and village societies
THIS CHAPTER AIMS to present an overview of the state of archaeological knowledge on rural settlement, and to link it with the textual evidence on village identity. (For a definition of the word 'village', see below, p. 470, and for a discussion of alternative definitions see pp. 516–17.) Like other chapters with a largely archaeological evidence base, notably Chapters 10 and 11, the syntheses presented here are provisional, for new discoveries are being made all the time. Overall, the areas of this survey that are most hypothetical, most subject to reinterpretation in the light of future research, lie in the post-Roman western Mediterranean: in those regions, research methodologies capable of identifying rural settlement in the early middle ages at all have only been generated relatively recently, in the last two decades in Italy, the last decade or little more in southern France and eastern Spain, not yet in most of North Africa; and what has been found is so subregionally or microregionally variable that generalization proves unusually difficult. Elsewhere, however, most of the basic patterns set out here seem fairly sound, reinforced by numerous research projects all finding similar things—even if unstudied sub-regions might well, of course, spring surprises on us, that is to say, local realities whose existence we had not hitherto suspected. Two caesurae run through the subject-matter of this chapter, one geographical, the other chronological. First, there is a real difference between the eastern Roman empire and the western in the importance of villages in the rural landscape, which has stood up to all attempts at critique that I have seen; as a result, I shall look at the villages of the East first, as a separate topic from the more dispersed rural settlement of the Roman West. Second, around the period of the end of the Roman empire in the West, one particularly characteristic settlement form, the rural villa, went out of use, and was replaced by a wider range of patterns; my treatment of the West will as a result be divided into three parts, a discussion of the villa-focused rural settlement hierarchies of the Roman world, and two surveys of the postRoman forms that replaced them, in the western Mediterranean and finally in northern Gaul and its northern neighbours.