Department of Archaeology and Ancient History

Svante Fischer


Svante Fischer will be a visiting fellow at the Institute d’Etudes Avancées – Nantes for the period September 2014-June 2015 in order to continue research on the question of urban resilience in the Late Roman Empire with the project “Urban reform and resilience in Late Roman Gaul”.

Svante Fischer was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1971. He received his BA in history with an independent study project in English, Old English and Old Norse from Brown University in December 1994, having also studied at Columbia University.

In 1995-1996, Fischer worked as a paralegal specialist in intellectual property, trademarks, and translations at Ladas & Parry LLP, a New York-based law firm. In 1997-2001, studies were resumed in archaeology, French, history of Greek and Roman religions, Old Norse, and runology at École pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE), Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne), Université de Paris IV (Paris-Sorbonne), Stockholm University, and Uppsala University before Fischer embarked on a doctorate in archaeology. The dissertation Roman Imperialism and Runic Literacy – The Westernization of Northern Europe (150-800) was successfully defended in January 2006.

Field of Research: A Brief Introduction

The main focus of Fischer’s research is on the late Roman Empire and the Germanic world of the Migration Period with a comparative approach to Africa, America and Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries. The early Germanic kingdoms are compared to African nation-states of the late 20th century with a regard to the use of various writing systems. An important hypothesis in Fischer’s dissertation is that most attempts within preliterate societies to catch up with the forced westernization cause the creation of kleptocracies, small military elites that constantly have to steal and plunder to maintain power and an extravagant lifestyle with little concern for the future.

Fischer has since his dissertation increasingly shifted focus to the Roman aspect of the problematic, questions of the late 5th century West Roman state finances and urbanism in particular. Late Roman urbanism underwent considerable change as a handful of the Germanic kleptocracies in Western Europe were able to transform themselves into Christian feudal kingdoms. This also implied the collapse of the West Roman state finances. The key to tracking the rise and fall of the Germanic kleptocracy and the transformation of the Late Roman world into the Merovingian Period successor kingdoms is by means of LEO, a database recording solidus coinage found in archaeological contexts. By means of “following the money” one can also trace the various paths of change in Late Roman and Migration Period Europe. There was still a place for urbanism in the post-Roman world, but it was to be fundamentally different as a new social contract was negotiated between the urban Christian clergy and the Germanic landowners with much more modest financial means.

Current and Past Projects:

Inscriptions runiques de France - IRF

In March 2006, the French government awarded Fischer a scholarship for his post-doctoral project: Inscriptions runiques de France (IRF).
The grant was spent during the fall semester of 2006 at the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. Fischer lectured at the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) seminar in early medieval archaeology and served as co-advisor and mentor to two French MA students. The post-doctoral research was compiled in the first volume of the IRF project: “Les seigneurs des anneaux”. Inscriptions runiques de France, Tome I. It was published by the Association Française d’Archéologie Mérovingienne (AFAM) in 2007. With the publication of Les seigneurs des anneaux, the IRF project has become institutionalized as Institut runologique de France. The runological mentorship to French archaeologists will continue: A second edition appeared in May, 2008, and the IRF organized the 21st annual meeting of international field-runologists at the Château Saint-Germain-Laye in August, 2008.New runic finds in France in 2011 necessitated further fieldwork in 2012-2013, sponsored by the Royal Swedish Academy of History, Letters and Ancient Monuments (KVHAA) and a number of new publications lie ahead.

The Chamber Grave Project“Death’s Snug Chamber”

 In 2007-2009, Fischer was employed as a researcher in the Chamber Grave Project financed by Vetenskapsrådet, the Swedish Council for Scientific Research. This project sought to interpret the Swedish Migration Period chamber graves in comparison with their Roman Iron Age origin and contemporaries on the Continent. The collaboration with the MAN led to a number of papers presented in French, English, and Swedish at conferences in Auxerre, Frankfurt, Schleswig, Stockholm, and Uppsala. This project showed that the chamber graves in the Mälar Valley were very much due to contacts with the Late Roman Empire.

LEO – A project within the Urban Mind

In 2008-2010, Fischer led the LEO research project within the Urban Mind project while also serving as editor within two research frames. LEO organized two international conferences. The project led to a number of papers presented in English and Swedish. Fischer’s contributions to the Urban Mind project were awarded with the 2011 Young Researcher’s Prize by the French-Swedish Research Association (AFSR), which included a month-long Visiting fellowship to College de France in September 2012. Further research on the imperial solidus coinage in Rome during the crisis of AD 468-472 was made possible by an Enbom scholarship to the Swedish Institute in Rome during 2013.