Between Adaption and Resistance – Some Thoughts Concerning the So-Called “Princely Graves” of the Roman Iron Age in the Barbaricum
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Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Schloss Gottorf Schlossinsel 1, D-24837 Schleswig
Wiadomości Archeologiczne 2015;LXVI(66)
The articles introduction is referring to the “princely grave” (“Fürstengrab”) of Avaldsnes which was excavated in western Norway already in 1834. It contained amongst others weaponry, Roman import and a golden necklace. The grave dates to the 3rd century AD. Some 150 years later in Hagenow in western Mecklenburg a rich cremation grave of the first half of the 2nd century AD was excavated which differs in many ways from the grave from Avaldsnes. Both graves are defined as “princely graves”, but a clear archaeological definition of what a “princely grave” is still missing. The author wants to draw an overall picture discussing the relationship to the Roman Empire and the function of the “princely graves” in the great developments of Romano-Barbarian interrelationship. The first historical person to be mention is Arminius who was educated in Rome and who used his knowledge and skills to defeat the legions of Varus in 9 AD. Due to the written sources it could be stated that he had an important function in intertribal relationships of his time, so he could be called a “prince” representing a very special connection between the Roman Empire and the Barbaricum. An important grave of this early period is the Danish burial of Hoby in Lolland. The inventory clearly shows a high ranked person who was buried with a wide variety of Roman imports in the first half of the 1st century. Many pieces in that grave not have any parallels in the Barbaricum or even only very few ones in the Roman Empire. This inventory could be interpreted as reflecting the attitude of Barbarian chieftains to bring Roman influences and prestige goods to their homelands in order to adopt themselves in a way to Roman habits. But common tendencies for example in using prestige weapons as signs of power are missing at that time. This situation seems to change dramatically during the Marcomannic Wars of the late Early Roman Period. At this time Germanic tribes and chieftains seem to develop close strategic coalitions which brought the Roman Empire into deep trouble during the years between 166 and 182 AD. The Mušov grave excavated in the late 1988 is a key find. Weaponry and personal equipment could be set into wide reaching networks in the Barbaricum representing the military structures and connections during the time of the Marcomannic wars. For the first time Barbarian tribes north of the Danube play an active role against the Imperium Romanum and this new strength and barbarian interaction is to be traced in Mušov and some other “princely graves” of that time. It is argued in the paper that the inventory of the Mušov grave could be connected with Ballomarius who – due to the written Roman sources – played an important role during the start of this wars. The Roman import in this grave could be gifts to him during his negotiations with the Roman officials, the barbarian equipment like silver shield garnitures or rich belt equipment could represent his internal and military power. The “prince” of Mušov therefore is representing a new type of Barbarian leader who’s perspective in terms of internal coalitions between Germanic tribes seems to be much broader then visible in any grave of the Early Roman Period in the Barbaricum. At the beginning of the Late Roman Period these interrelationships began to become even wider as a strong Sarmatian impact is to be seen, e.g. in using golden “Kolbenarmringe”. This could be interpreted as an effect of the Marcomannic wars too. All these items could be seen as symbols of the developing comitatus (warband) which is a basic military structure of that time. The Scandinavian bog finds give clear evidence of these developments. In the 3rd century a kind of standardization is to be seen not only in the bog finds but in “princely graves” as well. The grave from Gommern in Saxony-Anhalt is an important key find as it contains a shield with rich silver fittings and a golden “Kolbenhalsring”. At this time Barbarian chieftains are in intensive communication and interaction. This kind of formation is the basis of all the troubles at the western borders of the Imperium: the limes. In the early and mid-4th century “princely graves” are rare and it seems to be very difficult to integrate them in the above describes system. But in this time some rich bog finds and some Scandinavian graves (Saetrang-Lilla-Jored-Group) seem to fill up the gap. At the end of the 4th century the situation is changing as such graves as the chief militaire in Vermand in Picardie are indicating the barbarization of the Western Roman Empire at that time. It is since the Markomannic wars that the Barbarian societies are increasingly in a course of confrontation and resistance than in the Early Roman Period. Over some 400 years the “princely graves” are representing this development that in the end was one of the important root of the late Antique society.