Research Methods

The MASLAP project focuses the transformation of architectural, social and landscape space in the mirror of the Late Antique peristyle buildings along the Danube, using selected case studies from Pannonia to Moesia.

This category of Hellenistic-type buildings is known in Roman architecture from the 2nd century BC onwards. During the Later Roman Empire, the general plan of the peristyle buildings was completed with a large central room, including an aula and an apse. This category of public space, the basilica, became an integral partof such villae.

Regarding the Danubian provinces, peristyle villae with an aula appear in this region around the 2nd century AD and were very common during the Late Antiquity. Often following a Mediterranean model, these structures were richly decorated, with under-floor heating system, mosaic floors, frescoes and architectural sculptures. These villae urbanae were erected in rural areas, in order to serve as dwellings, as well as for purposes of social and political representation. Baths are often found as part of these complexes.

From the 4th century AD, such buildings are also found in fortified settlements. Some of them can be linked to imperial foundations (e.g. Gamzigrad) and have a rich decoration, even if there are also simpler examples. The plans of the simpler ones are largely comparable to the “richer” ones, but the buildings are much less ornate and the baths are generally absent (e.g. Abritus). Such features—alongside their spatial integration into the fortification—suggest that they were probably used as administrative or institutional buildings. “Hybrid” solutions are also known, where parts of the buildings, such as the aula, retain their official or representative function, while other sections around the peristyle are dedicated to economic and service activities.

The MASLAP Project will focus on the Middle and Lower Danube region of the Empire. This area contains well-researched examples of all variants of peristyle villae. However since the last overview, several new sites have been discovered and data collected. A full consideration of the respective occupation and use of these buildings between the 3rd and the 7th centuries AD, according to new methodologies of dating, will make possible a diachronic approach and allowing us to comprehend the architectural, landscape and social mutations these types of buildings underwent over a period of 500 years.

The objectives of the proposed project are thus to investigate the peristyle villae, within the spatiotemporal framework described above, as social spaces (micro-scale), as architectural types (meso-scale) and as elements of a landscape (macro=scale), in order to:

  • understand their diverse and/or partial change of function, in order to figure out their institutional and social contexts;
  • reconstruct the role they played in regard to activities from the administrative and representative points of view; define the position and function of such buildings within their settlement and environment;
  • identify their place within the Roman infrastructure;
  • determine their contribution to the development of the historic landscape.

The project will collect and organise information about known sites with peristyle buildings and add new data to complement our knowledge. This will include the following:

  • Reviewing and structuring the published data, recording this information within a GIS model (documentation / mapping of archaeological traces);
  • Investigating the sites’ topography and infrastructure through GIS-based analyses;
  • Integrating and evaluating the unpublished evidence from excavations and surveys of selected sites carried out over the last two decades;
  • Conducting our own surveys with different non-invasive methods including remote-sensing, geophysical and field surveys;
  • Undertaking comparative typological analyses of relevant small finds assemblages and inscriptions.

The research environment at the University of Lille offers the opportunity for exchange with the DANUBIUS Project as well as with the partner universities of the I-SITE ULNE (University of Kent, Centre for Late Antique Archaeology), the European Network InclusU (Babeș-Bolyai University at Cluj-Napoca) and the newly founded HAEMUS International Research Network dedicated to Late Antiquity in the Balkans.