And when a man died, he was buried in the earth to partake mystically in the cyclic renewal of life. Although there were festivals of Demeter throughout Greece, the true Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated at Eleusis only. At first, the cult of Demeter was local and initiation was tribal rather than personal. By participating in the mysteries, a man became a full member of the civic body. This was changed when Eleusis was annexed to the Athenian territory about bc. Initiation lost its importance as a means of conferring civic status; it became a purely religious ceremony.
Whoever wished to be initiated, however, had to go to Eleusis. The mystery rite became no longer a tribal ceremony. Each person had to decide for himself whether or not he wanted to be initiated. This development was possible only because Athens had become a large city with a differentiated culture that gave the individual ample choice of a way of life, including religion. Both Dionysiac and Eleusinian mysteries had a wide range of meaning. Their essence was not contained in any written record but only in the festivals themselves—the holy days of the community. Many participants appreciated only the superficial level of the ceremonies and considered them as an opportunity for having a good time—good company, good food, intoxication, and sometimes in the Dionysiac cult sexual pleasures.
The ceremonies were open to a deeper understanding, however, that was not made explicit by any theology or by any set of creeds but by the religious action itself, which contained the meaning and conveyed it to the participants without the interposition of words. Therefore, it was not possible to disclose to the noninitiated the mysteries by words, but it was treachery to reveal the secret dances. Mystery religion. Article Media. Info Print Print.
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Table Of Contents. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Written By: Reinhold Merkelbach. See Article History. History Hellenic roots Dionysiac In every Greek city the god Dionysus was worshipped by fraternities and sororities and also by mixed communities. Start Your Free Trial Today. Load Next Page. An exhibition is considered a success if it can evoke parallels with the present for the visitor.
It is therefore justifiable to ask: what is the contemporary relevance of the period presented in this exhibition? Starting from the principle that nothing is born of nothing, that everything continues its momentum for a while even after it has gone, that for something to be created there must be a need for it, and for something to be snuffed out, it must be redundant, that all things, tangible or otherwise, are products of constant flux, transformation, and re-invention, the subject of transition may be thought to be of exceptional interest.
The academic study of the transition from the ancient world to the Byzantine was. However, more recent research, new archaeological evidence, and objects that for the most part come from Greece but have been supplemented with material from American museums, all make what this exhibition has to offer unique. The subject of transition is of exceptional interest now because of its obvious relevance to the present day. The great economic crisis, the coexistence of peoples and communities, the syncretism of religions and multiculturalism are all current issues and of great importance, which are redefining the route that Humanity has to follow.
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But it is an age that has always played a crucial role in the historical memory of Europe and the Americas. Attitudes toward the period now conventionally known as Late Antiquity have varied with the fate of Europe itself. For a long time, the last centuries of the ancient world were viewed with a mixture of fascination and terror.
The end of Rome was seen as a memento mori for modern times. It was a nightmare that could return. If Rome could be brought low by inner corruption and then toppled by violence from outside, the same could happen to Europe in modern times. To look back, over the centuries, to Late Antiquity was to peer into a twilight age and to be reminded of the darkness that might yet gather in our own times.
The modern study of Late Antiquity began with a strong sense of the dark. It was a postwar world, set against the spreading shadow of the Cold War. The mood was favorable to dark thoughts. Conflict, the breakdown of ancient institutions, the passing of ancient ways of life and thought, and the eventual subjugation of the classical world to inflexible and otherworldly religious ideologies: these were the themes on which historians of antiquity tended to linger by preference when they turned to the GrecoRoman world in its last centuries.
Many leading scholars believed that shadows similar to those of their own times had come to fall over the last centuries of the Roman Empire, as a result of the military and social crisis that set in after the year ad. To read Rostovtzeff was to believe that, after ad, night had fallen on the ancient world. No dawn would appear for many centuries. Rostovtzeff presented the Roman empire of the 4th and 5th centuries as a world brutally cut off from its classical past. Its principal features already looked straight toward the Middle Ages—and the Middle Ages for Rostovtzeff that great connoisseur of the enlightened bourgeoisie of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds in their days of classical glory was an icy age, an age of serfdom, autocracy, and dogmatism.
It was the same with judgments on the religious ferment of the age. This also was explained in terms of crisis and rupture. For Auden the phrase summed up the sinister recrudescence of physical and intellectual violence that had swept across the Europe of the s. For E. Dodds, the age between Marcus Aurelius and Constantine was similar. The entire culture, pagan as well as Christian, was moving into a phase in which religion was to be coextensive with life, and the quest for God was to cast its shadow over all other human activities.
Scholars who devoted renewed attention to this period came to realize that such a view of the years between and was misplaced. Their researches recaptured a very different world. It was as if modern scholars had come out from a region of chill shadows into a landscape still warmed by the late afternoon sunlight of a very ancient world, now entering its last and most tantalizing transformation. The message of the new scholarship was clear.
There was life after the 3rd century; and this life came. How has this revolution in contemporary scholarship come about, and how do we now characterize the civilization whose outlines we have recovered? These are the two questions that need to be addressed in an introduction to an exhibition whose very brilliance and diversity speaks for itself against an older, more melancholy view of the end of the ancient world. We should begin by giving due weight to a subtle change in the mood of Europe itself. Scholars have grown suspicious of melodramatic ruminations on decline and fall and on the end of civilization.
Such rhetoric now strikes many of us as a form of cultural narcissism. Like hypochondriacs who consider that their illness alone is worthy of attention, those who adopted the rhetoric of crisis and decline when describing the end of the Roman Empire seemed to assume that the dilemmas of their own, contemporary Europe terrible though these might be were mirrored in that distant age, an age of which they often knew very little. They were prepared to listen to the distant past only if it spoke to them about themselves.
But what if that distant past spoke of other things than our own immediate concerns and brought us into landscapes different from our own immediate world? Put briefly, the wish to overcome the cultural narcissism that led us to see the end of classical civilization in terms only of crisis, rupture, and decay was what fired the study of Late Antiquity in its first decades, from the s onward. What was at stake was a new approach to the study of the continuity between the ancient world and the centuries that succeeded it.
Instead of being content with an abrupt scenario of total breakdown—a sort of historical Grand Guignol or horror movie—we faced the more difficult task of assessing the resources of an entire civilization as it entered into a new phase of life: its links with the past, its capacity to survive, and its ability to adapt creatively to altered circumstances. And it is here that the study of the Greek world in general and of the archaeology of Greece, the Balkans, and the Middle East in particular has proved to be the pacemaker of Late Antique scholarship. For Gibbon had concentrated almost exclusively on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in Western Europe.
His chapters on the emperors of East Rome and on Byzantium were notoriously dismissive. For this reason, the exuberant creativity of the Greek world of Late Antiquity provided the most decisive refutation of the views of Gibbon and of his followers in recent times. It did not account for what happened outside Western Europe. By contrast, the creativity of the Greek East has come to be appreciated by scholars of literature, religion, and philosophy in the writings of pagans and Christians alike. It has recently been revealed to art historians and to archaeologists often for the very first time, in a series of stunning acts of recovery as they follow the rich evidence of Late Antique material culture, which stretches in an unbroken arc from Nikopolis Preveza , Argos, and Thessaloniki through Constantinople and modern western Turkey to Syria, Jordan, and Israel.
Here was a different story told under a different, more peaceful, eastern sky: the preparation, throughout the territories still ruled from Constantinople by Roman emperors, of a Byzantine civilization that would last for a further millennium. We must remember—simply in order to preserve a sense of proportion—that, for much of this time, events in Western Europe could be regarded, from the east, as a sideshow.
The east stood out as the more peaceful and more prosperous region. No church built in the west equaled the size and majesty of the Hagia Sophia built by the emperor Justinian in Constantinople. This prosperity was not confined to the capital. In recent years, archaeologists in Jordan have discovered in Madaba as in other similar large villages as many churches as existed in all of Paris around the year Many of the brilliant mosaics that delight us in this exhibition were laid, by proud and prosperous owners, a century after such mosaics had vanished forever from the derelict villas of Gaul, Spain, and Britain.
What we see in this exhibition is particularly valuable. We are given a glimpse of a rich and confident world, as this has been caught—from the ground up, as it were—in the archaeological remains of Greece. So what does this journey in search of a world beyond the classical ancient world teach us as scholars? And what are the features of the civilization that emerged in the period of Late Antiquity that might speak to us in our own times? In the first place, we have developed a far greater respect than previously held for the manner in which Late Antiquity still moved to rhythms inherited from the ancient world.
We are not dealing with a world that had broken brutally with its own classical past. It was not a world overshadowed by bleak ruins. Rather, it was a world that grew tenaciously from the deep soil. It changed dramatically, as a robust ecological niche can change in balance and intensity. But this exuberant growth was not checked, as if by some toxic effluvium. It continued to bloom. It often bloomed in ways that would have disconcerted classical persons as it continues to disconcert those modern persons who have admiration only for Greeks and Romans of the classical age.
But the one thing it did not do was shrivel. It is worthwhile emphasizing this element of continuity in the culture of Late Antiquity and in the deployment of its technical skills. Those who pass through this exhibition with the essays of this catalogue in hand will be struck by the number of times the authors of these essays point to the continuities in craftsmanship, in function, and in taste, which bind together artifacts that seem at first glance to belong to widely different worlds.
To take only one vivid example: looking at the row of splendid portrait busts of philosophers and Christian saints, we can almost see ancient stones change over time. At a silent, almost glacial pace, the heads of pagan philosophers of the 3rd century become the heads of Christian apostles of the 6th. Although the one was pagan and the other Christian, although one came from the middle of the crisis of the 3rd century and the other from the reign of the emperor Justinian, each looked more like the other than either of them looked like a portrait of the classical age.
For both belonged to the same age, an age in which pagans and Christians alike had come to admire novel heroes and heroines whose eyes and minds strained to penetrate the mysteries of God. Both breathed the strange air of Late Antiquity. So what was distinctive about that air? Let us look briefly at the principal features of the civilization of Late Antiquity as it has come to strike modern scholars.
First and foremost, I would stress the unparalleled outreach of the Late Antique civilization of the eastern empire of the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries.
Religion in Hellenistic Athens
This outreach was both social and geographical. Though awesomely hierarchical in many ways, the world of Late Antiquity always had room for the little man. Indeed, it was hierarchical precisely because hierarchy itself was not seen as a series of defensive walls thrown up around a fixed elite, like those surrounding the feudal nobilities of Western Europe or Sasanian Iran. In the eastern empire, hierarchy was a ladder.
It was a way of channeling the constant pressure created by the upward mobility of persons and ideas from below. This was a ladder frequently climbed by the enterprising and the ruthless, but it was also a ladder that enabled the splendor of the rich and powerful to trickle downward as we see so often in this exhibition in the form of household ornaments, of cheap copies of prestige works where ceramic and stucco work make do for gold, silver, and precious marble ,.
These have been discovered by archaeologists all over Greece. Small objects in themselves, they call for us to spend time with them, for they show the ladder of Late Antique society at work along its lower rungs. They echoed among relatively humble persons townsfolk, minor civic notables, comfortable farmers in provincial Greece the eerie majesty of the court of Constantinople.
The same ladder ensured that ideas debated at the top of society circulated, more widely perhaps than ever before, through all levels of the population. The rise of Christianity added an entire new dimension to the flow of ideas around the Mediterranean and along the western shores of the Middle East.
The rallying of large urban congregations and of entire regions to differing versions of the Christian faith was a major feature of the great theological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries. For the first time perhaps since the days of the Greek democracies, the voices of little men and women made themselves heard throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East— this time on religious issues that were capable of gripping entire congregations from top to bottom. The churches of the Late Antique period that have been excavated in Greece as elsewhere survive now only in their silent stones.
But at the time they were far from being dim, hushed places. Blazing with light, they were filled with the noise of chanting, sermonizing, and protest. By the time of Justinian, the great Christian basilicas and the spacious courtyards through which they were approached had emerged as the forums of a new urban society. The traffic of ideas up and down the ladder ensured that Greek culture largely but not exclusively in Christian form spilled out of the narrow confines to which it had been limited in classical times.
Late Antique Christianity was exuberantly multilingual. In large areas of the Middle East, Syriac rose to equality with Greek as a language of hymns, of lives and legends of florid saints, and of long, poetic meditation on the Scriptures. Mediterranean Christianity was linked to a wider Christian world through a series of churches that stretched across Mesopotamia and Iran. The frontiers of the Late Antique world had burst open to look out on a world of faith whose horizons were wider even than those once opened up by the conquests of Alexander the Great.
It is tempting to linger with enjoyment on this fact. Yet such intolerance is better explained as an almost systemic reaction to the remarkable outreach of the civilization of Late Antiquity. We are dealing with a world that had opened itself to The Other to an unusual degree.
Areas of experience, persons, social groups, and entire societies that had lain beneath the supremely aristocratic field of vision of classical Greeks and Romans came to press in around the consciousness of Late Antique people. The result was a society more than usually conscious of its own anomalies. Some civilizations are based on the successful exclusion of anomaly. They have a graciousness that comes from supreme obliviousness to structures and values other than their own. Other civilizations are more open to anomaly.
The civilization of Late Antiquity was one of those. Areas of life and of personal experience that had once been treated as if they occurred on another planet came to be caught in the great web of the Late Antique imagination. They stirred up both fear and longing through their novel closeness. Take one well-known example of fear that came from closeness: attitudes to the barbarian. Along the frontiers of the Roman world, the barbarians had once been treated by all except the few military experts as if they lived on another planet.
In Late Antiquity this world came to mingle with the Romans, and constant contact between the two worlds was the great open secret of the age. It produced the robustly hybrid military culture of the early Byzantine world, whose generals and fighting units were recruited from as far apart as the Danube and the Caucasus.
So diverse a world could no longer be ignored. Such haughtiness would have carried little weight in a Constantinople. The waves of anti-barbarian feeling that characterize Roman opinion in both east and west in the 5th century are well known. They have usually been taken at face value as reactions to a real threat of submersion by marauding hordes.
As a result, the onslaught of the barbarian always plays a sinister role in the modern horror movie of the fall of Rome. In reality, the fear of the barbarian was a tribute to the fact that, for good or ill, the barbarian had come to stay. A civilization that had opened itself up to so many new groups, each of which brought with it a novel and disturbing sense of anomaly, had to pay a price.
This price was a fierce desire for order, in which troubling anomalies would be excluded or kept in their proper place. We can see this most clearly when we turn to the rise of Christianity in the Late Antique period and to the fate of the paganism that Christianity was supposed to have replaced. The very proximity of pagans and Christians as worshipers and neighbors within the same cities—which is so vividly documented in the first part of this exhibition—ensured that both groups suffered more than usually sharply from the sense of anomaly generated by close contact.
In the 3rd century, pagans persecuted Christians so fiercely precisely because they were not alien to them: they were ordinary townsfolk like themselves, who, for no apparent reason, held back from the universal practice of worshiping the gods. In later centuries, Christians persecuted pagans for very similar reasons. Here were people just like themselves. Many, in fact, were their grandparents and great grandparents. Indeed, one Christian lady whose impeccably Christian tomb was discovered in the great cemetery at Demetrias—near Volos—claimed, without a hint of embarrassment, to be descended from Achilles!
Yet they opposed the rise of the Christian church and refused to see that its alliance with the empire through the Christian successors of Constantine had ushered in a brave new age. More dangerous yet was the fact that pagans stood for the mighty weight of a past that was shared by pagans and Christians alike. But like their Christian neighbors, they were nonetheless Greeks. At any moment their thoughts might come alive again in Christian minds.
The beloved images of their gods which surrounded Jews and Christians in every city of the Mediterranean might stir again with uncanny vigor. Her nightmares showed that Christians were faced by the greatest anomaly of all. They claimed to be living in a bright new future, yet all around them—from family memories at shared tombs and village pilgrimages to ancient sacred caves to the monumental facades of great cities—little had changed. They could never be quite sure that they would ever become Christian enough to put this troubling past behind them.
Hence we should never underestimate the achievement implied in the room devoted to the Christian basilica in Late Antiquity. For the victory of the Christian church in Late Antiquity was by no means a foregone conclusion. Paganism did not obligingly roll over and die, leaving the field open to a triumphant church. Instead, the victory of Christianity was the result of slow, hard labor on the imagination of an entire society, in order to produce through constant dialogue and confrontation with non-Christians a clearly focused Christian thought-world.
In this immense imaginative adventure, churches great and small represented fragile islands of Christian order.
They had been built up, slowly but surely, over the course of the 4th and 5th centuries. But they only came to stand out with a novel certainty in the age of Justinian. In such churches, believers of all levels of wealth and culture could gather in an environment from which the anomalies that were still rife in the streets of cities and in private homes were excluded.
Great crosses carried in procession, placed on mosaics or carved on large marble panels along with innumerable smaller crosses, provided the faithful with condensations of the sacred that were shorn of the ambiguities that still hovered around other forms of art and sculpture. Images of the saints began to emerge still somewhat tentatively at this time—in the 6th century, that is, and no earlier.
They were charged with the same sense of the loving presence of the absent dead as had once inspired the gripping mummy portraits of Egypt. But these. Above all, over the years, the solemn drama of the liturgy slowly soaked every moment of the year and every corner of the church with Christian meaning. One thing that the silence of an exhibition room cannot convey is the web of sacred sound that the Christian liturgy had begun to spin around the life of the average believer.
Yet, maybe, in the end, it was the liturgy that proved decisive. Along with the Digest of Justinian, it is the greatest legacy of Byzantine thought to the world. It was these anomalies, and the ordered response they elicited over the years, that rendered the civilization of Late Antiquity uniquely dynamic. It was the last and the most open of the great ages of antiquity. Of this great story an exhibition can show only fragments. But it is precisely because in this exhibition we meet so many fragments often revealed to us by happenstance through the rare enterprise and skill of Greek archaeologists that we meet what we most wish to meet.
These poignant fragments of a longlost age speak to us directly of what it was like, on the ground, to live through an era of mighty transition. It is this that brings them closest to us. For we, also, live in a world of change whose horizons have opened up dramatically. We, also, do not know the future. In this we are like the sturdy peasants of early Byzantium, poised between two ages, as they have been unforgettably described for us in the poem of Kostis Palamas Life Immovable.
A hundred voices. Third night, no. It is the archetypal period of artistic transition, which sits between the glories of Greco-Roman naturalism and the heights of Christian art in Byzantium and the medieval west. It has unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably, been long seen as a kind of nadir—the point to which the classical tradition declined and the point of primitive origins from which Christian art arose. The stories told to give these suggested causes substance, which all have long literatures and complex agendas in the histories of the European nations within which they were created, are contradictory, except insofar as they collude in a general agreement on Late Antique art as a time of transition: its importance was to be measured in what it brought to an end and what it prepared for.
Needless to say, I think these kinds of narratives are largely self-serving and always based on selective evidence. Most people would deny them today, although hints of their underlying positions continually resurface in versions of the current account of a vibrant and exciting Late Antiquity as a period of fundamental transformation in European, North African, and Near Eastern cultures.
We may see the objects in the exhibition from the cults of Isis, Magna Mater Kybele , and Mithras as representing not only specific religious affiliations, but also the grounding of these religions in non-normative, non-Greco-Roman styles and iconographies by contrast with the statuettes of deities from Corinth that evoke the mysteries of the east in a general way.
It also covers a very wide geographic spread across all parts of the Mediterranean and deep into the hinterlands beyond. In terms of cultural spread, the heritage of ancient Greek and Roman artistic forms and of redefining them to meet new religious, social, and local concerns extends well beyond Christian art in the Mediterranean to Sasanian art in Persia, to early Islamic art especially that of the Umayyad dynasty and to the Buddhist arts of Gandhara as far from Europe as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What we may call cultural interaction is both an interrogation of forms, styles, and subject matter across this vast extent of space and an integration of varieties of pasts and cultural heritages, most quite distinctive and exclusive of others at any rate in their origins.
In this sense, Late Antique art both created a new series of syntheses from the varieties of local visual traditions of the Roman Empire and in the Mediterranean area settled into its own new localisms—loosely related to a range of metropolitan centers and provincial capitals such as Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Thessaloniki, Jerusalem, Arelate Arles , Ravenna, and, of course, Constantinople. Above all, Late Antiquity saw the powerful, sometimes very eclectic, harnessing of old forms and materials for new purposes and styles, especially within the borders of the Roman Empire for the needs of a new religion that few in would have taken very seriously.
By it had not only supplanted but was busy making illegal all the other religions of the pagan polytheistic environment. Issues of change and cultural interaction are by no means limited to the visual arts, but there is no doubt that the forms, styles, and uses of objects partook of a wider phenomenon. If one were to open with an example, then the comparison of two images just under three centuries apart demonstrates well how wary we should be of overgeneralizations.
The marble statue of Flavios Palmatos Flavius Palmatus , consular governor of Caria and acting vicar of Asiana, was set up on a high base nearly as tall as the slightly over-lifesize statue itself in front of the west colonnade of the tetrastoon square before the theater of Aphrodisias, a prime spot in the monumental heart of the Late Antique city center, probably in the early years of the 6th century, but at any rate before the post of vicar was abolished by Justinian in fig.
Marble statue of Flavios Palmatos, before ca. From Aphrodisias in Caria, Asia Minor. The inscription on its base reads: To Good Fortune. The renewer and founder of the metropolis and benefactor of all Caria, Flavios Palmatos, distinguished Consular Governor also holding the position of most magnificent Vicar; Flavios Athenaios, most splendid father of the most splendid metropolis of the Aphrodisians set up [this statue] in gratitude.
His is the best-preserved late Roman portrait monument surviving. It attests to the remarkable longevity of the genre of honorific portrait statues with inscribed bases from archaic and classical antiquity through to the 6th century. This kind of conservatism is apparent also in busts of philosophers and intellectuals, which emulated in later antiquity the kinds of 3rd-century busts displayed in the exhibition. An object like this, from one of the great cities of Asia Minor, which as late as the 6th century preserved its ancient civic amenities and the capacity for producing superb sculpture of this kind, attests to pockets of profound continuity with the cultural patterns, social and political traditions, and public visual benefactions of the Roman Empire since its foundation, and of the Hellenistic world before it.
One significant example close by Palmatos was a statue of the emperor Theodosios we are not sure which of the two with that name , originally set up for Julian the Apostate but dedicated to its new honorand between the late 4th and the mid-5th century, with a re-carved Julio-Claudian head set on a 2nd-century toga figure. From the west wall of the synagogue at Dura Europos, Syria. By contrast we might take a painting from the synagogue discovered in the s in Dura Europos in Syria fig. Here we find many aspects of cultural interaction in the sense of the borrowing from the artistic styles of the Palmyrene and indeed Parthian context.
The mural—like that of Mithras and Helios in the exhibition cat. Yet this is combined with traditional Roman forms of dress, recognizably close to Palmatos in terms both of chosen costume and posture—the sorts of dress that were presumably dominant in the city of Dura when the mural. The mix of Roman and Syrian elements helped create a new iconography for a religion that may only then have been developing an extended narrative tradition for representing its scriptures. The Dura Synagogue remains our most extended ancient Jewish visual cycle of biblical narratives and one of our earliest; it was more common for Judaism to proclaim itself in art by means of symbols like the menorahs on a capital in the exhibition [cat.
The Dura Synagogue paintings absolutely foreshadow the ways Christian art would borrow from the multiple visual traditions of the Roman environment to create its own iconographies in the following couple of centuries. The contrast of this Durene image and the statue of Palmatos allowing, of course, for their very different functions and materials is telling. Palmatos exists in real space—a threedimensional presence in realistic costume met on the Roman street by his viewers albeit at double their height. His insignia speaks of real social meanings—government, administration, the imperial system within which a city like Aphrodisias could continue to flourish into the 6th century.
Yet the important historical lesson from this comparison is that the Durene mural, which portends the rise of medieval Christian art in many ways, is in fact a little under years earlier than the much more traditionally Roman portrait monument of Palmatos. The arts of Late Antiquity exist in a complex play of multiple styles, forms, and themes, which cannot be reduced to any simple movement of change along a straight line.
Indeed, part of their richness is that the very longevity of certain kinds of ancient formal and functional options, such as honorific statue dedications like the Palmatos monument, existed side by side for centuries with new religious imaginaires exemplified by the Dura Synagogue and by later Christian art.
One might indeed see the trends exemplified by both these very different works as unified in a famous masterpiece of early Byzantine art, which dates to less than fifty years after the making and dedicating of the statue of Flavios Palmatos and indeed may be less than twenty years later, if the Palmatos statue is as late as One of the famous mosaic panels in the presbytery of the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, set up about —48 on its northern wall, represents the emperor Justinian emperor —65 with his suite of accompanying officials and clergy fig.
In many ways the Justinian panel is strikingly like the anointing of David from Dura, made years earlier. The emperor, like the future king, stands frontally in the center and. His surrounding retinue frames him symmetrically, against a background that is virtually abstract—a plain green from top to base in Dura, a gold backing in Ravenna with a green strip for the ground. Indeed, both images come from within sacred space and function to define the sanctity of that space as a ritually consecrated building and to use that sanctity to reinforce the social order of kingship—the historical and scriptural moment of independent Jewish kingship in the case of David and the modern Byzantine empire as it reconquered Italy in the mid-6th century under its spectacular ruler Justinian.
At the same time, Justinian and his companions come from the same court and imperial setting that produced Palmatos. That is, there is a very good case for claiming that the Palmatos statue represents public, official, three-dimensional art of the 6th century, available in the open air of a main civic thoroughfare in a provincial capital, while the Justinian panel represents something similar on the two-dimensional plane available in interior space and in this case the sanctified space of a church, also in a provincial capital.
It is true that Justinian is surrounded by his retinue, whereas Palmatos appears to us as a statue in splendid isolation; but the unique archaeological preservation of the site where the Palmatos monument was found fallen from its base, with the base still in situ shows it to have been one statue within a range of honorific dedications that included several other high officials and, as we have seen, a Late Antique statue of the emperor Theodosios.
In other words, Palmatos too belonged to an idealized visualization of the court, this time an open-air affair of multiple statues erected over a long period of time. Modern scholarship has seen the Justinian panel as a highly abstracted, heavily ritualized formulation of court culture looking back to such non-classical precedents as the Dura painting and looking forward to the Byzantine icon. It is taken. Alois Riegl, writing at the end of the Hapsburg era in the Vienna of , described it thus in a classic formalist account: Take the ceremonial picture representing Justinian and Maximian.
A composition on the plane: centralised; just verticals contour, folds, ornaments; the axiality is only slightly reduced in the figure of Maximian and horizontals lines of heads, feet, garment-seams and arms. Spatial composition: the figures step frontally out of space in the direction of the beholder and stare straight at him; even though the main group shows partial overlaps on the plane, along with the entourage of five body guards in three rows, the main group is compressed into one compact plane-like mass leaving no visible space between the figures.
The floating of the feet repeats the phenomenon already observed in the more advanced style early Christian sarcophagi from. All this, along with the slim, elongated and stilted-bodily proportions together with a reduction in head size largely establish a relationship with the subsequent Byzantine style, which is generally the most characteristic aspect of the style of these mosaics. Rome , The gleam of the mosaics, the intense gaze of the worshipping Emperor, the ceremonial dignity of the scene show the image has recovered some of the potency it once had.
But it owes its very strength to this direct contact with the beholder. It no longer waits to be wooed and interpreted but seeks to awe him into submission. Art has again become an instrument and a change of function results in a change of form. Gombrich, Art and Illusion. London , Yet whatever one thinks of these two classic statements about this panel in the history of art, which demonstrate the range of formal and ideological ends to which the problems of Late Antique art have been taken in the past century, it may be that the Justinian image is simply the two-dimensional mosaic equivalent of the Palmatos statue: one of them apparently radically innovative by our—perhaps mistaken—standards and the other radically traditional.
Their coexistence is what defines their period most fundamentally. One might even argue that the move in Late Antiquity, especially after the 6th century, to images aesthetically and formally more like the Justinian panel at San Vitale and less like Flavios Palmatos, has little to do with artistic decisions as such.
Rather, it is social changes in relation to the decline of urban culture and cities that rendered three-dimensional statuary in public settings redundant, while the visual arts came more and more to serve the elite needs of the court or the sacred needs of the Church. Among the earliest icons to survive from Byzantium, now in the monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai, are a few great 6th-century examples on the large scale, used, one presumes, for liturgical processions and public veneration, made in the ancient encaustic technique with hot wax as the medium to hold the pigment.
The great panel of the Virgin enthroned between two saints, perhaps St. Theodore and St. George, has the saints staring frontally at the viewer while the Virgin and Child both look askance, with ethereal angels in white behind her gazing up at the hand of God. This is as great a statement of imperial monarchy as the Justinian mosaic from San Vitale, whose basic form of a regally enthroned Virgin is emulated by a number of ivories, large-scale mosaics, and textiles from the 6th century. But its monarchy is not of this world, although it appropriates many of the formal features we have seen—notably the obsession with lavish dress and the status symbols of office, such as crosses in the hands of the saints and staffs held by the angels,.
In the secular sphere of the most elite court art, this icon may be compared with the two surviving central panels in extraordinarily deep relief , now in Florence and Vienna, from what were once probably five-panel ivory diptychs depicting an empress standing and an empress enthroned within a magnificent curtained aedicule, perhaps originally flanked by acolytes as the Virgin is flanked by saints. Peter, 6th century. Likewise, the collection at Sinai possesses a superb 6th-century panel-icon of St. Peter holding both the keys of his office and a cross, in a curved niche with three small circular medallions of Christ between two figures, perhaps Mary and St.
John, placed above fig. Here we have the sacred equivalent of a high government dignitary—a prime saint appointed by Jesus to be the rock of his church and the keeper of the keys to Heaven Matthew —19 —who stands between the congregation and the divine world, offering spiritual intercession, as does the secular minister who stands between the emperor and his populace. A series of ivory diptychs, such as those issued by the aristocrat Anastasios in to celebrate his accession to the. Peter icon , and a more youthful male figure perhaps a co-consul, perhaps an imagined heir for the elderly emperor Anastasios I, who was to die childless in on the left fig.
Here again we have a version of the frontal gaze, the mop hairstyle, and the opulence of dress and accoutrements of office. Just as St. Peter is placed between the beholder and the heavenly sphere, figured by the medallions above him on a gold ground that like his halo break through the polychrome space of his immediate setting, so Anastasios sits between the imperial party, figured by the medallions, and the populace of Rome actually represented in the bottom of the right-hand wing of the diptych by the spectators watching the arena.
Both images perform an act of mediation and intercession within an imagined hierarchy—St. Peter as the key holder of Heaven bridging the gap between this world and the Other world, Anastasios as consul placed between the populace and the emperor. The Anastasios diptych is itself structured as a large fullbody portrait like Palmatos set over a base, beneath the consul, which shows images of the public benefactions bestowed by him on the populace, perhaps a theatrical performance on the left-.
This pattern, on the low-relief surface on a relatively miniature scale and in a highly expensive medium, emulates the large-scale use of elaborate carved bases with relief imagery, as well as inscriptions that were popular in Constantinople in the s and s for charioteers, like a named figure called Porphyrios, for whom we have two extant examples. The pattern reflects elite status and the circulation of expensive gifts that were simultaneously calling cards in the circle of the imperial court and its high officials.
But it creates on the level of public administration a hierarchical or iconic model of imagery that is closely related to the divine hierarchy implicit in the icon and claimed by the emperor in the imperial panel of San Vitale, where Justinian—in the halo of a saint—stands between the populace and the triumphant Christ of the apse as himself a kind of intercessor.
In the pluralism of kinds of objects, the developed arts of Late Antiquity in the reign of Justinian echo and develop elements of the much earlier melting pot of styles, visual allusions, and religious references in the arts of the 3rd and 4th centuries, which are so well represented by the cultural interchange section of the exhibition. Yet in the polytheist pluralism of the pagan empire, the range of cult affiliations and more-or-less religious mythologies affirmed through images was extraordinarily large, varying from very local sects and deities via widely dispersed salvific and soteriological cults of initiation such as Mithraism and Christianity, the cults of Isis and Magna Mater to official civic religion.
The visual pluralism of the mainstream in 6th-century art lay in its mix of Christian-sacred and elite-secular emphases and its use of non-Christian traditional mythological or civic imagery for non-liturgical contexts—from the public street as with the Palmatos monument to the private domain of the bedroom and the dining room, from the kinds of imagery used in the baths to that appropriate for the toilette. Paul and St. Andrew in the exhibition cat. Constantine was the son of Constantius Chlorus, who had risen to the rank of Caesar and then Augustus under the tetrarchic system.
In what seems to have been a state of some enthusiasm, following the ascription of his victory to the Christian God, Constantine actively intervened in church affairs in North Africa, and the so-called Edict of Milan in became the turning point for the ending of the persecution of Christians. Constantine was not baptized until he was near his death, and then by Eusebios of Nikomedeia, a bishop whose doctrinal views were opposed to the conclusions of the Council of Nicaea in see below.
Yet he certainly gave privileges to bishops; built great churches in Rome, Antioch, the Holy Land, and his new foundation of Constantinople dedicated in ; and he worked hard to settle Christian doctrinal disputes. Although many of his actions, and his legislation, conformed to Roman tradition, his reign changed the course of the history of Christianity. His sons and his imperial successors were all themselves Christian henceforth, the only exception being Julian the Apostate —63 ; they followed the precedents he had set,. Mint: Constantinople, Lactantius claims that when Constantine became Augustus, his first act was to end the persecution of Christians, but it continued elsewhere until the then eastern emperor Galerius formally called it off in Persecution began again in the east in the following year, but.
Constantine was remembered as the first Christian emperor both by individuals and by the church cat. This theory of Christian rule was to become and remain fundamental throughout Late Antiquity and the Byzantine period. The coinage was one of the more conservative expressions of imperial ideology cat.
Constantine himself placed on his later coins an image of his new standard, the labarum, topped with the chi-rho sign, representing the first two letters of the name of Christ fig. In fact, this very slow development tells us little about the actual progress of Christianization in the empire or even at court. The Christianization of ceremonies for the accession and crowning of emperors was also surprisingly slow to develop, with the coronation of emperors still taking place in the 6th century in the Hippodrome at Constantinople rather than in a church.
But, by contrast, Justinian and Theodora were depicted in the famous mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, with their attendants in the procession of gifts at the Eucharist fig. A far better guide to the Christianization of the empire can be found in the number of churches that were constructed at that time. Imperial patronage in the building of major churches began with Constantine, who started building churches in and around Rome after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, and it continued under most of his successors. His church building and that of his mother, Helena, in and around Jerusalem, provided an enormous impetus to Christian pilgrimage from all over the empire and led to the development of Palestine as the Christian Holy Land and to its conspicuous prosperity.
In the 6th century, the emperor Justinian built not only the present church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople but also innumerable churches in the rest of the empire, including the reconquered province of North Africa. Imperial builders also founded hospices and hospitals, and their churches were provided with endowments for their clergy and. These developments both transformed the physical presence of Christianity in the empire and demonstrated for all to see that it was supported by imperial policy and resources. Bishops were key to the new system.
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An ecclesiastical organization developed that, with its provinces and dioceses, mirrored that of the imperial administration. Church councils regulated the seniority of sees and many matters of ecclesiastical discipline as well as doctrine. Again Constantine had led the way by adopting a tone of deference toward bishops, together with the responsibility for the outcome of church councils. Bishops in major sees also came to have the responsibility for handling substantial amounts of wealth, as churches increasingly attracted the legacies and donations that Constantine had made legal.
They too were great builders of churches, as we see from the 6th-century inscription of Bishop Epiphanios cat. We know of many powerful bishops during this period. Their influence extended well beyond what in modern terms would be purely church matters: Constantine had set a precedent in giving them secular jurisdiction and guaranteeing the maintenance of bishops and clergy, as well as releasing them from tax obligations. In many individual areas they took on a leadership role that increased in scope in proportion to the difficulties experienced in keeping up the civil administration.
Ambrose, bishop of Milan in the late 4th century, was an ambitious churchman keen to consolidate his own position, and at times he was able to exercise great influence over the emperor Theodosios I. A very different figure was Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus in northern Syria, in the mid-5th century, another voluminous writer, theologian, and controversialist who also led a busy life dealing with the practical problems of his see. Theodoret wrote in Greek, but his see included a majority of Syriac speakers and some exotic male and female ascetics, whom we know from his Historia Religiosa.
Energetic though Theodoret was in fighting for his doctrinal beliefs, his many surviving letters demonstrate the care and attention that he also gave to pastoral matters. One of the most important bishops, however, was St. Augustine, bishop of the small town of Hippo in North Africa modern Algeria from to Augustine had had a successful career as a teacher of Latin rhetoric in Carthage and Rome, but he himself tells us in his Confessions about his dramatic conversion in Milan under the influence of Ambrose.
He returned to North Africa and spent the rest of his life there, preaching and living under a quasi-monastic rule and writing some of the most influential works in the whole of Christian theology, including the City of God. He also conducted a voluminous correspondence with leading lay and clerical figures across the Mediterranean. Christian bishops were highly aware of the importance of communication, and Augustine wrote treatises about the best techniques for reaching every individual in the congregation, from the educated to the ignorant.
Through his letters, Augustine was in communication not only with such figures as St. Ambrose and St. Jerome but also with Christian aristocrats in Rome, some of whom fled to his side when Rome was sacked in ; new letters and sermons by Augustine have been discovered in recent years and vividly demonstrate many of the pastoral and theological concerns with which he grappled.
The emperor Constantine set a further precedent in calling bishops to meet at church councils and settle matters on which the church was divided. The most important of these were those summoned by the emperor and recognized later as ecumenical, of which the first was the Council of Nicaea in It was followed by the first Council of Constantinople in , the first Council of Ephesus in , and the Council of Chalcedon in , which proclaimed the doctrine that Christ had both human and divine natures and formed the basis of orthodox Christian doctrine in both east and west thereafter. However, there were many in the east who could not accept Chalcedon, and in the 6th century the emperor Justinian, a theologian himself, called a second Council of Constantinople in in the effort to resolve the disagreements.
Whereas the Miaphysites emphasized the divine nature of Christ, the Church of the East laid stress on the human. Two other ecumenical councils were held in the 7th and 8th centuries: the sixth, held in Constantinople in —81, condemned the doctrine of Monotheletism, introduced under the emperor Herakleios in , and the seventh, held at Nicaea in , restored the veneration of religious images in the context of the iconoclastic controversy, although the formal end of iconoclasm came only in Council proceedings were issued as formal Acts, and most councils also issued canons, rulings on church order and morality.
The ecumenical councils all held in the eastern part of the empire were summoned by the emperor, and. But emperors did not hesitate to engage in theological disputes, and achieving ecclesiastical harmony was one of the chief aims and duties of all Christian emperors. Among easterners, the patriarch Cyril of Alexandria —44 , whose theology prevailed at the Council of Ephesus in , was a highly controversial figure, and he was succeeded by the even more controversial Dioskoros, who was in fact condemned by the Council of Chalcedon.
Although there was no official split between the western and eastern churches for several centuries, and indeed, a series of easterners became pope in the 7th century, the increasing political division between east and west was already accompanied by religious differences. Heresy—not merely wrong belief but also wrong practice— was defined by the decisions of church councils, which also condemned individual bishops; imperial sanctions followed, leading to deposition and exile. Many lesser synods and councils also condemned views held to be heretical and the individuals who held them.
Among those who were deposed or exiled in this way were some great churchmen, such as Athanasios, bishop of Alexandria, first exiled under Constantine and then again more than once under Constantius II; though himself a pugnacious controversialist, Athanasios is universally regarded as one of the Fathers of Nicene orthodoxy. Emperors also legislated on religious matters, not only against paganism but also against heresy.
In the late 4th century, a series of laws were brought in that lay down increasingly severe penalties and exclusions, not only on pagans and Jews but also on heretics. Christianity, whether to paganism or Judaism. The two great law codes compiled under Theodosios II in and Justinian in incorporated legislation of this kind, and Justinian himself continued to legislate against pagans and issued laws against dissidents, including heretics, Manichaeans, and homosexuals, particularly those who were teachers. At the same time, heresy was attacked in countless theological works, and bishops saw it as their duty to combat wrong belief and do all that they could to promote their own conception of orthodoxy.
A huge literature developed with the aim of disproving heterodoxy, demonstrating the truths of Christianity over paganism and Judaism and expounding the Scriptures correctly. It was underpinned by countless sermons and homilies delivered week by week and subsequently collected and written down. One of the last theologians in this tradition was St.
John of Damascus d. In the late 4th century, John Chrysostom warned his flock against consorting with Jews and adopting Jewish practices, and Jews and Judaism were a frequent target in Christian polemical writing, especially after Jerusalem and the Holy Land were claimed under the Christian emperors as the major destination for Christian pilgrimage. Judaism was viewed with disapproval in Christian legislation but grudgingly tolerated as the religion of the Old Testament.
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