Home > Late Antiquity, Medieval and Post Medieval Greece Interest Group of the AIA > Pagans and Christians in the Journal of Late Antiquity

Pagans and Christians in the Journal of Late Antiquity

The newest number of the Journal of Late Antiquity has hit newstands (only if you live in a very dorky community) or, better, the RSS feed. This is only the second year of this ambitious new journal’s existence, and as the only major English language journal dedicated to the study of Late Antiquity, I’ve looked to it with a particularly critical eye. It’s clear that the editors have sought papers from both established scholars and “up-and-coming” graduate students and recent Ph.D.s as well as the representing the Eastern and Wester halves of the Roman Empire. This is a good sign. The journal also seems to have a distinctly international character representing well the common ground within the international field of Late Antique Studies.


The current number has two articles that immediately caught my eye. First, L. Foschia offers a short article entitled: “The Preservation, Restoration, and (Re)construction of Pagan Cult Places in Late Antiquity, with Particular Attention to Mainland Greece (Fourth-Fifth Centuries)”. Foschia argues that the 4th and 5th century saw continued attention to pagan cult places in Greece and drew upon evidence from Argos, Athens, and Kenchreai, the Port of Corinth. At each site, there was evidence for some significant reconstruction of a pagan cult site. This is unlikely to surprise scholars of Late Roman Greece, but is nevertheless a good reminder that some form of large scale, perhaps even institutional, support for paganism persisted into 5th century. The late (and getting later) date of many Early Christian basilicas in Greece reflects that rather belated shift of resources from the sphere of pagan (and in some of the examples used by Foschia, civic) monumental architecture to Christian architecture. The biggest weakness of this paper (which, unfortunately has many small issues that one might hope not to see in a top tier scholarly journal) is the absence of many examples that show how the practice of paganism in Greece represented a broad continuum of behavior from formal cult practices (at major sites) to informal, highly ambivalent practices, as seen in late cave sanctuaries or places like the Fountain of the Lamps in Corinth (see, in particular, the work of Tim Gregory, Richard Rothaus, and Frank Trombley here) . The evidence from many pagan sites in Greece suggest that the maintenance of more monumental expressions of cult practice may have been the manifestation of something far more “Late Antique” in character than earlier civic or even imperial supported pagan cults. This distinction is important because it understands “late” paganism as part of the same cultural milieu as “early” Christianity and insists that the public expression of religious practice, ritual, and identity is meaningless outside of a view of Greek (or Late Antique) society that does not include all shades of pagans and Christians.

The second article worth reading is (veteran blogger) Troels Myrup Kristensen‘s, “Embodied Images: Christian Responses and Destruction in Late Antique Egypt“. His article looks at the relationship between attacks on pagan images (and sometimes pagans themselves!) and Christian (and more broadly Late Antique) ideas of the body. It’s a thought provoking read, and contributes to the discussion of Christianization as a profoundly “embodied” phenomenon which saw its roots in P. Browns, Body and Society. Troels does good job of thinking about how bodies worked in the context of both Egyptian monasticism and, to a less extent, Early Christianity and Late Paganism. The only reservation that I had when reading his article was how he dated some of the episodes of destruction to Late Antiquity. The archaeologist in me (and someone who has periodically pondered the seemingly ritual destruction of statues in Greece) has confronted how difficult it is to date episodes of ritual destruction. This is particularly important, as in Egypt (like Greece) the centuries long presence of a powerful and equally iconoclastic Muslim population expands the potential context for ritual destruction of ancient images up until almost the present day. As I know that Troels sometimes reads this blog, I’d love to understand more fully how he dates his destroyed statues to the impulses of such Late Antique Christians as Shenoute rather than later Christian or Muslim practices.


  1. November 11, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Thanks for reading my article, Bill!
    Regarding the issue of dating: I deal with this quite extensively in my dissertation, as it is a question of great complexity. You have to look very carefully at the chronology of use and re-use, something that is often difficult because of poor documentation of the late antique and post antique phases, as you of course know very well. In the case of Kom el-Dikka, however, the Polish excavations have provided stratigraphical evidence to date the deposition of statues, which is very helpful.

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