16 - Asserting Local Identity at the Ends of Empire: A Case Study from Northern Spain


Victor M. Martinez, University of Pittsburgh; and Scott de Brestian, Central Michigan University


The Northern Valleys Research Project (NVRP), codirected by the authors, seeks to understand the transformations from Roman to medieval society through an examination of the material and documentary evidence from two sites in northern Spain. In this poster, we focus on a single funerary stela reused in the Church of the Assumption in the village of San Vicente del Valle (Burgos). As the administrative structure of the Roman state decayed in northern Spain, new forms of authority emerged, such as the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and recently arrived local and foreign elites, along with an accompanying replacement of traditional civic euergetism by new forms of patronage. In northern Spain, those changes are often difficult to trace or recognize, especially given the rarity of textual accounts and the limited archaeological exploration of the transitional time frame between the fifth and seventh centuries C.E. in this area. The stela we discuss shares stylistic characteristics with earlier Roman as well as later medieval commemorative practices but is not typical of related materials from the region. After situating the fragment within its cultural and religious contexts, we conclude that it presents evidence for the emergence of new forms of display—its discoidal shape is emblematic of a new form of funerary monument—at the end of the empire. The presence of a cross in relief on one side certainly speaks to the Christian identity of its patron but does not share the iconography of salvation typical of early Christian funerary monuments elsewhere. Instead, its unusual characteristics reflect both the influence of preexistent local identities as well as new and emerging structures of belief and authority from this region.