Tag Archives: Late Antiquity

Were Pagan Temples All Smashed Or Just Converted Into Christian Churches?

This week over at the Forbes column [access it here], I discuss an article in the new volume of the Journal of Late Antiquity (10.1) It is a great piece of scholarship written by ancient historian Feyo L. Schuddeboom and is called “The Conversion of Temples in Rome.” The article effectively uses archaeological evidence for temple conversion within the city of Rome during the period of Late Antiquity (ca.300-800 CE in this case) in order to further dismantle the myth that all Roman temples were smashed to bits by angry pagans. Using the case study of Rome, Schuddeboom also suggests that temples being converted to churches was usually a pragmatic act rather than one meant to demonstrate the “triumph” of Christianity over paganism.

The article has a helpful map within it. It was also a great excuse to insert some pictures from Santa Maria Antiqua; a 6th century church in the Roman Forum. I was lucky enough to be able to see this converted quadriporticus church near to the ramp that leads up to the Palatine from the Forum Romanum and to glimpse at its recently restored frescoes (see images below).

Enjoy these photos and this amazing new issue of the JLA. If you care to read about another converted temple in Rome, feel free to read my article on the history of Roman Curiae. The Curia Senatus was a Roman temple and also the Roman Senate House–since senate meetings could only technically be held within a consecrated space in the city of Rome.

The Itinerarium Egeriae: Mapping Egeria’s Pilgrimage On Candlemas

In the Roman Catholic Church, the celebration held forty days after Christmas is the festival of Candlemas (February 2). Candlemas recognizes the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary forty days after giving birth (Luke 2:22-29). This was in accordance with Jewish purity law (Lev. 12:4) which required women who had just given birth to remain separate from the temple. On this Candlemas, I wanted to take a look back at the development of the liturgical calendar in Late Antiquity and also to consider the role of late antique women in shaping our knowledge of both liturgical practice and the geography of piety in the early Christian Mediterranean.

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An illustration of the presentation of Jesus in the temple from the Menologion of Basil II (ca. 1000 CE). I have indeed used a screenshot from the digitized version of Vat.Gr.1613 that can be accessed in its entirety at the Digital Vatican Library website.

We know that the emperor Justinian set Candlemas within the city of Constantinople and elsewhere in the East for February 2. In the year 542 CE, the emperor decreed this celebration as a means of entreating the purity of the Virgin Mary to remedy the outbreak of plague that was ravaging the city at that time. However, the origins of the festival likely lay in the early fourth century. Around the year 381-384, a pilgrim text written by a woman named Egeria, who derived either from southern France or northwestern Spain, remarked on the festival in Jerusalem thusly: 

‘Sane quadragesimae de epiphania ualde cum summo honore hic celebrantur. ‘

Her reference to a celebration held on the fortieth day after Epiphany likely demonstrates that Candlemas was originally celebrated on February 14, exactly forty days from Epiphany celebrated on January 6. Notably, when celebrated on February 14, Candlemas was then just the day before the popular Roman Lupercalia of February 15–where the raucous but traditional Roman religious purificatory rites of februa were carried out. Christian or not, the month of February was then a time for purification in the fourth and fifth centuries.


Triumphal arch mosaic in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Rome). This is the oldest known artistic depiction of the presentation of Jesus at the temple. (Image via Wikimedia under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 License and first noted to me by Caitlin Green).

As it happens, my medieval Latin class is currently discussing the import of ritual, liturgy, and the early Christian calendar by translating a portion of Egeria’s writings. Although she uses some quirky Latin, she provides a pivotal example of female prose writing in Late Antiquity. Notably, the only surviving manuscript is the so-called Codex Arretinus, an 11th century fragmentary text only found in the Italian city of Arezzo in the late 19th century. We know little about whether she was a nun (she does often address her fellow dominae) or just a learned pilgrim, but we can say that she wrote the Itinerarium Egeriae (or Peregrinatio Aetheriae) in an epistolary format that reflected on her travails while on pilgrimage to sites such as Mount Sinai and Jerusalem. She also pivotally records her liturgical experience while attending services in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

The geography detailed in Egeria’s extraordinary itinerary letters help us to reconstruct the broader network of movement amongst pilgrims in the late antique Mediterranean. Her itinerary, along with earlier itineraries such as the Itinerarium Burdigalense (Bordeaux Itinerary) of ca.333, together give us a good idea of the pilgrimage routes regularly used in the fourth century by both men and women. With the advent of GIS, there has been a push to map these pilgrimage routes, which in their original formats formed a textual list rather than a geospatial visualization. As one student noted: “A medieval Trip Advisor.” The best modern geographic visualization of these itineraries for you to use in your classes is at the Pelagios project’s Recogito site. Here you can find a number of late antique texts that can be “read” geo-spatially.


Map of the Bordeaux Itinerary as visualized by Recogito via the Pelagios Project.

Although we can map the routes listed in the anonymous Bordeaux Itinerary rather more easily and confidently, Egeria presents more of a challenge to modern geographers. Certainly the order of the sites that she mentions–Mount Sinai, Jerusalem, Constantinople–can give us some idea of the likely routes and roads she may have taken, especially when compared to other texts (e.g., Epiphanius) and set alongside the existing Roman road networks. But it is still admittedly oftentimes speculative. That is why I am always hesitant to point students to maps like the one at the ‘Egeria Project,’ which makes her text seem much more complete than it actually is.


Screenshot from PeterRobins.co.uk, which has an incredible number of downloadable maps and itineraries that range from antique pilgrim routes to the modern day. This is the downloadable excel sheet for the sites from the Bordeaux Itinerary [Access Here].

I will be discussing the issue of “imaginary” or uncertain geography more at the Clerical Exile conference in April, but the very mapping of these routes can serve as an argument to suggest that we know more than we really do; a danger within the study of Late Antiquity that I and my colleague Candida Moss have similarly remarked upon. As ancient historian Ryan Horne recently asserted, uncertainty must be represented and flagged on maps, even if it is not a very satisfying practice. But, really, maps are not here to provide us complete satisfaction. Think of the use of dotted lines or blinking place-markers as a possible geographic signpost for inserting all those textual “maybes” and “perhaps-s” that frequently pepper academic writing in order to show that we are unsure. It is also a reminder that translating texts to different languages may cause problems, but so too does its translation to a different visual medium (text -> map).

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Recogito’s Map of the sites mentioned in Egeria’s Itinerary (381-384 CE). Map tiles created by the AWMC and used under a CC-BY-NC-3.0 license.

This was a quick post to point out some resources for studying a quite worthy late antique lady and using her to help reconstruct the world of late antique pilgrimage. I often read books on cartography in the late antique world that focus solely on the myriad men that came to shape the early Christian worldview. However, it must be remembered that even if writers like Egeria didn’t give us a diagrammatic representation of an area, many women contributed to the broader geographic discourse in the later empire. Collectively, these texts inform how we visualize a world we are no longer a part of, but which we frequently attempt to access. I think Prof. Moss put it best when she said: “Christian social networks, patterns of pilgrimage and missionary activity, and the art of letter writing united Christian communities and networks across the empire…Physical geography is webbed with social networks navigated by correspondence, plotted by travel, and reimagined by ancient cartographers” (2012: 21). Our vision of the late antique Mediterranean is still a complex, imperfect, and often deceptive network of people and places rather than a straightforward map, but then again, so is the world of today.

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Egeria’s mentions of Jerusalem, as visualized in Recogito. 

‘The Eagle Huntress’ And The Ancient History Of Falconry

Over at the Forbes blog this week, I discuss the ancient and medieval history of falconry in the Mediterranean. After seeing the new documentary film ‘The Eagle Huntress,’ about a 13-year-old girl named Aisholpan learning to become an eagle hunter with her father in Mongolia, I went back to some class notes on Greco-Roman attitudes towards the eagle and the later development of falconry. This post was a good excuse to emphasize that there is little material evidence for falconry in the Roman world until the period of Late Antiquity. It is possible that the Vandals or Visigoths popularized the sport within the late Roman world. During the early middle ages, falconry and particularly the use of not only falcons, but also hawks, became popular among both male and female elites. Falconry was a courtly sport and in the late medieval period, we even have writings from women on the topic. I am certainly not a bird expert, but writing this piece was one way to commemorate the majesty of birds of prey and to establish humanity’s long connection to them.


“Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a lady observing her hawk bringing down a duck, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 73v.” Image and caption via the British Library Blog and is in the Public Domain.

A Short History of Demons, Exorcism, And Possessed Women

Since last’s week accusation by Alex Jones that Hillary Clinton and President Obama were demons that smelled of sulfur, I had begun to think about the role of demons, exorcism, and demoniacs in early Christian texts. Over on the Forbes blog, I discuss how the subject of demons has a rich past in the religion, but it must be said that from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages, accusations of demon possession have often shown gender bias. That is to say that women are frequently cast as more susceptible to possession than men of power are–particularly in the demon possessions mentioned in the 13th century. Moreover, male priests and saints are often then relied upon to cast the demons out. As this post explores, accusing Hillary Clinton of being a demon is not simply an outlandish thing to do, it carries serious and long-held misogynist undertones.

Please note that this story contains a number of images from the Public Domain made freely accessible by the British Library Manuscripts Library. The British Library is, after all, probably the best and safest place to find demons.


Image via the British Library: “Dante and Virgil observing Satan swallowing his victims, with figures of those who betrayed their benefactors, such as Brutus and Judas Iscariot, frozen in ice below, from Canto 34 of the Inferno” (illustration from 1370)

Picturing the Patriarch: Resources for Finding Illustrated Papyri and the Case for Image Licensing

Ancient and medieval papyri not only transmitted text, some even held illustrations. Mathematical, scientific, and magical papyri often had accompanying images meant to enhance the understanding of a text or perhaps to depict someone being cursed. Some historical and literary papyri (e.g., those of Homer) had illustrations as well. I was reminded of this fact this morning, as I reflected on the death date of the notorious Alexandrian patriarch Theophilus, who died on October 15, 412 CE.

We are lucky enough to have the Papyrus Goleniscev, a codex (fol. 6v, Pushkin Museum, Moscow) that was later published in color in 1905 (digital edition here) and then digitized by the Munich Digitization Center (Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum [MDZ]). The papyrus is originally from Alexandria, and perhaps dates to the 5th c. CE–not long after the death of Theophilus himself. The papyrus transmits fragments of the Alexandrian World Chronicle and has a pivotal depiction of the patriarch holding a gospel and standing atop the head of the Egyptian god Serapis, which had been destroyed along with Alexandria’s Serapeum.

The painting of papyri has been happening for millenia, and reveals not only what may have been important to those that painted them–but also what people found humorous. Over at the British Museum, they have one of my favorite papyri of all time, dating to the period of Rameses (1292 – 1077 BCE) and from Deir el-Medina (Thebes). It shows various animals engaged in common Egyptian trades: there is a hippopotamus and then a lion brewing beer, a cat serving a mouse, and a dog carrying grain. I like showing this papyrus when I give talks on ancient beer or in class, just to illustrate to students that anthropomorphized animals were amusing to people way before LOLZ Cats came around.


Image of an illustrated animal papyrus from the British Museum (c. 1200 BCE). Licensed under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 License. Check out that Hippo brewing some beer.

There are some beautiful images of Hellenistic era papyri (4th-3rd c. BCE) in the collection at the Brooklyn Museum as well. What is more? The Brooklyn Museum has placed their images under a creative commons license, which allows me to show you this stunning procession of Egyptian Gods below.


Illustrated papyrus from the 4th-3rd c. BCE showing a procession of Egyptian Gods. Image via the Brooklyn Museum under a CC Attribution 3.0 License.

The ability to look at this papyrus online with students or to use it for research purposes is a valuable one–but it comes with some caveats. Particularly, we must consider how an image can be used: in publications, in the classroom, and online. Licensing is something I have thought a lot about since beginning to blog at Forbes, but many images I cannot use simply because they are not available for free use by commercial outlets. I understand this sentiment completely, but it means I have to be very careful about the images I post at Forbes, which is a for-profit news corporation, versus my WordPress blog, which makes me no money. That is why I appreciate the clear use of Creative Commons licensing that marks how I can use an image. For the MDZ, who digitized the 1905 edition of the Papyrus Goleniscev, there is a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license that stipulates that I must note the institution and if I modified the image, and bans me from using the image for profit. Hence why I am writing this post on my WordPress blog.

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I started thinking about CC licensing this week largely because Dot Porter (Curator, Digital Research Services, in the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania) pointed out on her blog that it is frustrating when an institution says that texts are “freely available online” and then does not clearly delineate what they mean by this. In her post, she lists a number of questions one should answer when posting digital images (e.g., are your images licensed?) and does a fantastic job of laying out the logistics that need to be thought through when museums, libraries, individuals, or institutions disseminate digital images online.

Licensing is important for blogging, but also needs to be integrated into our Twitter lives. For a long time, I have been trying to do a better job of citing the sources for my images on Twitter and encouraging others to do so as well. I try to use my own pictures from museums or those freely available on Wikimedia, and to give attribution to people when I use Flickr photos or perhaps pull from their personal blog (e.g. Following Hadrian’s Carole Raddato, who is incredibly generous with her images). Other digital humanists, like Alice Lynn McMichael at MSU, have also begun to think about how Twitter licensing and tags can help us to use Twitter content for use in linked open data digital projects–like Pleiades.

Many on Twitter pointed me to the fact that Twitter has a description capability for images that was originally put in place for people with visual disabilities. As Twitter notes: “Enable this feature by using the compose image descriptions option in the Twitter app’s accessibility settings. The next time you add an image to a Tweet, each thumbnail in the composer will have an add description button. Tap it to add a description to the image. People who are visually impaired will have access to the description via their assistive technology (e.g., screen readers and braille displays). Descriptions can be up to 420 characters.” Twitter’s “image descriptions” function is a fantastic resource that we all need to use more. My hope is also that Twitter will begin to add machine-readable tags (e.g. as they do at Flickr) that will allow images posted through the social media service to be better archived and used by DH projects.

This post has certainly been a mix of ideas and topics, but licensing ideas have been brewing in my head for awhile (by me, not by an Egyptian hippo). This morning seemed as good a time as any to begin a deeper conversation on the importance of clear image licensing. It is also a chance to say thank you to those digital preservation librarians who work tirelessly to provide these images for public use. In my teaching demonstration just two years ago, while interviewing at the University of Iowa, I taught a passage of Homer directly from a papyrus image provided by the Homer Multitext Project. The students relished the ability to see how some of Homer’s texts were transmitted and to read the original papyrus–in all its funky handwriting. Having access to papyri while sitting at a desk in Iowa City has been an invaluable resource, but clear licensing by posters and clear citation by users is part of maintaining healthy digital relationships and respecting each other’s work.

Digital Resources for Papyri:

Duke University, Papyri.info (check out their list of papyrological resources here).

University of Michigan Papyrological Collection (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license)

Digital Papyri at the Houghton Library (Varying in copyright, but largely in the Public Domain).

Fantastic Papyrology Blogs

Roberta Mazza, Faces and Voices 

Digital Papyrology: News and commentary concerning digital applications, methodology and resources in papyrology.

 *Many thanks to Dorothy King, who sent me a ton of photos of the Papyrus Goleniscev this morning and has always been incredibly generous with her images.

Tattoo Taboo? Exploring The History Of Religious Ink And Facial Tattoos

Over on my Forbes blog, I explore the history of religious tattoos. This post stems from my interest in the use of various stigmas–legal, social, and even corporal–against marginalized individuals. Tattoos in Greco-Roman antiquity were often linked to servility, but could also advertise one’s religious convictions. I spoke with tattoo historian Anna Felicity Friedman about pilgrimage tattoos in Jerusalem and also chatted with Jordan Rosenblum (UW-Madison) about the old wives’ tale that tattooed Jews can never be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Overall, it is interesting to see the variant ways in which tattoos have been used since antiquity and to realize what a potent canvas the human body was and still is.

What Not To Wear: A Short History Of Regulating Female Dress From Ancient Sparta To The Burkini

Over on the Forbes blog, I talk about the history of dress codes for women. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I think a lot about clothing, color, and historical dress. This post is reacting to the recent burkini bans in towns along the French Riviera by mentioning the fact that Sparta, Rome, the Church, and many others have tried to control female dress as a means of advertising a communal identity. In short? Women often serve as blank political canvases that others (usually elite men in antiquity) may paint upon in order to advertise social hierarchy, communal ideals, or attitudes towards luxury. Below, I have also offered some links to other posts I have written on clothing both here and elsewhere.

Previous Posts on Ancient Clothing, Color, and Historical Dress:

  1. Clothing and Cross-Dressing in Antiquity
  2. The Popular Gaze: Roman Underwear, Nudity, and Visual Display

  3. with Kristina Killgrove, Caesar Undressing: Ancient Romans Wore Leather Panties And Loincloths

  4. Unlocking the Dark Ages: A Short History of Chastity Belts

  5. Good Mourning: Roman Clothing, Courtrooms, and the Psychology of Color

Short Bibliography in Order Of How Much I Love The Book (Because it is my blog and I do not have to go alphabetically):

  1. Upson-Saia, Kristi, Carly Daniel-Hughes, Alicia J. Batten, and Callie Callon. 2014. Dressing Judeans and Christians in antiquity.

  2. Upson-Saia, Kristi. 2011. Early Christian dress: gender, virtue, and authority. New York: Routledge.

  3. Edmondson, J. C., and Alison Mary Keith. 2008. Roman dress and the fabrics of Roman culture. Toronto [Ont.]: University of Toronto Press.

  4. Parani, Maria G. 2003. Reconstructing the reality of images: Byzantine material culture and religious iconography (11th-15th centuries). Leiden: Brill.

  5. Polychromy of Roman Marble Sculpture (Met Museum Guide).

A more extensive bibliography on ancient clothing is available via Miko Flohr’s website. 

As these resources demonstrate: when we reimagine the ancient world, we have to do so in technicolor. This means both for statues and for daily life. It means we must read the subtexts provided to us by mentions of colors in particular. Although these  aspects of premodern societies can go unnoticed, clothing, color, and laws that controlled these aspects can tell us a great deal about the past and the present.


The famed ‘Augustus of Prima Porta’ as it is today (left) and a reconstruction of the polychrome original, which would have been similarly painted (right). Screen cap from a video reconstruction you can find here.