Decline and fall? The Late Roman Low Countries (2012-2016)

Social and cultural dynamics in the Low Countries in the Late Roman empire (AD 270-450), PhD project Vince Van Thienen

In 2012 the Historical Archaeology Research Group started a collaborative project with the Free University of Amsterdam in order to investigate the Late Roman Archaeology of the Low Countries.

The project investigates social and cultural dynamics in the Low Countries during the period AD 275-450 and consists of two parts.

The main research question is 'what can the material evidence from settlements and cemeteries in the Southern Netherlands and Flanders tell us about social and cultural transformations in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries?' This will be answered by examining the development of rural settlements from the 2nd to the 5th centuries by means of well-excavated settlements with high-quality dating evidence and contextual data. The main goal is to establish patterns of continuity, discontinuity and depopulation. Culture-specific traditions are informative sources for assessing these kind of transformations. House forms, household pottery and dress accessories will be given particular attention with regard to achieving the second part of the projects aims.

In case of discontinuity, the working hypothesis is that first-generation migration can be recognised in the material culture. The first houses and hand-made pottery are made according to the customs of pre-existing traditions. After recognising material from first-generation settlers, transformations in material culture can be studied in later generations.

With this research we intend to take the discussion beyond the traditional dualism of Roman-Germanic / military-civilian, and clarify transformation processes involved in the use and changing significance of material culture.

The overall aim is to look into the social use and transformations of material culture, in both settlement and funerary contexts, rather than follow presupposed notions of ethnic groups and a static material culture.


Vince Van Thienen

Prof. dr. Wim De Clercq

Prof. dr. Nico Roymans (VU-Amsterdam)