Florin Curta

title.none: Bulow and Milceva, eds., Der Limes an der unteren Donau von Diokletian bis Heraklios (Curta)

identifier.other: baj9928.0005.005 00.05.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Florin Curta, University of Florida,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Bulow, Gerda von and Alexandra Milceva, eds.,. Der Limes an der unteren Donau von Diokletian bis Heraklios. Vortrage der Internationalen Konferenz Svistov (1.- 5. September 1998). Sofia, Bulgaria: Nous Publishers LTD., 1999. Pp. 1, 302. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.05.05

Bulow, Gerda von and Alexandra Milceva, eds.,. Der Limes an der unteren Donau von Diokletian bis Heraklios. Vortrage der Internationalen Konferenz Svistov (1.- 5. September 1998). Sofia, Bulgaria: Nous Publishers LTD., 1999. Pp. 1, 302. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Florin Curta
University of Florida

The notion of limes as a fortified frontier of the Roman Empire has recently been the object of much scholarly debate. Following the publication of Benjamin Isaac and Charles R. Whittaker's path-breaking studies on Roman frontiers, it has become increasingly difficult to speak of limes as a frontier line in the well established tradition of the Limeskongresse. Instead, the limes is now viewed as a deep zone that included the supporting provinces and, in some cases, even territories across the frontier. To Procopius, the river Danube formed "the boundary between the barbarians, who hold its left bank, and the territory of the Romans, which is on the right" ( Buildings IV 5). The author of Book II of the Miracles of St Demetrius, who wrote in the late 600s, still viewed the Danube as separating the Empire from the realm of the Avars. The "Danube-as- barrier" concept, however, was mere propaganda. In reality, no frontier-as-interface existed where Romans stood confronting the enemy. Procopius described Roman armies operating north of the Danube and mentioned territories and forts on the left bank of the river, which, a century after the withdrawal of Roman armies from Dacia, were still regarded as "Roman" and therefore "entrusted" to barbarian allies.

To the reader's surprise, there is no mention of either Isaac or Whittaker in this collection of studies edited by Bulow and Milcheva. Der Limes an der unteren Donau is the product of a fruitful cooperation between the Archaeological Institute and Museum in Sofia and the Romische-Germanische Kommission in Frankfurt. As such, it represents the most "conservative" approach to archaeological research in a number of East European countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Poland, and Ukraine) where the influence of the German culture- historical school is still very strong. The need to match historical evidence and the archaeological record is pervasive throughout this volume of papers presented at the conference organized at Svishtov (Bulgaria) in September 1998. Like Kossinna, many contributors still believe that pots, arrowheads, or brooches are people. More often than not, artifacts are therefore treated as "index fossils" signalizing the presence of Huns, Gepids, or Ostrogoths. As set forth in the introduction, the editors' aim was to cover a wide variety of topics related to the problems of the late third- to early seventh-century Danube frontier of the Empire. No attempt was made to derive generalizations for comparative research from the highly individuated chapters. Each one of these papers, however, provides carefully selected parallels with similar phenomena in the western and eastern provinces of the Empire. In each individual case, the reader will find interesting details about the northern Balkans, an area until recently neglected by historians and archaeologists interested in Late Antiquity.

The 37 archaeological essays in this collection, written in English, German, and French, cover a wide variety of topics, from buildings and lamps to inscriptions and coins. Typically short, some include, in addition to footnotes, a brief bibliography. An index would have been of particular use to the general reader. Individual topics are likely to prove enlightening to some readers, less interesting to others, in what amounts to the most recent view on the Danube frontier between the third and the seventh centuries. This volume exhibits both the strengths and the weaknesses of a collective effort, including current scholarship, a high degree of specialization, and the absence of synthesis or connecting themes and arguments. It will stimulate the expert and frustrate the general reader. This is particularly true about papers designed as little more than archaeological reports of current excavations on key sites in the region, such as Iatrus/Krivina and Novae/Svishtov. Outside a limited group of archaeologists working on Roman sites in the Balkans, very few, if any, readers will appreciate the minutiae of a group of three papers on Iatrus, including Bernard Dohle's on the chronology of the western excavation sector (pp. 141-50), Dimitar Stanchev's on the praetorium (pp. 151-4), or Gerda von Bulow's on houses built north of the via praetoria (155-63). The same applies to Gergana Kabakchieva's study of a late antique building from Oescus/Gigen (pp. 49-55), Lyudmil Vagalinski's paper on the northern rampart of Transmarisca/Tutrakan (pp. 229-36), Ioana Bogdan-Cataniciu's essay on Tropaeum Traiani/Adamclisi during the early fourth century (pp. 259-69), and Andrew Poulter's paper on Gradishte near Dichin (pp. 207-27). Poulter's study is otherwise a very instructive example of how micro-regional analysis can contribute to our understanding of the relationship between cities and countryside in Late Antiquity. This paper stands out by the novelty and quality of the methods of archaeological research: geophysical surveying, photographic mosaics, and three-dimensional computer models.

The remaining papers could be divided into three groups on the basis of their research focus. Several authors, not limiting themselves to describing the succession of layers or disentangling some complicated stratigraphy, attempt to discuss the history of their sites in a somewhat broader perspective. Dimitar Stanchev describes a small fortification recently found near Batin, not far from Ruse (Bulgaria), which he believes to be a port installation for the Danube fleet (pp. 201-5). Miroslava Mirkovic too proposes that the sixth-century rampart built across the island between the Mlava and the Dunavac, not far from Viminacium/Stari Kostolac (Serbia), was a port facility, in this case a loading wharf used for transporting goods to the early Byzantine fort (pp. 17-25). However, a similar fortification at Cape Kaliakra, on the Black Sea shore, could hardly be interpreted in similar terms. Moreover, the evidence presented by Mirkovic is far from convincing. First, the presence of a large number of sixth-century, but not earlier, amphora sherds does not indicate that broken vessels were brought to Svetinja from the fort, because it remains to explain why there was a selection of sixth-century fragments. Second, it is hard to imagine that the soldiers who garrisoned the rampart were buried in the so-called southern cemetery located not far from the Roman city, on the right bank of the old Mlava bed. True, in the absence of a scale for the map of the region on p.18, it is difficult to assess the distance between rampart and cemetery. The attentive reader, however, will realize how far the one is from the other by comparing the distance to the size of the early Byzantine fort. By contrast, Miloje Vasic's paper on Transdrobeta (Pontes), a relatively small fort in the Iron Gates segment of the Danube frontier, provides a perceptive case study of the transformation of a military site into a civilian settlement (pp. 27-35). Vasic demonstrates that during the late third and early fourth century, the military function of many buildings erected within the area enclosed by ramparts was abandoned. Houses, stables, a smithy, and a smelting workshop replaced military buildings, as the fort now turned into a civilian settlement inhabited by refugees from Dacia across the Danube, abandoned by Roman troops in the 270s.

A second group includes papers concentrating on individual buildings and the dramatic changes taking place in the urban landscape of the Late Antiquity. Particularly interesting is Vencislav Dinchev's essay on fourth- to fifth-century Iatrus (pp. 165-74). Dinchev asserts that continuity between the controversial phases B and C of the late antique fort is to be found only in Christian architecture. While between the second half of the fourth century and the early fifth century all other buildings were abandoned or changed function, the fort basilica built in the 300s was replaced by a larger church in the early 400s, which already dominated the entire fort, being the largest structure built on site. The traditional interpretation of changes taking place at Iatrus in the mid- fourth century is that at some point during the last decades of the fourth century Gothic federates replaced the Roman garrison. Dinchev demonstrates that responsible for these changes was the withdrawal of the regular troops of the legion I Italica and the subsequent arrival of a cuneus equitum scuttariorum. This auxiliary unit is mentioned in Iatrus by the Notitia Dignitatum. As a consequence, Dinchev proposes that building VII, until now interpreted as horreum, was in fact a stable. Tadeusz Sarnowski's essay deals with the fourth- and fifth-century principia at Oescus (pp. 57-63). Sarnowski points out that pagan altars were still in use by A.D. 400. Citing evidence from Nubia, the Middle Danube region, and the Near East, he shows that the fact that pagan and Christian forms of culture co-existed side by side at Oescus is no sign of provincial backwardness. Sergei Torbatov examines a rectangular structure excavated in the late 1940s at Dinogetia/Garvan and traditionally interpreted as principia (pp. 271-4). He argues that this is in fact a late Roman burgus most probably erected at some point during the last two decades of the fourth century in the ruins of the fort destroyed during the Second Gothic War of Valens. Zygmunt Kalinowski demonstrates that the large episcopal basilica from Novae/Svishtov and the small church built nearby were not a double church similar to the twin cathedrals found in Trier, Aquileia, or Salona. The modest size of the small basilica, as well as the reliquary containing a human bone found in situ suggest that this church was built on top of a martyrium and may have functioned as chapel or, more likely, as church for catechumens.

Piotr Dyczek describes a glass workshop recently found at Novae and the associated glass artifacts (pp. 99-104). Dyczek points to petrographic analysis of sandstone and limestone used in the walls of various buildings found at Novae. This stone most probably came from the quarry at Hotnica, not far from Nicopolis at Istrum/Nikiup (the quarry is discussed in a separate paper by Janusz Skoczylas [pp. 127-130]). Petrographic analysis of walls, however, has nothing to do with Dyczek's glass remains, and one wonders why is there no analysis of the chemical composition of glass finds. In a substantial essay on the late antique cemeteries of Durostorum/Silistra, Gordana Milosevic and Peti Donevski bring to light a number of fourth- and sixth-century burial vaults discovered south and west of the Roman camp (pp. 245-58). They make clear how indispensable the archaeological evidence of funerary monuments is to our understanding of the early Christian past of the city. One of the most interesting essays included in this collection is Mihail Zahariade's study of quadriburgia, small rectangular forts with round corner towers (pp. 3-16). Through a detailed study of their typology and distribution along the Lower Danube, Zahariade shows that such forts represent a typical feature of late third- and early fourth-century military architecture in the region. Initially intended as completing and thickening much earlier structures erected in frontier areas, quadriburgia became power bases for petty Gothic chieftains, as suggested by such place names as Stiliburgu, Mareburgu (Rtkovo), and Halicaniburgu (Slatinska reka). The latter most likely derives from the name of a Gothic chieftain, (H)alica, mentioned in the Anonymus Valesianus (V. 27) as having supported Licinius against Constantine, who later settled in the Empire together with his Goths.

The largest group by far is that of artifact-based papers. The contributions in this group are largely and typically descriptive. There is little contextual discussion beyond mere typology. Andrzej Biernacki examines a marble sigma-shaped mensa from Novae (pp. 75-86). Sven Conrad's analysis of amphorae found at Iatrus/Krivina is a critical re-evaluation of Burkhard Bottger's typology. Conrad rightfully rejects Bottger's conclusions about supplies of grain, wine and olive oil transported in amphorae (pp. 175-88). Ioan I. C. Opris describes finds of African Red Slip Ware and "Asia Minor fabrics" from Scythia Minor (pp. 275-80). In a paper on fourth- to sixth-century lamps from Novae, Maria Chichikova argues in favor of local production (pp. 105-10). Liudmila Ruseva-Slokoska describes fourth- to sixth-century jewels from several fort cemeteries in the northern Balkans (pp. 281-4). Gudrun Gomolka-Fuchs discusses a fifth-century jade buckle from Iatrus in the light of similar finds from western Siberia and Transcaucasia (pp. 189-94), while Pavlina Vladkova deals with bone artifacts from various sites in the Lower Danube region, interpreted as "amulets" (pp. 285-9). Alexandra Milcheva deals with a rare, fourth century glass cup ornamented with a marriage scene (pp. 111-4). Three papers by Rumen Ivanov (pp. 115-6), Varbinka Naidenova (pp. 117-20), and Margarita Tatcheva (pp. 121-5) examine inscriptions from Novae. Two other papers, by Klaus Wachtel (pp. 195-200) and Zlatozara Gocheva (pp. 291- 3), deal with the epigraphical evidence from Iatrus/Krivina and Ulmetum/Pantelimonu de Sus. Finally, Kamen Dimitrov describes coins and exagia found at Castra Martis/Kula (Bulgaria). Elena Klenina's study of the pottery found during excavations of the episcopal basilica at Novae (pp. 87-93) ignores Andrei Opait's recent studies of Late Roman amphorae in Scythia Minor and is replete with awkward translations from the original Russian and occurrences of muddled English grammar. Daniel Makowiecki's interesting discussion of faunal remains from Novae unfortunately has no chronological phasing. Makowiecki thus fails to recognize the importance of changing consumption patterns before ca. 600, that is, during the military occupation of the site (pp. 131-9). A comparison with results of similar research carried at Iatrus/Krivina by Leszek Banaszkiewicz and Adam Choyka would have undoubtedly increased the significance of his conclusions.

In sum, this book provides a useful examination of various aspects of material culture in the Lower Danube region during Late Antiquity. Archaeologists will welcome this book. However, the essays in this collection, though most informative and timely, will in some cases prove difficult reading for historians still waiting for a monograph on the transition from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages in the Balkans.