Saturday, 11 April 2015

Kristina Sessa: Materiality and Ecclesiastical Organization: War and the Church in Late Ancient Italy

War in late antiquity had many material effects on society: it scattered populations and rendered families homeless; it marched thousands of soldiers into cities and across the countryside, who sometimes exploited (or destroyed) property and brutalized civilians; it catalyzed secondary crises, such as famines and other essential shortages; and it disrupted the daily lives of men and women for weeks, months, and even years on end.  Late ancient Christian institutions, communities, and practices were hardly immune from the physical and social effects of war, but patristic scholars have hitherto given little attention to war’s impact on early Christianity’s social, ideological, and institutional development.
This proposed presentation explores how war may have shaped the experience and development of Christianity in fifth and sixth-century Italy.  It will present evidence from a variety of literary sources (e.g. episcopal correspondence; monastic rules; hagiography; contemporary accounts of warfare in Italy) and will explore how this textual evidence variously illuminates – and problematizes – the history of war and its potential material effects on the development of the Italian churches and monastic life during late antiquity.  Specifically, it will focus on three periods of especially intense warfare in Italy: the Hunnic invasions of the mid-fifth century; the war between Odoacer and Theodoric, from 489-491; and the Gothic War, from 535-554.  Additionally, the presentation will discuss some preliminary research on the material evidence for war’s impact on the Italian peninsula and will explore how the archaeology both thickens and complicates our understanding of the phenomenon.

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