Looking for the Third Century

Posted by ac527 at Jan 29, 2015 03:23 PM |
Looking for the Third Century

Examining the third century context of coin hoards, then, requires a critical reflection of the way in which we can use the archaeological material available to us and how we can recognise and interpret the third century going beyond the restrictive model of the third century crisis. Historiographical investigations can be immensely powerful in helping us to stand back and look at inherited perspectives and directions that can be taken. This can be seen in Richard Hingley’s study and reflection on the concept of Romanisation (Hingley 2000) and my own work on the concept of decline in Roman archaeology (Rogers 2011). Looking for and interpreting the third century, then, is as much about perspective, influence and theoretical analysis as it is about more excavation and material.

As well as historiographical analysis, the third century is sought through published excavations and syntheses as well as unpublished information. The investigation can be divided into a number of themes in order to develop the third century context of hoarding. The first is the archaeology of the military. This includes an investigation of the archaeological evidence relating to the military in Britain in the third century and its context in earlier and later periods; a social context of the military allows us to explore the role of the military within interpretations of coin hoards. A significant part of this is a study of the nature of Hadrian’s Wall and the frontier zone in the third century (cf. Roach 2013). Such an investigation should include not only a study of the archaeological material but also the developing nature of military identity in the third century and the impact that this might have on our understanding of coin hoards and hoarding. Another significant aspect of the military situation in the third century concerns the so-called Shore Forts and other coastal installations (Pearson 2002). An investigation of the development of these military installations may help us to understand the social context, and reasoning behind, coin hoardings.

Newport Arch at Lincoln dating to the third century A.D. (photograph by Adam Rogers).Another significant element in the search for the third century is that of urban archaeology and what happens to towns, small towns and roadside settlements at this time. The investigation can examine urban structures but it is also important to examine theoretical perspectives on urban spaces and experiences. In interpreting the evidence it is important to avoid a focus on any particular interpretative agenda and instead contextualise the use and experience of space. Further settlement evidence relates to rural settlement in the third century and how its development reflects the social, economic and political conditions and changes in the period. Theoretical aspects are also important for the investigation of rural archaeology including issues connected with local and regional identity, perceptions of landscape, perceptions of, and priorities connected with, wealth and value, and social interpretations of industry and craft activities. The material can also be brought together to explore wider themes such as the archaeology of religion and of identity in the third century. In particular, the concept of ‘Romanisation’ has received much critical investigation for the early Roman period but what is happening to identity in the third century? How can identity be explained and how can it help us in our interpretation of coin hoards? These are the types of complex questions that need to be asked when we attempt to interpret the meaning of coin hoards in their historical context.



Hingley, R. 2000. Roman Officers and English Gentlemen. London: Routledge.

Pearson, A. 2002. The Roman Shore Forts: Coastal Defences of Southern Britain. Stroud: Tempus.

Roach, L. 2013. From the Severans to Constantius Chlorus: the lost century. In R. Collins and M. Symonds (eds.) Breaking down Boundaries: Hadrian's Wall in the 21st Century: 105-21. Portsmouth, R.I.: Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 93.

Rogers, R. 2011. Late Roman Towns in Britain: Rethinking Change and Decline. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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