The Transformation of Frontiers from Late Antiquity to the Carolingians

By Walter Pohl; Ian Wood et al. | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION: DRAWING FRONTIERS

Ian Wood

The second plenary conference of the European Science Foundation's programme on the Transformation of the Roman World was held at Le Bischenberg, near Obernai in Alsace, from the 21st to 24th of April, 1996. As in the case of the first plenary conference, which had been held at Mérida two years previously, a general theme was chosen to provide a focus for the meeting, although on this occasion there were fewer plenary lectures, so as to provide more time for the various different working groups to continue with their own work. The individual teams were, however, encouraged to consider the issue of frontiers within the context of their own intellectual interests. This volume, therefore, comprises versions of some papers which were delivered at Le Bischenberg, together with articles largely from Working Group 1, whose concern with Imperium, Gentes et Regna clearly overlapped with the topic of frontiers in one of its many possible meanings.

As with the theme of 'Modes of Communication', that of 'Frontiers' was chosen as being a topic which was relevant in one way or another to all those involved in the project. Chronologically the Transformation of the Roman World can itself be seen as a frontier between the classical and medieval periods. Culturally, Europe between 300 and 900 can be seen to be criss-crossed with frontiers, linguistic, artistic, religious and philosophical. So too, there are economic frontiers to be mapped and explained. In choosing 'frontiers' as a theme which might draw all the sections of the project together, there was no intention to limit the issue to the matter of political borders.

Leaving aside the range of subject matter, 'frontiers' also raise the possibility of a range of different approaches. There is, of course, the classic approach of Limesforschungen—meticulous study of the Roman frontiers in archaeological and documentary terms. The archaeology of the limes has, equally, and increasingly been interpreted according to new models of economic distribution. At the same time the subject naturally invites appeal to other intellectual traditions: frontiers as defined by anthropologists in terms of purity and taboos—one thinks instinctively of Mary Douglas' Purity and Danger—or in terms of the 'Other', as exemplified by a work like Stephen Greenblatt's Marvellous Possessions.

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