The Erechtheion and the Process of Christianization

I have previously talked about the Parthenon and the possibility that its metopes were damaged by early Christians. Just this week Bill Caraher (thanks!) put me on to the work of Alexandra Lesk, whose PhD dissertation was on the Erechteion and its reception over 2500 years. I was, of course, especially happy to read her chapter on the the Erechteion in the late antique and Byzantine periods. It’s an excellent piece of scholarship, that will hopefully see full publication to gain a wider readership.

The Erechteion on the Acropolis of Athens (and in the foreground the remains of the Archaic Temple of Athena). Photo: TMK, October 2004.

Lesk identifies three major phases of late antique/early Byzantine alterations of the Erechteion’s design and function. The first converted the temple to a pillared hall (for public functions?) and dates to the 4th century CE. Then, the late 6th/early 7th century saw the conversion of the Erechteion into a basilica church. The last phase consists of repairs of the church in the 12th century. During the conversion of the temple into a church, several crosses were incised on its walls (Lesk counts 8). This was common for Christianized monuments, but appears to be less so for sculpture, even though there are well-known examples from Ephesus and Corinth. There is also a famous example on a portrait of Germanicus in the British Museum. Øystein Hjort has written a short article on the subject.

I have now decided to focus an entire chapter on Greece in the early Christian period to discuss possible cases of iconoclasm. It is clear from several entries on this blog that such a chapter has been writing itself for a while. Partly, this is because a lot of interesting new work on the late antique period has been done in Greece, and partly it’s because of a personal interest in Roman Greece. The updated outline can be seen here.

Alexandra Lesk. 2004. A Diachronic Examination of the Erechtheion and its Reception. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Cincinnati. Available online here.
Øystein Hjort. 1993. “Augustus Christianus – Livia Christiana: Sphragis and Roman Portrait Sculpture”, pp. 99-112, in: Lennart Rydén & Jan Olof Rosenqvist (eds.) Aspects of Late Antiquity and Early Byzantium. Papers Read at a Colloquium Held at the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul 31 May – 5 June 1992. Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul Transactions vol. 4. Stockholm.

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