Institute of Archaeology


RAC/TRAC Session 39: RAC General Session 2

Details of the RAC/TRAC Conference session 'RAC General Session 2.'

Conference Sessions and Abstracts - Saturday 13 April 2024

39. RAC General Session 2

Session schedule 

Saturday 13 April (PM)              Room 7 - C3.15 (Level 3)
14:00Is Necessity the Mother of Invention? Coal and Iron in Northern Roman Britain (Elizabeth La Duc)
14:20Sacred Shores: The Mythical Landscape of Sperlonga (Parrish Wright, Rebecca Levitan & Matthew Naglak)
14:40The view from the harbour: The religious scenography of early Imperial Alexandria (Damian Robinson & Franck Goddio)
15:15                                               BREAK
15:45Caveat emptor! Using Bayesian modelling to redate Wroxeter (Roger White)
16:05Radiocarbon Dating of the Roman military presence in the Middle Danube region (Balázs Komoróczy & Marek Vlach)


 Is Necessity the Mother of Invention? Coal and Iron in Northern Roman Britain
Elizabeth La Duc – University of Cambridge

The occurrence of coal on Romano-British archaeological sites has been recognized for many years, but the evidence for how coal was actually employed was mostly circumstantial, based on the association of coal finds with artefacts. Recent excavations of a second century blacksmithing workshop at Aldborough (Isurium Brigantum), Yorkshire, have provided some of the clearest evidence for the use of coal for metalworking. Chemical and microstructural analysis has identified certain features in metal production debris particular to the use of coal as fuel, instead of wood-derived charcoal. Using this new methodology, metalworking remains from other Roman sites in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Northumberland, including along Hadrian’s Wall, have been analysed, proving the extensive use of coal in northern Roman Britain. This paper seeks to answer the question of which factors – environmental, ecological, or technological – led to the innovation of using mineral energy. Was necessity, in this case, a wood shortage caused by a fuel-hungry society, the mother of invention, or was the adoption of coal an active technological choice made by skilled blacksmiths? The importance of the innovation of coal use to the larger context of Roman technology will also be discussed.

 Sacred Shores: The Mythical Landscape of Sperlonga
Parrish Wright – University of South Carolina    
Rebecca Levitan – University of South Carolina
Matthew Naglak – University of South Carolina

This paper reconsiders the famous statuary groups in the grotto of the maritime villa at Sperlonga within the spatial context of the gulf framed by Gaeta and Monte Circeo. Previous research has focused on the connections between Odysseus and the conjectured owner Tiberius (Stewart 1977, Champlin 2013); building on Weis (2000) and Squire (2007) we consider the Virgilian resonances which invite viewers to compare Odysseus and Aeneas inside and outside the grotto. The villa is located along a shore imbued with myth. In the Aeneid, Gaeta is the resting place of Aeneas’ beloved nurse, and her pious burial contrasts with Odysseus’ neglectful burial of Elpenor on Circe’s island, Monte Circeo, visible from the grotto. This localization of mythology between art and the Italian landscape connects story and reality, playing up Aeneas’ wisdom in comparison to Odysseus’ challenges. The impact is intensified by imagining Odysseus landing on those shores, or Aeneas sailing by. Viewing the remains of villa itself and the grotto within the sacred landscape along the coast of Latium demonstrates the layering of Roman and Greek myth. The villa represents a characteristically (imperial) Roman impulse to integrate the mythic Greek past into the Roman while incorporating public, sacred spaces into one that is private and political.

 The view from the harbour: The religious scenography of early Imperial Alexandria
Damian Robinson – University of Oxford        
Franck Goddio – Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine

Sailing past the Pharos lighthouse into the Portus Magnus of Imperial Alexandria, the visitor would have been presented with a carefully curated religious scenography framing the view of the city before them. In the foreground stood the Iseum on Antirhodos island, welcoming seafarers into the haven of the port. On the shore, a monumental landing stage with an altar heralded a plaza leading to the Caesarium, the temple to the Seafaring Caesars on one side of the Royal Port of Antirhodos island and the temple to Poseidon on the other. While on the hill beyond the great Serapeum dominated the background. This paper will use recent archaeological work in the Portus Magnus by the Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine (IEASM) to examine the planning and initial development of this religious landscape in the last years of Ptolemaic rule with its focus on the ruling dynasty and its queens as the goddess Isis, through its reimaging following the Roman annexation of Egypt in the service of the Imperial cult and divine protection of the annona fleet. What will be demonstrated is that maritime temples punctuated views from the water when journeying around the Portus Magnus and encoded meaning in them.

 Caveat emptor! Using Bayesian modelling to redate Wroxeter
Roger White – University of Birmingham

Thirty years ago, at the conclusion of the post-excavation project on the excavation of the bath’s basilica, Wroxeter, those involved were lamenting that scientific dating was unable to secure what was, in effect, a floating chronology, despite an abundance of material culture. Now, three decades of advances in radiocarbon dating have enabled a collaborative project to apply a comprehensive programme of AMS dating to the complex Roman urban stratigraphy at Wroxeter. The results will be explored in the presentation, alongside the wider implications of the potential for scientific dating to refine our understanding of conventional dating of Roman sites. It will also address the significant issues thrown up by calibration of 14 C dates, and the broader questions relating to the reliability of scientific dating in contrast to conventional approaches to dating using the abundance of material culture on Roman sites.

 Radiocarbon Dating of the Roman military presence in the Middle Danube region
Balázs Komoróczy – Akademie věd České republiky        
Marek Vlach – Akademie věd České republiky

The Roman-barbarian interactions along the Middle Danube Limes exhibit various forms, from peaceful contacts and trading activities to full-scale military conflicts. The direct evidence of the latter type of events represents a specific archaeological information source–generally called temporary camps. The regions of Moravia, W Slovakia and Lower Austria, which could be considered as a Marcomannic settlement territory, currently encompass 24 verified Roman military field installations. The specifics of these archaeological contexts and the present unsatisfactory state of knowledge have raised the necessity of approaching the given questions with advanced techniques, not least concerning their chronological position. Along with multiple methods and analytical procedures of relevant natural sciences (geophysics and geochemistry, archaeobotany, microstratigraphy, etc.), radiocarbon dating has also been involved in establishing the chronological position of temporary camps further because the archaeological data provide limited possibilities in this respect. In multiple cases, the method has augmented traditional dating techniques and allowed a more secure establishment of the chronological position of the camps of the Roman army. Using a series of 14 C data and synchronizing it with other records obtained during the last years of an international research project, it has been possible to establish the dating of many camps on more solid ground. The data so far do not provide any dating support allowing the camps to be associated with the campaign against Marobuduus in 6 AD. On the contrary, in most instances, radiocarbon data contribute to their assignment to a group of Roman military structures from the period of the Marcomannic wars of the emperor Marcus Aurelius.