanscam, Emily – Durham University
Co-Author: Prof. Hingley, Richard – (Presenting author)
Keywords: Migration, Identity, Romania

During the period known as the ‘Age of Migrations,’ lasting from c. 300-700 CE, tribal groups from the Eastern Steppe migrated west and discovered the remnants of Roman civilization. Bridging Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, scholarship has tended to focus on the Roman side of the story, blaming the ‘barbarians’ for the decline and fall of the Empire (Curta 2005). The territory of modern Romania was host to many crucial encounters during this period, which are better understood from classical sources like Jordanes’ Getica than from archaeological research. Yet this migratory space is a key aspect of the Romanian national narrative, which focuses on the many de-populations and re-populations of the territory, employing these grey areas of the past to propagate a particular modern Romanian identity. This paper aims to better understand the relationship between the so-called migratory peoples and the Romanian national space, by examining the presence of these peoples in Eastern European historiography, and the contemporary legacy of migration in Romania.

Curta, F., 2005. Frontier Ethnogenesis in Late Antiquity: The Danube, the Tervingi, and the Slavs. In Curta, F. (ed.), Borders, Barriers, and Ethnogenesis. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols
Publishers. pp. 173-204.


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