This week On the Reading Rest I have an article from Antiquity. It concerns strontium 87Sr/86Sr values in human skeletons from the Carolingian Iron Age. Measuring 87Sr/86Sr values in tooth enamel will disclose the strontium bioavailability in the environment where the human being lived when the tooth enamel was formed, i.e. where the person grew up. If these values are compared to the baseline values in a certain environment we may speak of a possible match or mismatch between the values of a tested person and the baseline values – most often a spectrum – characterizing the area where this person’s skeleton was found. A match indicates that the test person grew up in the area in question and died there, while a mismatch suggests that the person at some stage in life moved into the area perhaps only to die there.

Since some areas are more uniquely defined than others and since areas may vary in size, the analysis and interpretation may be more or less rewarding. However, if we want to check prehistoric migration 87Sr/86Sr values may be surprisingly revealing not least owing to our present-day reluctance to believe in prehistoric migration without manifest proof, which in practice rather than formally there might be in 87Sr/86Sr values.


fig 00Price et al. 2011. Douglas T. Price, Karin Margarita Frei, Andres Siegfried Dobat, Niels Lynnerup and Pia Bennike. Who was in Harold Bluetooth’s army? Strontium isotope investigation of the cemetery at the Viking Age fortress at Trelleborg, Zeeland. Antiquity; Jun 2011; 85. Pp. 476-89. Acronym: WiHaBa.

In Viking Age research, Harold Bluetooth is usually considered a very Danish political player and an emblem of state formation. His nationalistic centrepiece as we know it, is nevertheless an odd one on several legs: his equation: Christianity = The Church, his building projects, his quest for formal geometrical architecture, his ahistorical modernity in which he cunningly incorporates the past, as well as his use of text and rune stone ornament as propaganda. This make him stand out as outlandish – introducing all kinds of European novelties and uniformities that today’s neo-nationalists/fascists in Denmark would have frown at and compared to intolerable EU directives, had they been able to draw historical parallels. Many academics on the other hand, think that Harold is interesting because to their mind his measures look like steps towards the foundation of the Christian Medieval Kingdom, the future ‘Nation State’ and eventually even ‘The Viking’ – once signs of civilisation, nowadays tarnished phenomena reduced to the mantras of neo-nationalists – but nevertheless part of Danish history.

Despite his endeavour, one may question Harold’s success as the king who reigned for decades changing country and society. Although he may have been king for several years (‘fifty’ his grandson Sweyn Estridsson thought when (c. 970) he wanted to please Adam of Bremen) it is unlikely that Harold gained supreme power until a couple of years after the death of his father, that is, c. 965 CE. By c. 985 his rule was over after the war with Otto II (974) and a power struggle, started c. 980 by his son Sweyn Forkbeard. Harold-Bluetooth’s rule, as demonstrated by his building activities, might thus have been short and unsuccessful inasmuch as it aimed at transforming and reorganizing society.

Analyses and interpretation in WiHaBa fit the general academic understanding of Harold. Therefore, the answer to the question of the title – Who was in Harold Bluetooth’s army? – is: foreigners! or, in the eloquent last sentence of the abstract: Trelleborg, home of Harold Bluetooth’s army, was a fortress of foreigners with vivid implications for the nature of his political mission (WiHaBa:476).

Foreign and non-foreign among the buried

How foreign were they when they died? How vivid their implications? When we look at WiHaBa:Fig. 2, and that happens well before we know anything about the actual 87Sr/86Sr values, it seems that the proportion between non-local and possible local values is more or less 50-50 outside the mass graves. Although there are baseline foreigners in the graves there seems to be equally many locals interred on the cemetery.

baseline values in Denmark

Fig 4, WiHaBa:483, presents the South Scandinavian baseline values and the authors draw the conclusion that values outside the range 0.709-0.7108 indicate a non-South Scandinavian or non-Northwest German human being. This conclusion, nevertheless, doesn’t match the map presented in Fig 4. In fact, there are several values between 0.7073 and 0.709 in Denmark not least in Jutland something one should not forget when discussing matters related to Harold Bluetooth. To the East, in Scania, there are few reference values, but in northern Scania there is a baseline value of 0.7160. Colours will help us see the pattern of the 87Sr/86Sr values.

fig 05In the end the most striking pattern is that of the difference between the mass graves and the single or double common graves. Interpreting this pattern is difficult owing to the lack of baseline data from Halland and Scania (where 87Sr/86Sr values above 0.711 are possible). If that is indeed the case some of the ‘foreigners’ in Trelleborg would be ‘less foreign’ and based perhaps in a Scanian trelleborg before they died. Some, moreover, could have been children on Bornholm, or on  Öland and Gotland. Be this as it may, those interred in mass graves were a more varied group of people and more baseline-foreign than those buried in traditional graves. This indicates that those who seem to have been living more permanently in the garrison had a more homogenous regional background – albeit with a marked non-Zealand foreign component – than the mass grave population. Indirectly, since there are far too few values below 0.708 to reflect a ‘Danish’ population, there is an emphasis on a regional component and we can conclude that those who lived and died at Trelleborg were not predominantly from Jutland let alone Jelling men.

If Harold’s army had consisted of foreigners it would have been noteworthy, not least because it is difficult in a country with a weak monetary system, to build an army of mercenaries, who must be paid inasmuch as looting is not a permanent option. On the other hand it is a great advantage to have a number of loyal mercenaries, perhaps with a background in Scania, if controlling Zeeland is an option in a civil war. It is much more likely therefore, that Trelleborg was manned by a mixture of Zealanders and non-Zealand non-Jutland foreigners. WiHaBa suggests that it is significant that the mass graves were probably reserved for groups who didn’t live permanently in the fortress. Had they been part of the ordinary crew they ought to have been buried individually, even if their death was traumatic.

WiHaBa is an article that jumps to conclusions – hopefully for no apparent reason, such as campaigning for Sweyn Forkbeard’s true Danish values or any other involuntary agenda. The article simplifies and inflates ‘the foreign’, the legacy of Harold Bluetooth and the history of the Carolingian Iron Age forcing its readers to scrutinize its arguments as well as its number foundation. There is nothing wrong with applied natural sciences, in this case recording the measurements of a multicollector VG Sector 54 IT mass spectrometer (Institute of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen). It is reassuring that this instrument works so well that five ng loads of the NBS 987 Sr standard gave 87Sr/86Sr = 0.710236-0.000010 (n = 10, 2s). Obviously one needs craftsmanship and critical sense to handle the material and its preparation. But that must not obscure the fact that until the scientist starts interpreting the stable isotope values, analysis is essentially a systematic craft. In this case the interpretations demonstrates a considerable gap between material and conclusion in tandem with a historical interpretation that borders on the naïve.

This week On the Reading Rest I have a published article of which no parts may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Since I have not been able to obtain a permission, and since I transmit something I have just read as I have read it, rather than contemplated and weighed it against a multitude of new and old opinions over a period of time, I cannot reveal the name of the publication because given what I have just written it is obvious that I have actually been quarrying information from a physical publication, which I then cannot transmit by this or indeed ‘any means electronic’. All this is understandable because buying the publication costs the consumer 0.25 € per page.

Fulham fig.00However, if you are able to follow this link:

you may be able to read the article behind the my acronym BaBroo.

You could also google: Vikings in Fulham.

The phrase ‘winter in Fulham’ gives c. 8,500 hits on Google, ‘summer in Ghent’ or ‘summer in Gent’ gives c. 15,000 hits. The reverse: summer in Fulham, winter in Ghent, is even more in favour of Ghent. The problem is Fulham. Despite the fact that bordered by Chelsea to the north and with the River Thames to the south, Fulham is one of the capital’s most popular residential enclaves and the properties are some of London’s most expensive. Although during the 18th century, city merchants flocked here for drinking, gambling and prostitutes. Today, however it is established and thriving – busy with shops, bars, boutiques and restaurants. (cf.

Fulham fig.01 The blog entry OtRR 8 August 2011 Pirate Settlements in England, listed a situation in Fulham 878-79 CE, as one of the few occasions when Vikings are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Manuscript A 878:(2) 7 þy geare gegadrode on hlóþ wicenga, 7 gesæt æt Fullanhamme be Temese—and that year Vikings gathered in a band (a hloþ was defined as 7-35 men), and sat at Fulham by the Thames.

And there, starting as a gang, they sat the winter through until they had grown into an army, then they sailed to Ghent in Belgium. This at least is what we gather from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 878 and 879 CE.

The OtRR entry about the Fulham Viking winter is part of the quixotic struggle carried out on the blog to kill Vikings in general and let the rest be Vikings – that is pirates. Supported by BaBroo’s discussion, the present entry continues this hopeless fight.

Because there has been a tendency even in recent years among historians to relate Guthrum’s Danish army – which overran parts of England in the 870s, came to terms with Alfred 878 and secured East Anglia for themselves in 879 – to the Vikings gathering at Fulham, BaBroo discusses the Fulham scene in a number of perspectives starting with the meaning of the Old English word hlóþ. This word, however, is an Old Saxon one, hlōtha, which means booty in modern English (1).

Compared to Old Englishhlóþ, Old Saxon hlōtha has been unproductive. Old English hþ on the other hand came to designate not only the booty, but also a band of robbers and their crimes. Armed men, therefore, could come with the intention of robbing, mid hlóþe, rather than fighting, and not surprisingly the need for a verb was felt –hlóþian, to rob or spoil, i.e. what gangs or robbers – or indeed pirates – habitually do. Probably, the dynamics of the private initiative demonstrated by the hlóþ triggered a need for legislation and a hlóþ was thus defined as a body of 7 to 35 robbers.

In addition a specific terminology developed: hlóþere, is a gang member; hlóþbót, is a compensation or fine to be paid by a member of a hlóþ for the wrong committed by any one of them; hlóþgecrod, is a ‘crowd’ or small body of armed med and hlóþsliht, is the slaying of a member of a hlóþ. It’s all in Bosworth and Toller’s dictionary and that is why it seems fair to conclude that word was productive, exactly because the hlóþ phenomenon was common in England in the 9th century and onwards. Inventing the expression gegadrode on hlóþ—‘gathered on gang’ in the 9th century, is in other words a conscious use of language. On hlóþ describes the actions of robbers: they gathered gangwise, shipload upon shipload of pirates, e.g. at Fulham.

It is impossible, therefore, for anyone writing the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, to mistake a hlóþ for an army, i.e. a here, i.e. the word used to describe the men in Fulham 879. Rightly BaBroo concludes that a gang of pirates landed at Fulham in Dec 878. During winter and spring 879 they were probably joined by others and then they left for Ghent as an army. That is to say: the hlóþ of 878 had become the here of the year 879 at least in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The 878 and 879 entries indicate a change in number, but more importantly a change of status: a hlóþ is engaged in robbing, an army in fighting. The gang member will be punished for the crimes committed by the gang or any member of it, but a soldier will not, by law, be punished for the crimes committed by the army or one of its soldiers. Gang members are guilty by association, soldiers are not. Contrary to robbers, soldiers are ordered to fight while pirates and thugs do it as a lifestyle – except of course if they turn out to be Russian soldiers posing as a hlóþ.

Because there has been a tendency even in recent years among historians to argue that the gang sitting in Fulham on the left bank of the Thames attracting other gangs, was actually a way of organizing an army in order to attack Wessex on the right bank, BaBroo:32ff looks into the topographical, geographical and strategic scene. Afterwards they address our limited insight into winter and spring activities in Fulham 878-9 (BaBroo:42f.). This allows them to conclude that the pirates, whom we hear of at Fulham, stayed put before they left. As it happened their stay became no more than an episode with no strategic or political consequences for England whatsoever. It is comparable to successful repatriation.

Thanks to BaBroo’s article, it meets the eye that when the Fulham Vikings had stopped being a team, since they had grown into an army, they sailed off to Ghent passing and leaving Essex and East Anglia behind them rather than joining Guthrum in his colonial endeavour to organize his new kingdom. This, and the fact that they actually preferred Ghent oven Kent, was their strategic decision when the stirred down the Thames. The leaders of the newly formed army may well have argued that if Guthrum had a Kingdom in Essex and East Anglia, while Alfred ruled Wessex, establishing a node in Ghent may be prolific. Fulham fig.02

Insisting that pirates form bands and soldiers armies makes sense of the Fulham 878-79 entries. Although winter in Fulham may well have been relatively dull, although pirates may have flocked here for drinking, gambling and prostitutes, it nevertheless created a possibility to gather an army and leave piracy behind you and become an army based in the Ghent area.

Fulham fig.03From an Anglo-Saxon point of view the Fulham episode would have stood out as a significant detail worth an entry in the annals. Although the episode didn’t become interesting until the result became obvious, i.e. when the newly formed army of Northmen left for Belgium, it is not inconceivable that the chronicler, wise in the event, summed up the episode in such a way that a seemingly insignificant event – a shipload of pirates seeking winter quarters in Fulham 878 – gathered momentum developing itself into an army that decided to leave England in 879.

Since the army, wedging itself between Guthumian Danes and Alfredian Saxons, didn’t try its luck in Wessex or the Danelaw, it  caught the attention of the chronicler and others that this kind of military body and political decision, developed in six of months. The episode was noteworthy and perhaps even astonishing.

When it comes to Vikings, what BaBroo critizises is a number of researchers who do not differentiate between an army of Danes and a band of pirates with an agenda of its own, because they believe Vikings and Danes to be synonymous. Formally they know the difference in practice they don’t. That is why some believe that the Vikings at Fulham were actually part of Guthrum’s army, split for strategical reasons. It so happens they weren’t related, because the term Viking is intended to differentiate pirates from Danes. All sensible researchers know that ‘Viking’ is just a conventional term for Danes or Northmen, Scandinavians more or less, but when writing the history of Anglo-Saxon England, some sensible researchers do not hesitate to equate pirate crews with armies, comparing apples and oranges, and making Danes and Vikings one and the same, irrespective of what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tries to convey. Notwithstanding, they would seem to believe that what happened in 878 could not in the perfect world of annals be revised in the light of 879, which of course they don’t believe, except when they do.


(1) See Köbler, Gerhard, Altsächsisches Wörterbuch, (5. Auflage) 2014

This week On the Reading Rest I have an article in German consisting of two articles:

Sommer, Sebastian. 2008. Die Römer in Künzing – Wege zur einer virtuellen Rekonstruktion dess Kastellvicus oder: Versuch der Annäherung an ein Lebensbild—(The Romans in Künzing – roads to .  virtual reconstruction of the vicus of the fort or: An attempted approach to a picture of living space. My translation). Bericht der bayerischen Bodendenkmalpflege, 49. 2008. Pp.107-126 + 128

In the end of the article there is a perfectly autonomous contribution:

Sättele, Manuel. 2008. Methodik der virtuellen Rekonstruktion—(Methods of virtual reconstruction. My translation). Bericht der bayerischen Bodendenkmalpflege, 49. 2008. Pp. 126-28.

Contrary to the authors, acronomised SebSo and ManSä, some readers, who start their German geography with Lech, Main, Mas, Rhein, Inn, Donau, Weser Oder Elbe before they gather that perhaps Inn/Donau is more or less the environment where Künzing may be situated, have only a vague idea where to find Roman Quintana. To many Künzing is at best like Fiesole, Haut de Cagnes, Valtournanche, Gandersheim, Kelso, Vorbasse, Sogndal or Hög i Hälsingland, that is, European places we have perhaps heard about, but cannot point out on a map. The above articles won’t help us perhaps because their readers are required to know the geography of Bayern, but Wikipedia et cetera will (0).

Fig 01

Fig 02Twenty five – thirty years ago it was common to point out that one of the scientific values of reconstructions, despite their propensity to be wrong deceiving the public and the odd researcher, was the fact that in order to obtain a result, reconstruction forced researchers to perform a series of actions that had little or no support in the source material. Ideally, having completed the reconstruction, and being aware of its hallmark, the reconstruction should prompt the researcher to study the source material once again, searching for hitherto undetected significant patterns. The reconstruction was meant to throw new light over the existing records and suggest new ways of recording future investigations in order to produce knowledge. In reconstruction archaeology as in any applied natural science describing something, patterns are detected because the perceived is studied and described on the basis of different models.

In complex human contexts, however, it becomes obvious that although we get a better understanding, for instance of the reconstruction of the Iron Age house in Scandinavia, when using models, we are chasing a fleeing goal that becomes more and more distant because of its growing complexity: now that we have learnt how Iron Age man made use of timber it seems there are no extant suitable woods to be found anywhere in Scandinavian to supply us with the timber. Moreover, the quality of the craftsman and the contribution of his childhood experience to his craftsmanship will be difficult to judge although it may well be important, now that we a have a general understanding of the principles of house construction. Chasing this fleeing goal and trying to answer the impossible questions in order to know more about woods and craftsmanship make up the methodological point of the reconstruction.

Quite a number of words and repeated observations could have been saved had these commonplace insights into problems and possibilities of reconstructions simply been referred to. One might also have started with ManSä’s contribution because it summarizes the character of the virtual reconstruction project arguing along some of the lines sketched above. Referring to these by all means Scandinavian and thus barbaric rather than Roman insights would also have made it obvious that one should think about one’s readers when writing about reconstructions. There is little general purpose in trying to describe why the Kastellvicus at Kastell Künzing – the vicus (settlement) around the Künzing fort – should be reconstructed in this or that way. Instead these steps of the actual reconstruction itself and the report on what precise decisions were taken in the process, concerns mainly those who are supposed to continue the heritage management and carry out possible future excavations in Künzing — not the commonl archaeological reader.

Based on the article alone the common archaeological reader cannot and should not check the foundation of the reconstruction because the common reader doesn’t belong to the local scientific community addressed in the article. The reconstruction is interesting to a wider group of readers and worth reading for the simple reason that it is a platform which demands to be followed up.

The task is simple: reconstruct the Roman settlement and the landscape surrounding it according to a relevant chronological framework for the benefit of heritage management, future town planning, research and the public. Only quite far into the article does SebSo argue for two settlement phases, but the section is easy to find at page 117 ff. and may thus be read in advance by those who think that chronology is an interesting early companion to history.

The point of departure is simple too. The contextual remains divide themselves into two groups. Group (1) consists of areas of relevance to the task. They are either (1:a) that is, recorded before they were destroyed or (1:b) that is, destroyed but void of any helpful records. Group (2) consists of areas in which future investigations may be helpful.

So why not start by making a chronological series of maps, such as phase one and two, of areas (1) and areas (2) with the subdivision (1:a) or (1:b). A possible grey zone between (1:a) and (1:b) may come in handy. Needless to say: if investigations are actually begun at a specific place the division between (1) and (2) may need revision. There is no such series of maps. Implicitly the landscape map is there and somewhere it can probably be found. I don’t doubt that the Bodendenkmalpflege – the heritage board – have these maps. The article, however, has the only following Beilage:

Fig 03

Fig 04Remains, records and documentation govern the reconstruction and SebSom has almost got it right: to begin with, reconstructions of contexts dominated by large formal structures, such a dominant fortress in a specific topographical situation, are built up hierarchically imitating a past reality. This means that even if the vicus is in focus, one should start with the auxiliary fort Quintanis.

The reconstruction should follow a path that runs from – the fort, to the roads – Passau-Regensburg and Künzing-Töging, to the cemeteries, to the streets defining the quarters, to the quarters, the plots, their structure, their houses and the open space in their backyards. One could go further into the diagnostics of the settlement, but to a broader research community there is little point in doing so because the information is already overflowing. Nevertheless, judging from ManSä’s contribution p. 127 it seems that the archaeologists and 3D modelers have each their approach to reconstruction. That may well have been their experience in the Künzing project, but that doesn’t make it true, i.e. a theoretically reasonable situation.

Probably the heritage management has already got its Künzing instrument and the ability to make the vicus an even more interesting site. Likewise town planners in Künzing have something to refer to and the villa owners between Kastellstrasse and Kohortenstrasse may realize that a geophysical prospection in their gardens, and in other parts of the community, could be worthwhile and non-destructive. The Bodendenkmalamt is probably all in favour because the latest edition of Archaeologisches Jahr in Bayern is full of geophysics. Moreover, work was done already in the 1990s on the cemeteries (1).

The only problem seems to be that the project has not been followed up. I may of course be wrong having simply been unable to find the information.

The end product of the article consists of two reconstructions. They are very nice, but they are presented as illustrations informing the public, not as results of a research into the reconstruction of the vicus. Thus they are only illustrations and historical documents since there seems to be no 2nd and 3rd editions of the reconstruction. I may of course be wrong having simply been unable to find the information.

Fig 05

Fig 06

But suppose I am not wrong, then the Künzing project highlights the inability to of heritage authorities and museums to incorporate a scientific approach to knowledge production into their projects. This is not solely due to lack of funding, it also reflects an inability to design projects. Let’s hope I am wrong.


(0) There is a popular description of this part of the Limes in English and German by Wolfgang Czysz, Andrea Faber, Christof Flügel and C. Sebastian Sommer at

(1) See illustrations in the description referred to in note (0) and: Fassbinder, J.W.E., and H. Becker (1993), Kombination von Luftbild und Magnetik zur Prospektion eines urnenfelderzeitlichen Gräberfeldes bei Künzing, Arch. Jahr Bayern, 1992, 180-182.
Fassbinder, J.W.E., and H. Becker (1996), Das urnenfelder-/hallstattzeitliche Gräberfeld von Künzing, in Archäologische Prospektion Luftbildarchäologie und Geophysik, vol. 59, edited by K. Hemmeter and M. Petzet, pp. 139-141, Bayerisches Landesamt f Denkmalpflege, ISBN: 3-87490-541-1.)

This week On the Reading Rest I have a Festschrift:

Hellström fig 00ΛΑΒΡΥΖ. Studies presented to Pontus Hellström. Lars Karlsson, Susanne Carlsson and Jesper Blid Kullberg (eds). Boreas. Uppsala Studies in Ancient Mediterranean and Near East Civilizations 35, Uppsala 2014. 533 pp. with 231 ills. ISBN 978-91-554-8831-4

It is typical inasmuch as it is not a Festschrift, but a studies-presented-to and it might as well have been a “vänbok”, which sounds much more relaxed that its Latin original liber amicorum—“book of friends”, had it been in Swedish. It is also an essays-in-honour-of book.

Hellström fig 01Labrys in the title refers to the site Labranda in the southeastern corner of modern Turkey. Labranda is a prominent place in an impressive landscape and the site was held sacred, and at times constructed as a sanctuary, from nobody knows when until Byzantine times, but Ottoman coins from the late 14th c. CE have also been unearth during excavations. As a sanctuary signified by the name Labraunda the place was understood to be connected to the double bladed axe – the labrys.

Pontus Hellström has devouted a large part of his research to Labraunda and more than half the contributions to Labrys concerns Labraunda and surrounding sites in Caria, i.e., the region in which Labranda is situated. Since the contributions are many this means that there is room for a large and varied smorgasbord stacked with ancient Greece, Etruscans and Rome.

There are many good reasons for reading a Festschrift. For instance, being sufficiently old, one may compare the contributions one reads to one’s own papers in different Festschrifts. This kind of comparison makes it apparent that Labrys, like many other studies-presented-to, represents a typical research career spread out among several researchers at different points in their career, rather than collected in the end of the individual career. One would perhaps have thought that the outcome and structure of the individual career would differ from the cross section of the collective, but given that disciplines and their research themes vary the classification of the two sets are most similar: your student approach writing about an interesting detail; your serious post doc contributions when your demonstrated depth and breadth within new and old fields (there are several of those); your joint contribution which actually point to something new; your contribution to a friend, and the then the contributions you wrote because you thought they would interest your colleague too – some probably did. Trying to recall your contributions you will discover the last category, the one or ones you have forgotten.

The contents and composition of a Festschrift therefore looks very much like a cross section of a discipline, or a sub discipline, or a school, or a research group. Labrys is no exception and although not everyone in Swedish classical archaeology and studies took part in the volume many did and the result has quite a lot to do with the character of the discipline which is marked by disciplinary interaction between departments and research institutes. When this kind of cross section becomes visible it is one of the great advantages of the Festschrift, because it is not filtered by the academic publishing market, the policy of journals or anonymous peer reviewers, but primarily by the more or less open invitation sent out by the editors and secondarily by that which researchers felt they wanted to write about given the circumstances, that is, given their affiliation with the discipline.

Although many contributions stand out in Labrys I have chosen to comment upon one that I think stands out in a significant way. I read:

Siapkas, Johannes. 2014. Karian theories: seeking the origins of ancient Greece. In: L. Karlsson, S. Carlsson and J. Blid Kullberg (eds). ΛΑΒΡΥΖ. Studies presented to Pontus Hellström. Boreas. Uppsala Studies in Ancient Mediterranean and Near East Civilizations 35, Uppsala 2014. Pp. 301-314.

And refer to author and contribution as JoSiKa.

Karians were one of the great number of prehistoric peoples that were thought to populate the past. Mentioned by Classical authors, such a people may be employed in different ancient and modern and discourses. Needless to say many may have felt that they were Carian. JoSiKa gives us the background in ancient sources and place names to this relatively nondescript people which could nevertheless be employed to describe the origin of different cultural phenomena, when archaeology in the late 1800s started to produce a source material completely unmarked by classical authors, with few of the qualities later recognized in Greek culture. Although researcher debated the importance of Karians in Bronze and Iron Age in and around the Aegean Sea, they did not question that there was once a people called Karian and that such a people, as indeed a specific people, could be the origin of Mycenean civilization or not; could be inferior as a people or not; could be a migrating people or not; could be the same people as the Leleges or not. As JoSiKa points out it was the need to find a specific origin for what was called the Mycenean civilization, which, being a civilization and specific, needed a specific origin, that gave the Karians a historic identity. In the end of the 19th century there were three competing models of Mycenean origins: 1) the Mycenean civilization had northern origins, c. 1890 and onwards. 2) the Myenean civilization was indigenous c. 1900 and onwards . 3) the Mycenean civilization had eastern origins, c. 1880 and onwards (JoSiKa:310). The Karians fitted all scenarios, actively 1 and 3, or passively 2.

JoSiKa concludes that
1) the Karian theory was employed in a discourse trying to establish the rank of aesthetical and historical explanations, in the struggle for ideal or contextualized analysis. Aesthetic ideal analysis ranked higher than the contextualized historical analysis (JoSiKA:308).
2) The Karian fitted the two-race model in which researchers agreed that one people was more civilized than the other, which accordingly was the more primitive. Karians were primitive because their art was not refined.
3) In (Karian) theory therefore the Karians were a perfect origin.

It is one of the great advantages of archaeology that when excavations start to produce a source material, classical analyses of the past as well as interpretations based on classical authors or aesthetic ideals cannot survive. To begin with archaeology is disappointing because it doesn’t support prevailing explanation, later on this inability to support becomes a critical asset forcing some kind of historical contextualization upon ideals and aesthetics.

Labraunda is a case in point. When JoSiKa discusses the beginning of the Swedish excavations in Labraunda, the fact that the place is situated in Caria was though to make exvacations at the site promising as a means to solve problems of the Karian theory. It didn’t and there may be several reasons for that such as 1) there is nothing to prove when it comes to the Karian theory. 2) Archaeology revealed a complexity that had nothing to do with the simplified explanations that the Karia theory was meant to support. 3) Right after WW2, the excavations started 1948, two-race theories and ethnic groups keeping up a superior culture among primitive or decadent groups, may have been difficult to argue for, except privately.

The contributions on Labraunda and the surroundings suggests that the research has become thoroughly explorative, however, with a preparedness once again for combining material culture with ancient people, such as the Leleges, who were once perhaps Karian (cf. Benoit, Labrys:467:note2 with references).

In my opinion, the importance of JoSiKa:s discussion links-in with the development of humanistic research disciplines, laying bare the roots of the concept of ethnicity and pointing out its methodological shortcomings. There is nothing wrong studying ethnicity, since it was a common enough analysis in the past, as it was common in 19th and 20th century history and archaeology. The problem in humanistic research rests with the belief that ethnicity, emphasizing a cultural simplicity that enables researchers to point out a homogenous people of the same race or nationality who share a distinctive culture, is indeed the correct way of looking at complex cultural phenomena where heterogeneity seems always to accompany homogeneity. There are strong norms in any culture, but they continue to exist and to change not because they define an ethnic society, but because they are regularly questioned. Ethnicity as an explanation is the outcome of a flawed historical analysis. Nevertheless, studying prehistoric norms is rewarding.

Tacitean Ethnography

28 October, 2013

Today On the Reading Rest I have a book which is interesting because it is so full of arguments and argued passages.

Writing and empireDylan Sailor. 2008.  Writing and Empire in Tacitus. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Some reviewers of Dylan Sailor’s (DS’s) book Writing and Empire in Tacitus (WAIET) have already referred to concepts such as ‘interpretation’ and one of its methodologies ‘close reading’ trying to sort the book into a convenient genre, but I prefer to read the arguments partly because I am convinced by them, partly because I read the book as a backdrop for something that isn’t central to the author, i.e. ethnography and Germania, which happens not to ‘form part of that arc of narrative works that imagine themselves as a sequence: Agricola by its promise of a future … … ‘ WAEIT p. 5.

DS is right because he writes about Tacitus as history, historiography and the historian situated in society as well as in his own life. None the less, perhaps because DS is so fond of arguments and very good at reading Tacitus, he does touch upon ethnography in passing e.g. on pp. 86-7.

True Tacitean ethnographyThe point in ethnography is the past in the present: go see for yourself a living past characterized by a series of stable habits and institutions in a system that may either prevail infinitely reproducing the present or disappear in the toils of interaction with others. Future bothers ethnography only because constant ethnographical presence or resilience in static, cyclic or looped systemic models may be dissolved in future’s unfriendly solution despite their stability. The point in history on the other hand is change and transformation – ‘the narrative arc’ – which in Tacitus case comes to an unsettled end when Annals breaks off by circumstance, intention or design in the middle of a period: ‘as the slowness of his [Thrasea’s]death was bringing terrible suffering, turning to Demetrium … ‘[the Cynic philosopher] (WAEIT:315, Ann. 16.35.2). The quest for understanding change is the reason why history is about a series of events shaping a future, and about a present as a stage that has to change, and about a past that produced a heritage in the process of consuming itself.

In his conclusion DS argues, again convincingly, that Ronald Syme in Tacitus (1958) read Tacitus not just as ‘the subject matter of his book’, but also as a role model for the historian by referring to the parallel character of totalitarian states in the 20th century and Domitian’s principate, and the way Tacitus and the modern historian alike should relate to times such as these (WAEIT:319-20). Syme’s affinities with Tacitus as Latin heritage, writing about him with a clear eye to modern totalitarian states, would seem to accompany Curtius’ contemporary model way of looking at the literary heritage of Latin literature as a uniting European heritage above the nationalism that devastated Europe in the 20th c. (cf. On the Reading Rest 19 Aug, 2013).

Since the Enlightenment, the relation between systemic and historic culture or civilization has been a central theme in the analysis of the European and we may trace this thematic relation in many different texts, but I chose a passage by Kant from his letter, printed in Berlinische Monatsschrift. Dezember-Heft 1784. S. 481-494,  Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?:

On the other hand, the private use of reason may frequently be narrowly restricted without especially hindering the progress of enlightenment. By “public use of one’s reason” I mean that use which a man, as scholar, makes of it before the reading public. I call “private use” that use which a man makes of his reason in a civic post that has been entrusted to him. In some affairs affecting the interest of the community a certain [governmental] mechanism is necessary in which some members of the community remain passive. This creates an artificial unanimity which will serve the fulfillment of public objectives, or at least keep these objectives from being destroyed. Here arguing is not permitted: one must obey. Insofar as a part of this machine considers himself at the same time a member of a universal community – a world society of citizens – (let us say that he thinks of himself as a scholar rationally addressing his public through his writings) he may indeed argue, and the affairs with which he is associated in part as a passive member will not suffer. Thus it would be very unfortunate if an officer on duty and under orders from his superiors should want to criticize the appropriateness or utility of his orders. He must obey. But as a scholar he could not rightfully be prevented from taking notice of the mistakes in the military service and from submitting his views to his public for its judgment. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes levied upon him; indeed, impertinent censure of such taxes could be punished as a scandal that might cause general disobedience. Nevertheless, this man does not violate the duties of a citizen if, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his objections to the impropriety or possible injustice of such levies. A pastor, too, is bound to preach to his congregation in accord with the doctrines of the church which he serves, for he was ordained on that condition. But as a scholar he has full freedom, indeed the obligation, to communicate to his public all his carefully examined and constructive thoughts concerning errors in that doctrine and his proposals concerning improvement of religious dogma and church institutions.

Although Tacitus might well have been suspicious of benevolent despotism, Kant’s enlightened society, whose front man must not necessarily be Frederick the Great, would seem to possess some of the qualities that Tacitus (and perhaps even Kant) would have recognized in the Republic. To support this opinion we may refer to DS, who concludes – having has read the preface to Histories and quoted the passage about the Saturnalia: ‘I do not at all mean that Tacitus presents his work [i.e. Histories] as a revel, only that the preface parallels a basic Roman model for constructing a brief period of time when the ordinary rules of servitude that suppress speech do not apply’ (WAEIT:176-77).

Saturnalia, Enlightenment or the Republic will not come back, but ethnography or any of its modern varieties such as systemic resilience in cultures will occur again and must be analyzed and understood within a historical analysis of society and civilization, even if ethnography is alien to history. Alien or not there is little hope of writing a history of change in civilization without taking into account ethnography and the institutions of the primitive, which it points out. Primordial and primitive ethnographic institutions become a backdrop for historical change and one may argue that ‘the Roman’ in Tacitus’ narrative of complex change must be reflected in’ the non-historic’. This becomes all the more important because ‘the ethnographic’ highlights the predicament that arises from the need of the Kantian ‘scholar’ or the Tacitean ‘historian’ to be loyal as well as disloyal to social institutions. In short: DS argues his case so convincingly that one ought to fit Tacitus ethnography into the arc of his historical project. I would argue therefore that ethnography in Tacitus is there to make sure that the reader understands that Tacitus’ history is concerned also with civilization.

There are three examples of ethnography in Tacitus work Agricola (Chap 10-13), Germania (all of it) and Histories (Book 5.2-8). This means that when his historical project reaches Histories and Annals most of the ethnographic scene has been covered because the greater part of the Roman civilization project concerns northern Europe. In the eastern part of the Empire wars are political. A modern reader would probably have been interested in an ethnography of the Parthian society in connection with Tacitus description of the Parthian was 58-63 CE, but Tacitus sees no need for this because the reason for the wars were political and strategic with no bearing on civilizing the Parthians. Only in Histories was it necessary to comment from an ethnographic point of view since without such as comment Jews cannot be understood.

Writing about ethnography makes it possible for Tacitus to stand aside describing and judging the primitive as an institution and a backdrop for Roman civilization pointing to the negative and positive sides of the stable primitive institutions – to shortcomings and strengths. His ethnographies point to the peoples, their customs and their characteristic as well as to the partly alien topographies and geographies of their habitats. His texts imply that the peoples are smitten by their environment. Tacitus does so with a view to defending the success of the Roman civilization project.

Civilization 01The Britons are model because they are a mixed population characterized by immigration. This has led to a situation in which what was once in a distant past a generic kingdom has been split up in small chiefdoms easy to subdue. Given this social pattern and their inability to unite, as well as their mixed geographical conditions – humid but not horrid – they are happy to accept Roman civilization and taxes on one condition, whose significance the reader will have guessed:

The Britons themselves bear cheerfully the conscription, the taxes, and the other burdens imposed on them by the Empire, if there be no oppression. Of this they are impatient; they are reduced to subjection, not as yet to slavery. (Agr. 13)

This means that their traditional autonomy – that is, a certain measure of freedom in the small societies once situated within chiefdoms – is an ideal that may be transformed into Romanization, thus bringing the Britons out of ethnography.

Civilization 02When readers of Tacitus, who began by reading Agricola, read Germania they found out that Tacitus’ descriptions of Britain and Britons was designed in advance to contrast his description of Germany and Germans. Nevertheless he purposefully he added a small element of German immigrants in the Britons:

Their physical characteristics are various, and from these conclusions may be drawn. The red hair and large limbs of the inhabitants of Caledonia point clearly to a German origin. (Agr. 13)

Since the Romans knew that Germans resisted the Roman civilization project, successfully (in effect stupidly) defending their liberty not least because they could unite, albeit only in imminent danger of being suppressed, they are different from the Britons. Tacitus, therefore, points to a significant difference between Britons and Germans, and Britain and Germany, when he tells us that Germans, contrary to Britons, are indigenous and unmixed because honestly who would consider living in that part of the world:

The Germans themselves appear to be indigenous and rarely mixed with other people either immigrants or guests. For, in former times, it was not by land, but by sea that those arrived, who sought to move their residence; and that immense, if I may say so, ultra-hostile ocean is rarely navigated by ships from our world. And, in addition to the danger of a horrid and unknown sea, who would leave Asia, or Africa, or Italy trying to reach Germany, its shapeless land, its cruel skies, cheerless to its beholder and cultivator, unless it were his homeland? (Germ. 2)

Cunningly Tacitus allows his readers to draw the conclusion that a little German in a mixed people like the Britons, in humid albeit not horrid Britain, may be a virtue, while being outright German in Germany is a gloomy aspect inasmuch as Germans are the uncivilized slaves of an ethnography forever checked by race, environment and, as Germania goes on to show, by its institutions. Germans, nevertheless, are genuine and loyal to these institutions, while Britons are transformed and cheerful taxpayers. Civilization as it happens comes with a price and so does indigenousness.

Germans and Britons illustrate inclusion and exclusion in the historical and geographical perspective of an expanding civilization. Tacitus, true to his understanding of himself as a historian, is forced to point out the success as well as the limits of civilization. He uses ethnography to illustrate his point.

Civilization 03Tacitus’ readers knew that Jews, despite the fall of Jerusalem, continued to exist even though in principle they ‘accepted conscription, taxes, and other burdens imposed on them by the Empire’. Contrary to Germans, they were integrated into the Roman society, but evidently not like Britons. None the less the reason he writes about the Jews – i.e. the end of a historical phenomenon similar to the end of the free Britons, parallels what he has already pointed out:

The geography and inhabitants of Britain, [… …] I will speak of [… ….] because the country was then for the first time thoroughly subdued. (Agr. 10)

As I am about to relate the last days of a famous city, it seems appropriate to throw some light on its origin. (Hist. 5.2)

And that turns out to be the Jews. As I read Tacitus book 5.2-8 he is as usual critical to backward ethnographical cultures, but from an analytical point of view he gives us an example of a society which is decidedly diasporic,

Some say that the Jews were fugitives from the island of Crete [… …]. Others assert that in the reign of Isis the overflowing population of Egypt [… …]. Many, again, say that they were a race of Ethiopian origin [… …]. Others describe them as an Assyrian horde [… …]. Others, again, assign a very distinguished origin to the Jews, alleging that they were the Solymi, a nation celebrated in the poems of Homer [… … ]. Most writers, however, agree [… …] that once a disease [… …] broke out over Egypt; that king Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race detested by the gods. (Hist. 5.2)

Prone or forced to diaspora, coming from all kinds of directions, their seemingly appalling institutions and customs (difficult to explain) has none the less been successful granting them strong networks and resilience:

This worship, however introduced, is upheld by its antiquity; all their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to shew compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. (Hist. 5.5)

Although the land of the Jews is in many ways similar to Roman lands there are also oddities on par with the people:

[… …] of the Jordan. This river does not discharge itself into the sea, but flow entire through two lakes, and is lost in the third. This is a lake of vast circumference; it resembles the sea, but is more nauseous in taste; it breeds pestilence among those who live near by its noisome odour; it cannot be moved by the wind, and it affords no home either to fish or water-birds. These strange waters [… ….] (Hist. 5.6)


When the civilized society meets the primitive ethnographic society, this meeting highlights the value of stubbornly defended stable institutions and casts a shadow on progress and intellectual freedom. Tacitean Jews and Germans cannot be bend to civilization. Nevertheless, Tacitus demonstrates that ethnographic societies are primitive and his methods when characterizing them are based on (1) the mixed/unmixed character of a people. (2) Its inability/ability to unite itself around its institutions, even in diaspora, i.e. its systemic resilience, and (3) the degree to which primitive culture is a reflection of its environment.

An ethnographic culture may survive or be subdued. It aims at surviving, i.e. conservation, and although it is most often unsuccessful it may nevertheless succeed by means of forceful resistance defending itself and fending off civilization at its geographical borders. The goal being isolation and the preservation of its institutions, the ethnographic society may also succeed because it creates a society that evades civilization by diaspora or inner exile.

There is little doubt that Tacitus describes the ethnographic society airing his ‘colonial’ views. But he wouldn’t be Tacitus if these views were not accompanied (thereby tacitly becoming prejudice) by his model of civilization: the Republic, i.e. a society whose institutions are well worth defending against the corruption and terror of the Principate to which, strangely enough, it gave way. Why, his readers ask themselves, must the enlightened, model, best-of-all-possible-worlds, liberal Republic, be defended against the dark primitivity of the Principate by methods comparable to those of the ethnographic societies? Why, if not because elements of the ethnographic and the civilized society alike are bilateral rather than oppositional? Tacitus himself thrived during the Principate, and survived Domitian, because he kept a low profile.

Civilization 04

I think that this sketch of the role of ‘the ethnographic’ in Tacitus is in line with DS analysis of how Tacitus the historian, true to history, his scholarship and historiography must incorporate ethnography into his history making it the base of that arc of narrative works that imagine themselves as a sequence. In my view, this sequence consists of Agricola/Germania, Histories and Annals. Ethnography is an important foundation for Tacitus’ history project because civilization is important. And if you don’t believe that he set a standard you can read a book on how the West – i.e. the West that beat the Rest – is now losing it. Or, if you are into analysis, you may employ Tacitean ethnography to analyze the Republican Party.

To write c. 1500 words because one is not satisfied with the usual translation of an Old Norse word, a poetic kenning to be precise, is probably a sign of being bored by the view from the room of one’s own in the ivory tower (Humanities Tower No 60 in the lates World Ranking), so bored in fact that leaving room, let alone tower, is no alternative.

Nevertheless, Old Norse verse is interesting because it is complex and sometimes difficult to understand. We gather that the opaque meaning is important and this has led us to translate the strophes. First we start by translating the words. In this case it is a strophe of Þjóðólfr of Hvinir’s (c. 855-930 CE) i.e. Thjodolf.

text 00

When we know the words that Thjodolf used to convey his message we may start to condense and reduce its metaphors and kennings (a kenning is a metaphoric paraphrase). We do so because we think that some clarity may be needed. Reducing Thjodolf’s poetic expressions we draw on a scholarly textual tradition and start to simplify Thjodolf’s metaphors and paraphrases. And when we are at it why not bring the series of events described by Thjodolf into some sort of chronological order.

text 01

At this stage in the condensation, arinkjól, which is a relatively difficult kenning, is always translated ‘house’ (i.e. reduced to house) because Snorri Sturluson in Ynlinga Saga informs us in plain words that Visbur perished when the building where he lived was set on fire. True to his method Snorri backs up his own simplicity in Ynglinga Saga by quoting Thjodolf’s complexity in one of the strophes from Ynglingatal – and we become confident that arinkjól means ‘house’.

And we proceed:

text 02

And we may continue to clarifyi the strophe a bit more:

text 03

But we may as well stop here because we have already proved beyond doubt to ourselves that Thjodolf’s complexity covers something commonplace and seemingly an obsession with fire and repetition.

Nevertheless, it is a good rule of the thumb to ask ourselves, when we have reduced the past to the commonplace and its verses to art for fart’s sake, whether this can really be true. Did Thjodolf perhaps have an agenda when he chose his kennings and metaphors? Do they mean more than simply fire, son, body and house? Perhaps there are kennings and metaphors to explain, and a choice of poetic expression to discuss in relation to the material culture of the past and its reality.

In the strophe, kennings and metaphors come in pairs, but it will nevertheless be rewarding to begin by seeing them as two parallel series.

Vísburs vilja byrgi = Vilbur’s will fence /will’s fence  is the place where his mind and soul is enclosed and thus his body. But it must not be forgotten that archaeologically speaking the fence is also typical of the farm –  surrounding its buildings and yards. Around manors or a King’s residence fences are impressive and protective in a definite rather than formal way.

meinþjóf markar = the forest’s mean thief. This is fire. Mark means the wood, but not any wood. Rather it is the wood that delimits the settled area (the forested borderlands, i.e. the ‘mark’ we know from Den-mark – the border lands of the Danes). This kind of wood makes up the borders of the human landscape and since it borders on the foreign it is a little beyond our control. The fire in question is a fatal devastating event leaving but a few the black trunks standing in the smoke — long after the fire has died away.

í arinkjóli = in the hold of the hearth. In the Carolingian Iron Age, the hall with its slightly arched central ridge and convex long walls looks like a boat turned upside down. And there are similarities also in the way house and boat building were perceived. Since the hearth is placed on the floor, enlightening the hall room and its open roof construction, as if the floor was the deck of the upside down boat, it is possible to see the sloping inner roof of the hall as the hold of the ship. The word kjól means keel, but since ‘sailing on a loose keel’ means sailing with an empty ship, and since the preposition used here is ‘í’, i.e. ‘in’, kjól is also a metaphor for the space below the deck, i.e. the hold. Since the hall room may at times be empty or filled by (a cargo of) guests  arinkjól is a befittting kenning. In the manor, the hearth, moreover, is the centre of the hall, which means that this kenning brings us into Virbur’s hall, where he would be sitting in the high seat – Royal and content.

sævar niðr, the brother of the sea. The giant of the sea/water was Hle (Ægir). His brother, who was in charge of fire, was called Loge, i.e. Flame. Describing the fire in this way makes the verb ‘swallow‘ very appropriate because similar to water the fire as an element can be seen to swallow people when they disappear in the flames – in ‘a sea of fire’ – similar to people disappearing in the waves.

setrs verjendr, the defenders of the (high)seat (‘seat’ being a metaphor also for the residence). In this case the defenders are Visbur’s sons, Gisl and Åndur. Visbur left them and his wife their mother, when they were small children. She went back to her wealthy father with her sons and they were brought up abroad (i.e. not in Old Uppsala where Visbur is supposed to live). It is thus from the outside that these brothers return to defend their throne, which they suppose will be occupied or usurped by their junior half-brother Domnald. Since Gisl and Åndur are the heirs closest to the throne they defend it when necessary. The reason why they settle for ‘arson defence’ is not crystal clear – i.e. not sanctioned by the Security Council and the UN. Thus, by choosing this kenning Thjodolf gives us a glimpse of Gisl and Åndur’s rhetoric. Their foreignness is also implied by their names which means ‘ski pole’ and ‘ski’.

Gisl and Åndur

glóða garmr, the glow hound. Because dogs and hounds may be aggressive and dangerous attackers, the glow hound may well be a metaphor for the aggressive fire. However, when the magnate is sitting in his hall his dog is there too on the floor in the side aisle next to the hearth, and usually and ideally, but not in this case, the Master’s control of the beast is total.


If we are not aware of the way kenning and metaphor interact, mirror and develop the poetic understanding of Visbur’s fate, we miss something important and run the risk of making the past as simple minded as our translation of it. This is a mistake and one such is the usual translation of arinkjól ashouse’ rather than ‘hall’ or ‘hallroom’. Seen from the ivory tower, this is a grave mistake sabotaging Thjodolf’s careful poetic construction, its kennings and metaphors.

The three kenning+metaphor pairs, become more difficult and important to understand when Thjodolf zooms in on the very spot where Visbur, content in his high seat and hall behind his fence, understands that he has lost control and realizes that he will soon be swallowed by the fire. Thjodolf takes us from (1) the common fact that people can be burnt in fires when at home, i.e. behind their fences, over (2) the specific historical situation – i.e. the fateful retaliation brought about from abroad by the wronged sons that he once abandoned to (3) Visbur in his hall. The sons employ a foreign and brutal method befitting their father and worthy of their revenge. The contrast between Visbur and the dog — disturbed in their fenced hall content, and the inflated rhetoric of the seat-defending sons attacking from the woods, brings us in close contact with the attitudes of the antagonists and their character.

It has been pointed out before, but deserves to be repeated: conventional translations of skaldic verse belittle poets such as Thjodolf of Hvin. He may be accused of being too intellectual and perhaps he introduced setrs verjendr too bluntly, and perhaps this kenning is too ironic, but he is a better poet than most of his translators. And arinkjól doesn’t mean ‘House’.

Seneca on Benefits

2 September, 2013

Some weeks ago I read a review by Peter Thonemann of some books on Roman economy. In a good-humoured way it was witty and ironic – and critical. Thonemann pointed out that so called formalist views on past economies are back in business. Large ancient market spheres and exchange are once again popular, driven by the – overruling, ever-present, always-rational – laws of economic behavior.

The return of the Roman market economy is a typical, if slightly belated, backlash triggered by a critique starting in the 1990s. This was a critique of the deconstruction once launched by the ‘post’-methodologies. These deconstructions targeted structuralism and modernism and indeed naïve dichotomies or binary oppositions such as the one between formalist and substantivist views on past or for that matter modern economies.

Wikipedia will explain the almost outdated terms formalist and substantivist.

The reviewer says that this divide and the study of past economies is no longer a hot topic. And he is right. In fact the main reason for the paired labels and the field to be outdated was the criticism developed in the 1980 when past and present economies became many and varied as well as more or less popular, dominant and long-lived, rather than an ordered series from the past to the present, emblematic of civilization, rational economic choice and progress. Economies became difficult and simple strategies and analyses dangerous.

Economies as it happens are contextual, they may be technically difficult to grasp, e.g. when they are encapsulated in systems deliberately playing with variables such as real value vs. nominal value, as well as parameters such as trust, transaction time, obligation and speed, to name but a few. As intellectual constructions, nevertheless, forms of economic behaviour are simple enough – especially the popular ones such as gift giving, market exchange, monopoly, redistribution, cooperation or acquisition, which are easily combined to bring out unexpected results.

One of the books reviewed, The Roman Market Economy, pleaded so fervently for a formalist position that it convinced the reviewer of the significant shortcomings of this perspective on past economies. Most researchers during the last decades have experienced that any proof or indication of ancient market-based economies comes with severe restrictions to the idea the free market. In fact, if we want to argue for something market-like we must start by restricting the context in which such a market works, i.e. start by contradicting the very idea. Ancient markets do not combine large demographic and geographic entities, they don’t striving to be free, they aren’t expanding and not models of rational behavior. Moreover, a very large number of sources, which ought to have helped us elucidating the market concept, are few and far apart and they become spurious during the critical process when we try to judge their representativity.

The reviewer points to the fact that Seneca’s essay On Benefits, which might very well have discussed economic matters in terms of market exchange, doesn’t do so. This is true also of Petronius’ Satyricon although the freedman Trimalchio is very much connected to the way Romans as merchants became rich. This ridiculed protagonist, as well as the whole story about him, conjures up the antithesis of Seneca and the way he argues in On Benefits. It has since long been observed that part of the irony in the chapter Trimalchio’s Dinner becomes funnier if we imagine the surreal but historically speaking possible conversation between a Trimalchio and a Seneca on the value of profit and benefit.

Spain and sailing routes

Turning to archaeology rather than satire or philosophy, there are examples that indicate irrational market situations in the 1st c. CE, even in connection with a popular commodity such as lead in the form of so called lead pigs. In a number of shipwrecks from the glorious 1st c. CE when the exploding imperial commerce tought merchants’ ships to sail the Mediterranean the hard way, the cargo consisted among other goods of lead pigs on their way from Spain to Rome. There are two very different kinds (1).

Lavezzi 2

First there is the unusual wreck Lavezzi 2. It consisted of 95 ingots weighing c. 144 mina each (all in all c. 5 ton lead). These ingots were all produced by the lead founder Minuciorus, who sold them to the merchant Iunius Appius Zethus, i.e. a freedman, the former slave of Caius Appius Iunius Silanus, who was married to the Emperor Claudius’ mother-in-law and killed by Messalina 42 CE. The investment, ship and cargo, suggests close ties between the aristocrat and his former slave. The aristocrat may well have financed Zethus’ operations. Be this as it may, the example demonstrates a simple economic context – one producer, one merchant, a large cargo on its way to Ostia and Rome where lead was needed e.g. for water pipes – i.e. in profitable public and semi-public construction work sponsored by the aristocracy.

Cabrera 5

But most examples are far from this paragon. A cargo half the size, c. 40 ingots, may typically involve five named merchants and perhaps some anonymous dealers. As it happens some ingots have been stamped by three different merchants and since there are also some blanks with no merchant’s stamp at all, we may expect that a fourth and perhaps a fifth anonymous merchant was involved such as the captain or the owner of the ship. We don’t know how many owners were involved in a cargo such as the one from the wreck Cabrera 5, but its composition is so complex that we must conclude that the lead market in Baetica (Southern Spain) was in a very bad state despite the enormous demand for lead in Rome. Needless to say, the weight of the individual lead pig in the small cargoes is light and varied compared to the more uniform ones in Lavezzi 2.

These two cases suffice to demonstrate that there was a market, several in fact, and that some worked badly, which in formalist theory they ought not to have done in a period when the century old demand for lead rocketed. If the market had worked well, i.e. as it is supposed to work after a couple of centuries, then the wrecks would have contained Lavezzi 2 cargos, preferably with only one stamp. Since this is not the case, we must conclude that even though the aristocrats who sponsored their freedmen, understood the point in bypassing the Spanish market, they didn’t invest in lead mines and foundries in Spain in order to export directly to Rome. There was no lack of slaves to run the business, so why not use forced labour to create one large and fair lead market? The answer is probably that they had read Petronius or Seneca or both.

Seneca who writes about benefits has nothing to say about The Lead Market or indeed any market other than the local market place, which he mentions twice. But he writes a lot that can explain why the immensely rich upper classes, to which he himself belonged, looked upon the difference between profit and benefit in such a way that it kept them back.

As pointed out by Griffin and Inwood in the introduction to their translation of On Benefits (2011:loc283 on a Kindle), Seneca makes a clear distinction between profit and benefit. When profit is involved, as in the agreed exchange at the market Place, no bonds or obligations are necessarily involved. But in very many situations, which also concern money, benefit and obligation are integral. And this, Seneca argues, is normal because we are humans. Not surprisingly, On Benefits is not referred to in The Roman Market Economy (TRoMEc) of which there is an easily checked Kindle edition.

Seneca mentions market only a two times, but On Benefits is full of references to economic concepts such as ‘cost’, ‘price’, ‘money’ or ‘profit’ not to speak of ‘benefit’, i.e. concepts frequently figuring also in TRoMEc.

In Griffin and Inwood’s translation the first ‘market’ quotation runs: One man paid out a sum of money on behalf of a convicted debtor, but to do so he drew on private resources; someone else made the same payment, but took out a loan to do so or pled to get the money and submitted to being under a major obligation for the favor. Do you think the fellow who had to borrow in order to give is in the same position as the man who effortless provided the financial benefit (8.3) Sometimes it is the circumstances that make the benefit large rather than the money. The gift of an estate so productive that it could depress the price of grain at market – that is a benefit.

Seneca’s point is ‘circumstance’ – important in his treatise, unimportant in TRoMEc – and the way it links-in with financing and benefit and obligation. Financing creates split, complex and stressed situations, while a productive estate is a benefit to the local market and to its owner and to his donor and to society because it secures and supports regular subsistence. Locally, the estate makes the extended household economy rather than market economy beneficial.

In Griffin and Inwood’s translation the second ‘market’ quotation runs: And indeed the price of a thing varies after all with circumstances; though you have touted your wares well, they are worth only the highest price for which they can be sold. A person who buys them at a good price owes nothing extra to the seller. (15.5) Then again, even if they are worth more, no generosity on your part involved, since the price is determined not by their usefulness and efficacy but by the customary market price.

Again circumstance is the point and the market and its money problematic because it makes the price decisive although price cannot determine the usefulness and efficacy of the commodity, i.e. its value. Moreover, the market situation takes away the bonds and obligations between seller and buyer. Seneca understands how markets work, but he is not impressed.

The two quotations fit the lead pig examples. Zethus, ultimately financed by an aristocrat, bypassed the Spanish market and saved time and money. Consequently he made good quality lead cheaper in Rome for the common good. Five ton high quality lead equals 353 m 10-digit water pipe. Zethus’ bonds and obligations to his former master or the lead founder as well as his benefits and profits are easy to imagine and so are the risks he took, although similarly to Trimalchio he may have taken them with his master’s money. The owners of the small cargoes on the other hand were trapped by the inefficient and time-consuming Spanish market trying to put together a cargo from lead pigs circulating in Baetica.

When the rich think about benefits the way Seneca does, benefit linked to benevolence and obligation will invade their minds and ruin their formalist economic senses. It may well be that the rich in Rome were quite pleased with making money bypassing the market feeling the obligation to develop their society, but it didn’t set the market free. There is no point in trying to describe Roman economy as generally speaking a market economy. One must, however, not forget that if humanities had been better financed scholars would have would have continued to write about the problems of simplified economic analyses all the way into the present financial crisis pointing out that the benefits of financing is a matter of circumstances – as Seneca use to say.


(1) Since past economies are difficult but not impossible to study, the article on these cargoes is a somewhat technical and indeed quite old. Herschend, Frands 1995. Friends of Trimalchio’s. A study of Spanish lead ingots from three Roman wrecks. Tor 27:269-310. 1995. (ISSN 0495-8772).

“Æschere my ‘run-knower’ is dead!” bewails King Hrothgar in Beowulf. His lament springs to mind this week when On the Reading Rest I have a re-reading of the inscription, in the old futhark, on the 5th c. rune stone from Tune in Østfold, south-southeast of Oslo. Known to scholars since the 1620s it has been re-read before (00).

Tune is strategically situated in a farmland area somewhat withdrawn from the Oslo Fjord to which there is nevertheless easy access on the river Glommen.

Tune is strategically situated in a farmland area somewhat withdrawn from the Oslo Fjord to which there is nevertheless easy access on the river Glommen.



The total distribution of the ancient monuments allows us to see the varying settlement density in the Tune area.

Fig 00

Eythórsson, Thórhallur. 2013. Three daughters and a funeral: Rereading the Tune inscription. Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies 3 (2012). Pp 7-43.

Knowing what he is up against when re-reading the inscription, Thórhallur Eythórsson (ThórEy) quotes the First Law of Runo-Dynamics attributed to the archaeologist David M Wilson: for every inscription there shall be as many interpretations as there are scholars working on it. Since archaeologists are used to handling a large, growing, badly preserved and varying source material, they are forced to agree on interpretations that are practical rather than formal. Thus having themselves given up on irrefutable knowledge, archaeologists can easily supply the Second Law: for every scholarly repetition of the true meaning of an inscription it shall be less likely that it is found out.

Runo-Dynamics therefore contradict Oscar Wilde’s unbent positivism when he reminds us that even the obvious may be proved and that telling the truth one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.

Taking Oscar Wilde at face value runologists embark on a pursuit, a quest for the true meaning of a text, despite the fact that meaning will always deceive the huntsman. In pursuit of meaning, the laws of Runo-Dynamics will always escalate the demands on reading and re-reading texts when trying fully to understand them.

The tune stone was found by the church, i.e. next to a main road in the area

The tune stone was found by the church, i.e. next to a main road in the area

In pursuit of meaning ThórEy comes close to breaking these laws because he agrees with a number of earlier interpretations, which stand out as simply true and in no need of a renewed scientific discussion – nota bene ‘stand out’. We mustn’t not be surprised when it becomes obvious that since the late 1800s as shown by ThóEy, there has been little simple progress in the understanding of the inscription. On the contrary, clever linguistic and philological detours have been many and confusing. They are the ones that have to be weeded out.
From an archaeological point of view, ThórEy’s re-reading has the advantage of defending the probable against the improbable, thus bringing the text into the realm of Archaeo-Dynamism declaring all interpretations equal and some more equal than others.

Since the 1620s, three words are missing from the partly damaged rune stone. We need a reconstruction meeting ThórEy's interpretation.

Since the 1620s, three words are missing from the partly damaged rune stone. We need a reconstruction meeting ThórEy’s interpretation.

This means that in ThórEy’s re-reading there are three statements on the stone. Owing to its preservation, some parts, represented by italics, are less obvious than others. To begin with, I present the three statements in no specific order and translate them in two ways: clumsily word by word and well, i.e. quoting ThórEy:

Wiwaz Woduride : staina : satide
Wiwaz for Woduridaz : the stone : set up
NN (Wiwaz?) erected the stone for Woduridaz (ThórEy’s translation)

ek Wiwaz after Woduride witadahalaiban worahto runoz
I Wiwaz after (and for) Woduridaz, the keeper of bread, wrought the runes
I Wiwaz wrought the runes in memory of Woduridaz, the breadward (ThóEy’s translation)

thrijoz dohtriz dalidun arbija sijostez arbijano
three daughters divided (between them) the inheritance (they were) the ownest of heirs (i.e. the heirs closest to the deceased himself)
Three daughters shared the inheritance, the closest family heirs (ThóEy’s translation).

On the Tune stone archaeologists see three related phenomena: a statement concerning the runes we read, a statement on inheritance and a statement about the creation of the monument. We understand that Woduridaz, a pillar of society, has died and that his three daughters were his closest heirs. A man called Wiwaz wrought the runes commemorating Woduridaz and set up the monument. Since Wiwaz stands out as a capable man, we may expect that he was remembered for what he did. Similarly, the daughters were probably remembered for being their father’s daughters. It may be said that Wiwaz pushed for himself and for the daughters too, but rather than being controversial, the statements impress us as factual and straightforward.
Since agency, personal qualifications and social position matter, it is fair to point out that the name Woduridaz means ‘mind rider’ adding a nimble intellectual quality to the responsible man who keeps the bread, with an eye to sharing it. Witada-halaiban is a proto Norse composite for the Anglo-Saxon ’hláford’, hláf+weard = bread+warder, i.e. Modern English  ‘lord’. This was argued in a model almost law-breaking discussion by Otto v. Friesen in Arkiv för nordisk filologi vol 16 1900:191-200.

There is only one Iron Age Woduridaz, but Wiwaz belongs to a small series of names (Wiwaz, Wiwlian and Wiwio) designating those whose common denominator is ‘rushing forward’. Being Wiwaz befits a doer and both names may thus be cognomens inasmuch as they may be flattering nicknames – not least the composite Wodu+ridaz. They may also indicate the distribution of roles among kinsmen favouring names, even nicknames, on W. In that case Wiwaz wasn’t Woduridaz’ son, but he might have been a brother.

Because ThórEy has been able to read the text favouring a straightforward and indeed uncomplicated meaning, the archaeologist, having seen the names as meaningful in the way a beholder may find them meaningful without knowing for sure, may also continue and look at the stone as a combination of (1) epigraphy and (2) literary form. Epigraphy falls into two parts. One (1:1) concerns the way the texts should be read from the beginning to the end, the other (1:2) concerns its composition. I will deal with 1:1-2 before I turn to (2), the question of literary form.


Reading the obverse, i.e. the front signified by the large runes in two centrally placed lines, one would stand a little to the left looking at the text from an oblique angle reading it from the onset downwards and up again to the very top of the stone, which has become so narrow that there is room for one line only: ek Wiwaz after Woduride witadahalaiban worahto runoz. One need not read more than the obverse, but if, because the text ends at the very top of the stone, one thinks that here may be more to the read on the back side, one must take a step backwards and to the left in order to see the reverse. Here there is once again an obvious onset from which one reads downwards and then upwards again to the end of the second statement: thrijoz dohtriz dalidun arbija sijostez arbijano. Apparently there is a third line on the back side, but in order to read that, one shall have to take a step forward and turn around thus standing next to the left side of the stone reading the line in the right side from the bottom and upwards: Wiwaz Woduride : staina : satide. The epigraphic order is practical, relatively clear and meaningful. The function of the last statement is to bring the inscription to an end, making it clear that there is nothing more to say when the first two statements have been said. They in their turn are presented in a practical order: first we understand that Woduridaz is dead, then (as a secondary fact and thus on the back side) we learn that his death produced heirs. We have been told something about Woduridaz’ character, and have been pointed to the slightly odd fact that his heirs were three daughters.

The statement on inheritance is in agreement with Tacitus description of a man’s closest heirs: Heredes tamen successoresque sui cuique liberi, et nullum testamentum. Si liberi non sunt, proximus gradus in possessione fratres, patrui, avunculi.–Heirs, nevertheless, and successors (are) his own children and no will (is made). If there are no children, the next in rank to possess (the inheritance) are brothers, father’s brother, mother’s brother (Tacitus Germania 20.3.). This means that if Wiwaz was Woduridaz’ brother, or one of the close relatives mentioned by Tacitus, there would be an important point in mentioning the daughters, thus stating and accepting their rights by acknowledging their status rather than his own. Originally, the Tune stone probably stood close to the place and road where it was eventually found, and it is thus not unlikely that it was once an example of the kind of memorial stones referred to in Hávamál strophe 72: sjaldan bautarsteinar standa brautu nǣr, nema reisi niþr at niþ—Seldom do memorial stones stand next to the road, if they were not raised by a kinsman commemorating his kin.

Tacitus, who may be right or wrong, wrote 300 years before Wiwaz, but rules of inheritance often have a strong tradition. In view of ThóEy’s thorough discussion, Tacitus description speaks in favour of sijostez arbijano (the closest of heirs) being a traditional way among people in Northern Europa of defining legal heirs as descendants who are entitled to inherit simply by birth right. Choosing these specific three statements and arranging them in a composition might thus have been intentional (01).

Often, when it comes to literary form in early runic inscriptions the text interacts with the medium, i.e. with the stone. This is the case in Tune. There is a message in the way the reader approaches the stone and orders the statements in a series beginning with an opening, continuing in a consequence of what has been related in the opening, and ending in a conclusion, which tells us that the commemorative monument is completed in a most suitable way. The opening on the front of the stone – written in large runes – is composed as a period consisting of two alliterating and syllable-counting well-stressed long lines with a suitable sentence intonation – a firm and short first long line and a second more rich in syllables developing and emphasizing primarily the essence of the deceased, witadahalaiban, and secondly the honorable behavior of the verse-writing Wiwaz:

ek Wiwaz after   Woduride,     (5+4 =09)
witadahalaiban   worahto runoz    (6+5=11)

Prosody is a choice, not a must: ek Wiwaz worahto runoz after Woduridu witadahalaiban, a sensible and informative prose expression, would have done the job.

The two statements on the back side take us to this kind of simple prose by way of a solemn economic and elegant expression: thrijoz dohtriz dailidun arbija, sijostez arbijano—three daughters shared the inheritance, (they were) the closest of (his) heirs.

The last statement, the most simple prose, piles the words on top of each other as a matter of fact in an almost artless way: Wiwaz Woduride staina satide. One might also have said Woduride staina Wiwaz satide or Woduride Wiwaz satide staina or Wiwaz staina Woduride satide or any other of the possible 24 word orders. Since Wiwaz is nom sing, staina acc sing, Woduride dat sing and satide 3. pers sing the meaning of the words and the sentence cannot be obscured by the word order. Actually the reason why runologists have had no problem supplying the word satide is because it is the necessary and obvious verb to the three nouns one of which must be in the nominative. Not surprisingly, all four words have heavily stressed first syllables creating a stubborn cablese beat, impossible to get rid of. The only words that could possibly be missing are: ‘Stop! Send cash!’

There is a perfect balance between the tall stone, the design, the message, the formulation, the movement of the reader and the thirty-second three-stage experience walking around the monument reading it. The composition is low-key, but significant. It stresses the deep-rooted traditional fairness, integrity and care of the mind-riding Early Iron Age bread ward, i.e. a gifted lordly member of the upper classes.


But deád is Æschere! In Beowulf King Hrothgar laments the loss of his runwita, his ‘run-knower’, brother in arms, and counsellor, killed by Grendel’s mother (cf. v 1325). In the epic this is a symbolic loss of literacy including its esoteric qualities of knowing hidden meaning, such as the non-verbal meaning of prosody. This loss is emblematic of late 5th century Scandinavia when the likes of Æschere, such as Wiwaz, stopped writing. They were the last of their kind and hard to come by for centuries.

King Hrothgar is acutely aware of having lost an old significant component of society. In bygone days, as his name and the King tell us (02), Æschere was the spear warrior standing shoulder to shoulder with the king. Like most, they were both men in the line, when the warriors clashed, spear in hand, and wisely they sought to protect their heads behind their shields. Unmediated we are told that Æschere was the older brother of Yrmenláf (eormen+láf) – an odd name signifying the ‘great’ or ‘all-comprising legacy’. ´This indicates that living up to his obligations as an older brother, he helped bringing forward Hrothgar’s glorious world, i.e. the great legacy now threatened by Grendel and his mother. Not only was Æschere instrumental in bringing about this society, he employed the intellectual skills of a counsellor and runwita in order to manage it. And now he is dead. Grendel’s mother is proud of having killed him because she knows that what Grendel meant to her, Æschere meant to Hrothgar.

(00) There is a short overview in Norwegian of the Tune area with relevant references in:

Bårdseth, Gro Anita. 2007 Kulturmilø Tune. In: Bårdseth (ed.) Hus, gard og graver langs E6 i Sarpsborg kommune. E6-prosjektet Østfold, Band 2. Varia 66. Pp 1-6.

Although one cannot point to any large and domiant Roman Iron Age och Migration Period farm in the Tune area, the farms Missingen in Råde, just north of Tune, shows the economic possibilities of the coastland/inland border in Østfold. On Missingen, in Norwegian, see:

or in English:

Bårdseth, Gro Anita. 2009. The Roman Age Hall and the Warrior-Aristocracy: Reflections upon the Hall at Missingen, South-East Norway. Norwegian Archaeological Review, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2009. Pp 146-58.


(01) In Latin it is possible, at least for Plautus humorously, and using the archaic ipsus instead of ipse, to construct a word parallel to sijostez. In Trinummus: The Three Pieces of Money, Act iv scene 2, when Charmides is asked by Sycophanta for the fourth time Ergo ipsusne es?—Are you then himself? Charmides answers as affirmatively as possible with a superlative to ipsus, ‘own’, in the genitive: Ipsissimus—‘his ownest’, ispis+simus, i.e. his own very self. In Lewis & and Short by mistake ipsissimus is spelled ispissumus, cf. ThórEy p. 22f.

(02) Beowulf vv 1323-27: Deád is Æschere, // Yrmenláfes    yldra broþor, // 1325 min rúnwita     ond min rædbora, // eaxlgestealla,     ðonne we on orlege // hafelan weredon,     þonne hniton feþan—Dead is Æschere Yrmenláf’s older brother, my runwita and my counsellor, he stood next to my shoulder when in battle we protected our heads when the men clashed.

O mi Germane – ubi es?

15 April, 2013

This week On the Reading Rest I have no less than four books on West European history mostly concerned with the later part of the first millennium CE. I read the introductions because historiography is my focus. Historiography is important when researchers of European decent think about the 5-6th c. and onwards as the beginning of a passage more or less in its own right from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Two of the books are anthologies and two are monographs.

Gillett, Andrew. 2003 (ed.). On Barbarian Identity. Critical approaches to Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages. Brepols publishers, Turnhout.

Noble, Thomas F. X. 2006 (ed.). From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms. Routledge. London

Smith, Julia M. H. (2005). Europe after Rome: a New Cultural History 500-1000. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Olson, Lynette. (2007). The Early Middle Ages: The Birth of Europe Palgrave Macmillan. New York.


O mi germane – ubi es? is a pun, and a very old one too (Quintilian c. 95 CE referring to Cicero (01)), because germanus means ‘(full) brother’ as well as ‘German’, thus the mock sentimental: Oh ‘my brother’ ’my German’ where art thou? Today, we may ironically ask this remembering the rambling ways of German brothers now that they are not as dangerous as they were. To begin with this pun wasn’t always funny and Strabo in earnest suggested the following:

Now the parts beyond the Rhenus, immediately after the country of the Celti, slope towards the east and are occupied by the Germans, who, though they vary slightly from the Celtic stock in that they are wilder, taller, and have yellower hair, are in all other respects similar, for in build, habits, and modes of life they are such as I have said the Celti are. And I also think that it was for this reason that the Romans assigned to them the name “Germani,” as though they wished to indicate thereby that they were “genuine” Galatae, for in the language of the Romans “germani” means “genuine.” Strabo Geography Book 7:1:2.

Later on his etymology lost its significance, but in Tacitus there remains a measure of Barbarian virtue in Germani. From the 2nd c. CE and onwards into the 5th Germani and Germania were more often depicted in traditional poses on coins as defeated. In the same period Gaul is depicted as restored.

Germania and Gallia

In part the two anthologies discuss the same problems. One concerns the barbarians as a political phenomenon: did migrating barbarians organized in nations put an end to Rome? The other question concerns the ethnic unity of Germanic tribes and kingdoms: was there a common core identity among people called Franks, Alemanni, Visigoths etc.? Gillett (ed.) doesn’t think so being especially critical of the construction of ethnicity. In his anthology Derek Fewster, who doesn’t write about the middle of the first millennium ce., come closest to understanding ethnicity as the outcome of bad historical analyses. Noble (ed.) qualifies these questions, since revision is the model for all the books in the series to which this particular volume belongs. Instead of relying on the fall of Rome and the origin of the Germanic Early Medieval kingdoms it has been common, since the 1990s, to talk of the ‘transformation’ of the Roman world. I textbooks suitable for first year students the first sentence would point out that although Rome in the West disappeared as a political system – Roman civilization had already profoundly changed societies in northern Europe among those the people the Romans called Germans. The ongoing transformation of what was formally Rome is the complement of, and thus complemented by, the ongoing transformation of what was formally not-Rome in North and West Europe.

Even to Romans there was something about Germanic ways that transformed the land where Germani lived, i.e. Germania. When the poet Venantius Fortunatus wrote a wedding poem to King Sigebert and his Visigoth Queen Brunhild, who came to Metz in what we would term Gaul from Toledo in Spain. Venantius expressed his astonishment that there was a marriage bed for her in Germania – not in Gallia. Rhetorically he asks:

Quis crederet autem / Hispanam tibimet dominam, Germania nasci? –
Who would have believed / that with you there was born I Spain a mistress for Germania?  (Venantius Fortunatus, Book 6, Poem 1, ll. 117-18).
Since he presented the poem to the couple at their wedding, and became a popular court poet, his analysis of the Merovingian court was commonly accepted, emblematic of Germania and consequently of the Germanic ways. Spain, on the other hand did not qualify as Germania, despite its Visigoth court in La Mancha. The Visigoths were lords in Spain while the Franks had moved Germania into Gaul, at least into its northern parts, when they settled there. The examples suffice to show that the questions discussed in the two anthologies have been ‘with us’ and difficult to handle for the last 2000 years at least.


Nevertheless: The fall of Rome? and Germanic ethnogenesis? are questions typical of a post-war discussion presently dismissed by most. For theoretical reasons such discussions should have been abandoned already in the 1980s, but obviously that was not the case and pointless dichotomies such as: did Rome fall or did it not fall? Was there a core ethnicity or not? – continued to dominate the discussion whether researchers agreed or disagreed with one another or agreed to disagree. Especially Ethnicity and Identity continued to preoccupy researchers and only in recent years has the relation between ethnicity – heralded by ancient or modern voices – and bad historical analysis (a very common phenomenon then and now) been emphasized.

It should not be forgotten that the Romans themselves introduced the idea of ‘the political fall’ such as the Republic and bad ‘ethno-historical analysis’ such as Tacitus’ ‘Germania’. Caesar writing about the Civil War and Tacitus writing about Germans both wrote of something else too, and so do Gillett (ed.) and Noble (ed.). They write in the flickering torches of the EU and the comfortable straight jacket of Eurocentric post-war history departments, i.e. – paragons of the 6th c. royal and petty-royal halls; the nodes of a political network and prestige economy; a gender-controlled environment engaged in introspect historical narrative.

Sigebert coin

Using the concept of Ethnicity as a discursive node tying it to whatever source material available, is a way of ordering the discourse of a discipline in times when its male dominance is questioned. This shows already in Laura Bohannan’s essay ‘Shakespeare in the Bush’ (1966) (02) in which the patronizing ethnicity-driven claim to the correct interpretation of Hamlet rests equally well with Bohannan’s male friend in Oxford, England and elders in Tivland, Nigeria, despite the fundamental discrepancies between their correct interpretations, Both her friend and the elders are convinced that Laura Bohannan being a foreigner, but in reality a woman and thus not quite up to male standards, is not able fully to grasp ‘correct interpretation’. As the obvious representatives of each their ethnic group, they are both capable of contextualizing Hamlet as their story using ‘Hamlet’ as a discursive node. The capacity to see ethnicity in relation to border lines between the individual and a group, thus defining the individual as either inside or outside its social territory, makes it easy not least for conventional males to look at discipline as (my) territory and defend the discipline by discussing ethnicity taking its status as a discursive node for granted and disagreeing with others about ‘ethnicity and correct interpretation’. Arguing about the correct interpretation of ethnicity strengthens the structure of the discipline inasmuch as it creates schools combating each other without questioning the discursive node even if relabeling or subdividing it – ethnicity/identity – may be part of the struggle.

Scholars who think that ethnicity is unimportant or indeed the outcome of inferior historical analysis, are thus automatically excluded from the disciplinary discourse. In this case they tend to be women. Scholars who comprise traditional discursive nodes are included in the disciplinary discourse. In this case they tend to be men. Some prominent historians therefore figure in Noble ed. as well as Gillett ed. And some have two chapters in Noble (ed.). Most of the authors in Gillett (ed.) are obviously the young and sometimes angry generation. Nevertheless they all belong to a group we may call the Anthology Group.

Reading an introduction as a text in its own right means reading it as an epilogue as well as an introduction and in the case of the anthologies we are probably right in suggesting that the introductions were not written until all the contributions were available to the editor, who then sat down to analyse and explain what the anthology was all about in some ways knowing it already. Therefore, reading the introduction to an anthology as an epilogue is a method rather than simply unfair.

Writing a monograph one could do more or less the same, i.e. write the introduction when the rest of the book was already finished. But even so, the introduction would often have brewed in the author as the result of an interaction between the book as imagined and what has so far been written. The introduction develops and colours the book in the process of writing it.

Significantly there are some concepts that are consciously avoided in both Smith and Olson such as ethnicity and its correlate identity. Moreover, the European core area Germany, southern England and northern France is not anymore a must in a book pointing out the diversity of the Early Middle Ages. Cognitive history holds a prominent place and the break with the revisionist view is central: Julia M Smith

The awareness that archaeology doesn’t simply confirm or question the written sources, but make up ‘brand new evidence for the Early Middle Ages’ is another important component of both Olson’s and Smith’s books.

In the end of her introduction in a most typical way, Olson refers to a picture of the front of the Franks Casket commenting upon it in the following distinctly non-ethnic way:

Lynette Olson

Franks casket


Representing a radical break with the tradition of the anthologies, one is not surprised to find that one of the younger anthology authors has written a review, fault-finding and territory-defining, demonstrating a formidable inability to grasp Lynette Olson’s general approach and a sniper’s attitude, if not craftsmanship, to scientific discourse.

The anthology group, including the reviewer, is a good illustration to Fredrik Barth’s views upon ethnicity. Quoting Barth on almost anything, why not on his third approach – on boundaries: If a group maintains its identity when members interact with others, this entails criteria for determining membership and ways of signalling membership and exclusion (03) – and remembering the way the reviewer takes ethnogenesis and thus also ethnicity to be a discursive node in the sense of Discourse Theory, it becomes obvious that the anthology group interacts and struggle within itself to dominate the this node. Both the Noble (ed.) and the Gillett (ed.) group acknowledge the ethnicity node and the reviewer, who doesn’t forget to mention ethnogenesis as self-evident (although in his opinion misunderstood by Olson beyond comments), takes every opportunity to exclude Lynette Olson, as he would probably have tried to exclude Julie Smith, from the group. That is a safe thing to do because they would not contemplate membership. Thus he shows his group membership, his individuality and his loyalty as s boundary defender. Nevertheless, ethnicity, whether performed by groups of the past or a male anthology tribe, is just a reflection of bad historical analysis of the past or the present.

There is an interesting socio-biological component of the male defense of what seems primarily to be a scholarly territory perhaps not understood as social boundaries. Fredrik Barth, none the less, would have advised that the Anthology Group understood itself in terms of social boundaries.


(01) According to Quintilian, Cicero used the pun thus: Cimber hic fuit, a quo fratrem necatum; hoc Ciceronis dicto notatum est: Germanum Cimber occidit—There was this Cimber who murdered his brother; a fact recorded by Cicero in the words: “Cimber killed his ‘full brother’/’German’.” Quintilian Institutio Oratoria Book 8, 3, 29.

(02) The essay can be found at:

(03) See page 15 at

This week On the Reading Rest I have the past in the form of a printout of an article from the latest volume, 78:1, of American Antiquity.

Because I have a grandchild in Japan I was happy to accept an invitation to give a paper at the April SAA congress in Honolulu. Nagoya is my base between Hawaii and home. Going to SAA meant that like many others of the more than 3,000 participants, I had to become a member of SAA. Being a member, whether I like it or not, whether I can pick it out from JSTOR or not, whether I read it in the library or not, whether I get a paper copy or not, I got a message, among frequent communications, telling me that I may download American Antiquity 78:1, 2013. Because I haven’t read an article in American Antiquity since perhaps 1973 when I wrote a master thesis on concept formation in archaeology – classical genus proximum et differentia specifica versus family resemblance concepts – and needed some examples of pointless New Archeology, I couldn’t resist a look.

The cover has changed, but between front and back nothing but authors’ names and reference years are new. I probably suspected just that, but who can resist a deja vue knowing that the whole antiquarian installation is staged in April – The Past, Live in Honolulu. Today, when the material remains and contexts of iterative long-lasting cultural performances are in vogue, who wouldn’t do a participant observation of the ritual gatherings of the New American Archeologists? NAAs are not endangered, not yet indigenzed and I am not doing an ethically questionable anthropology in my own society. I may be post-colonializing them, but that is still PC.

As a preparation I read:

Cover Am Ant 78 1Arakawa, Fumiyasu; Nicholson, Christopher and Rasic, Jeff. 2013. The consequences of social processes: Aggregate populations, projectile point accumulation, and subsistence patterns in the American Southwest. American Antiquity 78:1:147-165.

Arakawa, Nicholson and Rasic (AraNiRa) have observed that as of 2005 (referring to Diamond: Guns Germs and Steel) scholars have investigated the potential causes and consequences of – the Neolithic no less (p.147, first column). What a splendid idea. This Neolithic thing it seems could have had potential consequences! Thus astonished and worried – could global warming be among the consequences? – we may proceed to contemplate the following:

[Neolithic human] groups began manufacturing and using pottery vessels, used the bow and the arrow, shifted subsistence patterns from strictly hunting and gathering to horticulture and agriculture, began domesticating animals and established sedentary villages.

First year students usually don’t get away with suggesting to their teachers that pottery, the bow and the arrow and domestication, e.g. of the dog, were emblematic of anything as belated as the Neolithic. And by the way, initially among agriculturalists the sedentary villages and the distinction between manufacturing and using pottery were of little importance. In the current American antiquity, nevertheless, this new-age-dawning perspective is creed. Having introduced us to their unique cultural context the authors turn to their archaeological mission and

argue that artifact deposits from a range of settlement sizes can inform meaningful interpretations about the consequences of social processes, such as aggregation and increases in group population density.

Rather than dubious, this proposition – artifact deposits can inform a range of meaningful interpretations – is so obvious that it can be proved, i.e., probably be proved since we mustn’t jump to conclusions, must we? Where would Archeology be if we just thought it could be meaningful?

I am thrilled: reading the article, planning to go to Honolulu, believing that two of the authors will be there, I feel surfing on the forefront of that wave of research, which roles on under my surfboard without moving forward. I shall add American Antiquity to the list of consequences brought about by the Neolithic.

True to New Archeology hoping to create a meaningful pattern composed on a few hopefully controlled variables, AraNiRa start to track down (1) large and (2) small settlements, (3) high and (4) low population density in (5) a central and (6) a peripheral area, with (7) lithic projectile points and (8) earthen utility wares as well as faunal data in which we may distinguish between (9) large and (10) small game. This is not ideal because there is a dependency between lithic projectile points and large game as well as warfare, albeit perhaps a secondary one, but very little dependency between utility ware and small game or indeed warfare. New Archeology scholastics would not have taken lightly that kind of variable dependency. Variables 7 to 10 must thus be transformed to general markers, i.e. a point:sherd ration and an artiodactyle index, which are either high or low.(Google actually returns 29.900 hits for ‘artiodactyle’ e.g. beating ‘hemiepes’ with 9.000 hits).

The construction of index and ratio is always tricky. In this case it is a specimens-of-species index (based on the Number of Identified specimens in archaeological reports – NISP). That is less informative than a Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) index, but it cannot be helped since the archaeological records give us NISP and ours not to reason why. Actually, in order not to get completely trapped in source critical problems, already troublesome, simplification is a must. The authors therefore total all the artiodactyles (even-toed), i.e. bison, deer, sheep etc, who are large, and then they sum the lagomorphs, i.e. hares, rabbits and pikas, who are small. Indeed there are no perissodactyles — odd-toed (12.700 hits). Based on these sums they construct the Artiodactyle index (AI): AI= artiodactyle/(artiodactyle+lagomorphs).

The construction of the point:sherd ratio is more difficult because it aims at reconstruction a factual prehistoric balance. This reconstruction is complicated by the fact that ‘10 out of 72 sites’ have not yielded any projectile points, just pottery. Since there is a balance between the two artefact categories, the authors manage with a bit of Bayesian statistics to produce a Posterior Mean Value, PMV, reflecting the once existing balances between points and shards. Technically speaking there is nothing wrong with the construction of this value, but the construction doesn’t differentiate between small and large sites. There is just one mean for The Core Area sites and another for The Periphery. Primarily, Core and Periphery is a matter of population density.

This means that ‘small’ and ‘large’ sites are the only straightforward, i.e. non-aggregated, variables. ‘Small’ and ‘large’ are taken for granted. In the end of the article, when it comes to comparing the meaningful patterns related to a prehistoric reality, the comparison of the PMV is primarily between small and large sites and secondarily between the somewhat aggregated periphery and core concepts, i.e. areas defined in general geographical, topographical and demographic terms. Belonging to an area makes a site ‘peripheral’ or ‘central’. In the article, methodologically motivated simplification is driven by fuzzy dichotomization keeping the reader relatively unaware of the basic distributions of the variables on the intra-site level – projectile density distribution and utility ware density distribution being cases in point.

Although this is not promising, the authors proceed to produce diagrams mapping the PMV on one axis and the AI on the other with dots representing all sites as either small or large – differentiating between core and periphery by means of symbols. In theory the expected pattern should like this:

The hypotheses suggestWhen we start reading ‘Results’, it soon becomes obvious that there is a discrepancy between the diagrams Figures 4 to 7 and the Tables 1 & 2. There are more sites in the tables (75) than in the diagrams and the text discussing them (72). Moreover, the points plotted in the diagrams are not always the ones defined by the numbers in the tables. There are 39 tabled sites in the Core Area not the 36 plotted in the diagrams. The distribution in Fig. 7 cannot be checked because there are too few decimals in the PMV values in tables 1 & 2. There are astonishing errors too: in Fig.4 the median PMV for the small sites in The Periphery is given as 0.03, but judging from table 1 it is 0.01 and less in line with the authors’ hypotheses. This is of little importance for the obvious conclusions, but it makes patterns that are not in line with the hypotheses more significant. Only the diagram Fig. 6 (the small sites in Periphery and Core) can be reproduced and compared with the published. Based on tables 1 & 2 this revised diagram looks like this:

Small sites indexes

Superimposed upon Fig. 6 in the article we get a discrepancy:

Comparison table values figure contra AraNiRa fig 6

Most of the differences are ‘decimal differences’ (the authors use four places in the diagrams and only three in the tables), but the values for McElmo-Yellow Jacket are distorted. This means that when it comes to this densely populated area the authors cannot rely on their hypotheses to explain the deviance among their large or small sites.

Small sites observed vs theory

If we add the theoretical categories to Fig. 6, the greatest problem with the interpretation is the many small sites dominated by large-game bones, but none the less characterized by few projectile points with which to kill the game. It so happens that the upper left corner of the diagram refutes the theory on its own assumptions. This patter becomes even more obvious when we re-scale Fig. 7 and add the large sites to the small ones to get a total picture.

When we look at all sites, there is thus an even more obvious split between those with relatively speaking many and those with few large mammals, since between AI 0.4 and 0.6 there are very few sites.

Last figure

There are fewer large mammals in large sites, dots, but that doesn’t mean that the animals killed in small peripheral sites, open diamonds, or indeed any small site, any diamond, were not brought as meat or cut of meat to large sites in The Core, green,blue and red dots. ‘Numerous’ and’ few’ obviously mean different things on different sites in different environments. Parallel to the split dense group, the two left corners of the diagram, there is a spread-out peripheral western group wedged between the two main corners. In this group as in the dense groups, a growing PMV means either a minimum or maximum AI. Sites in the McElmo-Yellow Jacket (McElyja) core area, moreover, are distinctly different from Mesa Verde sites suggesting that The Core Area Concept implicated by AraNiRa is flawed. If we were able to check the topographical distribution of MaElyja sites, there is a fair chance we could find a division between core sites and peripheral sites within the region.

The hypotheses suggest a theoretical distribution and meaning that doesn’t match the observed patterns. The article obscures the methodological reasons for this discrepancy, but common sense suggests that the different ways projectile points and utility ware are produced, used, dispersed, rejected, recycled, reused, deposited etc, help to obscure the meaning of the ratio point:sherd and the diagrams Figs 4-7. Probably, measuring the density of game and domesticated species as well as pottery density – leaving out the strongly dependent projectile variable, which moreover is split between killing large game and humans — as weapons still tend to be in everyday American usage – would have been more meaningful.

All this ends up in a classical example of the shortcomings of the New-Archeology approach: (1) simplification based on fuzzy dichotomies and oppositions blurs the meaning of the variables and makes correlations and discrepancies between the hypothetic suggestions and the observed patterns difficult to comprehend – for authors as well as readers. For some reason beyond our reach, (2) the formal consistency of the New-Archeology presentation often breaks down adding to the reader’s confusion. But in the end (3) this takes away nothing from the conclusions because they are but tentative and commonplace:

The analyses provide support for the idea that increasing population density and aggregation of settlement patterns led to changes in sociopolitical organization and subsistence patterns (p. 161).

It takes a backup of c. 100 references pushing at this open door. Ten seemingly innocent persons and institutions share the doubtful honour of being thanked in the acknowledgement at the very end – And of course, we [AraNiRa] take responsibility for any and all mistakes or omissions. It didn’t go without saying.