Everyday life at the Rhine frontier in Late Antiquity: studying local transformations through handmade pottery from the Rhein-Main region

Dr. Vince Van Thienen

The research project aims to explore the full range of variability in handmade pottery from both sides of the Rhine between the 2nd and 6th century to investigate shared and different expressions of tradition and cultural identity in the frontier zone and the immediate hinterlands. The proposed method combines ceramic petrography with XRF-analysis to map technological and provenance markers, in addition to the stylistic approach that compares vessel shapes, decorations and context information.

The geographical extent would focus on Germany with comparative samples from the Netherlands, eastern Belgium, Luxembourg and northeastern France. The chronological focus would be on the 3rd to the 5th century, with comparative samples from the 2nd and 6th century. The interregional approach is necessary to track mobility, migration and exchange; and an extended timeframe is ideal to explore changes over time to understand the dynamics of the Rhine frontier. To ensure that the results can be interpreted in ways of mobility and change, only pottery from good quality context will be used, i.e. with precise provenance and dating.

Some of the central questions would be:

  • Can we see a continuity in traditions from the 2nd to 6th century?
  • Can we see different expression between both sides of the Rhine: Germanic vs Gallo-Roman?
  • Does the frontier zone have shared or different characteristics in the handmade pottery as the hinterlands on both sides?
  • Do the regional differences from both sides of the Rhine stay different or do they merge into one mixed culture?
  • How does the handmade pottery inform us on exchange, mobility and migration in and through the frontier zone?
  • How does the handmade pottery changes over time after multiple generations of daily interaction and co-habitation? And how does this inform us about changes in the frontier society?