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  • Christianness and Material Culture, 250–400 CE

    Éric Rebillard

    Chapter from the book: Ritari, K et al. 2023. Being Pagan, Being Christian in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages.


    This chapter rejects the traditional approach of ‘Christian archaeology’ and its attempt at identifying a Christian material signature. Instead, it asks whether and how artefacts are used in everyday life to express religious identity. This approach is inspired by the work of Rogers Brubaker on ethnicity in the city of Cluj (Romania). A critical review of personal objects from Roman Britain bearing Christian symbols shows that it is difficult to find objects that would unequivocally attest to the belief of their owners. The identification of Christian burials in Roman Britain and elsewhere has also proven to be a vain project in the absence of an inscription mentioning the religious affiliation of the deceased. Thus, the use of a material signature as a prediction tool for determining the religion of individuals cannot but fail or result in circular reasoning. It is more relevant and rewarding to question the experiential salience of religious identity. A review of material evidence, or rather its absence, for Donatism in Roman Africa suggests that religious identity was not experientially salient in a context, such as the places of cult, where the specific affiliation was clear to all participants. In other contexts, such as the highly competitive context of Dura Europos, displaying religious affiliation was important, even within a specific place of cult. The conclusion is not only that a clearly demarcated Christian material culture is difficult to discern, but that this lack of distinction is to be expected, as there were very few contexts in which Christians in Late Antiquity would experience their religious identity as experientially salient enough to make a point of marking it.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Rebillard, É. 2023. Christianness and Material Culture, 250–400 CE. In: Ritari, K et al (eds.), Being Pagan, Being Christian in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.33134/AHEAD-4-2

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    Published on Dec. 28, 2023


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