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image of Late Antique Archaeology

The archaeological remains of late antique sites can be interpreted in terms of what they can tell us about ancient social structures. This is more straightforward when examining the social structures of the upper classes, who possessed the attributes that allow them to be recognised as such. These attributes occur on a Mediterranean-wide basis and include lavishly decorated residences (in both urban and rural environments), monumental funerary structures within churches, splendid garments, precious table wares and implements, and the insignia of rank in the form of jewellery such as gold brooches, fibulae, or belt buckles. The middle class is also traceable in the cities (mostly in the form of craftsmen) and in the countryside, where small landowners and peasants could share similar lifestyles, marked in some regions (such as the Near East and Asia Minor) by conspicuous levels of wealth. However, the lives of these middle classes could change abruptly, casting them into poverty and consequently making them difficult to trace archaeologically. Nonetheless, judicious interpretation of the material remains in tandem with the evidence of documentary and epigraphic sources allows us to make some suggestions as to the social structures of Late Antiquity.


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