Gathering communities: locality, governance and rulership in early medieval Ireland
By Patrick Gleeson
World Archaeology, Vol. 50:1 (2018)
Abstract: This article explores the role that gatherings and temporary assembly places played in creating communities and manufacturing early polities and kingdoms. Whereas the archaeological dimension to polity building has often focused upon monumentality in programmes of political articulation, the role of more ephemeral activities is equally meaningful but nevertheless under-appreciated. With new research into assembly culture in first-millennium AD Europe developing apace, the role of gatherings of various types has come into sharper focus. This article explores the changing nature of temporary gatherings in Ireland and what the changing material signature of these practices says about developing hierarchies, emerging kingdoms and the nexus that local concerns formed with regional practices of rulership.
Introduction: Recent decades have seen places and practices of assembly emerge as a dynamic field of first millennium AD research in Europe, with scholarship in Britain, Scandinavia and to a lesser degree, Ireland, engaged in systematic study of the material expression and mentalities of assembly. These developments have seen ‘assembly landscapes’ become the focus of research in projects examining royal governance, collective identity, long-term landscape organisation, monument re-use, kingdom-/state-formation and the evolution of legal frameworks.
Studies of assembly in Ireland have, however, been more limited and sometimes problematic: Elizabeth FitzPatrick’s magisterial study of royal inauguration is paradoxically the only comprehensive analysis to date, for example. Nevertheless, recent research has re-examined how assembly practices are approached, with dedicated studies of assembly places having highlighted diverse new categories of sites that allow more nuanced understandings to be developed, not only of early medieval assembly cultures, but of the mentality associated with temporary gatherings and transient action more generally. Accordingly, this article reviews the archaeological character of assembly practices in Ireland, and how a phenomenon of transient activities and temporary gathering is manifest materially and spatially.
Top Image: Ptolemaic map of Ireland