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Port societies in the north-west Roman provinces: cemeteries and sailors’ stories.

Professor John Pearce(KCL),‘Port societies in the north-west Roman provinces: cemeteries and sailors’ stories

A Department of Classics and Ancient History seminar
Date24 May 2017
Time16:30 to 17:45
PlaceBuilding:One Bateman Lecture Theatre

To the cities on the coasts and rivers of Roman Britain, Gaul and Germany came individuals who variously moved in the service of the emperor, followed economic opportunities, or were displaced through human trafficking. In contrast however to the Mediterranean, Roman-period human mobility within Cunliffe’s Atlantic façade, especially its northern sectors, has received limited attention. For this the limited epigraphic habit in this zone is partly to blame. This paper therefore reviews the insights into port societies in this region which can be derived from a funerary context; it compares the evidence of funerary inscriptions, of osteological and biomolecular analysis of human skeletal material, and of the rituals by which the dead were buried. It assesses how far funerary traditions in these cities inform the composition and dynamics of port societies. Particular attention will be paid to rituals and objects which appear ‘out of place’. Difficulties of principle and isotope characterisations from human skeletal remains have undermined the connections suggested in the past between ‘exotic’ rituals and the geographical origin of the deceased. Instead the paper considers how non-local practices and objects could be read by participants in ritual as embodying a shared past, a tradition around which communities may have shaped their identity through reference to a perceived common experience and shared origins.


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