Late Antique Countrysides and Rural Iconoclasm

Although most studies of late antiquity have concentrated on urbanism, the recent upsurge of interest in landscapes and countrysides has also left its mark on late antique archaeology. The recent volumes edited by William Bowden et. al. and Neil Christie are good examples of this shift.

In the former there’s a really good paper by Béatrice Caseau of Sorbonne (“The Fate of Rural Temples in Late Antiquity and the Christianisation of the Countryside”). She uses the literary sources extensively, which is great, and I have been mining her notes for early Christian authors that I was not aware of. She also does a brilliant job of discussing the legal status of different kinds of cult. However, I feel that her usage of archaeology is unsatisfactory, and she fails to bring in the available evidence. This is a real shame.

She also claims that “one of the first signs of the Christianisation of a village is its refusal to pay for sacrifices” (p. 114). I’m not so certain that this is the case. The evidence for this comes in the form of letters to the emperor, and I believe that they are more likely to reflect a strong christianised élite rather than a truly christianised population.

Apart from that, Caseau gives some good of examples of rural iconoclasm in the article, mainly from Gaul, Palestine and Syria. In my thesis, however, I will be focusing on urban iconoclasm. Not least because our knowledge of urban cult is vastly greater than that of its rural equivalent. But the evidence from rural areas is fascinating, especially because paganism was practised there all the way up to the 6th century.

W. Bowden, L. Lavan & C. Machado (eds.). 2004. Recent Research on the Late Antique Countryside. Late Antique Archaeology Vol. 2. Leiden.
N. Christie (ed.). 2004. Landscapes of Change. Rural Evolutions in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Aldershot.

Join the conversation

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing your thesis. I am not sure if you can help me or not. I have a small statue about 6 inches tall of The Three Graces that my father brought home from Italy during WWII. The bottom of the statue has some writing/signature and to the best of my ability it says “Ragvoriou Ze tre gregiey” I am sure that I have some of the letters wrong as I can not make out the writing. I am intersting in finding out the value of this statue. Do you have any idea how I could find that out. Any help would be appreciated.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *