Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS


RURLAND Berichtzusammenfassung

Project ID: 338680
Gefördert unter: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Land: France

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

The RurLand project aims at the study of the rural Areas in the North-Eastern Gaul, since La Tène D1 period until the end of 5th century AD. Focused on the Roman period, it proposes to examine the evolution of the rural world with its protohistoric antecedents and its changes of late Antiquity, in a vast zone where recent research did not give place to syntheses. The basic assumption is that incorporation in the Roman Empire of the areas which compose Eastern Gaul, far from providing homogeneity in their economic and social conditions, accentuated and accelerated processes of space differentiations already perceptible before the Conquest. Many areas fully benefitted from the contributions of Rome (town and country planning, economic consequences of the presence of the administration and the soldiers) to engage or continue at an intensive pace an economic development which can take however different forms according to the territories. But it is important as well to understand why other sectors remained away from this movement. Supported on a GIS, the project intends to integrate the approach of sources very different in their nature and their object, but complementary and seldom studied together: archaeological excavations, in particular those which result from the preventive archeology most recent, study of the various components of the rural estates of any nature, carpology, zoological material, pedological charts, air photographs, LIDAR datas, so as to promote a multiscalar approach to the areas considered, from the sites themselves to the territories. It is a question of understanding the spatial and historic dynamic of the rural world of this old time. From this point of view will be privileged windows of studies on scales which could be very different, according to the quality, the abundance and the nature of the information which they provide.

After two years of work, what are the first main results of this project? We can try to summarize them thematically.
-Land use :
R. Agache’s publications on the villas of the Somme valley somehow imposed a kind of model of land use in the rural North of Gaul. The findings of development-led archaeology have since challenged that picture, although few syntheses have highlighted the presence of a multitude of family farmsteads beside the large estates. Furthermore territorial analysis shows that such large estates were probably not present everywhere; they did not result from an agricultural boom in the first half century after the conquest. They took time to become established and take on ‘Roman’ forms as we know them. The preliminary investigation shows the diversity of land use patterns and production in the northeast quarter of Roman Gaul.

-Production : The project aims to shed light on past farming practices in Northern France by integrating archaeobotanical, archaeozoological and stable isotope data on crops and animal bone remains. Cultivation strategies were investigated through the analysis of stable nitrogen isotope composition (δ15 N) of archaeological crop seeds, in order to interpret soil fertility conditions and the use of manure. As a summary, the δ15 N of charred cereal grains suggest a wide range of soil fertility conditions and a variety of strategies of cultivation depending on the cereal species. In some cases only, soil fertility was enhanced through manuring. Moreover, results from bone collagen analysis suggest different patterns of foddering; in some cases caprines have been fed by-products from the amended agriculture in return.
Recent research shows that various categories of cereals are produced on small and large holdings alike, even if it is thought that cases of greater specialization can be observed in places. We should no longer infer without due care nowadays this or that type of production on the basis of just a plan of the settlement and a fortiori of its size, above all when we have just prospection data. Only analysis of the associated facilities (threshing floors, granaries, wineries, presses, animal stalls, etc.) and of fossil products yielded by excavation (archaeo-botanical remains, bones, etc.) can support such claims.
The predominance or absence of large estates in certain sectors also raises other questions in terms of productivity: while it is clear there are different scales of agricultural production, large estates are not necessarily consistent with productivity, but possibly, in some cases at least, with extensive farming. It must be asked why the growing of free-threshing wheats seems to be correlated, at least in the current state of knowledge, with the presence of many small settlements in the plain of France or southern Picardy. Did the potential profitability of such cereals make a smallish holding viable? The answer to this question would be of primary interest for our understanding of the ancient rural world and its historical evolution.

All necessary information on the progress of the project and the first publications are available on the website The proceedings of the first international seminar among key project partners are also available online (

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