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Rural Landscape in north-eastern Roman Gaul

Final Report Summary - RURLAND (Rural Landscape in north-eastern Roman Gaul)

The aim of the Rurland project was to renew the traditional academic approach to the historical development of Gaulish countryside and its development between the beginning of La Tène D1 (circa 125 BC) and the Late Antiquity (around the beginning of 5th century AD). The study area consisted of all the territories stretching from the Roman border of Germany to the Seine basin. The project entailed measuring the part of continuity and ruptures that affected this vast region with very varied soils and landscapes during more than five centuries. It was also necessary to evaluate changes brought about by the Roman conquest, the economic development due to the proximity of the limes, the restructuring of the communication axes and urbanization. In particular, it was important to revisit the concept of villa, classically considered as the vector of new forms of agricultural production and progress, and to cross the data from archaeological enquiries on land use with those from biosciences (archaeobotany and archeozoology in particular).
Two synthesis monographs allow to consult and evaluate the results of this survey, without

prejudging the other thematic publications listed on the project blog ( The first (M. Reddé (éd.), Gallia Rustica 1. Les campagnes du nord-est de la Gaule, de la fin de l’âge du Fer à l’Antiquité tardive, Ausonius, Mémoires 49, Bordeaux, 2017, 867 p.) offers in English or French a series of regional studies. The second (M. Reddé (éd.), Gallia Rustica 2. Les campagnes du nord-est de la Gaule, de la fin de l’âge du Fer à l’Antiquité tardive, Ausonius, Mémoires 50, Bordeaux, 2018, in press) presents the general synthesis.

The survey highlighted several key points:

- The great continuity of the countryside between La Tène C, when major changes occurred in agriculture, and the imperial era.

- The slow emergence of Roman forms of rural settlements, with the late appearance of villae, which hardly developed before the middle of the 1st c. AD. while the traditional forms of housing remained for a very long time (some of which are only romanized during the 2nd c. AD). Small farms remained a majority throughout the period under consideration, although there are signs of land concentration as early as the late 2nd c. AD.

- The ubiquity of rural settlements spread over all territories and almost all types of soil, even those of poor quality.

- The great diversity of landscapes and forms of exploitation.

- The absence of centuriations, whereas the study of the field systems preserved under forest shows the organization of landscapes in Roman times.

- There is indeed a very wide diversity of agro-pastoral productions between sites in the same region and between various territories. On the other hand, we can observe that, although notable evolutions appear in Roman times, they are part of an expertise coming back to the Iron Age, whose rural economy was already particularly prosperous.

Regarding cereals, current studies show that culture of naked wheat in Gaul started earlier than previously thought; it becomes important only from the end of the protohistoric period and reaches it peak under the Empire. Naked wheat however remains limited to the center of the Paris Basin and to the south of Picardy. Elsewhere, it appear only in small quantities; preference was given to spelt, a more rustic hulled plant better adapted to cold soils and humid climates. The survey also reveals that small traditional farms, rather than big estates, cultivated naked wheat.

With regard to livestock, the enquiry show diversified faunal spectra that refer to very distinct consumption patterns according to the hierarchy of sites and the social status of the inhabitants. One of the major results is the highlighting of important transformations in the size of animals between La Tène and the Gallo-Roman period. For the first time, an attempt was made during this enquiry to cross-reference the data provided by the various biosciences and to translate them into terms of production systems at the territorial level.