Thursday, 2 April 2015

Jacob Latham: Adventus, occursus, and the Christianization of Rome in Late Antiquity

In the aftermath of his well-publicized vision and “conversion,” Constantine again made history, though on a lesser scale, when he supposedly refused to ascend the Capitol to offer sacrifices to Jupiter as the culmination of his adventus. After Constantine, the adventus was supposedly steadily Christianized as offending religious elements—like sacrifices—were removed and replaced by Christian equivalents.
If, however, one looks outside the walls to the occursus, the assembly of Romans that greeted the arriving dignitary, a less radical story may be told. Descriptions of adventus ceremonies construed the occursus as a means of civic self-presentation, whose transformations may also map changes in the conceptualization of Rome. That is, if the occursus represented the city, even if only in the imagination of the author, an examination of its gradual Christianization reveals something about the Christianization of Rome.

From Constantine to Honorius, the occursus seems to have remained remarkably traditional: the senate and the Roman people (SPQR) greeted arriving rulers. Descriptions of the occursus first changed only in 500 when bishop Symmachus joined SPQR to greet king Theodoric—after which the increasingly scarce evidence reveals an increasingly Christianized occursus. While Constantine may have abandoned the Capitol, much of the remaining ceremony remained deeply classical into the long Late Antiquity, revealing a conservative and extended process of Christianization, at least in the literary imagination if not also in ceremonial practice.

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