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Classics talk is part of the University's Bonnycastle Lecture Series

Mon. Jan. 30, 2023

Vindolanda (remains of stone structures, etc.)
On September 23, 2022, Prof. Elizabeth M. Greene gave a talk, Local and global dynamics in a Roman frontier settlement: The military community at Vindolanda in the early 2nd century CE as part of the University of Winnipeg’s Bonnycastle Lecture Series. Prof. Green is Canada Research Chair in Roman Archaeology and Associate Professor of Classics at Western University. Prof. Greene has been part of a team studying the remains of a Roman military settlement at Vindolanda which dates back to 43 CE in the Roman Empire. The site is in the middle of the Roman frontier in the NW province of Britannia or in the northern part of modern day England between Carlisle and Newcastle.

Greene’s talk focused on two structures dating back to ~105-120 CE: a round structure next to a rectolinear (square) one, both of which were houses. According to Greene, traditionally researchers would have assumed that Romans occupied the rectilinear house and local people (UK) the round house, as these were the type of structures associated with each in the Iron Age. Greene argues that the situation was more complex and the material culture found in the respective houses supports her analysis. It is this complexity that interests Greene and she outlines some of the reasons for it.

Greene maintains that the situation was dynamic on the edge of this newly established frontier. The local inhabitants were responding to global forces, i.e., the invasion of the Romans. Greene is interested in how the populations would have interacted and incorporated material culture that was new to them. According to Greene, the Chors I Tungrorum were the Romans who were in residence at this time. These were people from Northern Gaul in modern day Belgium who were themselves conquered by the Romans and were brought into the Roman empire as soldiers and “became the hands and feet of further conquest.” As soldiers of auxiliary status they weren’t Roman citizens until their retirement. These soldiers occupied the settlement along with their families. Greene is particularly interested in the complex identity and status of the people who weren’t soldiers. Fortunately, the anaerobic conditions of the site provided excellent preservation conditions, such that there was robust material culture preserved from in and around the structures including thousands of Roman shoes. Greene finds material evidence suggesting that the inhabitants were marginalized owing to their remote location and had to make do as they could.

Dr. Peter Miller concluded the talk in which he related Dr. Greene's talk to the Bonnycastle Lecture Series and the history of the city of Winnipeg in the following way.

Prof. Greene’s talk highlighted the ways in which military encampments and walls, for example the fort of Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall, are actually permeable spaces where cultures interact – indeed, they can create new communities by their very presence. The Bonnycastle series, of course, concerns the “social and economic life of cities,” and Winnipeg, a city founded among natural boundaries and which grew from colonial and military settlement, therefore includes the permeable and intercultural opportunities that are part of these occupations as part of its civic history. Of course, military occupations – whether in Winnipeg’s history or that of Roman Britain – also necessitate violence on local communities. What stands out for me, however, is that her work demonstrates that, perhaps counterintuitively, walls and boundaries are not as solid and divisive as their builders may think – that human communities can and do push past them.

Miller closed by stating, “Beyond this, of course, Prof. Greene’s work was exemplary of the future of humanities research: collaborative, international, interdisciplinary, and with the capacity to change fundamentally our received notions of the past.”

Upcoming in the New Directions in Classics Series:

  • March 3, 2023 - Dr. Peter J. Miller, University of Winnipeg, Sport: Antiquity and Its Legacy
  • March 24, 2023 - Dr. Annick MacAskill, St. Mary's University, Rewriting the Ancient World in Renaissance and Contemporary Poetry (Co-sponsored by the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures)

See also: