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.
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.
H. Richard Rutherford
The archaeology of ancient Christian baptisteries, purpose-built venues for the initiation of new Christians, opens new avenues to study early Christianity. Through consideration of structure and design, space, liturgy, and the afterlife of baptisteries, this chapter brings the archaeology and liturgical tradition into a dialogue between site and rite about Christian initiation in Late Antiquity. Archaeology highlights the important role played by a water bath and anointing with blessed oil, on the one hand, and the corresponding evolution of liturgical space, on the other, illustrating how ritual evolution went hand in hand with changes in the material culture. The chapter empowers readers visiting any ancient baptistery to view the space as a sacred vestige of early Christianity through new lenses attuned to archaeology and material culture.
Public bathing remained integral to social and daily life throughout Late Antiquity. This chapter explores how Christians used and received baths at this time by addressing the complex intersection of baths, Christianity, and public bathing culture. It provides an overview of baths in the Late Roman city and beyond, noting their continued ubiquity throughout the empire. And it details key changes to bath architecture introduced at this time, paying particular attention to the role of urban change and Christianity in this process. The chapter concludes with an overview of the various ways in which Christianity, baths, and bathing culture intersected directly during this important period of transition and transformation.
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.
Sherry C. Fox and Paraskevi Tritsaroli
This chapter examines the contribution of the contextual study of human skeletal remains of Early Christian burials in the eastern Mediterranean. Bioarchaeological studies of sites in Greece, Cyprus, Asia Minor, and Palestine are presented to better understand the people and their burial practices from this region during a tumultuous period in the fourth through seventh centuries. The use of multiple lines of evidence such as funerary archaeology, taphonomy, and skeletal biology reveals the lifestyles and burial customs of the inhabitants from a selection of eastern Mediterranean sites. Despite regional variations, there is a great degree of uniformity in the burial customs across the areas under consideration. Finally, the populations of the eastern Mediterranean share similar demographic profiles and health outcomes. Future research will likely engage in scientific applications in archaeology that may address significant questions, such as reconstructing diet from stable isotope analyses and disease via ancient DNA analysis.
Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai
The Roman catacombs, dated to the early third century, are characterized by regular plans that made the best use of available space. In the late third and fourth centuries, the catacombs grew in number and extent through the establishment of new areas. Beginning in the fifth century, the Roman catacombs ceased to be the usual places of burial and become instead spaces dedicated to the cult of the martyrs. The catacombs of the Italian peninsula and the larger islands of the Mediterranean, Greece, and Roman Africa, dated usually between the fourth and fifth centuries, are fewer and smaller than those in Rome, but are distinct in their plans and adaptation to different environments.
Joan E. Taylor
The first Christian archaeological evidence in Palestine dates from the third century, in the so-called Megiddo church. From 326 onward, Palestine was the focus of imperial funding, and grand basilicas were established by order of the emperor Constantine. Sacred places associated with Jesus’s ancient appearance to Abraham (Mamre), birth (Bethlehem), Crucifixion and Resurrection (Golgotha), and instruction and Ascension (the Mount of Olives) have all yielded monumental remains. There is ample material testifying to a boom in church building to service Christian pilgrimage and conversion of the population, with Christian building and rebuilding continuing through to the Persian invasion of 614 and subsequent Muslim conquest of Palestine in 638.
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.
Stefan R. Hauser
For a long time, the development of Christian communities within the Sasanian and early Islamic Empires was either neglected or described in terms of a history of persecution and antagonism within a Zoroastrian or Islamic state. Only recently has the perception of the extent of Christianization, the interaction of religious communities, and the importance of Christians within these societies and their upper echelons changed dramatically. The narrative of permanent conflict and oppression of Christian faith has given way to the acknowledgment of a predominant Christian population in the territory of modern Iraq and western Iran in the fifth through seventh centuries. One argument in this context is the growing body of material evidence for Christian churches and images as well as burials, which are expressions of respected and self-assured Christian communities.
Charles Anthony Stewart
Churches have been the subject of archaeological examination since the sixteenth century. As the most monumental expression of Christianity, they represent complex religious and societal ideologies, rooted in Jewish concepts of the synagogue and messianic kingship. The institution of the church was initially viewed as both a physical local body and a global spiritual kingdom, and these notions eventually became symbolized by architecture. In Christianity’s first three centuries, a variety of buildings could accommodate Christian congregations. During the emperor Constantine’s reign, the basilica became the most prestigious form of church and, by the end of the seventh century, was commonplace in Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. Churches were not just assemblages of various materials; they also housed burials, shrines, artifacts, and artistic programs. Archaeology examines how and when churches were designed, constructed, and changed, and how they contributed to the wider society.
This chapter surveys, through a series of case studies, the material aspects of early Christianity in provinces in the dioceses of Macedonia and Asia (Achaea, Thessalia, Macedonia Prima, Macedonia Secunda, Creta, and the Cyclades now in modern Greece). While many of the urban spaces see some topographic changes in the fourth and fifth centuries, the biggest impact on both urban and rural environments is the construction of a diverse range of Late Antique churches. Church construction begins earlier in Macedonia and the islands than in the rest of mainland Greece, which reflects more diverse network connections in these areas. Within specific topographic regions (e.g., Crete, the Peloponnese), network connections play a role in the choice of church location, but the analysis of the spread of churches clearly indicates a steady process of religious conversion. The archaeology and topography of early Christian churches therefore provides a significant contribution to understanding processes of Christianization.