Making Memories and Making Provincial Society… with Dogs

Dogsbodies and Dogs’ Bodies: A Social and Cultural History of Roman Britain’s Dogs and People

Professor Robin Fleming

(Professor of Early Medieval History, Boston College)

These lectures explore the social, cultural, and ritual histories of Roman-Britain’s people through an investigation of their entanglements with dogs.  In the highly anthrozootic world of Roman Britain, dogs and humans together shaped mutual ecologies and life-ways.  Dogs also served as metaphorical and ritual agents, and they were central in the production of both social difference and lived religion under Rome.  By following the trail left by dogs, we can recover something of the lifeways and experience of the people with whom they shared the world, and we can identify and characterize some of the mechanisms through which a Roman provincial society was created.

Making Memories and Making Provincial Society… with Dogs


Daily, domestic religion as it was lived, was a negotiation between older, indigenous practices and new ones that came with conquest.  Pre-Roman precedents––sacrifice, special deposits made in deep places, dog killing––were part of a repertoire of actions that continued throughout the Roman period, not in their exact Iron Age forms, but rather inflected with new ideas and practices from elsewhere in the empire.  The process, however, was two-way.  Soldiers, merchants, administrators, and others new to Britain came to embrace a host of local ritual practices, including dog killing.  Here, we take an in-depth look at a handful of communities where we can witness low-status locals and people from elsewhere in the empire participating side-by-side in ritual events centered on dogs.  We do this in order to discern the mechanisms and processes standing behind the development of a distinctly provincial, Romano-British society.