Les approches conceptuelles du phénomène princier en Celtique nord-alpine au cours des 25 dernières années
The colloquium on ‘Vix and the Princely Phenomenon’ was held at Châtillon-sur-Seine in 2016. It was organized as a sequel to the 1993 event (Brun & Chaume (eds) 1997). Participants at the first symposium were predominantly ‘prince-sceptical’. Back in 1993 the systemic perspective we defended had been contested by supporters of the post-processualist movement initiated by Ian Hodder (1982). Supporters of that movement thought the level of political hierarchy Wolfgang Kimmig attributed to societies, whose leaders had by then traditionally long been characterized as ‘princes’, was an overstatement (Kimmig 1969). The post-processualists thought too much importance was thereby given to the relations of Hallstattian societies with Greek and Etruscan city states. A quarter of a century later, it seemed heuristic for us to organize an international colloquium on this spectacular social phenomenon in light of the many important new discoveries made on this subject.
A quarter-century of post-processualist aporia
The post-processualist movement took issue from the outset with the world systems model of Immanuel Wallerstein (1974) and the world economies model of Fernand Braudel (1979) that several authors had taken up: Susan Frankenstein and Michael Rowlands (1978), Heinrich Härke (1979), Peter Wells (1980), Patrice Brun (1987) and Barry Cunliffe (1988). Among the many investigators who criticized those works most radically in the post-processualist vein were notably Chris Godsen (1985), Michael Dietler (1989) and Manfred Eggert (1989).
With hindsight, this prevailing scepticism was not surprising. Ever since the late 1980s the post-processualist movement, an avatar of post-modernism – the set of composite ideas centred on a relativist postulate – had been very much to the fore. The supporters of the postmodernist reaction to ‘processualism’ – a simplifying term attributed by Hodder (1982) to the New Archaeology – seemed not to have fully measured the epistemological scope of the line of thought they were adopting. That movement rose against the importance attributed to economic, ecological and climatic factors, against the great universalizing theories, against the intention to identify general laws of social change. Instead it brandished the pre-eminence of symbolic and religious factors, local and microsocial scales and individual actors. And its radical character culminated in the assertion of multiple meanings and relativism (Brun 2017).
Confining themselves to deconstructing the interpretations of the adherents of the New Archaeology referred to as ‘processualists’, the post-processualists, developed propositions that remain largely fruitless and are increasingly contradicted by field and laboratory results. However, the movement is to be credited with one constructive idea: far from faithfully reflecting society and its organization, the grave attested instead to the mental picture the Hallstattians had of their society. And that symbolic filter exerted a feedback effect on the society that adopted it to the point of actually conforming with it (Hodder 1982).
In this respect, it is important to recall that the definition of ‘princely seat’ (Fürstensitze), used by Wolfgang Kimmig, derives from the definition of ‘princely grave’ (Fürstengräber), proposed by Eduard Paulus, regional curator of the Kingdom of Württemberg, after the unearthing in 1876-1877 in the locality of Giessübel, near the Heuneburg, of very rich tumulus graves. It is these monumental graves, a series of which were then discovered, that promoted the use of the term ‘prince’, which should be understood in the etymological sense of the Latin princeps – first. Containing exogenous items sometimes of exceptional character, those graves focused part of the debate on a phenomenon within the phenomenon, that of ‘Mediterranean imports’.
In the shifting post-processual movement, the interpretation to be given to the presence of exotic objects, being one of the three criteria in the theorization of Wolfgang Kimmig, was widely debated, until they were thought of as a marginal aspect of the general phenomenon. The economic significance and the existence of a long-distance circulation network defended by some (Wells 1980; Brun 1987; 1991;1994; 1996; 1997; Cunliffe 1988; Baray 1997; Pare 1997) were dismissed out of hand by others for want of probative evidence, the indicators observed being mainly the prestigious items among grave goods. Exchanges between the urbanized cultures of southern France and northern Italy on the one side and the Hallstattian cultures north of the Alps on the other were thus interpreted as random and sporadic facts, due to exceptional trade caravans (Bouloumié 1980; Rolley 1990; 1997), whose supposed lack of regularity and organization justified resort to the idea of stepwise exchanges (Eggert 1989; 1991; 1997; 2010) and consideration of the phenomenon through the near exclusive slant of cultural anthropology (Dietler 1989; 1990; 1992; 2005).
The society behind the princely phenomenon having been downgraded to a ‘mere chiefdom’ or even a Big Man society (Eggert 1997), the tableware intended for the Greco-Etruscan symposium imported into an indigenous environment, particularly northern or southern Gaul (Bats 1992; 2012; 2015; Dietler 2015), was a form of exchange of prestigious goods of an ostentatious and exotic character. These imports were supposedly related to the collective consumption of alcoholic drinks promoting the chief’s dominant position in primitive or archaic societies.
In recent years, the multiplication of discoveries and the studies of material on a larger scale have shown that the problem of cultural contacts and exchanges between Mediterranean and Hallstattian cultures, far from having to be considered as a historical epiphenomenon of the early European Iron Age, remains highly complex. Thus, although specialists of the Archaic Mediterranean and specialists of European protohistory are still sometimes at loggerheads, the latter think it necessary to further our knowledge of long-distance trading.
However, as far as the princely phenomenon is concerned, the most spectacular result will have been the discovery, further to the gales of the final days of 1999, of the agglomeration of impressive size at the foot of the small hill of the Heuneburg. That was a game changer and some colleagues had no qualms about shifting from a conventional ‘prince-scepticism’ to the optimistic theory of early urbanization, or anyway much faster urbanization than expected in wet temperate Europe. This interpretation was besides highlighted by the title of the proceedings of the DFG-Schwerpunktprogramms 1171 colloquium: ‘Centralization and Early Urbanization Processes’ (Krausse & Steffen 2008). This conceptual swerve from the overly simple to the overly complex, based on an inadequate or even absent definition of the city, was of course premature to say the least.
Sites like those of the Heuneburg, Vix and possibly Bourges, admittedly suggested a novel process of centralization in the cultural zone north of the Alps but not one amounting to urbanization. We have proposed to correct this by using the concept of ‘atelo-urban’ to designate an incomplete urbanization process (Brun & Chaume 2013). Between 1993 and 2016, there had indeed been a factual and conceptual tipping point caused by the excesses of the post-processual movement that had prevailed until the mid-2000s and that calls for correction by taking inspiration from the ‘dual processual’ theory (Blanton et al. 1996). This is far better suited to the actual field data and at long last opens up an interpretative field hitherto inaccessible to archaeology: that of the political regime (Brun 2018).
The main contributions of the colloquium
As we had hoped, the papers from the 2016 colloquium at Châtillon-sur-Seine have in many instances enhanced the evidence for a princely phenomenon through the implementation of more effective methodological tools and especially methods of prospecting and physico-chemical, biological and environmental analysis. These methods have yielded results that both consolidate the main trends of systemic proposals and additionally reveal realities that are as unexpected as they are exciting.
Bruno Chaume and his co-authors review the impressive discoveries made as part of the international programme on ‘Vix and its environment’ on the Mont Lassois site and its surroundings. This research, which he has been driving forward for 30 years now, has led to innovative and spectacular results concerning both the organization of the agglomeration – a settlement foreshadowing the town, palaces, a discernible hierarchy in the architecture of buildings, a lay-out of plots pre-determined by the ruling power – and its system of fortification with its monumentalized ramparts (Chaume 2001, 2020a, 2020b, this volume). The whole has been set in its protohistorical environment, like so many nerve centres at the core of the definition of a complex chiefdom that make Vix/Mont Lassois one of the archetypes of this model of society alongside the Heuneburg.
Lukas Goldmann, Rainer Komp and Friedrich Lüth (Goldmann 2020) present the findings of geomagnetic prospecting in the surroundings of Mont Lassois. The area surveyed covers nearly 2000 hectares and looks to have been quite a dense protohistoric occupation around the hilltop agglomeration, becoming much sparser with distance from the site. Two outlying settlements were located at Le Breuil and La Navette. These discoveries fit into the same interpretative scheme as suggested for the Heuneburg, namely a fortified hilltop settlement together with a suburbium, two having been identified at Vix, that lay at the foot of the Hallstattian citadel.
Bastien Dubuis, Émilie Millet and Vincent Riquier specify the state of progress of analyses underway on the Lavau burial and attempt a round-up of the discoveries of the period in question that confirms the exceptional concentration of elite graves around Troyes at the time of transition from the early to late Iron Age and on the cultural boundary between the zone of princely seats and that of the Aisne-Marne culture. Laurence Augier and Sophie Krausz describe the princely complex of Bourges, study the change in the region throughout the first millennium BCE and work on an attempt at modelling, questioning the enigmatic survival during the La Tène A of a peripheral settlement of metal-workers who received Attic ceramics although the princely seat had apparently ceased all its activity. Stéphane Carrara and his co-authors update the surprising and ever more numerous discoveries made at Lyon ’Vaise’. In this agglomeration of Hallstattian culture there probably resided a southern community to serve as a commercial relay station between the city state of Marseille and the ‘principalities’ north of the Alps. Another site that produced crucial data is that of the Heuneburg presented here by Dirk Krausse and his co-authors. The main news concerns the Hallstatt D1 occupation, which is confirmed to have been when the settlement peaked. The agglomeration extended over almost 100 hectares with an estimated population of 5000 inhabitants; the nearby necropolis of Bettelbühl provided innovative perspectives as to social power and the long-distance contacts of elites and the ongoing analyses on the fortified hilltop sites and surrounding rural agglomerations already promise fertile clarifications about the organization of the society in question. Rüdiger Krause describes the recent discoveries that confirm the central function of a political entity of regional scale and the complexity of its evolution judging from the chronology of the two nearby fortified settlements of Ipf and the Goldberg on the boundary between Württemberg and Bavaria.
Our overview of the princely phenomenon deserved a few refreshers about knowledge gleaned from the areas south of the Alps. Biba Teržan provides a summary of data and interpretation about the societies of the period in question in the zone between the Adriatic and the south-eastern Alps, which has a wealth of reputed discoveries including the celebrated Strettweg grave. Markus Egg sets about a similar exercise for knowledge of the famous ostentatious graves of Kleinklein in the eastern foothills of the Alps. Filippo Maria Gambari, now sadly deceased, and Veronica Cicolani present an updated summary of developments in the zone of Castelletto Ticino/Sesto Calende, west of the Golasecca culture, during the Iron Ages. Stefania Casini and Marta Rapi do likewise for the Como zone for the eastern area of this culture in contact with the world north of the Alps.
We also wanted to review progress on the physico-chemical research that is currently under development. Maxime Rageot sets out the findings on the contents of ceramic vases especially the earthenware of the Heuneburg and Mont Lassois. He notes the frequent presence of beeswax, honey and various animal fats, as well as wine from the Ha D1 in the first settlement, and then for the Hallstatt D2-3 in both (which is consistent with the data of the imported amphoras) for the high proportion of 16–18% of the pottery analysed. Fermented drinks and red wine were consumed exclusively in wheel-thrown vases. Manfred Rösch, Elske Fische and Marion Sillmann determined the pollen spectra on the Heuneburg site and inferred a very high degree of deforestation of between 80 and almost 100%. This level was very high too in the Black Forest because of the mining that had led to the grazing of very many herds for the subsistence of the miners and therefore the clearing of extensive grassland areas. On the matter of livestock farming, Sophie Goudemez confirms for north-eastern France a very marked difference between elite residences and ordinary farms in percentages of animal remains by species.
Sylvain Bauvais and his co-authors emphasize that iron ore is not found in the vicinity of the princely centres, unlike the forge workshops, and that the masses of raw material were moved around from deposits of various origins over long distances and in various forms as raw metal or semi-finished products.
The paper by Federica Sacchetti stands at the crossroads of archaeological, physico-chemical and statistical analyses. Based on the findings of a study of amphoras across the whole area north of the Alps and the middle valley of the Rhone, she presents modelling that highlights the existence between the mid sixth and late fifth centuries BCE (Ha D1–LT A) of a spatialized phase of contacts and various forms of connectedness among Hallstattian and Mediterranean societies. She then proposes to grasp the whole of these contacts, several components of which remain inaccessible to archaeology, by recourse to the proxy variable and the hypothetico-deductive tool. Bettina Arnold uses the concept of intersectionality to refute in a striking manner the traditional studies which she contends postulate a binary system of social categorization based primarily on sex. The major principle of this organization seems instead to her to have been age, in the light of the funerary data of the cemeteries in the vicinity of the Heuneburg, with a specific reference to the funerals of Vix and Lavau. Oliver Nakoïnz questions the idea of territoriality between the following opposing forms: those with materialized boundaries and those that were mere spaces of interaction. For him, no materialized border can be identified by archaeology in south-west Germany around 500 BCE and neither is there any correlation between the areas of interaction and the princely seats. He concludes from this that territoriality was not based on social and economic hierarchies but more probably on centrality of the network. Lastly Patrice Brun and Bruno Chaume examine the various conceptions of the princely phenomenon since the 1970s. They emphasize the need to define criteria for classifying an agglomeration in the category of towns, they discuss what the most recent discoveries have added to this subject and they recall the decisive advance of the dual-processual theory for characterizing political regimes of complex ‘princely’ chiefdoms.
This colloquium has provided an opportunity to call into question a number of received ideas and reconstruct the most salient features of a stimulating debate on this historical phenomenon. Our objective was highly ambitious since it fitted into a particularly broad epistemological perspective: the emergence of the city and the state as well as the development of social inequalities. The quality of discussions was enhanced by the researchers who chaired them: François Bertemes (Professor at Halle University), Jean-Paul Demoule (Emeritus Professor at Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne University), the late Axel Kahn (former President of Paris-Descartes University) and Michel Enock (Emeritus Research Director with the CNRS). Most of the contributions compiled in this book have been brought up to date by the authors and the references updated, for some up to a very recent date, for which we thank the contributors.
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