Early Christians in the Attic Countryside: The Case of Marousi

Following up on the other day’s post on late antique countrysides and staying in the same geographical area as my earlier posts on Athens, this will be the last part of my ‘Attic trilogy’.

One of the problems of dealing with the late antique period, and especially when you try to work with social aspects of the late Roman empire, is how to evaluate the spread of Christianity and its impact on the landscape. The difficulties of doing so are well demonstrated by a paper in a recent publication of the Finnish Institute at Athens (whose title, The Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Antique and Early Byzantine Periods, is over-ambitious, if not misleading). In this volume, Georgios Pallis treats the evidence for early Christian buildings in Marousi, then an Attic deme, but now totally embedded in the urban sprawl of Athens. The evidence for Christians in the area comes from one inscription (now lost), dated to the 5th or 6th century CE, from the grave of a deaconess named Eufrosyne, and a series of architectural spolia incorporated into three later churches, one of which was demolished in 1973. Obviously, this is not a very good starting point for interpretation.

Nonetheless, Pallis presents an interesting hypothesis based on the sparse evidence. According to Pausanias, who travelled through Greece in the 2nd century CE, Marousi was in antiquity the site of a sanctuary of Artemis Amarysia (that gave the village its name). Pallis suggests that it was the continuity of this cult site that provoked the construction of Christian churches in the area. I am sceptical of this interpretation, because we know so little about the chronology of the area, but he parallels the development with the much better known site of Brauron, where an early Christian basilica has been excavated (and published in Praktika 1951 by E. Stikas) 1km west of the ancient temple of Artemis Brauronia. This kind of competition between paganism and Christianity has been seen as characteristic of late antiquity, and there are examples from many sites around the Mediterranean. However, his claim that the practice of cult at Brauron continued into the 5th and even 6th century is totally unfounded. There are in fact very few Roman finds from Brauron, and his hypothesis is therefore seriously flawed.

What the basilicas at Brauron and Marousi are much more likely to show is that both areas had sizeable Christian communities at least by the 5th century with the resources to build marble churches. I am therefore happy to agree with Pallis on his more subtle point that Marousi “may be safely added to the map of Early Christian Attica” (p. 72).

References.
M. Gourdouba et al. (eds.). 2004. The Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Antique and Early Byzantine Periods. Papers and monographs of the Finnish Institute at Athens, vol. 9. Helsinki.
G. Pallis. 2004. “The Early Christian Attica: the Area of Marousi”, pp. 59-73, in: Gourdouba (ed.) 2004.

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