Neil Christie

  • Tuesday 23 January 2018
  • 5.30pm-6.30pm
  • Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre 1

Archaeologies of Transformation

Neil’s research has long been centred on questions of both change and continuity and on the archaeologies of Italy and Europe more generally. With particular focus on the period c. AD 300-900 and the timespan when the old Roman Empire started to buckle under internal and external strains and its provinces came to fragment and be reworked as smaller, ‘barbarian’ kingdoms, Neil has explored diverse aspects of transformations in these changing contexts.  First of all, towns: Rome’s Empire was a strongly urban-based power, but the classical fabric of these faded from the 3rd and 4th centuries, with theatres, amphitheatres and baths no longer core to the urban make-up. What fates did these old monuments have? How quickly were they robbed? How many were reused or adapted?

This period is also one of religious transformation too – the Church and Christianity took centre stage and generated a new Roman image. Neil’s research also explores this transition – how quickly did a Christianised make-up become applied? How far did the Christians avoid, destroy or exploit the ancient Roman religious monuments?

More widely this is a period of insecurity – from civil wars to external threats – and a key strand of interest is thus defence: city walls are major survivals of the time period under study yet very much neglected as archaeological and historical resources: Neil’s research has analysed of such wall circuits as symbols of insecurity, as markers of survival, and as shows of status. They became core to many cities and towns and part of citizens’ daily life – including in terms of being required to maintain and even man them.

Insecurity and Roman break-up affected landscapes too: there were defences here, whether military fortresses or civilian refuges, and farmers also responded, sometimes staying put, or else shifting to villages, some on hilltops. Archaeology is key in charting rural transformations and the emergence, after Rome’s villa landscapes, of a more medieval-looking world of villages and, in time, castles.

Though later in date, Neil’s Wallingford project was equally about transformations: a new town created in the face of Viking attacks, changing landscapes and populations; a Norman castle imposed to re-configure the townscape and its economy; and, with royalty, even the role of the River Thames is modified. But then a more marginal role in the later Middle Ages sees the town shrink down, churches fail and trade struggle. All these transformative phases can be tracked by archaeology in union with an array of other sources.

Professor Neil Christie

Neil Christie 200 x 266.jpg

Neil is a long-serving staff member at the University of Leicester, having joined the then School of Archaeological Studies in 1992, serving since that time a whole host of distinguished heads of department who have put the School very firmly on the national map.

Neil’s pre-Leicester academic background included BA and PhD at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, followed by two years at the British School at Rome as a Rome Scholar then employed to write up excavation reports on three major early medieval church sites; subsequent were a Sir James Knott Postdoctoral Fellowship at Newcastle (again!) to explore themes on Late Roman Italy and a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship with the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford to work on a book on the Lombards.

He’s written or edited and co-edited 17 monographs and has over 80 articles to his name. And he likes doing lots of book reviews in his capacity of Reviews Editor for two national journals on medieval archaeology.

Neil’s research is very much linked to archaeological fieldwork and he has engaged in excavation and survey work since the 1990s, primarily in Italy, but also with a field project in Spain, looking at themes of urban and rural change, formation of castles and village growth. His most recent major project was the three-year AHRC-funded project exploring through an array of techniques the historic town and castle of Wallingford in south Oxfordshire, from Saxon roots to post-medieval decline.

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