Kalamazoo 2012, the Final Day: Goths and Old Food Nicely Presented

12 Dec

Sunday at Kalamazoo was another dark, semi-drizzly day. Lots of people use this for a travel day but I’m fortunate since I live relatively nearby and can make Sunday sessions. These are often some of the best (this year is a good example of that) and I very much recommend it to those attending, if you can make it work. I have occasionally skipped the final session, as I did last year to get an early start or if I run into someone who needs a ride to the airport and doesn’t have one, but usually I stick around to the end. One other last-day benefit, which I haven’t taken advantage of in a while, are the book discounts.

In any case, after loading all my stuff (I think it was only two trips to the car this year) I headed back to Valley II for Session 520: Sixth-Century Italy: Representing the Gothic War. The first paper was by Brian Swain, a Phd candidate from The Ohio State University, “‘A modern-Day Empire Worthy of a Tragedy’: Jordane’s Commentary on the Gothic War of Justinian.” This was something of a revisionist paper, which was fine by me. Recent scholarly opinion has come to view Jordanes as promoting an aggressive Roman/Byzantine policy toward the Goths and he is considered pro-Roman and anti-Goth (though I have read articles where Jordanes is considered to be arguing in favor of the legitimacy of Gothic rule in order to view the war as a legitimate effort by Justinian to battle Those Evil Arians and Defend Orthodox Christianity). Swain believes that Jordanes should not be viewed as pro or anti anyone – that he is more nuanced, particularly when you consider his Romana Breviarium along with the Getica. He provided a fairly detailed review of Jordanes where at various points in the two works he praises Justinian, casts doubt over Byzantine claims to dominion over the Goths, calls for the war to end through an agreement with the Goths, blames Justinian for its length and closes with a commentary on the ineptness of Roman rulers which could be interpreted as criticizing Justinian. I haven’t read the Getica in some time. Clearly I need to and also get my hands on the Romana Breviarium (if I don’t have it here already). I enjoyed this paper though it will take my reading the two sources to figure out whether I agree with it or not.

Next up was Jonathan J. Arnold presenting, “Manly Goths, Effeminate Romans.” Last year he gave a cool paper on Theoderic’s moustache. This year his topic was bit bit weightier (except when you look at the underlying theme of the prior year’s which was that of people over analyzing sources to sometimes find stuff that isn’t there). He opened with a quote from Walter Goffart’s Narrators of Barbarian History (I have this but haven’t read it yet) where Goffart uses a quote to demonstrate that Romans were portrayed as masculine, Goths as feminine/effeminate. Arnold believes that the quote Goffart uses supports this however if you examine Italian/Gothic sources, the reverse characterization is largely true. I’ll offer several examples (I have over a page of notes so I won’t give all of them). Ennodius has an epigram on Boethius where Boethius and the Romans are depicted as weenies (sorry – this is how I jotted it down in my notes) and Theoderic is described in a panegyric as warlike, a military victor, and has rescued Italy which has become weak and womanly under the Romans. Theoderic is masculine, strong and a manly man, including a speech to his mother where he is depicted as stating this outright. Through Theoderic a female Rome will be renewed, rescued by the masculine and warlike Goths. Cassiodorus celebrates Theoderic and the Goths as manly. The Goths are Italy’s defenders, trained as men of the God Mars. While there are a few good Roman men, overall Rome is militarily weak. Amalasuintha is depicted as a manly Goth who happens to be a woman and is contrasted with Galla Placidia who is too gentle and weakened Rome through peace. In contrast, in Jordanes’ Getica Amalasuintha is despised as weak and the manly Romans are victorious over the effeminate Goths. This was a very good paper with a lot of information.

I have another page-and-a-half of notes for the next paper by Tina Sessa of The Ohio State University, “Perceptions of War and Decline in Sixth-Century Italy.” Sessa was concerned with how the Christianization of Europe impacted viewpoints of war and how war impacted the evolution of Christianity. She stated that war cannot just be looked at in the context of attitudes but that impacts such as the loss of life and property and interactions of different societies must be considered. She used Gelasius’ depictions of the War between Odoacer and Theoderic in 489-93 to consider the war’s impacts. Based on Gelasius, barbarian violence was harmful, regardless of who was responsible. Churches were negatively impacted, including those in the south which really weren’t involved in the war. Among the Pope’s activities in response to war, he radically reduced the requirements for one to become a bishop due to need and a shortage of qualified clerics. He wrote to Palladius telling him to restore a deposed bishop, Stephanus, as his deformity was caused by war. She closed by discussing methodological issues in trying to figure out how to separate the rhetoric of war from the reality of war’s impacts on ecclesiastical life. My apologies for the weak summary. I recall this as being a very good paper but I’m afraid I haven’t done justice to it. And this was a very strong session overall. I don’t know if it was my absolute favorite but it ranks up there.

As did Session 571: Diet, Dining and Everyday Life: The Uses of Ceramics in the Third-to-Ninth-Century World. This session was a treasure. I’d decided earlier that due to my fascination with peasants I’d go to this over the final session on the Ostrogoths. I very nearly reconsidered considering the quality of the previous session but I ended up sticking to my plan and was glad I did, though I have 5 pages of notes for three papers which will make summarizing this a bit difficult. There were a few common points for all three papers; residual evidence of food is extremely rare, enough so as to make it nearly useless; faunal evidence (remnants from animals) can be unreliable for a variety of reasons including decomposition rates of different remains and scavengers, however it is often necessary to rely on it while recognizing the limitations and; pictorial and textual evidence often presents an idealized version of life. Also, none of the papers covered anything later than the seventh century.

Andrea Achi from the New York University Institute of Fine Arts opened with, “And How did They Eat: An Investigation of Food Storage, Processing, and Consumption Patterns in a Late Antique Household.” She gave a detailed description of a portion of the Dakhla, Egypt archaeological site, in particular evidence for food storage, preparation and consumption in an elite household, headed by one Serenos. On the site they found a large storage room filled with small bowls of varying sizes. They also found platters for shared, family style dining. Cooking pots were of fairly uniform size however cooking bowls were more varied. They did not find any large serving platters leading to the thought that these may have been made of more valuable materials than the locally produced ceramics. A couple of interesting notes were that as bones showed no evidence of burning, meat was probably either boiled or braised. There was an absence of extensive ovens in the home leading researchers to believe that the home may not have been used for cooking, just for reheating. However they do not know where the food was prepared. Possibly there were communal ovens which have not been found or they may have used a second floor of the house, which has now been destroyed. Beyond that, these folks ate well, produced their ceramics locally, except for amphorae, and weren’t too particular about what they did with bones. And if I ever read much on Late Antique Egypt I need to find a copy of Roger Bagnall, ed., The Kellis Agricultural Account Book.

More artifacts were in store when Elizabeth de Ridder Raubolt of the University of Missouri-Columbia presented, “Art and Artifact at the Late Antique Communal Meal.” I really enjoyed this one. She used a combination of archaeological and textual evidence to discuss how meals were conducted in the 4th through 6th centuries. Meals were taken reclining on a large, curved couch with a center table accessible to all diners where each person could see and speak to the others. There was a hierarchy of diners with the most important placed at either end. Large platters seem to have been important in elite dining however ceramics came to be more frequently used as time went on and it has been argued that African Red Slip (ARS) platters may have replaced silver in Christian households. Later in the period ARS becomes less common, being found only in the larger sizes, not used for smaller bowls, indicating possible problems with supply. Good paper and she used a lot of images to illustrate her points.

Image of the Last Supper from the Rossano(6th century Italy) Gospels. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Note Judas reaching for food, his eyes cast down while the others all show reverence towards Christ.

The final paper of this session and, for me, the 47th Congress, was “Pots and Pantries: Correlating Cooking Ware with Dining Habits in Visigothic Spain by Scott de Brestian of Central Michigan University. I have a ton of notes for this one however he covered two primary themes for the period from the end of Roman rule to the early 7th century. One was whether the type of cooking ware used is a good indicator of what was eaten and the other was what changes in cooking ware could tell us about society. He mainly looked at two types of ceramics; casseroles, which were broad, flat, two-handled baking trays and; ollas which were large cooking pots which could be suspended by the neck over a fire and were used for slow cooking and for boiling meat. Traditionally ollas have been linked with eating pork while casseroles to eating sheep and goat. In the interior of Spain very few casseroles were found, almost all ollas, with a couple of exceptions. However faunal evidence indicates that while pigs were a substantial portion of the diet, they ate more sheep and goat. In addition, in Sainte-Blaise in Southern Gaul, ollas comprised 26% of 5th-6th century finds and 40% in the 7th century but faunal evidence indicates no significant dietary change. Brestian believes there is little evidence that looking at the types of pots used is a valid way of determining what was eaten.

Another area he covered was ceramic quality. About 50% of early 5th century cookware was improved Terragona. This declined to 15-20% by the 7th century. Over time, the use of African Red Slip pottery also declined. These were replaced by locally produced imitations. This decline shows a loss of wealth and also a decline in competition. The wealthy had fewer competitors and it took less of a display to demonstrate their status. Where previously elites possessed the entire range of high status vessels, now they used a selection. The one exception to this seems to be the Visigothic kings who had all vessels, demonstrating that elite dining rituals were now something expected of the king, not all elites. Another good paper accompanied by a lot of images which I haven’t captured adequately, and a very good session.

In place of a K’zoo summary post, I’ll throw in a quick paragraph here. I had a good time and went to some really good sessions. The accommodations continue to improve, especially with Wi-fi in most rooms. I was also more social than the previous year which was nice. As of now I’ve made four of these in a row, a record for me. Unfortunately, I’d say the odds are against my being able to attend next year. I think I’ll have a big May conflict and will probably take a year off. That’s OK, it’s not like I’m about to run out of books any time soon. Look for my 2012 posts to make it to my Kalamazoo page in the near future.


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