Stefan Burmeister and Michael Gebühr
This chapter looks at the demography of European populations from the pre-Roman Iron Age to the Migration period, with a focus on central, northern, and north-western Europe. As well as cemetery data, it draws on contemporary textual and epigraphic sources, along with simulations. Given the diversity of societies in this large area and time span, regional variations are only to be expected. Palaeodemographic procedures and models are outlined, as well as the inherent problems of reconstructing prehistoric population profiles and densities. Age at death provides the starting point for reconstructing demographic composition, the life cycles of individuals generating mortality curves, which form the basis for calculating the age composition of the living community (expressed as a life pyramid). Divergences from the standard mortality curve or expected life pyramid, and variations between regions, require explanation, in terms of archaeological or cultural phenomena, migration being an obvious example.
This chapter focuses on a number of specific themes that can help us understand the nature of continuities of traditional Iron Age practices following Roman conquest, the development of complex mixed identities, discrepant experiences, and life after Roman rule. The chapter looks first at the historiographical context and complexities of studies of Europe under Rome, including previous models of ‘Romanization’, and the contribution of figures such as Theodor Mommsen, Camille Jullian, and Francis Haverfield. Examples of archaeological material from provinces across Europe are then explored in detail, including settlement, buildings, and social space; geography and landscape; religion and ritual; death and burial; and industry, craft activity, and material culture.
Archaeologists once viewed super-individual identity as primordial and tied to territorial boundaries, useful for describing an orderly past and creating national or ethnic genealogies. Current research ties identities not to regions, but to groups: complex cultural constructions, expressed in varied yet simultaneous manifestations of bonds with family, lineage, clan, or polity, each with multiple shifting markers. These can involve kinship, status, gender, age, occupation, shared experience, and social memory, in turn impacted by wider sociopolitical, religious, and economic concerns. Between Iron Age groups, cooperation, détente, and conflict were equally likely; trade, travel, and familiarity resulted in material and ideological co-mingling, while still preserving difference, and involved symbolic and practical novelty, as well as continuity with the past. Once, such complexities caused archaeologists to label identity research impossible or unnecessary, but its exclusion often leads to misinterpretation. Fortunately, thoughtful considerations of method, materiality, and scale have resulted in productive new approaches.