Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Classical Dictionary. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 25 February 2024



  • Jane Webster


  • Reception
  • Roman Material Culture

Creolization is a term referring to the process by which elements of different cultures are blended together to create a new culture. The word creole was first attested in Spanish in 1590 with the meaning ‘Spaniard born in the New World’. In the 1970s the term was widely adopted by linguists, who used it to denote a contact language or ‘pidgin’ that is spoken as a first language by subsequent generations. Since that time creolization has emerged as an important paradigm throughout the social sciences. It is employed today in varied ways by anthropologists, ethnographers and archaeologists working on multicultural adjustment in a wide range of colonial and post-colonial contexts.

Creolization models have been advanced with reference to provincial material culture change in the Roman world, particularly among non-elites. In common with cognate concepts such as cultural hybridity, bricolage and discrepant experience, creolization enjoys popularity among scholars questioning the value of Romanization, the traditional paradigm for acculturative cultural change in the Roman world. Similar concepts have in fact existed in Roman studies for decades but whilst ‘Romanization’ models assume a largely intact transposition of Roman culture into a given area, creolization models envisage a creative fusion of Roman and local culture, resulting in a unique, third entity.

The term creolization was first explicitly employed in a Roman context in 2001, in work on Romano-Celtic religion. The notion of Romanization has perhaps been most fully challenged by British archaeologists, and this may help to explain why British scholars have also shown a particular interest in creolization. In recent years, for example, creolization theory has explicitly informed the study of Romano-British ‘small find’ assemblages.

In the Americas, creolization models have found particular favour among archaeologists exploring the material world of slaves. Since the 1990s some archaeologists with an interest in Greek and Roman slavery have drawn on these North American studies in developing a cross-cultural or comparative approach to classical slavery. Examples here include the analysis of the material culture of Thracian and Phrygian slaves in Attica and recent studies on the material culture of slaves in Roman Britain.

Whilst creolization has emerged as a major theme in historical archaeology, some linguists and anthropologists have begun to question its value. Despite these doubts—perhaps inevitable as a new paradigm emerges—the creolization concept remains a fertile one, and may prove to be of lasting value in modelling contact and cultural change in the Roman world.


Creolization theory and its critics: S. Palmié, Annual Reviews in Anthropology 2006, 433 ff.Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

  • C. Stewart (ed.) Creolization. History, Ethnography, Theory (2007).

In North American historical archaeology: S. L. Dawdy, Historical Archaeology 34:3 (2000), 1 ff.Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

  • L. Ferguson, Historical Archaeology 34:3 (2000), 5 ff.

In Greek and Roman archaeology: G. Carr, in R. Hingley and S. H. Willis (eds.), Roman Finds: Context and Theory (2007), 106–115.Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

  • N. J. Cooper, in R. Hingley and S. H. Willis (eds.), Roman Finds: Context and Theory (2007), 35–51.
  • I. Morris, in S. R. Joshel and S. Murnaghan (eds.), Women and Slaves in Greco-Roman Culture (1993), 199–226.
  • J. Webster, American Journal of Archaeology 105:2 (2001), 209–25.
  • J. Webster, Journal of Roman Studies. 18 (2005), 161–179.
  • J. Webster, Archaeological Dialogues 15:2 (2008) 103–123.