Rangar H. Cline
Although “magical” amulets are often overlooked in studies of early Christian material culture, they provide unique insight into the lives of early Christians. The high number of amulets that survive from antiquity, their presence in domestic and mortuary archaeological contexts, and frequent discussions of amulets in Late Antique literary sources indicate that they constituted an integral part of the fabric of religious life for early Christians. The appearance of Christian symbols on amulets, beginning in the second century and occurring with increasing frequency in the fourth century and afterward, reveals the increasing perception of Christian symbols as ritually potent among Christians and others in the Roman Empire. The forms, texts, and images on amulets reveal the fears and hopes that occupied the daily lives of early Christians, when amulets designed for ritual efficacy if not orthodoxy were believed to provide a defense against forces that would harm body and soul.
This chapter examines the development of a distinctive early Christian genre: the icon. It does so by taking a relatively unknown, but important, example of a devotional panel in a U.S. collection with a (now) anonymous warrior saint trampling a demon while on horseback. This icon permits a methodological rumination on the means by which we come to think we know the historical meaning of such an object: our art historical premises, our photographic and museological knowledge of objects, and our own assumption about what constitutes a real “subject” in the past and in the present. This chapter attempts a kind of archaeology, an examination of strata in the icon, but really an anarchéologie of the icon, by which archaeology is problematized, undermined, in order to reveal the ways in which our culture has produced its histories.
William R. Caraher and David K. Pettegrew
Since the Renaissance, archaeology has played a significant albeit changing role in illuminating the history of early Christianity. This chapter surveys different historical approaches to archaeological investigations of Christianity, from early efforts to authenticate or disprove the traditions and practices of the Catholic church to the development of the field of early Christian archaeology in continental Europe and through to more recent efforts to reconstruct the social and economic contexts of early Christian sites and landscapes between the first and eighth centuries. This chapter offers a state of the field, highlighting the positive achievements of archaeologists over the last two centuries and drawing attention to problems of method, interpretation, and approach that modern scholars are working to correct. It recommends repositioning the field within the disciplinary framework of archaeology itself while also encouraging fruitful interdisciplinary conversation.
Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom
This chapter discusses the evolution of scholarly interest in Christian antiquities in Egypt after 1900. The archaeology of early Christianity developed much later than the field of Egyptology and initially focused only upon the clearing of monumental churches. Growing interest in Byzantine art and archaeology in the mid-1920s fostered greater support for excavations of expressly Christian settlements, which were primarily monastic communities. The wealth of archaeological evidence preserved in Egypt’s arid climate, such as documentary evidence (ostraca and papyri), textiles, manuscripts, and small finds such as items made of leather, reeds, ivory, and wood, helped foster a greater appreciation for Egypt’s history after the age of the pharaohs.
Alexandra Chavarría Arnau
The archaeology of early Christian churches has made important advancements in recent decades in Italy thanks to a large number of new excavations and scientific meetings, as well as the development of the project CARE (Corpus Architecturae Religiosae Europeae (IV–X saec.)), in which most Italian specialists are involved. This chapter suggests new lines of research, thus contributing to a revised historiography of the archaeology of early Christian churches in Italy between the fourth century and the end of the sixth century. It surveys some of the ecclesiastical complexes that have been reanalyzed in recent decades or recently discovered through archaeological excavations.
Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom
This chapter discusses new developments in the field of monastic archaeology and the archaeology of early monastic settlements. The presence of monastic communities in documentary and literary evidence has produced a wide array of studies of monasticism, but very few of these have considered the purpose-built environments or the remodeled natural environments for monastic habitation. This chapter therefore considers examples from Egypt, Gaza, Britain, and Ireland to illustrate the history of archaeological study of monastic life and the importance of integrating monastic archaeology into broader categories dealing with landscape, urbanization, and connectivity from the fourth century through the tenth century.
James F. Strange
This chapter discusses the archaeology of the New Testament as applied to Jesus and the gospels. The aim is to create a reliable social, economic, and material history of the origins and dissemination of the New Testament text. In the nineteenth century, certain New Testament and classical scholars studied the material culture of Roman-period Galilee as the context of the gospel traditions. The discipline moved from comparative analysis of inscriptions and other ancient texts to excavation of Jewish synagogues, Roman temples, houses, and domestic ritual baths. The discipline developed sophisticated methods to excavate artifacts, pottery, glass, coins, and stone vessels and to determine their distribution and stratigraphic position at a given site. This chapter reviews the archaeology of specific sites mentioned in the New Testament and several not mentioned to provide an archaeological reconstruction of the social, economic, political, and religious patterns of human life in Galilee and Judea.
The fourth to seventh centuries were formative in the art and culture of Armenia. This era witnessed the conversion of the land to Christianity, the invention of the Armenian alphabet and the consequent development of a literary tradition, the formulation of a specific understanding of the nature of Christ, and the emergence of a striking and robust visual tradition. The architecture, stone sculpture, and mosaic pavements produced during this era attest to the integration of Armenians within the broader Mediterranean and Iranian worlds, and to the development of distinctive artistic forms and practices. This material thus offers powerful testimony of contemporary beliefs, social structures, and political conditions of Armenians living both within the historical homeland and in communities abroad.
The art of the catacombs was born in Rome between the second and third centuries and is manifested especially in the pictorial decorations of the cubicula and other hypogeal environments. The extremely simplified artistic typology echoes the Second Pompeian style through the use of red and green lines that run across the walls and the faces of the monuments. Initially this grid contained neutral figures selected from the pagan repertoire; later those images were replaced by Christian scenes inspired by biblical and salvific imagery. The art of the catacombs also includes funerary sculpture, particularly sarcophagi, and the so-called minor arts, such as gilded glass, ivory dolls, and mosaic tesserae. The catacombal decorations ended at the beginning of the fifth century, when funerary use ceased in these subterranean cemeteries.
The early Christian archaeology of Asia Minor has recently developed into a discipline devoted to the contextualized study of the material remains of early Christianity. It has characterized Asia Minor as a region where—save some notable exceptions from mortuary contexts in Central Anatolia—the impact of the new faith on local material culture only became tangible in the course of the fourth century. During the fifth and sixth centuries Christianity would eventually conquer urban and rural landscapes through church construction in traditional as well as new foci of public space. At this time it also moved into the private sphere as household objects became decorated with Christian images and symbols.