Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft

The Reception of Barbarian Migrants in the Roman Empire. ca.250-500 CE: The World of Personal Experience

This study is supposed to create a “unified theory” involving the personal experiences of immigrants into the Roman world. Rather than looking at “migration” of large homogeneous groups of people, a topic that in recent years has become more and more problematic (and which I have become convinced did not happen to nearly the extent that some current thought would have us believe), I propose to look at the experiences of individual “migrants” and small groups of “migrants” who settled within the Roman world. How did individual persons deal with fitting into a new environment? What were the perceptions of peoples among whom migrants settled? What role was played by intermarriage in the reception of “barbarians” into the Roman world? What role was played by religious differences, or similarities? What kinds of administrative institutions already were in place to integrate individuals (as opposed to groups) into the Roman world? This study will draw upon elements of my own past work that deal with different aspects of this issue.

In order to pursue this kind of study, one must have extensive experience with the sources because material from a wide range of literary and material sources must be incorporated, especially when, to whatever extent possible, one is attempting to work from the perspective of individual migrants rather than, as usually is done, from the perspectives of elite members of the receiving society.

This kind of study could help to turn the focus of attention from the “migration” of large homogeneous barbarian “tribes,” “gentes,” “peoples,” and “nations” to the individual experiences of individual migrants, something that I would argue tells us a lot more about the nature of the settlement and integration of barbarians into the Roman world than do broad accounts of Völkerwanderungen. One also could express personal identity by using the word “natio” (“nation”).

For more information about Ralph W. Mathisen, please click here.