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  • Material Culture and Religious Affiliation in 4th-Century Gaul: A Time of Invisibility

    William Van Andringa

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


    A still poorly understood, let alone explained, page of history is the evolution of pagan cult places in the Western Roman empire from the 3rd to the 5th century ce. Based on available sources, all, or nearly all, has already been said on the restoration of the imperial state and Roman city-states after the crisis of the 3rd century, the slow integration of Christian communities into the life of cities, and the continuity of paganism until its near destruction under Theodosius at the end of the 4th century. At the same time, the transformation of public religious systems organised by cities from the Augustan period onwards remains in large part unknown. The reason for this is first and foremost the disappearance of epigraphical sources after 250 ce, poorly replaced by the works of Christian or pagan writers, often rhetorical and polemical. This chapter evaluates the fundamental problem of religious transformations in the 4th century, starting from the results of recent excavations, showing that a certain number of great civic sanctuaries, built and restored at great expense by local elites from the 1st to the beginning of the 3rd century, had already been abandoned and even dismantled in the second half of the 3rd century. This phase of abandonment, occurring before the conversion of Constantine and the rise of Christianity as the official religion, reveals an essential change in religious practices in the provinces and a transformation of religious identities, in the way of being pagan. Related to this is the transformation of the urban landscape in the provinces of Gaul, confirming that the celebration of public sacrifices and ludi scaenici, of big festivals, seems to have ceased in the 4th century, the fortification of towns taking priority over religious festivals. What was it, then, to be pagan or Christian in the 4th century in Gaul, when the big festivals had ceased, and when Christian communities were not yet constructing monumental meeting places or churches and cathedrals, a process only documented by archaeology from the very end of the 4th century and into the 5th century?

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    How to cite this chapter
    Van Andringa, W. 2023. Material Culture and Religious Affiliation in 4th-Century Gaul: A Time of Invisibility. 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-4-4

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    Published on Dec. 28, 2023


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