Michael Kulikowski

title.none: Lopez, Toreutica de la Betica (Kulikowski)

identifier.other: baj9928.0105.005 01.05.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Kulikowski, Smith University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Lopez, Gisela Ripoll. Toreutica de la Betica (Siglos VI y VII D.C.). Barcelona: Reial Academia de Bones Lletres, 1998. Pp. 9, 396. ISBN: 8-492-20281-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.05.05

Lopez, Gisela Ripoll. Toreutica de la Betica (Siglos VI y VII D.C.). Barcelona: Reial Academia de Bones Lletres, 1998. Pp. 9, 396. ISBN: 8-492-20281-5.

Reviewed by:

Michael Kulikowski
Smith University

This volume is a revised version of a Sorbonne these completed by the author in 1993. In several loosely-connected sections, it treats different aspects of personal adornment in sixth- and seventh-century Baetica. At the core of the book lies a detailed typological study of 135 pieces of jewellery, almost all of them belt buckles. These items form part of a larger collection of 224 pieces from southern Spain gathered on the antiquities market during the 1980s, briefly examined by Ripoll at Madrid in 1988 and then studied in depth after their acquisition by the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz. With this part of the book and its ancillary catalogue, Ripoll continues and expands upon her long-standing dedication to the funerary and domestic archaeology of early medieval Spain, hitherto best represented by her reexamination of the cemetery of El Carpio del Tajo. The present book also contains a general survey of Baetica in the sixth and seventh centuries which provides the scholarly underpinnings of many of the assertions made in Ripoll and Isabel Velazquez's La Hispania visigoda: Del rey Ataulfo a Don Rodrigo (Madrid, 1995), the best short introduction to post-Roman Spain yet written. Ripoll's scholarship is always formidable and within the confines of her methodology, the present book is excellent. That is to say, one may have reservations about the author's methodology--as this reviewer does--while remaining consistently impressed by the skill with which she deploys it.

Ripoll opens her study with a refinement of the typological chronology of funerary furnishings on which she has laboured for the past decade and a half. She takes as her basis assemblages from the great early medieval cemeteries of the Castillian Meseta--El Carpio del Tajo (prov. Toledo), Herrera de Pisuerga (Palencia), Castiltierra, Duraton (both Segovia), and several others. These sites were mostly dug before the middle of the twentieth century and their standard of excavation and publication leave much to be desired by modern standards. Enough material remains, however, for Ripoll to establish archaeological levels--what the Germans call Stufen, niveles in the Spanish. These correspond to broad groupings of more-or-less contemporary artefacts for which a sequential, if not an absolute, chronology can be developed. This sequential chronology not only tells its own story of material change over time, but can also be correlated to more precise absolute chronologies in places where excavations have been sufficient to establish them.

The second part of the book treats the Mainz collection in detail, breaking it down according to the archaeological levels established in part one. The meat of the book lies here, since Ripoll has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the typology and iconography of buckles and brooches and draws out parallels from around the post-Roman world of the sixth and seventh centuries. She locates in the very late sixth century a fundamental break between stylistically Germanic ornaments and stylistically more homogeneous Mediterranean/Byzantine types; for these latter, the Mainz collection introduces several hitherto unknown products of (probably) Baetican ateliers. This part of the book concludes with a treatment of Spanish imitations of and variations on buckles until now firmly considered products of the eastern Mediterranean and attempts to give them a context within the stylistic repertory of seventh-century Spain.

The concluding part of the book is, as noted, a general survey of Baetican history in the early middle ages. Though this chapter is ostensibly meant to explicate the historical, commercial, and economic context of the ornaments whose typology is the basis of the book, the connection is in fact quite notional. This last chapter is also the only portion of the book to be marred by errors of fact: there is no evidence for third-century Frankish invasions in Baetica (or indeed anywhere in Spain apart from Catalonia); the campaign of Castinus in 422 had nothing to do with the departure of the Vandal king Gaiseric for Africa; and our sources nowhere characterize the conflict between Hermenegild and Leovigild as a struggle between romanitas and barbarism. More troubling, especially in an archaeologist, is Ripoll's tendency throughout this section to privilege literary sources over the archaeological evidence which is now increasingly abundant from Andalusia. The archaeological work of Domergue, Edmondson, and many local scholars has revolutionized out understanding of Baetican mining, but none of this archaeological evidence makes an appearance. Instead, most of the section is a predictable selection of topoi drawn from the scanty literary sources-- Strabo, Pliny, Columella, whose relevance to Late Antiquity one might question, along with Isidore and the Theodosian and Visigothic Codes, whose fidelity to life as it was actually lived is equally suspect. As a result, the section never moves beyond the parameters established by the many compilatory works published by J.M. Blazquez since the 1970s. Certainly, it does not measure up to the standards established in the earlier sections of the book.

There, as we have noted, the execution is flawless, though one may raise objections to the methodology. The fundamental methodological problem is an assumption that material objects carry ethnicity, that one can ascribe an ethnicity or a race to the bearer of a particular artefact because the artefact is itself diagnostic of ethnicity. That assumption having been made, it becomes possible to trace the interaction of ethnic or racial groups on the basis of material finds and to trace the movement of populations on the same basis. The problem, of course, is that material possessions--even the material possessions one takes to one's grave--do not establish identity in quite so clear-cut a manner. Fashions change more readily than do perceptions of self and those who take a fancy to wearing outlandish clothing do not transform their ethnicity by so doing. The ascription of ethnicities to artefacts allows us to schematize the past only by distorting it.

Such distortions, however, are less grievous at the level of generalization than of specifics, as the book under discussion illustrates. The ornamental forms found in the early phases of Ripoll's archaeological levels are very distinct from those which were commonplace in most of late antique Spain; that is, the Meseta cemeteries from which Ripoll's evidence derives served people whose fashion-sense was very different from the pre-existing norm. Over time, the distinctiveness of the funerary assemblages decreases and ornament types eventually converge on hybrid forms. At this general level, it is surely correct to see the Meseta cemeteries as serving a population at first largely distinct from that elsewhere in Spain. Since we know that people known as Visigoths did settle in Spain during the fifth and sixth centuries, it is plausible to see these rather distinctive burials as representing a population of these Gothic incomers. The homogenization of types over time represents the mixing of cultural behaviours and fashions, and perhaps, though not necessarily, a mixing of the populations themselves. Yet beyond this level of generalization, serious problems obtrude. One cannot say that any particular person buried with a certain set of artefacts positively was, or positively was not, a Goth, even in the Castilian context where entire cemeteries have been unearthed. In a region like Andalusia, where no substantial late antique cemetery has ever been excavated, the problem is compounded: stray objects, deprived of any archaeological context--as is the whole Mainz collection--tell us nothing at all about the ethnicity of a population. Ripoll would like to argue that the Mainz collection, and the rest of the Baetican evidence, shows that almost no Visigoths lived in Baetica until the beginning of the seventh century. The problem is that the presence of a 'Gothic' brooch in Baetica need not mean the presence of a Goth any more than the absence of 'Gothic' brooches necessarily means an absence of Goths.

A second methodological assumption of which one might feel unsure is the linkage of material evidence to events attested in the literary sources. Ripoll, following the traditional Spanish model of Blazquez and Pere de Palol, does not hesitate to make such connections. She correlates the transitions between her archaeological levels to events known from the historical record. The stylistic transition from the distinctive ornamental forms of the Meseta cemeteries to more homogeneous Mediterranean types is a phenomenon of the later sixth or early seventh century; the first style (level III) is dated roughly 525 to 560/580, the second (level IV) to 560/580- 600/640. For Ripoll, the transition is a result of Leovigild's lifting the legal ban on intermarriage between Goth and Roman and Reccared's subsequent conversion from Arianism to orthodoxy. Again, at the level of broad generalization there is probably truth here. Leovigild and Reccared created a stable environment and a united kingdom in which it was possible for fashion trends to catch on over a wider area than before. But that level of useful generalization is hard to maintain; the author regularly forgets how vague the absolute chronologies of her levels are and instead writes as if a sudden transition took place in 589, the year of the Third Council of Toledo.

The problems of this book's methodology are very real, but they are endemic to the archaeological study of Late Antiquity: few archaeologists have yet begun to study the period without resort to the ethnic ascription of artefacts, while Spanish excavators have only very recently begun to dig and date their sites without preconceptions drawn from the literary records. That the book shares in these commonplace difficulties does not detract from its substantial merits. Ripoll knows the typology of personal ornament in Spanish Late Antiquity as well as anyone and writes about it better than anyone else ever has. Her schema of archaeological levels, meanwhile, establishes a useful sequential chronology. It does not permit historical hypothesis at the level which the author would like it to. But for scholars willing to tolerate a lesser degree of specificity than does the author herself, the schema repays careful study, as does the book as a whole.