Pigs, Presses and Pastoralism: Farming In the Fifth to Sixth Centuries AD

Pigs, Presses and Pastoralism: Farming In the Fifth to Sixth Centuries AD

By Tamara Lewit

Early Medieval Europe, Vol.17:1 (2009)

medieval pigs

Abstract: The fifth to sixth centuries were a time of significant change in rural settlement, land use, production levels and productive technology in many regions. Archaeological and related discoveries suggest that in western Europe, specialized market- and state-oriented production gave way to mixed animal husbandry and diversified farming more suited to local terrains.

This was accompanied by a widespread transformation of rural settlement. In contrast, the eastern Mediterranean experienced rural settlement expansion, intensification of land use, increased market-oriented agricultural production, and a significant change in oil and wine press technology. These changes seem to reflect the socio-political context in both east and west during this pivotal period.

Introduction: Much scholarship of the last few decades has been preoccupied with interpreting the transition from late antique to medieval life. There has been surprisingly little discussion, however, of how this transition was experienced in terms of rural production. Valuable recent work on farm, pollen and bone remains in western Europe, and on productive villages and olive and wine presses in eastern Mediterranean regions such as Cyprus, has brought new information to light. Yet, as has recently been observed, little work has yet been done to bring together this data in an overview, or to identify patterns of land-use transformation.

This paper attempts to begin such a process by looking at evidence for farming in the pivotal fifth to sixth centuries, during the final collapse of the political framework of the western Roman empire and the formation of successor kingdoms. In the light of archaeological and related discoveries of the past decades, what can be said about rural settlement and production in this key period? Were there any major changes to farming practices, and if so, what were they?

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