The economic and social status of Romano-British rural villas in southern
University of Southampton, Faculty of Archaeology,
The nature of rural settlement patterns and the economy during the Roman occupation of Britain from the Claudian invasion of AD 43 to the end of the fourth century in Hampshire and West Sussex formed the focus of this research.
The objective is to define a method of measuring the attributes of Romano-British ceramic assemblages that can be linked to the socio-economic status of the original owners and their villas. It is the hypothesis of this study that domestic ceramic vessels can be used as a reliable indicator of social status. A tenet of this hypothesis is that the higher social and economically wealthy Romano British villa owners would be in possession of greater amounts of ceramic fine table wares. The pottery assemblages and the architectural features of twenty villas in West Sussex and Hampshire were analysed in order to test this hypothesis. The quantities of fine wares were measured by Estimated Vessel Equivalents (EVEs) and the Romanised architectural features present were quantified by their presence.
The economics of the Roman Empire was integrated with wealth and power which in itself was reflected in the fashions of the material culture together with the aspirations to acquire status. Social mobility during the Rome Empire relied on wealth and the consequent display of that wealth. The way a person could demonstrate a change in status was to acquire and display higher quality material culture. This can be seen to be demonstrated in the display of Romanised architectural features present in Romano-British villas coupled with the evidence of high value ceramic fine wares present in the cultural artefacts. This demonstration of wealth can be seen as representing the status of an individual within society and by comparison the fewer high value status symbols would indicate a lower status or class of an individual.
The differences in the quantity of these ceramic fine wares obtained by the villa owners can, therefore, be seen as an indicator and a measure of their relative social status. It is this theory that is the basis for the development of the methodology and the creation of a testable model.
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