Regular readers of this blog (both of them) recognize that I have been slowly constructing several arguments through a series of posts; one of these arguments draws upon Postcolonial theory to argue for the hybrid nature of Early Christian space in Greece (part 1, part 2). It's my current research project and the topic of an article currently under construction. (Plus, it's what the cool kids are into these days; see Derek Count's article in the most recent AJA).I've been posting on it here, in large part, to force me to consider my research in an accessible way and to make sure that my arguments have an essential simplicity. This, I think, is part of the process of finding my own voice as a blogger and scholar.
The second case study exploring the notion of the hybrid in the Early Christian architecture and society in Greece draws upon the epigraphy associated with Early Christian basilicas there. The inscriptions in these churches are overwhelmingly found on mosaic floors. They commemorate the donors of the churches, in some cases, and the donors of the floors in others instances. The language in these texts is diverse and reflects myriad cultural influences that led to the construction of these buildings.
Take three texts for example:
From the Basilica Alpha at Nikopolis a text:
(E. Kitzinger, "Studies on Late Antique and Early Byzantine Floor Mosaics: I. Mosaics at Nikopolis," DOP 6 (1951), 87).
Here you see the famous and boundless ocean.
Containing in its midst the earth
Bearing round about in all the skillful
images of art everything that breathes and creeps
The foundation of Dometios, the greathearted archpriest.
From the church at Antikyra in Boeotia:
(P. Ασημακοπούλου - Ατζακά, Σύνταγμα Των Παλαιοχριστιανικών Ψηφιδωτών Δαπέδων Της Ελλάδος. (Thessaloniki 1987), 150).
For her vow, Elizabeth [together with
Simian] paved this for a one gold piece.
From the church at Daphnousia in Locris:
(A. Orlandos, “Une basilique paléo-chrétienne en Locride,” Byzantion, 5 (1929/30), 229).
Eugeneios, the illustrious, and his wife
Dionyseia for a vow of themselves and
their children completed the whole building
of the holy church of God from the foundations.
These three texts provide three different perspectives on the act of making donation to Early Christian churches. The first text is from a mosaic floor at Nikopolis that shows an edenic garden scene and the line "everything that breathes and creeps" is a quote from Homer ((Il. 17.447; Od., 18.131). The donor, a Bishop named Dometios, is greathearted and, elsewhere, "greatest of all, a great light to the fatherland." The Homeric quote and the grandiose language draws upon traditions of patronage dating back to the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. The Bishop Dometios was a local elite and continued the practice of ancient building patronage by constructing a church. He promoted his elite identity through elaborate inscriptions that remind the reader of his learning, piety, and loyalty to the city.
The second text reflects a different perspective on giving to the construction of a church. Here the humble Elizabeth and Simian donate a single gold piece for the pavement of a mosaic floor. A gold piece is a small donation, but not a tiny one. A skilled artisan perhaps would earn the equivalent of 5 or 6 gold pieces a year, maybe less. A grave plot seems to be the nearest equivalent: they often seem to have cost about a single gold piece and were seemingly purchased by wealthier members of the artisan class for the burial of their close relatives. The reasons for the donation are clear in this text as well. Elizabeth pledged the donation for a vow (hyper euxis, in Greek). Presumably she asked God for something in exchange for a donation to the church. This simple act was then commemorated with this text which both reflected the piety of the donor and the power of the Christian God. There is none of the aristocratic posturing, Homeric quoting, or elaborate decoration in Antikyra.
The final text commemorates the generosity of Eugeneios "the illustrious". The word used here in Greek (and it is poor and potentially confusing translation) is lamprotatos, and it is a word that denotes a particular rank in Late Roman society. Originally the emperor awarded this rank to members of the Senatorial aristocracy (vir clarissimi), but by the 6th century it had become a generic honorific that placed an individual in the upper ranks of Late Roman society. Eugeneios may not have been a Senator, per se, but he was clearly from an important family. While so much is obvious by his donation of an entire church "from the foundations," his proud assertion of his rank reflects a longstanding practice of elite presentation. The text itself, however, remains very different from the elite inscription of Dometios. There is no Homeric language and the reasons for the construction reflect the same kind of piety present in the humble text of Elizabeth. The family of Eugeneios, his wife Dionyseia, and his children (a delightfully homey touch) gave the church "hyper euxis" for a vow.
The hybrid moment of Christianity emerges from the intersection of diverse identities in the space of the Early Christian basilicas of Greece. The humble Elizabeth and the pompous Dometios represent differing motivations and traditions of representation. In the "illustrious" Eugeneios and his family these identifiers intersect to produce an rich in the Christian piety and aristocratic diction.
These texts and others like them provide another good example of the permeability of Early Christian churches. This permeability to various influences from the longstanding traditions of civic munificence to the piety of non-elite donors created a space that did not produce a unified or consistent meaning but rather displayed the ambiguity and ambivalence of continuously negotiated rules and identities. This tension present in the iconography, epigraphy, and architecture of church buildings stands in contrast to the representation of Early Christian space in literary accounts, where it often appears as a space of comfort and spiritual, theological, and ritual coherence (see for example the exciting article by C. Shepardson, "Controlling Contested Places: John Chrysostom's Adversus Iudaeos Homilies an the Spatial Politics of Religious Controversy," JECS 15 (2007), 483-516). The spread of churches often represented the spread of Christianity, but the fluidity of representation within their walls leaves open what that really means.
I'm off to the Nemea Valley today with the Regular Members to hear Jack Davis talk about his Nemea Valley Archaeological Project. Then, Tim Gregory and I will present something on the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. It's cold and maybe rainy, and the Regular Members are getting restless. As I told them in an email -- The American School of Classical Studies: Always leave them wanting less. Andy Warhol would be proud.