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.
This chapter reviews the evidence for the archaeology of early Christianity in Britain and Ireland. Here, the church had its origins in the areas that lay within the Roman Empire in the fourth century but rapidly expanded north and west in the early fifth century following the end of Roman rule. The evidence for church structures is limited and often ambiguous, with securely identifiable sites not appearing to any extent until the seventh century. There is a range of material culture that can be linked to the early church from the fourth to the seventh centuries; in particular, there are strong traditions of epigraphy and increasingly decorative stone carving from most areas. The conversion to Christianity also impacted burial rites, although the relationship between belief and mortuary traditions is not a simple one.
Alexandra Chavarría Arnau
This chapter traces the material evidence for the spread of Christianity in the Iberian peninsula (including Spain and Portugal) between the third and seventh centuries, focusing on a critical review of traditional interpretations and identifications frequently based on inconsistent chronological references, fragile and poorly surviving materials, and often contradictory textual and archaeological evidence. The result is a new perspective on the subject that is much more comparable to that seen in other areas of the Mediterranean. The chapter will analyze the development of Christianization in cities and the countryside, taking into account when churches were built, who built them, and the political, economic, and social context in which Christian topography was created.
Based on recent archaeological excavations, this chapter presents an overview of the Christianization of Gaul through buildings and topography. Over the last few decades, our knowledge of the organization of episcopal complexes in cities and funerary areas has been significantly advanced despite the small number of artifacts, many of which are poorly dated. The study of Christianization in the countryside is a more recent development, even though many Roman villas reused by churches in the Early Middle Ages have been excavated. New research shows the greater complexity of the situation, including settlement forms beyond villas and a variety of churches such as episcopal relays, funerary churches, and monasteries.
Textual sources attest to the early spread of Christianity across the Balkan region, and archaeological evidence demonstrates how the new religion transformed the built environment and material culture of the area in Late Antiquity, although dating and analysis of these buildings have tended to focus on stylistic and typological approaches. Prior to the late fourth century archaeological evidence of Christianity is mainly found in funerary contexts, but in the fifth and sixth centuries the urban and rural landscapes were transformed by the construction of Christian architecture, including the monumentalization of martyrs’ graves at towns such as Salona and the creation of major episcopal centers at provincial capitals such as Stobi and Nicopolis. These churches were funded by multiple individuals, evidenced by inscriptions that reference ecclesiastical and lay donors of both sexes. The location and design of many of the churches also reflect the increasingly militarized nature of the Late Antique Balkans.
The Mysteries of Eleusis in ancient Greece were the foremost sect of the mystery religions that dominated the eastern Mediterranean sphere for almost 2,000 years. The staying power of the Eleusinian rite stemmed from its convincing presentation of an otherworldly drama about the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. Initiates endured a harrowing experience in darkness that somehow evoked death, before seeing beatific visions, the climax of which was the appearance of the goddess manifest as light. How was the apparition of the goddess conjured? This study surveys extant epigraphical and archaeological information to formulate a research question: could the anaktoron have acted as a box of light, a fire illuminating figurines and projecting their images out into the darkened telesterion? A set of experiments was performed that confirmed the operational feasibility of an ‘Eleusinian Projector’. The appearance of the goddess as light can be explained physically as well as mythologically.
Feasting was an important means of social communication in Iron Age Europe and has been described as a kind of social glue—creating and recreating society by bringing people together to mark important events and ceremonies, through the communal consumption of large quantities of food and drink. This chapter examines the archaeological and literary evidence for Iron Age feasting, focusing in particular on the various social roles of the feast and the often elaborate material culture involved. A picture is built up of the varied types of feast that took place, and the types of food and drink that were consumed at them.
The presence of any kind of ‘formal’ religion in the European Iron Age is debatable but, as the period progressed, persistent patterns of religious expression began to emerge over wide areas of non-Mediterranean Europe. By the time of Roman intervention, religion began to become codified and personified, and the local deities named in written text and inscriptions, attest to a formalization of cults and gods. Some deities apparently had influence over vast regions, whereas others belonged to a single place. Other topics considered in the chapter are the role of the Druids in orchestrating religion, power, and justice in the late pre-Roman Iron Age, the reinvention of Druidism in Gaul in the Roman period, and the lack of a clear-cut interface when the monotheistic new faith of Christianity was added to the melting pot of established cults in the fourth century AD.
This chapter examines the disparate scales of ritual deposition in Iron Age Europe, from the individual/household to the wider region. It explores commonalities underlying different practices, including the pervasive interest in human remains, the deployment of ritualized violence, the formalization of religious practice, and the roles of natural, domestic, and monumental spaces. The Iron Age is notable for the ritualization of domestic life, with certain objects, including human body parts, deposited in houses. Watery places provided another focus; bodies showing heavily ritualized treatments have been found in bogs from Scandinavia to Ireland. From the middle La Tène period, more formal cult centres appear, some as foci for deposition on an enormous scale. Elsewhere, as in Ireland, ritual activity focused on ‘ancestral’ landscapes. Motivations behind acts of deposition are difficult to ascertain, but the material residues suggest a widespread concern with sacrifice as a means of securing benefits for the community.
Aiming at a better understanding of ways through which the ancient Greek religious experience was shaped, this chapter investigates the role and use of darkness in religious belief and practice. The orientation and certain architectural features of Greek temples, Dionysiac and Mystery cults, divination, rites of passage, magic, and other nocturnal rituals are examined here in an investigation of the interplay between light, darkness, and shadow and the aims fulfilled by such associations. It transpires that darkness was a decisive element in the religious experience, one that intensified the emotional condition of the participants, whilst shaping the ritual experience and memory of the event.