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Roman Mosaics of Britain (Hardback)

Volume V: Discoveries and research since 2010

Ancient History > Roman Britain

Imprint: Society of Antiquaries of London
Series: Roman Mosaics of Britain
Pages: 302
Illustrations: 223
ISBN: 9780854313068
Published: 30th April 2024
Casemate UK Academic

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This is a supplementary volume to the corpus of Romano-British mosaics published by the Society of Antiquaries of London between 2002 and 2010 (vols I-IV). It is in two parts: an overview, discussing various aspects of Romano-British mosaic study with special emphasis on recent research and discoveries, while the second part is a catalogue of new mosaic discoveries, re-excavation and new research of known pavements, in the same format as previous volumes. Volume V includes the recently discovered figurative mosaics at Ketton, Rutland, and Boxford, Berks, which are regarded as perhaps the most significant examples revealed for 60 years. Also included is the mausoleum uncovered in Southwark in 2023.306 The corpus is an outstanding work of scholarship which has become the standard reference work for Roman mosaics in Britain. The authors have gathered all the known sources and references to the mosaics, with many illustrated through paintings and drawings made in situ. These are works of art in their own right. The central places at Rendlesham and Coddenham lost both their high-level administrative functions and their economic centrality in the early eighth century. This appears to have been linked to wider changes in patterns of landholding and royal administration which saw jurisdictional functions distributed across a range of other places, and to changes in the patterns and scale of production and exchange seen, for example, in the dramatic expansion of the manufacturing centre and international trading port at Ipswich in the early eighth century. We can place this in the 720s and 730s, and identify both the changes at Rendlesham and Coddenham, and the expansion of Ipswich, as royal initiatives of King Ælfwald (713–749). Comparative studies of Hoxne, Burnham and Caistor-by-Norwich identify similar administrative territories and central places elsewhere in East Anglia, but show a diversity of pathways within a common trajectory of development and illustrate the complexity of relationships between landscape, social aggregates and geographies of power. Different relationships between early medieval power centres and important late Roman places offer insights into the transitions of power and political identity in the aftermath of Roman rule, with indications that early medieval geographies of power inherited more from late Roman rural magnate power than from the formal administrative structures of the Roman state. Integrating archaeology, numismatics and textual history at the regional scale also allows the identification of a significant threshold of political integration c AD 670 which may mark the point at which the wider territorial authority of the ruling dynasty, with its original power base in south-east Suffolk, became fully established and accepted over what is now Norfolk. The study also seeks to test and refine the perspectives offered by the ‘river-and-wold’ and ‘peer-polity’ models, and to evaluate the ‘deep history’ agenda. The inter-disciplinary approach to landscape history and archaeology allows the identification post-Roman social aggregates and administrative territories that were structured in part by environment and topography, and that had a long-term influence on subsequent administrative geographies. It has also been possible to identify recurrent patterns of association between human settlement and activity and soils and terrain. The comparative case studies, though, show that ‘river-and-wold’ must be applied critically and flexibly if it is to accommodate the wide range of covariation between environment and human agency. One clear conclusion is that where topographies are more marked, and the range of environmental affordances more limited, then the spatial expression of social aggregates is more likely to conform to terrain. Another, that although early medieval conditions may structure later patterns of settlement and activity the trajectories of development are complex and there is no simple way of predicting earlier post-Roman human geographies from tenth-century and later sources.
Diachronic analysis has identified changing patterns of social and settlement hierarchy, with a trend to fewer, richer centres over the course of the fifth to seventh centuries. This is consistent with new levels of social stratification and political centralisation, and the concomitant control of landed resource and external exchange contacts by an increasingly powerful elite. Particularly clear in the Deben valley and its relationships with neighbouring territories, this appears to confirm the usefulness of the ‘peer-polity’ model. Working with data sets of varying quality at a range of scales has required the development of new approaches that allow consistent quantification and characterisation for the purposes of comparative and integrated analysis, and spatial interrogation. Of particular value have been aoristic analysis to characterise activity trends over time, normalised presentation of spatial densities to investigate activity zoning within sites, and the semi-quantitative integration of data from single-finds, excavation and survey to chart changing regional patterns of human settlement and activity.

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