The people of Roman Britain: a study of Romano-British burials

Pamela Lynch

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis utilises the evidence from mortuary archaeology to explore the identity of the inhabitants of Britain during the period of Roman rule. It assimilates burial evidence from diverse sources both published and unpublished and integrates it with other material and literary evidence to investigate the people of the province and examine aspects of their lives. By assessing the extent and reliability of the mortuary evidence and by combining this evidence from major cemeteries, smaller burial sites and individual or isolated burials it has been possible to determine aspects of their lives from a different perspective than that previously employed. The thesis has been divided into five parts. Part 1 (chapters 1 to 3) serves as an introduction. Part 2 (chapters 4 and 5) considers the evidence available while Part 3 (chapters 6 to 8) focuses on specific groups within the population. Part 4 (chapter 9) looks at instances of death and burial that differ from the norm and Part 5 (chapters 10-12) presents a picture of the daily life of these people. The study concludes with a summing up of the evidence and a look at the future of mortuary studies of Roman Britain. The introductory chapters set out the objectives of the dissertation, look at the work that has already been done in this area and evaluates the need for a synthesis of the available evidence. The scope of the project, both temporally and geographically is outlined in chapter 2. The third chapter takes a look at the contemporary written evidence available, in the form of literary and epigraphic contributions, and assesses its reliability as an indicator of the appearance and lives of the Romano-Britons. This survey looks not only at the Roman view of the natives of the province but extends beyond the Roman period to examine the literary evidence that is available from the subsequent centuries. Chapters 4 and 5 take an in-depth look at the evidence available on the people of Roman Britain. The extent of the burial evidence is reviewed in chapter 4 while chapter 5 deals specifically and in depth with how this evidence can be utilised. The skeletal evidence is assessed for its extent and reliability. Factors affecting the survival of the remains is appraised and the effects of the biases created by such differential survival considered. Grave-goods and the organisation of the cemeteries are brought into the evaluation and the strengths and weaknesses of all of the evidence evaluated. The following chapters (6 to 11) focus on discrete aspects of the population. Chapters 6 to 8 look at the representation of specific groups within the community - the young, the elderly and those who arrived from other parts of the empire. With the aim of providing an indication of the diversity of both the composition of the population, the communities they represent and the associated burial rites, chapter 9 examines some of the more distinctive burials from Britain during this period. An area of intense interest, decapitation burials provides the focal point of this chapter. What may appear to be more mundane aspects of the lives of these people occupy chapters 10 to 12. What kept them busy, their occupations and their pastimes is viewed from the perspective of the burial evidence in chapters 10 and 11, while chapter 12 examines the mortuary evidence, in the form of funerary art and the remains of clothing, hair and accessories for their appearance.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2009


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