Thursday, June 6, 2019


Walter Pohl, Clemens Gantner, Cinzia Grifoni, Marianne Pollheimer-Mohaupt (ed.), Transformations of Romanness: Early Medieval Regions and Identities. Millennium-Studien, volume 71. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. x, 586. ISBN 9783110589597. €129,95.

Reviewed by Ecaterina Lung, University of Bucharest (

Version at BMCR home site


The end of the Roman Empire provoked many historiographical debates, some highly politicised, like those of the 19th and the early 20th century. Even today, the discussion remains heated, the main camps being those of the 'transformationists', partisans of the gradual changes in Roman identity, 'catastrophists', who believe that Romanness declined dramatically after the fall of Rome and the 'Roman continuists' for whom Romanness continued to shape post-Roman Europe. In this context, it is very important to follow the Romans and those aspects of Romanness surviving after the end of Rome.

The volume begins with a general overview, Aspects of Romanness in the early Middle Ages, opened with an introduction in which Walter Pohl analyses the evolution of Romanness as a multi-layered, situational identity, using traditional and post-modern methodologies. He explains that a scholarly concept of Roman identity has to be inclusive, dynamic, multi-layered and account for the tenacity of some level of Roman identity as well as the low profile and fluidity of other identities (p. 8). Pohl explores the different "modes of identification", implied by the semantics related to Romanus,-i found in written sources, but also suggested by the situations in which "some form of Romanness may have been implied without explicitly mentioning the term" (p.9). The author presents the evolution of Romanness from the urban identity of the Ancient Rome to the imperial political, legal and civic identities. Pohl summarizes how the social meanings of Romanness were downgraded in successor kingdoms, turning to markers of inferior social status. The problem of the imperial identity is a complex one and the author shows that it is difficult to assess the extent to which the symbols and the language of Roman power could have inspired "a sense of belonging in the subject populations" and made themselves felt at a regional level. (p. 19). This political aspect is shown in the volume by the different uses of the word Romanus,-i and its variants (Rhomaioi, Romania, Rhum). The cultural identity of the Romans constituted a mark of social distinction, as romanitas was an elite identity, acquired through upper-class education. The religious Roman identity was radically transformed by Christianity and finally the Romanness and the Nicene/Chalcedonian confession became synonyms. The difficult issue of the ethnic identity of the Romans was only recently taken into consideration by historians, so one of the main merits of this volume is to assume that an ethnic mode of Roman identification was used in the Roman and post-Roman society. Pohl identifies rhythms of change in the meanings of Roman identity in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, concluding that Romanness continued to be a political and cultural model and a source of prestige.

This section continues with Guy Halsall's study of the multi-layered and dynamic character of ethnicity, linked with the evolution of Roman identity towards a disadvantageous one, in Gaul. Yitzhak Hen shows that in Late Antiquity, Christianity was "the most conspicuous marker of Romanitas itself" (p. 67), in the form of Nicene orthodoxy.

Romanitas during the Late Antique and Byzantine Empire is studied in the next section of the volume, which begins with M. Shane Bjornlie's essay. He demonstrates that, for the Late Roman historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, Romanus was a kind of technical term, meaning inclusion in the military. Richard Corradini shows how important Augustine was for integrating Romanness within Christian providential history, sacralising it and making Christian identity a guarantee for the stability of civilization. Johannes Koder offers a perspective of the linguistic evolution in the Eastern Empire, where the Greek word for Romans, Rhomaioi, referred to the members of the Christian Greek Roman Empire and its political and cultural community and Romania designated what we now call the Byzantine Empire. Ioannis Stouraitis, in his dense and theoretically insightful essay, shows how the historiographical sources can be used to trace the evolution towards an ethnic understanding of Romanness in Byzantium. The early medieval vision of Roman identity was not underlined by a notion of descent from Roman ethnicity but by the Christian identity as predominant cultural marker. In the 11th and 12th centuries historians envisaged the Eastern Romans as a group of common kinship, and only after 1204 the myth of Ancient Hellenic descent emerged, leading to a hybrid version of Roman ethnic identity in late Byzantium.

Another important dimension of the early medieval Romanness was that of The City of Rome, the title of the following section. It begins with Rosamond McKitterick's article about the form of Romanness associated with the pope and the city of Rome that was disseminated through Roman liturgy throughout the whole of western Christendom. Paul Delogu demonstrates how the inhabitants of Rome, from the 8th century onwards, assumed an identity that accompanied and supported the papal sovereignty, which had only local dimensions and was not presented to the wider world as an expression of universal values. Veronica West-Harling shows how the inhabitants of Rome perceived the past of their city and underlines the importance of its antique monuments, re-used or restored (mainly by popes) using titles inspired from antiquity, to the self-perception of the elite.

The section Italy and the Adriatic begins with Giorgia Vocino's contribution which demonstrates that in historiographic texts from Spoleto, Rome was eternal, but its meaning evolved, influenced by the authors' circumstances. Before the 8th century, classical Rome still provided a meaningful frame of reference, but after this turning point, Rome begins to be depicted as the papal city and Spoleto is seen as a secunda Roma. Thomas Granier focuses on how southern Italian sources between the 8th and 10th centuries dealt with Rome, Roman history and its continuation in Byzantium. Although Roman imperial ideology remained an ideal model, emperors at Constantinople were the only genuine successors of the ancient emperors, while Rome was unique as the church of St Peter. Annick Peters-Custot analyses the two Byzantine provinces in southern Italy, Apulia and Calabria where a "peripheral version" of Romanness emerged, somewhere between Rome and Constantinople, which affected the Italo-Greek self-perception (p. 240). Francesco Borri offers a fascinating history of the ethnonym Romani in Latin, or Romanoi in Greek, applied by external sources to the Romance inhabitants of Dalmatia between the 10th and the 14th century. The author explains the disappearance of Romani from Dalmatia by the use of the name Romania to designate the Eastern Empire, from the 11th century onwards. I would suggest the appearance of another ethnonym, Vlach, referring to the Romance population, may be more important in this process than the author believes.

The next section very coherently deals with post-roman Gaul. Ralph W. Mathisen's provoking essay underlines the relative lack of direct reference to Romans in the written sources from post-Roman Gaul, which later led to the idea of their physical extermination by barbarians. I agree with Mathissen's idea that those "missing Romans" "were hiding in plain sight" under the geographical and social labels used by late antique and early medieval authors, even if I don't accept his assumption that this is due to a certain "political correctness" (p. 273) in Merovingian Francia. Ian Wood analyzes what some sources of Roman origin say about the non-Romans, to establish the significance of the ethnic differences during late 5th and early 6th centuries. The term Barbari, could have been pejorative, neutral and pejorative again (in the 7th century) when applied to those outside the Merovingian kingdom, in relation to the authors' position towards the Germanic people. The neglect of Romans and Romanness by some written sources is also addressed by Helmut Reimitz. He believes that Gregory of Tours tried to undermine all visions of community that could compete with his Christian one, whether Roman, Frankish or other kinds of barbarian communities. Jamie Kreiner explains how Merovingian hagiographers used Romanness in the 7th and early 8th centuries as an additional argument to enhance the importance of a protagonist. Two authors, Stefan Esders and Lucas Bothe concentrate on how in post-Roman Gaul, being subject to Roman law could become a regional and a social identity marker. Through legal provisions in barbarian law codes, the Romans became second-class citizens and the reduced value of their legal status contributed to the gradually disappearance of the label Romanus itself.

In another section, The Iberian Peninsula, Javier Arce's contribution explores who identified themselves or was identified by others as Roman in the Visigothic kingdom. Like in post-Roman Gaul, Latin-speaking inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula are almost invisible in the written sources. Ann Christys observes that even if the Ummayads made few attempts to appropriate the status symbols of Rome, Roman history had a place in Arabic historiography and some Andalus material culture perpetuated Roman models.

Northern peripheries: Britain and Noricum begins with Ingrid Hartl's very useful overview in English of the volume edited by Walter Pohl, Ingrid Hartl, Wolfgang Haubrichs, Walchen, Romani und Latini. Variationen eichen nachrömichen Greuppenbeizeichnung zwischen Britannien unde dem Balkan, Vienna, 2017. She summarizes how the ethnonyms Walchen, Welsh, Walloons, Vlachs and Wallachians, as well as Blach, Olah or Olasz were used to describe Romans and Romance speaking people in the Middle Ages and beyond it, usually as outside designations. By contrast, in south-eastern Europe, the vast majority of Romance-speaking peoples used self-designations derived from Romanus, like the Romanians or the Aromanians from the Balkans. Linked usually with low-prestige identities, these ethnonyms prove the tenacity of Romanness, which survived the early medieval transformations and became part of present day national identity for some European peoples. Robin Fleming discusses four archaeological case studies documenting different strategies of re-using ceramics and glass in a post-Roman Britain which lost the ability to produce them. Katharina Winckler follows the destiny of Bavaria, a former frontier area, which disappeared from the Roman Empire by the beginning of the 6th century. A Romance language was still spoken there in the 8th century and even later and, as in other situations, the individuals qualified as Romani in written documents were usually of lower social status and only rarely members of the social elite.

The last section explores the fate of Romanness outside Europe, where historical evolution led From Roman provinces to Islamic lands. Roland Steinacher shows that Romanization was never fully complete in Africa, a non-homogenous zone of Romanness, with many regional differences and a multitude of local identities underlying a seemingly Roman culture. Jack Tannous studies what Rome and Romanness meant for inhabitants of Syriac provinces. The Syriac word for Roman had political and military meanings; it could also mean Greek and later, Christian Chalcedonian orthodox.

Of course, in a volume of collected essays there will always be differences between essays and between sections, and we noted that the most consistent parts are those dealing with Italy, Gaul and Byzantium. A conspicuous absence is that of the Romanness in the north-eastern peripheries, regions like ancient Pannonia and Dacia, nowadays Hungary and Romania. Also, the Romanness in the Balkans is only mentioned in passing, when dealing with Byzantium or Dalmatia. It is understandable that written sources pertaining to these areas are scarce, but there is always the possibility to explore post-Roman Romanness in material sources, in the absence of written sources, as demonstrated by Robin Fleming.

Summarizing, we consider that the editors and the contributors, based on a wealth of contemporary scientific literature and using a large variety of methodological approaches, offer what is probably the most important synthesis of the issue of Romanness in the post-Roman world published so far.

Table of Contents

Abbreviations, IX
List of figures, XI
Preface and acknowledgements, XIII
Aspects of Romanness in the early Middle Ages
Walter Pohl, Introduction: Early medieval Romanness – a multiple identity, 3
Guy Halsall, Transformations of Romanness: The northern Gallic case, 41
Yitzhak Hen, Compelling and intense: The Christian transformation of Romanness, 59

The Late Antique and Byzantine Empire
M. Shane Bjornlie, Romans, barbarians and provincials in the Res Gestae of Ammianus Marcellinus, 71
Richard Corradini, A stone in the Capitol: Some aspects of res publica and romanitas in Augustine, 91
Johannes Koder, Remarks on linguistic Romanness in Byzantium, 111 Ioannis Stouraitis, Byzantine Romanness: From geopolitical to ethnic conceptions, 123

The City of Rome
Rosamond McKitterick, 'Romanness' and Rome in the early Middle Ages, 143
Paolo Delogu, The post-imperial Romanness of the Romans, 157
Veronica West-Harling, The Roman past in the consciousness of the Roman elites in the ninth and tenth centuries, 173

Italy and the Adriatic
Giorgia Vocino, Looking up to Rome: Romanness through the hagiography from the duchy of Spoleto, 197
Thomas Granier, Rome and Romanness in Latin southern Italian sources, 8th – 10th centuries, 217
Annick Peters-Custot, Between Rome and Constantinople: The Romanness of Byzantine southern Italy (9th–11th centuries), 231
Francesco Borri, Dalmatian Romans and their Adriatic friends: Some further remarks, 241

Ralph W. Mathisen, 'Roman' identity in Late Antiquity, with special attention to Gaul, 255
Ian Wood, Roman barbarians in the Burgundian province, 275
Helmut Reimitz, Histories of Romanness in the Merovingian kingdoms, 289
Jamie Kreiner, Romanness in Merovingian hagiography: A case study in class and political culture, 309
Stefan Esders, Roman law as an identity marker in post-Roman Gaul (5th ‒ 9th centuries), 325
Lukas Bothe, From subordination to integration: Romans in Frankish law, 345

The Iberian Peninsula
Javier Arce, Goths and Romans in Visigothic Hispania, 371
Ann Christys, 'Made by the ancients': Romanness in al-Andalus, 379

Northern peripheries: Britain and Noricum

Ingrid Hartl, Walchen, Vlachs and Welsh: A Germanic ethnonym and its many uses, 395
Robin Fleming, Four communities of pot and glass recyclers in early post-Roman Britain, 403
Katharina Winckler, Romanness at the fringes of the Frankish Empire: The strange case of Bavaria, 419

From Roman provinces to Islamic lands
Roland Steinacher, When not in Rome, still do as the Romans do? Africa from 146 BCE to the 7th century, 439
Jack Tannous, Romanness in the Syriac East, 457

Bibliography, 481
Index, 573

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