Decline and fall? Social and cultural dynamics in the Low Countries in the Late Roman empire (AD 270-450)
04 / 2012 - 03 / 2016
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. Employing a normative concept of culture, they "proved" Germanic invasions by mapping artifacts seen as typical of tribal groups. Nowadays, scholars have realised that identity is fluid and situationally determined, and that the relationship between ethnic/cultural identity and material culture is complex. Germanic immigrations did occur, but rather than assuming a simple clash between Romans and Germans, we should focus on transformational processes such as social integration and hybridisation of (material) culture. The Low Countries played an important part in these developments because the group known as Franks, who settled in the Dutch river area in the late 3rd century, later migrated further south to become the core of the Merovingian empire. The modern language divide (taalgrens) in Belgium is also generally seen as a result of Germanic migrations in the Late Roman period. Since the early 1990s, settlements of immigrants have been identified and excavated. Most remained unpublished at the time, but have become available in recent years, together with many new discoveries. This new archaeological evidence enables us to remodel the social dynamics and cultural transformations, thereby shedding new light on historical sources and interpretations. Rather than "decline and fall", the proposed research focuses on new formations and transformations of society in the Late Roman frontier zone of the Low Countries.