8. Consumption and Identity

Roman Britain has been portrayed as a consumerist society (e.g. Ferris 1995, 135) that was maintained through industrial production of numerous classes of goods (of which metalwork and pottery are the most visible to the archaeologist). The consumption of Roman-style material was an essential element in forming a Roman identity, a process that began in south-eastern Britain long before the Claudian conquest. With the collapse of mass production in the early decades of the 5th century, how was it possible to maintain this sense of Romanitas?

It is clear that the British writer Gildas, whose life was perhaps contemporary with some of the material from Baldock discussed here (Higham 1994, 141), was thoroughly imbued with Roman culture many years after the end of formal Roman rule in Britain (Higham and Ryan 2013, 62). Some of his culture is obviously non-material – his Latin style, his knowledge of Roman legal matters, his Christian beliefs – but the archaeology of the Baldock area suggests that this could be supplemented by small numbers of consumer goods.

While it is evident that the craft mode of production that operated from the early 5th century cannot have satisfied the needs of consumers who saw themselves as primarily Roman, the availability of ceramics mimicking mass-produced originals is ample demonstration that materiality was still an important component of these identities. What is evident in the material from the Baldock region is that there was a shift from Roman-derived material styles in the 5th century to Saxon-derived styles in the 6th, but using the same potting technology; it may be no coincidence, then, that Roman-style burials ceased to be deposited in the very late cemetery at California during the 6th century. It may be suggested that this is part of a process of becoming English through the consumption of new elite material forms.