Since 2019, the half-yearly journal Frontière·s offers a dedicated space to epistemological reflection in Open Access, in French and in English. It features works on Protohistory, Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and their reception. Twice a year, researchers are invited to discuss the theme of the border through a call for papers. The journal also publishes varia, reviews and chronicles, as well as proceedings of scientific events.
Frontière·s is an open access journal which means that all content is freely available upon publication without charge to the user or his or her institution. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without asking prior permission from the publisher or the author. This is in accordance with the Budapest Open Access Initiative definition of open access and the french Plan national pour la science ouverte.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the concept of frontière1 has been considerably enriched. The confrontation between the different fields of ancient societies on the one hand, and with various social sciences on the other, has given rise to new conceptual tools and methods of analysis. However, no single approach nor definition has reached a consensus among specialists, which preserves the theme from the threat of standardization, and allows diverging perspectives.
Since the 19th century, specialists of the ancient societies have been particularly attracted by a political approach2 of ancient territories, which presents the border as a ‘front’ or a ‘frontier’, both natural and constructed. This understanding is based on etymology: in its original meaning, the term ‘frontier’ – frontière in French – derives from military terminology. Before being a state demarcation, it was a battlefront. This approach of the border, which stems from traditional human and physical geography, is thus strongly influenced by the ‘geography of military officers’,3 and initially conceived to annex, control and administer territories. Even today, ancient borders are still primarily understood as political, administrative and strategic boundaries.4 This view largely dominates the international historical and archaeological literature. The conception of ancient political, administrative or military frontiers has, however, evolved since Lucien Febvre’s5 re-examination of the traditional approach. It is now commonly accepted that the borders were neither natural, linear, fixed nor hermetic. Researchers thus consider these borders as dynamic interfaces, integrated into a reticular system and creating specific cultural, political, memorial or ethnic identities6. In particular, their ‘natural’ or arbitrary character, the phenomena of circumvention, deterioration, contestation, their coincidence with peoples, civilizations and nations, or the processes of ‘thickening’ and erasure are discussed. These issues result from the appropriation by researchers of concepts borrowed from the study of medieval, modern and contemporary colonial societies: in particular, the concept of ‘frontier’, developed by Frederik Jackson Turner,7 from which the notion of ‘frontier society’8 derives, but also the concepts of ‘fronder of inclusion’ and ‘fronder of exclusion’ formulated by Owen Lattimore9, and that of ‘centre and periphery’, developed by Immanuel Wallerstein.10
The influence of sociology, anthropology and cultural geography11 led a growing number of researchers to approach the borders in a broader meaning. The terms ‘social borders’, ‘cultural borders’ or ‘symbolic borders’ are becoming more frequent in the literature.12 Until the second half of the 19th century, law, literature, inscriptions and toponymy were deemed to be the only sources of knowledge about ancient territories.13 Since then, the encounter between geography, history and archaeology has produced stimulating reflections on the concept of ‘inhabiting’, ‘border-barrier’ or interface.14
However, the application of analytical models borrowed from other social sciences still raises many apprehensions. Several specialists have recalled the need to remain cautious about external methodological imports. Thus, in 1993, Jean-Michel Carrié raised the dangers of a ‘phenomenology of the frontier’, and through it, of a dissolution of the issues specific to ancient societies.15 However, this redefinition of the term ‘border’ is not entirely new or purely exogenous. We can think of Jean Pierre Vernant’s reflections, from the 1960s to the 1990s, on the frontiers of death, otherness, religion or on the epistemological limits between past and present.16 But more importantly, the notion of ‘frontier’ is itself an anachronism for ancient societies. Indeed, it is possible to associate with the French term frontière a great variety of ancient and medieval terms that embrace a multitude of boundaries, margins, confines, fronts and demarcations that our contemporary vocabulary fails to translate accurately. Ancient societies, perhaps more than our own, had thus a real ‘obsession with borders’.17 Thus, as Michel Casevitz rightly points out, the difficulty dealing with ancient borders lies in the fact that ‘whether confines or term, the notion of “border”, as revealed by words, has never been defined, never been limited’.18
It is in this sense that Frontière·s wishes to mobilize researchers: to embrace the different aspects of the notion of frontière, as a limit, not only geophysical, state or political, but also social, cultural, symbolic, linguistic, metaphysical, etc. In other words, the contributions will question all the features that create separations between people or groups of people within protohistoric, ancient and medieval societies.