The Danube in Late Antiquity
Roman imperial strategy made use of the Danube in the creation of its frontier, but the populations along those rivers were united by a common experience of life in the frontier zones, as much as they may have been divided by political super-structures. In the centuries leading up to the withdrawal of the Roman empire, these frontier zones saw intense interactions both along the course of the Danube and across it. The river was used for fishing and hunting, trade and population movements. Following the end of the centralised, hegemonic power of the empire, the Danube became a means for the rapid communication of people and ideas. It facilitated the emergence of new forms of political legitimisation but also of widely shared burial practices and settlement forms, among populations that could be as far apart as southern Germany and Transylvania.
Historical accounts of the events surrounding the fall of the Roman Empire take as starting point the written sources of the time – texts that were written by male, urban clerics or high-level imperial administrators, brought up in the educational traditions of the late Roman Empire, few of whom had ever visited the Danube region themselves. The narrative is thus fundamentally biased towards the specific perspectives of the authors of these texts.
I will therefore be writing a history of the Danube in Late Antiquity that focuses on the lived experiences and material world of the local people. This archaeological exploration will give a voice to the people that have only been written about and who have not passed their own narratives down to us and yet who created the world of the Danube as it emerged from antiquity on trajectories towards modern nation states.
Dr Susanne Hakenbeck is a CRASSH Early Career Fellow in Lent Term 2017.
Susanne is a university lecturer in historical archaeology in the Division of Archaeology. After her PhD (University of Cambridge, 2006) she held positions as research fellow at Newnham College, the University of Southampton and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
Since then she has begun to examine the role of the late and post-Roman frontiers more broadly, exploring how political decentralisation and high levels of mobility in the frontier zones led to the emergence of new ethno-political units. The dynamic situation of the frontiers may provide an answer to a very old question: why did the Roman Empire fall?
Most recently, she focused on the interactions of nomadic pastoralists with settled agricultural populations in the Pannonian basin in the fifth century AD, the period of which written sources tell us of attacks of Huns on Roman sites.