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Des premières communautés paysannes à la naissance de l’État dans le Centre de la France 5000–50 a.C.

Des premières communautés paysannes à la naissance de l’État dans le Centre de la France 5000–50 a.C.

By Sophie Krausz (Scripta Antiqua 86). Pp. 372. Ausonius Éditions, Bordeaux 2016. €25. ISBN 978-2-35613-157-7 (paper).

Reviewed by

The origins of urbanism and the associated problem of the origins of the state in prehistoric temperate (non-Mediterranean) Europe are issues that have attracted scholarly attention for well over a century. In earlier traditions of scholarship, attempts were made to understand the first arguably urban centers—the oppida of the final centuries B.C.E.—in relation to the well-documented cities of the Mediterranean world, especially in Greece and in Roman Italy. In the past several decades, attention has shifted toward exploring the origins of urbanism in temperate Europe in terms of local developments instead of primarily through outside influences. Much of the recent research has been conducted in broader anthropological contexts of urbanism as a worldwide phenomenon, drawing on comparisons and contrasts between the developments in Europe and those in other parts of the world. It is in this broad cultural context that this new book takes its place. Discussions of origins and causes of urbanism and state formation depend on the definitions of those terms, and Krausz clearly explains the definitions that guide her study.

The book, which derives from a habilitation thesis at Paris-Sorbonne University in 2014, is a case study of the development of social complexity in one region of temperate Europe over 5,000 years, from the early Neolithic period through the end of the prehistoric Iron Age at the time of the Roman conquest of Gaul in the 50s B.C.E. The region is Centre-Val de Loire. It lies southeast of Paris and includes 39,151 km2. The major modern cities of the region are Orleans and Tours.

Parts 1 and 2 discuss the environment, evidence for Paleolithic populations, history of research in the area, and nature of the archaeological evidence available. Part 3 focuses on three major sites that were occupied over long periods of time: Fort-Harrouard, Sublaines, and Levroux. Part 4 interprets the evidence in terms of social and political change. The data with which the author works are impressively rich. She identifies 3,775 Neolithic sites (5000–2150 B.C.E.), 1,769 of the Bronze Age (2150–ca. 800 B.C.E.), and 2,436 of the Iron Age (ca. 800–50 B.C.E.). These numbers are broken down by phases in the major periods and into types of sites, such as settlements, burials, deposits, and monuments.

In her discussion of social and political organization and how to understand them from the archaeological evidence, she makes instructive use of ethnographic analogy, citing classic studies by sociocultural anthropologists of peoples in North America, South America, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. In the interpretive section, she discusses relevant ideas about social and political systems put forward by a wide range of philosophers and anthropologists, including Plato, Aristotle, Lewis Henry Morgan, Max Weber, Bronislaw Malinowski, Elman Service, and Pierre Clastres.

The author identifies and explores three main kinds of models for the formation of the state: through conquest, through urban revolution, and through the emergence of sacred monarchy. For the last, she brings into discussion both ethnographic and textual evidence pertaining to the early kings of Ireland. Of special importance for her study region is her discussion of the written evidence provided by Julius Caesar in his commentaries on the Gallic War of the 50s B.C.E.

In the final synthesis and analysis, the author focuses on two principal sites of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E.: Bourges in her region and the Heuneburg in southwest Germany. She notes that these well-studied sites are among 20 or so known in temperate Europe from this period that show signs of considerable social and political complexity. She suggests that they were not cities (as some might argue) and do not yet represent states, but the communities at them may be designated “nascent states” (337), different from contemporaneous complex communities in the Mediterranean world. In the second and first centuries B.C.E., the oppida (so designated by Caesar) constitute the most complex centers of prehistoric Europe. Krausz discusses the rich and complex archaeological evidence from several oppida, including especially Levroux in her study region as well as Bibracte in Burgundy, Manching in southern Germany, the Titelberg in Luxembourg, and Závist in the Czech Republic. She shows how the archaeological material, interpreted in conjunction with statements by Caesar about the peoples of Gaul, allows for the interpretation of the major centers of Late Iron Age Europe as the bases of states, according to the definition offered earlier in the volume.

This book provides an excellent case study of a substantial and much researched part of prehistoric temperate Europe and of the evidence that pertains to growing social complexity in all its political, economic, and religious dimensions. The text is very well written. Throughout the book, the numerous maps, site plans, and tables (there are 92 figures) present rich and often complex information in easily accessible form. There is a detailed table of contents and an extensive bibliography, but no index.

The book has three outstanding features. First, the author is working with a large and well-documented database of sites of different types and different periods in her investigation of broad patterns of change. Second, while asking big questions about urbanism and state formation, she focuses on presenting and interpreting specific evidence from a select number of sites. Third, in interpreting that evidence, she makes use of other sources of information to complement the archaeological data, especially the ethnographic and ancient textual sources mentioned above.

In summary, Krausz’s new book provides an excellent introduction to the processes of growing social and political complexity in Neolithic through Iron Age Europe and in particular to questions about the origin of the state in this important late prehistoric context.

Peter S. Wells
Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota

Book Review of Des premières communautés paysannes à la naissance de l’État dans le Centre de la France 5000–50 a.C., by Sophie Krausz

Reviewed by Peter S. Wells

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 1 (January 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1221.wells

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