4. The Procedures

4.1 Digitising the data

Having selected these forts, their published catalogues and the plans were digitised, imported into graphics and spreadsheet programmes, and then exported into a GIS programme. These procedures are discussed by Allison et al. in this volume (see also Allison et al. 2004, Section 6).

4.2 Categorising the data

Creating the spreadsheets that were composed from the artefact catalogues required a considerable amount of work, not least in translating the German, but also in standardising the fields for the resulting databases, within and between the sites, and, most importantly, in adding fields with task- and gender-related values. This social categorisation is undoubtedly subjective but most of the categories are suggested, rather than defined. They were intended for pattern exploration and are 'vague' and 'fuzzy', rather than defined categories. Ascribing task and gender-related values to Roman artefacts requires critical approaches to artefact function and to our understanding of the activities and dress of men, women and children in the early Roman Empire. Additionally, this had to be done without too much analogical inference and with an awareness that, in our society of mass-production, we are often too inflexible about the potential multiplicity of functions, and meanings, of many excavated Roman artefacts. There is not space here to discuss all the reasons for all the ascriptions that underpin this project (see Allison et al. 2004, esp. sections 3.2 and 8; Allison forthcoming), so I will just give a couple of brief examples which stem from my consumption approach to artefact assemblages found in Pompeian houses (Allison 1993; 1999; 2004; 2006a).

Two pendants were found together with other precious items, in a casket in room 35 in the House of the Menander (Allison et al. 2004, fig. 7; Allison 2006a, pl. 47.11). These types of pendants are widely assumed to be associated with military dress, worn either by men to decorate their armour (Robinson 1975, pls 245 and 423) or by horses to decorate their harness (Bishop 1987; 1988). Therefore, these pendants could be categorised as 'combat equipment' or 'horse equipment'. But this classification would not suit the pendants in this Pompeian context. At least three such pendants were found in domestic contexts in the Insula of the Menander (Allison 2006a, cat. nos 671 and 1724) and about ten in a study of thirty Pompeian households (see Allison 2004, on-line companion). While not numerous, these pendants are indeed present in domestic contexts and therefore form part of domestic assemblages. Such pendants are also found in non-military contexts, elsewhere in Italy (see e.g. Quilici 1974, 73, 75 fig. 26).

The collection in room 35 in the House of the Menander might be considered as a mundus muliebris, reportedly a women's toilet box that contained gold, silver, toilet equipment, jewellery, perfumes, clothing, and statues (see Digesta 34.2). This suggests that the pendants may have been worn by a woman, even if they were keepsakes from her military husband, and that this context documents their association with female activity. I would therefore classify these types of pendants in Pompeii, with more uncertainty, as either 'dress', 'combat equipment' or 'horse equipment' and as 'possibly male or female' items. If this 'vague' classification applies to Pompeian houses, then it may also apply to military sites.

Among other artefacts that have a possible gender association are those associated with cloth production. Cloth production is 'symbolically associated with women' in the classical world (Kampen 1996, 22), but both men and women were involved in weaving in the Roman world (Treggiari 1976, 81-5; Dixon 2001, 117-29) and Allason-Jones has argued (1995, 28) that needlework, possibly in the form of mending, could be carried out by the soldiers themselves. I have, therefore, classified weaving and needlework as 'possibly a male or female' activity. On the other hand, although there is evidence for men spinning in other cultures (Nandris 1981, 251), there is no evidence to substantiate that this was the case in the Roman world, but much to the contrary (see Deschler-Erb 1998, 136-7; Treggiari 1976, 82). So I have classified spinning as a 'definitely female' activity.

While spindle whorls were pierced discs of either stone, bone, ceramic or glass, and are frequently found on excavation sites, it is not always possible to establish if a pierced disc was used as a spindle whorl. Pierced glass and bone discs, of various types, were found in the Insula of the Menander in Pompeii (e.g. Allison 2006a, cat. nos 44, 113-16, 557, 679, 1048-49, 1449-57, 1904; see also Allison 2006b, fig. 1). Thanks to the associations of many of these it was possible to construct a simple typology of the types that were most likely to have been used, respectively, as jewellery, spindle whorls, or furniture decoration, not forgetting that some, particularly beads, might have been reused as gaming counters (Allison 2006a, 380-1; also Allison 2006b, table 1).

Using such an approach to artefact categories, I have ascribed activities and gender associations, or more precisely a range of activities and possible gender associations, to the recorded artefacts from the forts and fortresses in my study. There is obviously a certain amount of subjectivity in these ascriptions. Also some of these categories, particular gender categories, have changed over the life of the project as further research has been carried out on specific types of artefacts. For example, Böhme-Schönberger's more recent studies of brooches (e.g. Böhme-Schönberger 2002) has required changes to the gender categorisation of some of these. The aim of this project is not to substantiate these categorisations, but rather to explore the distribution patterns of these rather vague and fuzzy categories. For the purposes of this study, artefacts that are potentially associated with children, including infant skeletons, are discussed under gender, although this is not a strictly accurate categorisation (see Casella 2006, 27). This is because some items have been identified as belonging to either women or children (e.g. certain beads: see Allason-Jones 1995, 27). In addition, in this particular context, remains of children and their activities suggest the presence of women.

4.3 Assessing robustness of artefact distribution patterns

Of concern to this and similar studies is whether the observed distribution patterns of specific artefact categories documented activities and behaviours during the fort's occupancy, or whether they resulted from post-depositional activity. Because ceramics are the most prolific class of material, distribution plots and density graphs for the ceramics from each site were compiled and used to assess whether any differences would actually reflect variations in spatial behaviour or could have resulted from site formation processes or selective excavation procedures (for Ellingen see Allison 2007, 397-403; for all sites see Allison forthcoming). Although certain anomalies were observed and had to be accounted for in the study, such as the density of artefacts in Building C at the fort at Ellingen, these ceramic tests generally showed that the observed patterns were fairly robust and could be interpreted as relating to activities during occupation of these forts.


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