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Levels of mobility in the Roman Empire have long been assumed to be relatively high, as attested by epigraphy, demography, material culture and, most recently, isotope analysis and the skeletons themselves. Building on recent data from a range of Romano-British sites (Poundbury in Dorset, York, Winchester, Gloucester, Catterick and Scorton), this article explores the significance of the presence of migrants at these sites and the impact they may have had on their host societies. The authors explore the usefulness of diaspora theory, and in particular the concept of imperial and colonial diasporas, to illustrate the complexities of identities in later Roman Britain.
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People on the move in Roman Britain
Hella Eckardta, Gundula Müldnerb & Mary Lewisb
a University of Reading
b Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Published online: 07 Jul 2014.
To cite this article: Hella Eckardt, Gundula Müldner & Mary Lewis (2014) People on the move in Roman
Britain, World Archaeology, 46:4, 534-550, DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2014.931821
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People on the move in Roman Britain
Hella Eckardt, Gundula Müldner and Mary Lewis
Levels of mobility in the Roman Empire have long been assumed to be relatively high, as attested by
epigraphy, demography, material culture and, most recently, isotope analysis and the skeletons themselves.
Building on recent data from a range of Romano-British sites (Poundbury in Dorset, York, Winchester,
Gloucester, Catterick and Scorton), this article explores the signicance of the presence of migrants at these
sites and the impact they may have had on their host societies. The authors explore the usefulness of
diaspora theory, and in particular the concept of imperial and colonial diasporas, to illustrate the complex-
ities of identities in later Roman Britain.
Mobility; Roman Britain; isotope analysis.
The need to travel would seem to be part of the experience of the Roman Empire, which may
partially explain its difference from barbarian lands.
(Laurence 2001b, 169)
The Roman Empire with its vast armies and wide-ranging administration is often seen as
characterized by high levels of mobility, and there is now an extensive academic literature
analysing this phenomenon (e.g. Adams and Laurence 2001; Foubert and Breeze 2014; Horden
and Purcell 2000; for the pre-Roman Mediterranean, see van Dommelen 2012). Levels of
mobility experienced in the Roman Empire are intimately linked to its highly developed
infrastructure that included detailed geographical knowledge, relatively good roads, detailed
itineraries and the cursus publicus, all of which were linked to the creation and maintenance of
the empire (Laurence 2001b, 167). Considerable distances could be covered at speed on horse-
back, or on foot, in a cart or litter, in all cases making use of regularly spaced accommodation
(Foubert and Breeze 2014, 26771; Laurence 1999, 13642, 2001a,818; Salway 2001). In
addition to the carefully planned movement of magistrates and emperors and the postal and
messenger system, people travelled for a host of reasons (cf. Casson 1994,128299; Handley
2011,5362), such as in search of marvels and wisdom, with Greece and Egypt seen as
World Archaeology Vol. 46(4): 534550 Mobility & Migration
© 2014 Taylor & Francis ISSN 0043-8243 print/1470-1375 online
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particularly attractive to ancient tourists(Foertmeyer 1989; Lomine 2005,725). The line
between tourism and pilgrimage is not clear-cut in antiquity (Elsner and Rutherford 2005) and
one might also be advised to travel for health reasons (Casson 1994, 1304). People also
travelled for private business and for family and other occasions, such as games, festivals,
birthdays or funerals (Adams 2001, 1489; Lomine 2005,7585). The army and commerce
were prominent drivers of mobility but there is also considerable evidence for seasonal migra-
tion related to agricultural practice and to major urban building projects (Laurence 1999, 1467,
2001b, 169). Despite problems with weather and bandits, travel was reasonably safe during the
imperial period (Foubert and Breeze 2014, 2715; Adams 2001, 1548). While travel and
mobility were seen as attractive to some, there is also evidence for home-sickness, in particular
among those exiled against their will (Doblhofer 1987).
Much of the research on mobility in the Roman Empire relies on the analysis of literary
sources and epigraphy (e.g. Handley 2011; Noy 2000; Wierschowski 2001). Another well-
established avenue of research is to use unusual objects or burial rites as an indication of the
presence of foreigners. The problems inherent in these data sets are now also well rehearsed:
origo is recorded in only a small proportion of inscriptions and the epigraphic habit itself is not
evenly spread across ancient populations. Those who have assimilated well into their host
society are not reected in the source material (Handley 2011, 41). Literary sources are strongly
biased towards the male elite. Further, material culture and burial rite are not direct reections of
ethnicity, but complex expressions of identity, modied and developed through interaction and
over time (Pearce 2010). More recently, isotopic analysis (oxygen, strontium, lead, carbon and
nitrogen) of human dental tissues has been employed to establish whether selected individuals
were migrants, and in some cases to suggest where they may have originated (e.g. Evans et al.
2006; Leach et al. 2009; Montgomery et al. 2010; Müldner et al. 2011; Perry et al. 2008; Prowse
et al. 2007; Schweissing and Grupe 2003). Unlike traditional archaeological evidence, these data
are biologically determined, as the isotopic composition of tooth crowns and roots, which form
in childhood, inadvertently reects the diet and climatic and geological setting of an individuals
residence in early life. While the principles of this method are very well established, it also has
to be acknowledged that, as a rapidly developing scientictechnique, the detailed interpretation
of isotope data is, to some extent, still in ux (Brettell, Montgomery, and Evans 2012; Eckardt
and Müldner 2014; Pollard 2011; see also Bruun 2010; Killgrove 2010).
Recent work on later Roman burials from Britain has attempted to address the question of
mobility through a series of case studies that contrasted isotope analysis with the archaeological
evidence from Gloucester (Chenery et al. 2010), York (Leach et al. 2009,2010; Müldner et al.
2011), Winchester (Eckardt et al. 2009), Catterick (Chenery et al. 2011) and most recently
Scorton near Catterick (Eckardt et al. forthcoming). The limitations of short scientic papers
mean that the human dimension of the evidence can often be only supercially addressed. In
order to remedy this shortcoming this article will focus on the wider implications of these
studies with regard to possible evidence for interactions between incomers and locals. In
particular, the interplay between isotope evidence and burial rite and grave goods is examined,
as are patterns of gender, age and status.
Throughout our work, we have found the concept of diasporas, and especially of imperial
and colonial diasporas, a helpful framework (Cohen 2008; Lilley 2004; see Eckardt 2010). This
model can aid in our understanding of not just victim diasporas(e.g. the Jewish and African
diaspora), but also those who leave their homeland in search of work, in pursuit of trade or to
People on the move in Roman Britain 535
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further colonial ambitions (Cohen 2008, table 1.1). Members of trade diasporas are often distinct
from both the societies in which they originated and those in which they live, as they tend to
participate in a common commercial culture (Cohen 2008, 83). The model has been applied to
the archaeology of early modern Chinese and East Indian communities (Armstrong and Hauser
2004; Voss 2005). For the Roman world, we may see individuals such as Barates of Palmyra
(Syria) and his native British wife Regina, buried on Hadrians Wall, as part of such trade
diasporas or even as an example of multi-culturalism (Nesbitt, 2014; Noy 2010; cf. Carroll
2012). Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that merchants maintained a professional identity that
marked them as separate from their host communities. This was formalized in the conventus
civium Romanorum, the association of Roman citizens, which was designed to defend the
interests and privileges of incomers in interactions with host communities and the imperial
authorities; guilds of foreigners are also attested at a number of sites (Broekaert 2013; Eckardt
2012, 247; Frere and Fulford 2002; Schlippschuh 1974, 14657; Van Andringa 2003;). Equally
applicable to the Roman world is the model of imperial diasporas, which aims to include the
experience of the colonizers who move in the service of the army and administration, rather than
just of those displaced by imperial powers (Cohen 2008, 69). The archaeology of members of
the British colonizing forces in North America and Australia illustrates how these individuals
dened and developed their identities (Casella 2005; Lawrence 2003; Lilley 2006). The themes
of colonialism and imperialism are of course major ones in Roman archaeology, and again we
may consider named individuals from Britain, such as the Gaul Classicianus who became
procurator of Britannia and was commemorated in London (Cottril 1936).
Recent work on diasporas demonstrates the maintenance of traditions but also interactions
with the host communities, which led to the acceptance (often in modied form) of new material
culture and new social practices. While much of the early research on diaspora was concerned
with the identication of survivals, i.e. cultural traits thought to link directly to a groups
origins, more recent theoretical work generally acknowledges that culture is not static and
emphasizes the importance of context and the complexities of processes of creolization and
hybridity (e.g. Stockhammer 2012; van Dommelen and Terrenato 2007; Webster 2001; Wilkie
2004,11314). Diaspora communities are now seen as different not only from members of the
host population but also from their original homeland communities (Lilley 2004).
Throughout this, it must be acknowledged that applying the concept of diaspora too broadly
beyond its original denition is not uncontroversial. Criticism has included that the term is at
risk of becoming too diluted to be analytically useful. The question of whether key criteria such
as dispersion, homeland orientation and boundary maintenance are met has to be addressed in
each case (Brubaker 2005). These issues are especially important in the Roman Empire, where
the notion of a single, clearly dened homeland is obviously difcult and where there is a
marked tension between globalizing or unifying forces and local diversity (e.g. Hingley 2005).
This article advocates a loose denition of the concept of diasporaas a means of asking
questions that would otherwise remain unexplored while recognizing that the dening char-
acteristics of diasporic communities sensu strictu, such as a continuous social or spiritual link
to the homeland(Lilley 2004, 291) cannot always be conclusively demonstrated. We will focus
on examples of what we assume to be imperial and colonial diasporas, that is individuals that
moved as a consequence of empire, associated with the army, administration and trade. Many of
the graves selected for isotope analysis are of high status and characterized by unusual grave
goods or burial rites; thus we do not claim to offer a representative picture of mobility in Roman
536 Hella Eckardt, Gundula Müldner and Mary Lewis
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Britain and future work may establish evidence both for forced migration among low-status
graves and a lack of mobility in rural communities.
Migrants and locals in Roman Britain
When considering evidence that contrasts artefacts and burial rite with isotope (and, where
available, osteological) data, we can broadly distinguish four groups of people:
1. those where both burial rite/grave goods and isotopes suggest a foreign origin;
2. those that appear local archaeologically but are foreign isotopically;
3. those that appear foreign archaeologically but are probably local isotopically;
4. those that appear to be local both archaeologically and isotopically.
Examples from Roman Britain for these four categories will be briey introduced in the
following before we explore the wider interpretative issues arising from these data in the
Individuals where both burial rites/grave goods and isotopes suggest a foreign origin
There are now a number of cases, of both men and women, where the isotopic evidence appears
to conrm suggestions of foreign origin made on the basis of exotic grave goods and/or unusual
burial rite. Striking examples are late Roman males with impressive belt ttings and weapons,
such as the so-called Gloucester Gothwhose silver belt ttings have parallels in south-eastern
Europe and south Russia and whose isotopic prole is indeed consistent with this suggestion
(Hills and Hurst 1989; see Evans et al. 2012). Another good example is a 3040-year-old male
buried with an impressive chip-carved belt and an iron axe at Dyke Hills just outside
Dorchester; again, isotope analysis suggests an origin in a cooler, more continental climate
(Booth forthcoming).
Similarly, some of the males buried wearing belt ttings and crossbow brooches at the
cemetery of Lankhills, Winchester, are not from Britain (e.g. nos. 81 and 426: Evans et al.
2006), and the same is true of several of the young men buried with similar items at Scorton
(e.g. nos. 1, 6 and 7: Eckardt et al. forthcoming). In both these cases it has been suggested that
these men were members of the later Roman army and/or administration who had been stationed
in Britain from abroad. Some authors have even felt tempted to suggest specic places of origin
(such as the Danube provinces) for them (Clarke 1979; Evans et al. 2006). However, as we will
show below and as has been suggested by Cool (2010a,2010b) for Lankhills, the differences in
burial rite, in other words whether these belts and brooches were worn in death or not (Clarke
1979), is a poor predictor of origin. Finally, even where individuals appear united by similar,
unusual burial rites, this is no indication that they all originate from the same area or are even all
foreign. This is illustrated by the so-called Headless Romans, a group of exclusively male
burials in a high-status cemetery at York. The majority of these had been beheaded and/or
exhibited other signs of ante- or peri-mortem trauma. While a large number of them were indeed
identied as non-local, it was the considerable diversity of isotopic proles (and therefore
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geographical origins) within the group that was of particular interest (Montgomery et al. 2011;
Müldner et al. 2011).
Women also fall into this category. An exceptionally rich female burial from London
Spitalelds has been identied as that of a migrant, probably from the City of Rome, on the
basis of lead isotopes (Montgomery et al. 2010). Isotope data for a woman buried with ivory and
jet bracelets and a range of other high-status goods from York, on the other hand, are incon-
clusive; however, morphometric traits on her skull suggest that she is of African descent (Leach
et al. 2009).
While all these individuals may be classed as diasporic in a wider sense as they are living
away from their homeland and seem to be maintaining a symbolic connection to those
homelands through their artefacts and cultural practices, any such link is not clear-cut. We
will argue below that membership of their current identity groups (for the men army/admin-
istration and for the women generalized elite status) may be the overriding aspects of their
Individuals who appear local archaeologically but are foreign isotopically
In dening the burials of localsthere is clearly a danger of circular arguments as all too
often graves with few or no surviving grave goods are assumed to be local. Thus at
Lankhills two locals, female 0271 and male 0281, were found to be isotopically intrusive;
however, the criteria by which they were classed as native Romano-British (pot and unworn
shoes and a coin, respectively), may be queried (Fig. 1;seeEckardtetal.2009). There are
also still many problems identifying what may have been signicant organic burial goods or
subtle burial rites.
Figure 1 Oxygen and strontium isotope data for Romano-British burials from Lankhills/Winchester
(replotted after Evans et al. 2006 and Eckardt et al. 2009). Also shown is an estimate of the phosphate
oxygen stable isotope range consistent with a childhood in Britain (2SD range of 615 individuals from
Britain, after Evans et al. 2012) and the strontium isotope range for the chalk terrain around Winchester
(see Eckardt et al. 2009). Labels refer to individuals mentioned in the text (codes preceded Skrefer to
skeleton numbers from the new Lankhills excavations (Booth et al. 2010).
538 Hella Eckardt, Gundula Müldner and Mary Lewis
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Over time, numerous aspects of Romano-British burial rites have been used to suggest
localor foreignidentities. Clarkes(1979,37789) distinction of the wearing in death of
belts and crossbow brooches as an indication of intrusive individuals (as opposed to the
placing of these objects in the grave, which Clarke saw as a nativerite), was, for a time,
considered plausible among Romano-British archaeologists, but is clearly misconstrued. For
example, Skeleton 5 at Scorton had a belt and crossbow brooch placed in the grave (in what
Clarke would see as a localcustom), but this young mans isotopic signature shows he is
clearly not from Britain.
Subtle differences as to whether an individual was buried wearing a brooch and belt or
had them placed next to the feet probably contain meanings that we can no longer identify,
but the very inclusion of these objects in the grave may be indicative of incomers, especially
if the objects are typologically unusual for Britain. From the iconographic evidence it seems
likely that the wearing in life of crossbow brooches and belts was a major aspect of the
professional identities of the Scorton and Lankhills males as these probably were serving in
the Late Roman army and administration (Stout 1994,85;Swift2000a). This shared cultural
and social milieu appears to override specic origins, as may have in some cases an
individualsdesiretoblend inor to adopt new practices. Another factor is, of course,
the impact mourners had on the burial rite; thus No. 5 at Scorton may have had a local wife
or local friends, who adapted and developed burial rites within a local context. For young
men in particular there may have been difculties in preserving traditions and customs from
their homeland, which in many societies are maintained by women (e.g. Danforth 1982;
Seremetakis 1991).
There may of course be issues as to how localsare dened archaeologically (see above).
Individuals who appear foreign archaeologically but are isotopically probably local
Despite common misconceptions, isotope analysis is not actually suited to identifying locals, as
we cannot exclude the possibility that individuals whose isotopic signaturesare consistent with
an upbringing close to the place where they were buried had instead moved from a more distant
area with similar environmental parameters. Indeed, in the context of investigating migration to
Roman Britain this issue has proved to be a signicant constraint, since many parts of England
and Wales are isotopically indistinguishable from large areas of western Europe and even the
Mediterranean (Chenery et al. 2011; Evans et al. 2012; see Brettell, Evans, et al. 2012). While
most isotope analysts follow the principle of Occams razor that the simplest explanation is
usually the best and that most individuals who appear isotopically local are indeed no more than
that, it is worth bearing this restriction in mind.
An unusual burial at Catterick contained a jet necklace and bracelet, a shale armlet and a
copper-alloy anklet. Given that these typically female objects were found on what was identied
as a male skeleton, it was suggested at the time that the individual was a eunuch or transvestite
priest of the goddess Cybele (Cool 2002,412; Wilson 2002, 1768). Multi-isotope analysis did
not show this individual to be very exotic; rather, the data are all compatible with a British or
western European origin (Chenery et al. 2011, 15334). Regardless of the problems of sexing
this individual (Chenery et al. 2011, 1526), it may be religious beliefs reected in the lavish use
of black objects that make this individual look so unusual archaeologically rather than exotic
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It has been suggested by Clarke (on the basis of beads worn around the neck and bracelets on
the wrist, as well as pots placed near the feet) that at Lankhills three females (323, 326 and 63)
were incomers (Clarke 1979, 377; Swift 2000b, 74) but the isotopic evidence is compatible with
a local origin (Fig. 1; Evans et al. 2006, 271). Similarly, a young girl (Skeleton 323) from
Lankhills who was buried wearing multiple bracelets, beads and an unusual headband, and thus
is thought to be intrusive archaeologically (Clarke 1979, 317; Swift 2000b, 74), was most likely
born and raised in Winchester (Evans et al. 2006, 271). Given that some of the bracelets are of
unmistakably British style it seems possible that one or both of the girls parents were foreign,
bringing with them a certain style of wearing bracelets in life and/or death but adapting this
custom by purchasing locally available jewellery. On the other hand, it may be that young girls
in particular were treated differently in death in ways that can be mistaken for indicating a
foreign origin (see below).
In summary, the apparent mismatch between archaeological evidence (cultural identity) and
biological origin may be because locals adopted new artefacts, because of the age, gender,
religion or status of an individual, or because we are dealing with second generation migrants.
Another consideration must be return migration of individuals who served or travelled abroad
and were inevitably changed by the experience (cf. Derks and Roymans 2006). These examples
serve as a useful reminder that we are not dealing with pureincomers and hosts but with
interaction and hybridity. Just as foreigners may have chosen to blend in, new burial rites and
objects may have been attractive to the host communities because (in contrast to many modern
diasporic societies) in the Roman period we are dealing with colonial/imperial diasporas where
incomers were often of high status.
Individuals who appear to be local both archaeologically and isotopically
We have already seen above (Individuals who appear local archaeologically but are foreign
isotopically) that there are serious methodological problems with many archaeological attempts
to identify localburials, especially if they use ill-dened criteria or make the assumption
simply on the basis of the absence of surviving grave goods. Equally, the previous section has
shown the difculties of employing isotope analysis to identify locals(NB In isotopic studies
this term is normally understood to mean local to the area where they were buried whereas most
archaeological investigations would take it to imply a British origin more generally). Despite
these twofold provisos, a number of examples can be considered in this fourth category. One
such is the young adult male 0932 (Grave 960, Fig. 1) from Lankhills, who was buried in what
is usually seen as a local tradition (in a wooden cofn, with two pottery vessels by his feet) and
who, isotopically, appears to be local to Winchester (Booth et al. 2010, 1367; Eckardt et al.
2009, 2821).
At Catterick, twenty-six burials from various sites around the late Roman town and fort were
sampled; of these only one (the so-called Catterick eunuch) was truly exotic in terms of grave
goods (Wilson 2002), although the analysis gave an inconclusive isotopic prole (see above).
The eunuchaside, only one other individual from Catterick was isotopically possibly of non-
British origin, and overall the Catterick isotope data were much more homogenous than those of
other late Roman populations studied (Chenery et al. 2011). In this context it is interesting to
note that the Scorton cemetery, which, by contrast, has an unusually high proportion of intrusive
individuals isotopically and archaeologically (characterized by the frequent inclusion of
540 Hella Eckardt, Gundula Müldner and Mary Lewis
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crossbow brooches and belts) is spatially separated from Catterick by the river Swale (Eckardt
et al. forthcoming).
One issue in adequately assessing numbers in this local/local category is that isotopic
investigations have so far focused primarily on unusual burials instead of exploring diversity
among presumed locals and unpromisingburials. A shift in sampling strategy is therefore
required, in order to ensure that isotope data-sets are more representative of Roman provincial
populations as a whole (cf. Eckardt et al. 2009).
Discussion: mobility and its relation to age, gender and status
Another way of examining issues of migration in more detail is to consider the age, gender and
status of migrants and locals. The least surprising nding in relation to the isotopic investiga-
tions was the frequent identication of males, especially young males, as migrants at Scorton,
York and Lankhills. We have argued above that soldiers and administrators shared a strong
professional identity but, while often not local to Britain, they did not share a single region of
origin. People from different parts of the empire and beyond therefore experienced a sense of
shared identity through their professional practice and dress (James 2001). In the case of the so-
called Headless Romansat York we do not know the reasons for the highly unusual, shared
burial rite (it may have been a punishment or a peculiar religious belief) but again a group that is
unied in its burial rite is highly diverse in terms of its geographical origin (Müldner et al.
2011). While the movement of young males was to be expected, our work also identied
evidence for women and children experiencing migration, in either the rst or second genera-
tion. For example, osteological analysis at late Roman Poundbury Camp cemetery in Dorset
identied a number of children who had died from a form of genetic anaemia (thalassemia) seen
only in Mediterranean communities. Their presence in the cemetery can be explained only by
their parents being of Mediterranean descent (Lewis 2010).
Of late Roman travellers in the western empire who left inscriptions, and where gender can be
assigned, 84 per cent were male. This represents a greater gender bias than among the
epigraphic population in general, where the ratio is c. 63 per cent male and 37 per cent female,
and perhaps suggests that more men than women were on the move (Handley 2011, 37).
Interestingly, there is some variation between different regions of the empire, with women
better represented in North Africa, Spain and Rome than in Gaul, the Balkans and Britain.
Women travelled considerable distances, as parts of family groups or with servants (Handley
2011,378), and the same is attested for the earlier Roman period. For example, Egyptian
evidence shows women married to soldiers travelling in Egypt (Adams 2001, 147), despite the
fact that the government appears to have discouraged such behaviour by charging the common-
law wives of army men considerable sums to leave the province (Casson 1994, 154). The reason
for this may have been the problems caused to military and ofcial organization by the presence
of women (e.g. Tacitus Annals 3.33). While women may have followed their menfolk on army
or administrative duty and for mercantile pursuits, they may also have traded in their own right
(e.g. Lampe-Densky 2002). There are glimpses of other reasons for female travel and mobility,
too (Foubert and Breeze 2014). Thus an altar at Corbridge is inscribed in Greek to Heracles of
Tyre (Lebanon) by the priestess Diodora (RIB 1129). Diodora may have continued to worship
her god, having travelled to the north of Britain for a host of reasons, but it is possible that she
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was a religious specialist. Women travelling for pleasure are also attested, as for example in a
poem inscribed on the pyramid of Cheops by a Terentia (Foubert and Breeze 2014, 184).
Returning to the archaeological evidence, very high-status women such as the so-called Ivory
Bangle Ladyat York and the woman from London Spitalelds appear unusual in Britain on
account of their rich and diverse grave goods. These seem to indicate that they are members of the
elite rather than pinpointing a specic area of origin. Young girls such as Skeleton 323 from
Lankhills may stand out archaeologically, but, while she may have been the child of one or two
immigrant parents, it has been noted that the graves of young girls often contain large numbers of
jewellery items, possibly as a symbolic compensation for a non-attained wedding (Cool 2010a,
307, 2010b,304; see also Crummy 2010 on protective objects in infant burials).
People can adopt and adapt practices en route’–and of course they are interacting with other
individuals who may be new to a location and with the established members of the local
community. This has been suggested for the cemetery at Brougham where groups possibly
originating from beyond the Danube may also have picked up ideas from the Rhineland,
possibly when stationed there (Cool 2004,4646). At Scorton, the male No 7 was buried
with an unusual glass vessel, currently paralleled only in northern France (Price 2010, 47). The
isotope evidence suggests he is not local to Britain, and it is not impossible that this individual
purchased the glass vessel while travelling through northern France.
Mobility and diet
The investigation of diet adds yet another dimension to the study of migrant lives, as the
importance of foodways in preserving and also constructing ethnic identities has long been
noted (e.g. Brown and Mussell 1984; Kershen 2002). In diaspora theory, special emphasis is
placed on the sense of nostalgia and longing for the lost homeland conjured by familiar foods
and avours (Sutton 2001; see Holtzman 2006). In Romano-British archaeology, studies of
food-consumption patterns have proved an extremely rewarding avenue of research. While the
main emphasis has been on how native foodways were transformed by Britannias integration
into the Roman Empire (e.g. Müldner 2013), the military emerges in various studies as a
separate consumer group with numerous non-British culinary traditions, although the evidence
is again more consistent with a transcultural, shared identity than with the preservation of
specic ethnic foodways by individual elements within the Roman army (e.g. Cool 2006;
Dobney 2001;King1999; van der Veen 2008, but see Swan 1992). There are of course
methodological limitations to investigating these issues as most archaeological evidence for
food consumption is no more specic than site or, at best, household level. While isotope data
lack most of the detail available from these other methods, they allow us to compare the diet of
individuals at different stages of their lives by analysing several skeletal elements with different
formation times (Sealy et al. 1995). Such investigations have already been used as an additional
tool to identify long-distance migrants and to demonstrate considerable diversity in Romano-
British populations; see Müldner 2013).
It is important not to overstate the possibilities of isotope analysis for demonstrating con-
tinuity in traditional foodways. The isotopic composition of skeletal collagen gives only a broad
characterization of the main sources of dietary protein consumed. Substantial changes in diet
between early life and adulthood may therefore be less a sign of cultural assimilation than
542 Hella Eckardt, Gundula Müldner and Mary Lewis
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merely an issue of access. The cereal millet, for example, which is thought to have given rise to
the unusual dietary signals of individuals from York, Scorton or Kent was not cultivated in
Britain and it would probably have been simply impossible for all but the most well-connected
ofcials to acquire enough of it to leave a measurable trace in the skeleton (Eckardt et al.
forthcoming; Müldner et al. 2011; Pollard et al. 2011). Similarly, with the exception of teeth
which form early in life and do not change subsequently, skeletal tissues are in a constant
process of renewal and the isotopic signal obtained will reect an average of diet over several
years of life. Even in the event of complete dietary change, childhood diet may therefore still be
at least partly reected in bone, depending on the age at which an individual moved as well as
how long thereafter they died (see Eckardt et al. forthcoming). Despite these limitations and in
the absence of more subtle direct evidence for the foodways of individuals, it is worth asking
what the dietary isotope data may contribute to our understanding of the life experience of
migrants in Roman Britain.
Overall, the available evidence suggests that integration and change rather than continuity of
traditional ways was the predominant pattern. With the exception of one individual from Roman
York (TDC516) who may have died shortly after his arrival in Britain, it appears that individuals
with unusual childhood diets and for whom isotopic evidence for different stages of their lives is
available, were undergoing signicant dietary change at the time of their deaths, presumably by
adapting to the local lifestyle at least in broad terms (see Eckardt et al. forthcoming; Müldner
2013). In the case of burial 1175 (Sk 1119) of the new Lankhills excavations, the transformation
was complete enough that the dietary signal of this older (46+ years) male who probably spent
his childhood in eastern or central Europe (Eckardt et al. 2009) and whose early diet contained
signicant proportions of probably millet-based protein, was no longer distinguishable from the
local Winchester population by the end of his life (Fig. 2). While these data do not preclude the
Figure 2 Carbon and nitrogen (dietary) stable isotope ratios for humans from Lankhills Winchester (bone
and faunal data replotted after Cummings and Hedges 2010). The arrow connects isotope data obtained
from the dentine (2nd molar) and rib of burial 1175 (Sk1119), representing childhood and adult diet
respectively. The stepped error bars indicate 2 and 3 standard deviations from the mean (n= 114).
People on the move in Roman Britain 543
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possibility that he sought to evoke the foodways of his homeland in other, more subtle ways,
through the use of certain herbs, spices or preparation techniques, they illustrate the stark
contrast that must have existed between his origins and his life in Britain. Interestingly,
1175s burial rite may reect both stages of his life, as he was buried with a belt of British
manufacture and a knife but, in a nod to Roman customs, a coin (Theodosius I, AD 38895) had
been placed inside his mouth (Booth et al. 2010, 159; Cool 2010a, 2868; Eckardt et al. 2009).
The very government of the Roman Empire depended on the mobility of both subjects and rulers,
and, as we have seen, this included women and children and not just the very rich (Adams 2001,
159; Laurence 2001b,1723). It is difcult to quantify from the written sources both the
proportion of people who travelled and the distances they moved, but for Roman Oxyrhynchus
in Egypt (using documents spread over six centuries) Adams (2001, 158) suggests that 45 per cent
of individuals travelled for c. 90km, 17 per cent for 260km and 13 per cent further and outside
Egypt. Just as important as the travellers are locals who would have experienced travellers en
route and interacted with them, either doing business or, in the case of emperors and magistrates,
bringing petitions or simply viewing them (Laurence 1999,13642, 2001b,169).
Applying the concept of diaspora, even if, as acknowledged earlier, only in very loose
terms, has motivated us to ask questions of identity and life-experience that would otherwise
have been left unexplored. The individuals discussed here clearly experienced dispersal (forced
or voluntary) from their homeland, and they may have appeared distinct from the host society in
terms of their dress, appearance and habits. Evidence for a lasting connection to the real or
imagined homeland, wherever this may have been, is harder to demonstrate. In some cases
migrants and their descendants may have curated objects or maintained rites and traditions (in
modied form) but our reading of the data actually highlights that, for many migrant indivi-
duals, the elite or professional identities that they shared with others who originated in diverse
parts of the empire or were indeed locals were more important than any link to the actual
homeland. The examples discussed here appear to be characteristic of imperial and trade
diasporas, with most of the migrants apparently of relatively high status. The article has also
highlighted the well-known difculties of identifying origin from grave goods and burial rites,
and stressed the importance of other factors such as age and gender. New techniques such as
multi-isotope analysis offer an opportunity to enrich our understanding of ancient mobility, but
only if they are carefully combined with archaeological analysis.
Hella Eckardt
University of Reading
Gundula Müldner
Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
Mary Lewis
Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
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Hella Eckardt teaches provincial Roman archaeology and material culture studies at the
University of Reading. Her research focuses on theoretical approaches to the material culture
of the north-western provinces and she is particularly interested in the relationship between the
consumption of Roman objects and the expression of social and cultural identity. She has
published on lighting equipment (Illuminating Roman Britain) and objects associated with
grooming and personal adornment (Styling the Body). A recently completed AHRC-funded
project with Gundula Müldner and Mary Lewis examined the evidence for incomers in
Romano-British towns through a combination of material culture, skeletal and isotope research.
Gundula Müldner is a bioarchaeologist who specializes in stable isotope analysis of bone for
the reconstruction of human and animal diets. She has a background in biological anthropology
People on the move in Roman Britain 549
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and early historical archaeology and her research interests include dietary changes related to
cultural and socio-economic transitions in the last 2000 years, as well as questions of diet, health
and social identity in the past.
Mary Lewis teaches the method and theory behind the study of human skeletal remains,
osteological techniques and palaeopathology at undergraduate and Masters level at the
University of Reading. she specializes in non-adult skeletal pathology and in the personal
identication of children in forensic anthropology. She examines the changing pattern of disease
in children in relation to socio-economic transitions in the past (Romano-British to Anglo-
Saxon; urban to industrial) with particular focus on metabolic and infectious diseases. Her other
research interests include the use of stable isotope and trace element analysis in reconstructing
past migratory patterns in the UK.
550 Hella Eckardt, Gundula Müldner and Mary Lewis
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... It is noteworthy that, even though a considerable mobility rate can be observed at least at some early medieval sites, the overall mobility rate (Leggett 2021a: 175-200) is not necessarily higher than during previous or later periods (Early Neolithic: Borić and Price 2013;Depaermentier et al. 2020;Neil et al. 2020); Bronze Age: (Cavazzuti et al. 2021;Gerling 2015: 210-225;Price et al. 2004); Iron Age: (Hrnčíř and Laffoon 2019;Panagiotopoulou et al. 2018); Roman Period (Eckardt et al. 2014;Killgrove and Montgomery 2016;Stark et al. 2020) (see also Suppl. Text 1H). ...
Full-text available
Early Mediaeval Archaeology was long infuenced by traditional narratives related to so-called Völkerwanderungen. Based on the interpretation of ancient written sources, the “Migration Period” was traditionally perceived as a time of catastrophic changes triggered by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and massive migration waves of “barbarian” groups across Europe. In the last decades, isotope analyses have been increasingly used to test these traditional narratives by exploring past mobility patterns, shifts in dietary habits, and changes in subsistence strategies or in socio-economic structures among early medieval societies. To evaluate the achievements of isotope studies in understanding the complexity of the so-called Migration Period, this paper presents a review of 50 recent publications. Instead of re-analysing the data per se, this review first explores the potentials and limitations of the various approaches introduced in the last decades. In a second step, an analysis of the interpretations presented in the reviewed studies questions to what extend traditional expectations are supported by isotope data from the Migration Period. Beside revising the concept of massive migrations, isotope data reveal so-far underestimated mobility patterns and open new perspectives in the investigation of early medieval world.
... Curiously absent from medieval parish records in England is information about the presence of immigrants from beyond Europe, although in London those of "alien birth" were inhibited from taking up an apprenticeship (Dunlop 1912), which in turn limited their ability to trade or become a citizen (Ben-Amos 1991; Spindler 2011). Osteological and isotopic evidence for first-and second-generation immigrants from across the Roman Empire, including North Africans in Roman York (Eckardt et al. 2014;Leach et al. 2010Leach et al. , 2009) and London (Shaw et al. 2016) have been reported for some time, but only recently have distant migrants been identified in medieval cemetery groups (Redfern and Hefner 2019;Roffey et al. 2017). For example, Redfern and Hefner (2019) identified two black African adults living and dying in London, around the time of the Black Death. ...
Migration is driven by the young but despite this, few isotope studies focus on adolescent migrants or the intricatenature of their movement. Using a multi-analytical approach, the authors explore this mobility and the impact of urban living on the diet and health of adolescents from the pre-and post-Black Death periods of Northern England. Isotope analysis (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and strontium) and lead concentrations were measured in 63 adolescents (10–25 years) from three sites in medieval York and from the nearby small town of Barton-upon-Humber. York was an important center in medieval England, acting as a magnet for adolescents seeking a new life and independence; Barton was seen as less attractive and harder to reach. In the pre-Black Death sample, 33% of adolescents (n=8/24; including five males and two females) were identified as possible migrants by their oxygen and strontium values. Following the Black Death only 5% (n=2/39) of adolescents, both from Barton, appeared to be migrants from elsewhere in Britain, indicating the pattern changed from individuals traveling long distances to more local, isotopically “invisible” movement. The non-locals appear to have been well integrated, sharing the same diet as the locals, but there was some evidence for different burial practices. Working in medieval York posed significant health risks for all of the young inhabitants, with lead concentrations at pathological levels, and possibly linked to anemia and vitamin D deficiency. This research highlights the importance of combining historical, archaeological, paleopathological, and chemical data to understand complex life histories of adolescents in the past. La migración es impulsada por los jóvenes. No obstante, pocos estudios de isótopos se centran en los adolescentes migrantes o en la naturaleza de sus movimientos. Utilizando un enfoque multi-analítico, las autoras exploran esta movilidad y el impacto de la vida urbana en la dieta y la salud de los adolescentes de los períodos anterior y posterior a la peste negra en el norte de Inglaterra. El análisis de isótopos (carbono, nitrógeno, oxígeno, y estroncio) y las concentraciones de plomo se midieron en 63 adolescentes (10–25 años) de tres sitios en la York medieval, y de la pequeña ciudad cercana de Barton-upon-Humber. York era un centro importante en la Inglaterra medieval, actuando como un imán para los adolescentes que buscaban una nueva vida e independencia. Barton era visto como menos atractivo y más difícil de alcanzar. En la muestra previa a la peste negra, el 33% de los adolescentes (n=8/24) fueron identificados como posibles migrantes por sus valores de oxígeno y estroncio (cinco masculinos y dos femeninos). Después de la peste negra, solo el 5% (n = 2/39) de los adolescentes, ambos de Barton, parecían ser migrantes de otras partes de Gran Bretaña, lo que indica que el patrón cambió de individuos que viajaban largas distancias a un movimiento isotópicamente “invisible” más local. Los no locales parecen haber estado bien integrados, compartiendo la misma dieta con la población local, pero hubo evidencia de diferentes prácticas de entierro. Trabajar en York medieval planteaba riesgos significativos para la salud de todos los habitantes jóvenes, con concentraciones patológicas de plomo posiblemente relacionadas con anemia y deficiencia de vitamina D. Esta investigación destaca la importancia de combinar datos históricos, arqueológicos, paleopatológicos, y químicos para comprender las complejas historias de vida de los adolescentes en el pasado.
... Archaeological projects have been developed over the past 15 years that have studied the migration of peoples into Britain since early prehistory. One particularly prominent body of research has collected information from burials of Romans date through aDNA and isotope analysis and has indicated the large-scale movement of people from the lands that surround the Mediterranean basin into Britain during the first to fourth centuries CE (Eckardt, Müldner, and Lewis 2014;Hingley, Bonacchi and Sharpe 2018). Educationalists and heritage professionals have communicated the results of this research in TV programs and museum displays that have aimed to inform school groups and adults. ...
This paper investigates the ways in which the nationalist narrative of the statist archaeology in Iran has contributed to the dominantnationalist discourse in systematic attempts to erase any evidence of the existence of a “ non-Aryan ” past in the Iranian plateau.Sponsored by the state, ethnoracial archaeological studies in Iran have functioned as a powerful instrument for constructing adesired past, one that is informed by Persianist primordial nationalism. To justify the state’s concurrent homogenization policies,Iranian archaeology has ascribed a sole historical agency to the Persian ethnie. Iranian archaeological studies have been employed by the Persianist intelligentsia and the state for propagating the idea of the singularity of “the nation” one in which nonsovereign communities have no history, identity, or culture. Building on emergent decolonized literature on archaeology, this paper aims tointerrogate some of the fundamental premises of nationalist archaeological studies in Iran.
... Archaeological projects have been developed over the past 15 years that have studied the migration of peoples into Britain since early prehistory. One particularly prominent body of research has collected information from burials of Romans date through aDNA and isotope analysis and has indicated the large-scale movement of people from the lands that surround the Mediterranean basin into Britain during the first to fourth centuries CE (Eckardt, Müldner, and Lewis 2014;Hingley, Bonacchi and Sharpe 2018). Educationalists and heritage professionals have communicated the results of this research in TV programs and museum displays that have aimed to inform school groups and adults. ...
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Inspired by the scholarship on Palestine studies and particularly by Sara Roy’s “de-development” theory, this paper investigates how the sovereign ethno-nation in Iran instrumentalizes and distorts development to subjugate the minoritized Kurdish nation. Along with contextualizing de-development theory within the broader discipline of developmental studies and outlining how de-development works in practice, we compare the political-economic conditions of Rojhelat (Eastern Kurdistan/Iran) with those of Palestine to underscore the key similarities and differences between these two cases.
The book investigates the cultural and political dimension of Roman arboriculture and the associated movement of plants from one corner of the empire to the other. It uses the convergent perspectives offered by textual and archaeological sources to sketch a picture of large-scale arboriculture as a phenomenon primarily driven by elite activity and imperialism. Arboriculture had a clear cultural role in the Roman world: it was used to construct the public persona of many elite Romans, with the introduction of new plants from far away regions or the development of new cultivars contributing to the elite competitive display. Exotic plants from conquered regions were also displayed as trophies in military triumphs, making plants an element of the language of imperialism. Annalisa Marzano argues that the Augustan era was a key moment for the development of arboriculture and identifies colonists and soldiers as important agents contributing to plant dispersal and diversity.
Arguably one of the key elements that would come to define Roman society, mobility played a primary role in the expansion and maintenance of Roman authority. With the acquisition of ever- expanding territory and the establishment of new provinces came opportunities for both outward mobility from the Roman heartland as well as immigration to Rome. Discussions of mobility within the Roman empire typically focus on contexts from Rome proper and surrounding regions, while comparatively less is known regarding mobility in the provincial territories. The study presented herein utilises δ¹⁸O values from the second molar (M2) dental enamel of 39 adults, 20 of whom were additionally analysed for ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr, to assess for potential mobility events among individuals interred in the ca. 1st to 3rd c. CE Gallo-Roman necropolis of Rue Jacques Brel in the Aquitaine region of France. Located in the modern-day municipality of Saintes, Jacques Brel functioned as a manufacturing location on the periphery of Mediolanum Santonum, the capital of Roman Aquitaine. While several individuals have isotope values that fall outside of the expected local δ¹⁸Odw and ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr ranges, suggesting mobility events, combine bagplot analysis of δ¹⁸Odw and ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr did not identify any distinct outliers, bringing into question the nature of mobility to the site of Rue Jacques Brel. The small proportion of individuals identified as non-local among the individuals sampled from the Rue Jacques Brel necropolis raises several questions regarding the nature of mobility within Roman provincial settings and implications of site size and function on mobility. Lay summary One of the main questions about living in the Roman empire was “who was mobile?” With such a large territory covered by the Roman empire there were many opportunities to move from place to place, with some of the most common reasons for moving resulting from military deployment, government administration positions, and business ventures. Among the studies conducted to date, a significant number have focused on mobility to the capital of Rome itself, while fewer studies have looked directly at mobility in provincial contexts. The study presented here focusses on mobility to a provincial site in western France, a short distance from Bordeaux, called Rue Jacques Brel Necropolis. This site was the location of a small manufacturing operation and has an associated cemetery. Using statistical analyses of chemical data, it was possible to gain insights to potential mobility among the individuals interred in this cemetery. Of 39 individuals investigated, only a small number appeared truly non-local to the area of Rue Jacques Brel. Additional statistical analysis did not identify any distinct outliers, which brings forth several questions about approaches to gauging mobility. Numerous questions remain to be further investigated to help clarify these initial observations.
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Life in the Roman World (LitRW) is a programme for schools based on research carried out by the School of Archaeology and Ancient History (SAAH) at the University of Leicester (UoL) on Roman-era identities, and large-scale investigation of Roman Leicester by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS). LitRW includes a book and teaching resources which have introduced new non-traditional audiences to the complex, diverse communities of the Roman world through the prism of local heritage. This programme has dramatically increased teacher and pupil engagement with archaeology and classical subjects in state schools in the East Midlands, making Roman-era history, culture and language accessible to c. 9,900 participants, many from disadvantaged backgrounds.
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There is a lack of detailed research into the attitudes of the public in Britain to the Roman past. Information and views about the Roman period are communicated to people in the UK through education at school and also by the media (TV, films, the Internet). Museums and other heritage centres also provide interpretations for visitors, although these venues tend to cater for people who have progressed to a fairly advanced level in the educational system. This paper explores the public debate resulting from the BBC cartoon of a ‘Roman family’ in Britain (Beard, 2017). It argues that some of the extreme reactions to the idea that people came from North Africa to settle and to live in Roman Britain may have drawn upon some old-fashioned ideas about the past that have persisted in school education in England. It appears to be difficult for certain members of the public to understand that ideas about the past that they learnt at school were interpretations rather than ‘facts’ and that knowledge is constantly changing. That society in the Roman empire was highly mobile provides particularly informative parallels for modern Britons. To exploit this potential, however, will require archaeologists to take a more direct interest in communicating their research to a broader range of audiences.
The scarcity of Romano-British human remains from north-west England has hindered understanding of burial practice in this region. Here, we report on the excavation of human and non-human animal remains ¹ and material culture from Dog Hole Cave, Haverbrack. Foetal and neonatal infants had been interred alongside a horse burial and puppies, lambs, calves and piglets in the very latest Iron Age to early Romano-British period, while the mid- to late Roman period is characterised by burials of older individuals with copper-alloy jewellery and beads. This material culture is more characteristic of urban sites, while isotope analysis indicates that the later individuals were largely from the local area. We discuss these results in terms of burial ritual in Cumbria and rural acculturation. Supplementary material is available online ( ), and contains further information about the site and excavations, small finds, zooarchaeology, human osteology, site taphonomy, the palaeoenvironment, isotope methods and analysis, and finds listed in Benson and Bland 1963.
Proust’s famous madeleine captures the power of food to evoke some of our deepest memories. Why does food hold such power? What does the growing commodification and globalization of food mean for our capacity to store the past in our meals – in the smell of olive oil or the taste of a fresh-cut fig? This book offers a theoretical account of the interrelationship of culture, food and memory. Sutton challenges and expands anthropology’s current focus on issues of embodiment, memory and material culture, especially in relation to transnational migration and the flow of culture across borders and boundaries. The Greek island of Kalymnos in the eastern Aegean, where Islanders claim to remember meals long past – both humble and spectacular – provides the main setting for these issues, as well as comparative materials drawn from England and the United States. Despite the growing interest in anthropological accounts of food and in the cultural construction of memory, the intersection of food with memory has not been accorded sustained examination. Cultural practices of feasting and fasting, global flows of food as both gifts and commodities, the rise of processed food and the relationship of orally transmitted recipes to the vast market in speciality cookbooks tie traditional anthropological mainstays such as ritual, exchange and death to more current concerns with structure and history, cognition and the ‘anthropology of the senses’. Arguing for the crucial role of a simultaneous consideration of food and memory, this book significantly advances our understanding of cultural processes and reformulates current theoretical preoccupations.
Comparison of Australia with other postcolonial nations provides a means for analyzing the material culture of 19th-century British colonization. Developments in Australia paralleled those in Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand. As a result of changes in politics, industry, knowledge, culture, and society, migrants at this time differed significantly from those of earlier periods of British colonization. Comparison between colonial outposts provides a means for better understanding this emerging culture of British imperialism. Rather than reflecting the adoption of archaic physical forms, this pattern drew on the many complex strands of class, industrialization, urbanization, and mass consumption that informed contemporary British society. A globally aware perspective on British culture raises new questions for archaeologists in the United States, Britain, and the countries of the former British Empire.