Living in the Heights: Hilltop settlement and the changing landscape of northern Hispania during late antiquity

NYU Institute for the Study of the Ancient World Visiting Research Scholar Lecture: Damián Fernández

Speaker: Damián Fernández
Location: 2nd Floor Lecture Room
Date: Tuesday, January 19 2010
Time: 6:00 p.m.
*reception to follow

Hilltop settlement was one of the most prominent characteristics in the landscape of the northern Iberian Peninsula until the Roman conquest. With the establishment of Roman rule in the decades around the turn of the era, several of the pre-Roman hilltop forts were abandoned in favor of a developed network of lowland cities that became the backbone of the regional settlement hierarchy. This process was somewhat reversed after the late-third century CE, when archaeologists have dated the beginning of the occupation of hilltops (and, sometimes, the re-occupation of Iron Age sites). The ‘movement towards the highlands’ has traditionally been interpreted either as reemergence of indigenous social structures that had survived the Roman conquest or as the result of the insecurity provoked by the presence of barbarian armies in the third and fifth centuries.

In the last two decades, piecemeal archaeological research in the northern Iberian Peninsula has begun to provide us with new information about these sites. Their material culture and the more accurate chronology indicate that traditional interpretations about the phenomenon of hilltop occupation are no longer valid. After reviewing some paradigmatic sites, this lecture will offer an alternative model to understanding the change in settlement patterns. It will be argued that occupation of hilltops must be understood in the context of the administrative reforms of the late Roman Empire and the economic changes that occurred in northern Iberia during late antiquity.