Women and War: The composition of the Vindolanda Severan-period military community
Andrew Birley, Elizabeth Greene
In the last two decades we have come to understand that women and children were a substantial component of any Roman military garrison and that these individuals could be located throughout the fort or associated extramural settlement. Less often discussed, however, is the presence of these individuals during periods of conflict or even outright war. This paper aims to contribute to this ongoing dialogue by looking closely at the material culture of the Severan period at Vindolanda, a frontier fort near Hadrian’s Wall in England.
The early third-century garrison at Vindolanda (ca. AD 200-212) existed during a period of volatility, when Septimius Severus was pushing northward in an attempt to control the region that is now Scotland. The garrison at this point lived in a small, stone fort that does not conform to the typical layout of a Roman military space. Its internal structures consist only of barrack blocks, workshops, and a praetorium on the edge of the fort, and possibly a bathhouse inside the fort ramparts. There is no known extramural settlement except for the roundhouses to the east of the fort, which have yet to be fully understood. Nonetheless, the substantial defensive ditch to the south of the fort has produced a vast quantity of shoes that belonged to women, adolescents and children. From the 2016 excavations alone, which produced nearly five hundred shoes from a section of ditch only ca. 25 meters long, around 40 percent of shoes recorded belonged to non-combatants.
This high percentage of non-combatant footwear is striking but becomes even more influential when it is viewed within the wider context of occupation at the site in the period. The associated military barracks to the north of the ditch deposits were first excavated by the Vindolanda Trust in the early 1970s. Unlike the fortlet ditches they were preserved without the benefit of anaerobic conditions, and no wood, leather or textiles survived here. Despite this, the excavators concluded that the barracks may have been ‘married quarters’ due to the high volume of material culture which could have been ascribed to non-combatants from those contexts. An unusual conclusion to draw at the time, but perhaps a valid one. As the excavations have progressed at the site we can now compare material from those buildings and reflect on how this fits into a wider narrative of mixed habitation in barracks at the site from the 2nd to 4th century.
Such a high number of shoes betraying the presence of so many non-combatants, considered together with the architectural evidence of the fortlet and material culture from the barracks, suggests we need to reimagine what the military community looked like at times of volatility or even outright warfare.
At home on the base? Examining the accommodation of auxiliary fort commanders and equestrian legionary tribunes on western frontiers
In this paper I focus on military praetoria at forts and tribune houses at legionary fortresses in the western provinces under the Roman empire, which it is largely accepted housed equestrian military commanders and their households. Unsurprisingly, with the exception of some officers, these households are all but unmentioned in ancient writings. Direct evidence for individual members of these households is scant, but inscriptions and writing tablets (Vindolanda and Vindonissa), suggest they included their wives, their children, and freed and enslaved men and women.
The archaeological remains of praetoria and tribune houses offer useful evidence to improve our understanding of the relationships between these households, and the wider Roman army and society. Although excavations of fort and fortress praetoria started (with few earlier exceptions) in the nineteenth century, these buildings have not been the focus of study beyond excavation reports, occasional case-studies, e.g., of the courtyard building at South Shields, a few regional summaries, and small sections in synoptic analyses of military installations that continue to shape conceptions of such bases.
This paper will include an overview of fort praetoria and tribune houses from Britain, Germany, Romania and to a lesser extent North Africa, and take a historiographic view of how we have arrived at current characterisations of these buildings, and of their relationship with principia, praetoria from other contexts, town houses and villas. Although modern scholarship often characterises praetoria and tribune houses as private accommodations, inscriptions show that these buildings were paid for from public funds and built by the army, thereby paralleling other permanent structures at Roman military installations. The paper will therefore consider how the form of the praetorium relates to its functions and to ideas about representative, private and public spaces within these military bases. In particular it will challenge the assumption that a consistent and clear spatial separation can be drawn between officers’ army roles and their accommodation at forts and fortresses, and consider how praetoria and tribune house archaeology relate to the commanders’ roles and act to formalise relationships between these households and the army.
Female religiosity in military settlements in Southeastern European provinces
The nature of available sources means that most of what we know about the inhabitants of the Roman Empire is mostly reserved to privileged groups of society. This situation is highly visible in the military communities where women – a less privileged group in itself – were also in the minority. Until the reign of Septimius Severus the marriages of soldiers were illegal. Afterwards, women still could not live with their husbands in military camps or forts, but only in military-related settlements such as canabae or vici. Epigraphic monuments are the best evidence for their presence, both votive and funeral inscriptions. The first of the two groups draws particular attention, as inscribed stones are also one of the few categories of finds which allow any glimpse into female participation in Roman religion. The information that we can derive from inscriptions is of a sort that would otherwise be completely unavailable. From a name we can determine, besides gender: occasionally the social status and cultural background; whether the dedicator was indigenous or immigrant; whether they were citizen or peregrine.
The aim of this paper is to reconstruct the religious life of women who lived in Roman military camps and forts and their vicinity in the Southeastern European provinces of the Roman Empire. The paper will present not only the choices that women made when engaging in religious life but also some important aspects of their private life. Epigraphic sources were set up – among other reasons – to express the social position of the dedicant. Therefore, it is also possible to track the dedicant’s ethnic origin, find their husbands and children, or examine the individual intentions of their prayers.
Do expressions of identity draw borders? Case study of female identity in Roman-period Slovenia
This paper aims to address the ways in which female identity was expressed in the territory of Slovenia between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD, i.e. during the time the Claustra Alpium Iuliarum was in place. The main question is how female identities were constructed in the funerary setting. As burials are intentional and delibarate acts, they are sources for studying the identity of individuals as perceived by a community. In this respect, Slovenia is quite unique as it lay on the crossroads of the East and the West; the amber route passed through it, and the stark contrasts between Italy and the provinces are well documented.
I am interested in whether the cemeteries around or in the vicinity of the Claustra fortifications are specific in nature and whether female roles are expressed in any characteristic manner. In other words, I seek to explore how the different representations of female identity expressed through the act of burial can draw a border and how different groups of female burials act in spatial relations. I take a broad perspective in terms of which cemeteries I intend to address since what may in a relatively homogeneous or geographically confined sample seem to be specific locally, culturally, or otherwise may actually represent a general trend observable elsewhere in the Empire.
I will focus primarily on female attire since it can function as an extension of the body and a tool to construct identity. Jewellery and functional items such as brooches, hairpins, and belt parts will be included in the analysis. Furthermore, I will take into consideration any tools of trade and other professional tools (e.g. spinning equipment). The assessment of wealth and status will incorporate also the location of the burials inside the cemeteries and the manner of burial.
Recent discovery of a sarcophagus in Viminacium. Evidence of mors immatura?
Ilija Danković, Ilija Mikić
The deaths of young individuals is usually perceived as a failure on behalf of the parents, and of society in general. It is regarded that death of a member of these social groups is premature, that it came before they have reached their full potential or before they fulfilled goals expected of them during their life. In various cultures, burials of such individuals differ from the norm, and it can be expected that they should be recognizable in the archaeological record.
One of the categories of this so-called mors immatura consists of young women eligible for marriage who died before having the chance to actually get married, with the subcategory of ones who did accomplish that goal but died before giving birth to any offspring. The emotions of relatives of the deceased were often translated into material culture through rich grave furnishings and choice of specific objects, which was the case in the Mediterranean basin in the Roman period. “Exceptionally lavish” graves of young women were identified in recent scholarly articles as the resting places of young women and girls who were denied marriage or childbirth.
The latest excavations in Viminacium resulted in the discovery of an intact sarcophagus. In it were the remains of two individuals, probably members of the family that owned the nearby villa rustica. Preliminary bioarchaeological reports showed that one of the skeletons belonged to a female in her early twenties, while the other individual was male over 45 years of age. Gold and silver objects placed with the woman, as well as hairpins made of jet, could lead to the conclusion that she died before getting married, or at least before bearing children to whom she could bequeath the jewelry.
Possible scenarios will be explained through the means of material culture studies and life course theory, and various scientific methods will be employed in order to test the hypotheses presented.
Commemoration of children in the province of Upper Moesia – evidence from limes and its hinterland
Studying of infancy and childhood experiences is essential for understanding social relations in Roman culture. Children had a significant role in Roman society, especially regarding maintaining and passing on traditional family values. Apart from continuing their family name and managing the family’s property and affairs, they were expected to retain and improve the social status of their family. Children were obliged to demonstrate pietas towards their parents and look after them in their old age.
Romans were confronted with a high mortality rate of children, which resulted in special attention being paid to funerary customs and commemoration. Funerary monuments are an excellent source for studying the attitude toward children in different parts of the Roman Empire, especially since children do not leave behind a significant number of visible traces in material culture. In addition to basic information about their age, name and the possible ethnic origin, tombstones provide insight into a society in which they lived, cultural and social identity of their parents, as well as family relations.
This paper will examine tombstones dedicated to children from the Upper Moesian Limes and its hinterland. The research will be based mainly on analysis of inscriptions and relief representations on tombstones. The aim of this paper is to find out if and how the monuments of children of various age, gender and social background (e.g. families of soldiers/veterans or civilians) differ. Certain patterns in the manner of portraying, commemorative formulas, types and decoration of monuments are likely to be recognised.
Woman at the Edge of the Empire. Case Study: Domitia from Micia (Dacia)
The aim of this paper is to bring to light a possible reconstruction of a fragment/piece of everyday life in the history of one of the most complex archaeological sites positioned on the Western Limes of Roman Dacia. Domitia (IDR III.3/ 48) is an authentic benefactor (evergetes) of Roman Micia, with a story disrupted by the passing of time. Unfortunately, the epigraphic document which recorded Domitia’s story was fractured and also lost forever. The challenge of this research is to understand her real relationship with Titus Varenius Pudens, a military commander at Micia, and also a prestigious notable of the provincial capital, Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa. The story of Domitia is just an opportunity for writing about and reinterpreting (in the context of recent archaeological discoveries) the everyday life of women from this garrison, located at the edge of the Empire.
Women in the visual culture of Late Antiquity in the Central Balkans: The inferior sex got a new exterior?
Jelena Anđelković Grašar
In order to explore the lives of women during Late Antiquity in the Central Balkans it would be valuable to look at the way in which their image was portrayed. Thus, visual culture and its methods could be helpful in analysing not only the visual material, but also other testimonies to how they were perceived by ancient society. Their visual image can be interpreted using conventional methods, such as iconology and iconography. However, the image created in the minds of people, i.e. society’s perception of Late Antique women, could be comprehended as a mental image. In order to understand and explain these mental images, the use of methods such as cultural anthropology, sociology of art and religion, women’s studies, feminist theories, gender studies and body politics will be employed in the paper. By exploring these two types of image it should be possible to uncover some iconographical or social patterns. The transfer of this imagery into specific spheres of life may allow a better understanding of lives of the women in question. The geographical position of the Central Balkans and the historical background of the region will be interpreted as important factors in shaping the image of women, with influences that crossed the borders, via migrations or various religious beliefs. The importance of religious transformation, which began with the arrival of the Eastern cults, and especially with Christianity, had a significant impact on the lives of women and, thus, on the changes in the perception of their image.
Mater Castrorum: representation of an ideal Empress or the rebirth of a Republican ideal woman?
Olga Špehar, Branka Vranešević
Among many titles Roman empresses received, most interesting and debatable is the one dating from the period of the late Empire, that of Mater Castrorum. Marcus Aurelius honored his wife Faustina Minor with this title in 174 AD, as his faithful companion during the wars he led on the northern frontiers. An official role in the military was given to a woman, alongside those accentuating her as a faithful, obedient, modest and affectionate wife and mother. From that moment on representations of Empresses as Mater Castrorum served as an instrument in promoting respected Roman values and indicating a prototypical good wife, whose role was to enable the necessary line of succession, forming a new relationship with the Empire and the army. Therefore, along with the title, the role and image of empresses changed.
The aim of this paper is to establish connections between the apparition of the title and representations in art and on coins. It will also explore how the iconography of those representations functioned within a wider concept of women`s roles in the political and religious life of the Empire, and in what way they communicated with the pre-imperial representations of an ideal woman and mother. To what extent did oriental influences contribute to the formation of the Empress’s image? In what way did the representations of the empress as a priestess standing beside the legionary standards and pouring libations above an altar, imply the military aspect of her title, as well as several other roles embodied in one person? It will be shown that she was a wife, mother, priestess, comrade, and goddess in her own right, not only as hypostasis of a maternal goddesses, but also crucial for enabling Rome`s victories, strength and longevity. With iconographic examples of coins, statues, reliefs, and cameos, many of which originated from the liminal territories of the Empire, multiple roles of a woman embodied in an Empress will be analyzed announcing the dawn of a new era.
Digital Technologies and the Possibilities for Gender and Family Research Along the Limes
What is the future of research on women and families of the limes? The acceleration of this digital age presents a distinct opportunity for archaeological scholarship, including opportunities to right old wrongs caused by scholarly bias in selection of research agendas, as well as historiographic factors that have led to the marginalization of particular parts of the empire. In this paper I propose to introduce the founding principles, intellectual promise, and challenges (and their initial solutions) of a transnational integrative archaeological database—the Southeast Europe Digital Documentation (SEEDD) Project. This paper will explicitly explore the benefits that such an endeavor holds for research on women and families along the limes, and begin a conversation about how to best ensure that historically-marginalized groups are represented and discoverable in such a resource.
Migration, warfare, conquest, and shifting political and economic fortunes all impacted the fates of women and children along the limes, and a database like SEEDD will more readily enable the diachronic and comparative analyses that highlight such important shifts. Additionally, SEEDD’s geographic focus, and collaborative digital ‘reference architecture’ drawn from multi-national partners, allows for the easy integration of data that is currently largely siloed according to modern political and linguistic boundaries that have no bearing on the ancient contexts. This means that for the first time in our digital era, using SEEDD, it will be possible—and comparatively easy—to gather datasets from modern Southeastern Europe for comparative analyses with other parts of the Roman Empire. And finally, I propose to offer for discussion: what precautions must we take in creating an integrative archaeological database to ensure that women and children, and the issues that concern them, are discoverable in such a database despite the often old-fashioned and biased published studies upon which the database draws?