session 18

GOLD FLOWS AND IMPERIAL POWER: A FINANCIAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE END OF THE WEST ROMAN EMPIRE

Organised by: N.G.A.M. Roymansand Stijn Heeren

Following Gibbon’s seminal book Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), the Late Roman period has been interpreted in very negative terms for more than two centuries. From the late 20th century onwards, the school of Late Antiquity painted a more positive picture in which the Late Roman period featured as an intermediate stage between the Roman period and the Early Middle Ages (Webster/Brown 1997; Halsall 2007). The less judgmental word transformation replaced the word decline and continuities were stressed rather than the narrative of violence, chaos and depopulation. However, this position also received criticism: several authors stress that the Roman empire did fall victim to the external threat of barbarian groups (Heather 2005; Ward Perkins 2005). There are however more aspects to the barbarian part regarding the end of the Roman empire than military threat and destruction alone: the payments of the Roman government to barbarian foederati exhausted state finances and were an important factor in the fall of the western Roman empire. At the same time, it were these foederati that shaped the Early Medieval successor states. Transformation and disintegration do not exclude each other but were two sides of the same medal.

This session aims to explore these issues by combining several perspectives: historical sources on taxation are combined with archaeological studies of gold hoards; deposition of gold in various frontier regions (The Lower Rhine, the Middle Danube) will be compared. It is also interesting to compare gold flows connected to the Late Roman decline of imperial power (5th century AD) with gold flows related to 1st century BC expansive phase of the Roman empire. Together the session will shed a new light on an heavily underexplored aspect of romano-barbarian interaction at the end of the West Roman empire.

Imperial finance and diplomatic payments (4th-5th century), Peter Heather

Power and prestige: late roman gold outside the empire, Peter Guest

Gold, Germanic foederati and the end of imperial power in the Late Roman North,Nico Roymans

Late Roman silver in Germania: Constantine III and the Rhine Frontier,David Wigg-Wolf

Federate settlements and gold finds in the province of Germania Secunda: barbarian identities?,Stijn Heeren