This paper presents the data on burial ritual provided by the complete works of Gregory of Tours to highlight the important features of burial in 6th-7th-century Aquitaine. The disjuncture between the strongly archaeological nature of evidence in northern Gaul and the textual sources which overwhelmingly originate in the south gives rise to a certain confusion in the presentation of Merovingian society, and burial from outside the northern areas is often sidelined. Gregory’s works give a picture of the order of importance of certain elements in burial ritual, and what little burial archaeology that survives in Aquitaine supports this picture. Cross-referencing with the burial language of contemporary Gallic sources shows that mound burial appears to have been an option for Aquitanians, demonstrating continuity with 5th-century practice.
The descent of the Lombards in Southern Italy and their establishment in Benevento, which made this city the seat of the duchy, were key factors in the history of the territory of Apulia and Lucania. Indeed, the influence of that population is gone far beyond the chronological limits of their political dominance and it has left an important legacy which greatly contributed to the creation of the cultural and political identity in the these regions.
Identifying the traces left by the presence of the Lombards may seem an easy task at first sight, yet in the early Middle Ages this area was a crossroads for populations that have alternated in time (the Byzantines, Lombards, Saracens, Slavs); they overlapped upon indigenous people and, by mingling with each other, they have erased, incorporated, reworked the earlier evidence, so that it is often impossible to account for transformations occurred. The tracks that you can recover are only fragments of a mosaic that is now difficult to reconstruct, but their study is fundamental to understand the history of those centuries; these testimonies, although rare, allow us to look more carefully at the past, deciphering an area where we find archaeological evidence that is not always easy to interpret.
In theory the study of burial sites is, therefore, a useful tool to understand the ethnic composition of the people who live in this border area; the cemetery is, in fact, the place where social status, religious choices and, more generally, the cultural identity are made clear to keep alive the memory of the community.
Nevertheless, identifying the burial sites of Lombards is one of the pending problem of the archaeology of the Early Middle Ages of Apulia and Lucania. Having just material evidence, the ethnic identification of the buried is a very difficult task, due to the lack of proper anthropologic analysis, too. Rarely the investigated burial sites bring to light objects which can be used to allow us to clearly identify the individual ethnicity. The majority of the discovered funeral trousseaus have ‘mixed’ elements, strongly characterized by the indigenous custom. In addition to this, the limits of the archaeological investigation need to be taken into account: random findings, emergency excavations and not scientific diggings seem to have marked the story of investigations, above all at the beginning of the second half of the last century. In some cases, the study of articulated contexts is compromised with the following loss of the data needed to define a deep and coherent archaeological framework. The publication of studies, more systematic excavations and updated reviews of the last two decades lead to a new critical reading of the data at our disposal through the comparison of the different known contexts.
The cruciform brooch was a decorative dress fastener worn and deposited in graves during the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. in eastern England and it has long been associated with the Anglians, one of the Germanic groups who supposedly migrated to England shortly after the end of Roman Britain. However, due to the critical revision of such simplistic interpretations of the historical record, and the rejection of culture-historical approaches to early medieval material culture, the relationship between cruciform brooches and supposed Anglians has become contentious and has even been rejected wholesale. Yet, the problem refuses to go away. This paper is a presentation of some of the results of my doctoral research that provide insight into what Anglian identity was, and how it was constructed through everyday dress and the mortuary ritual.
The regional distribution of the cruciform brooch over time is shown to represent the waxing and waning of the utility of wearing this elaborate item to construct and display an empowering identity. An analysis of grave context and osteology defines a particular group of older women who were buried with this item, and a closer look at the garments the cruciform brooch fastened reveals a particular costume, and one that was gained gradually over the course of these women’s lives. These brooches and the costumes they fastened helped inform perceptions of a particular female body, from which such items ultimately became inalienable. Brooches and dress therefore acted to naturalise the socially constructed perception of an age- and gender-related ethnic identity. Finally, the iconography of the cruciform brooch is considered. Particular attention is focussed on its dual imagery and restricted range of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic motifs, which are examined in the context of myth and cosmology, and these women’s potential roles in the communication of social memory and knowledge. In sum, this research represents the breadth of social interpretation that can be drawn out from an integration of archaeological burial studies and a contentious historical literature.