Sunday, 10 February 2019

Erika Manders: Contested Leadership in the Fourth Century: Emperor, Bishop and the Construction of Churches

In the first three centuries AD the Roman emperor incontestably possessed supreme religious authority within the Empire. Yet, the Christianization of both Empire and emperorship in the fourth century had severe consequences for the emperor’s power in religious matters; with the change of the religious basis underlying imperial power and the increase in importance and influence of the bishop, both parties, emperor and bishop, now claimed religious authority. In order to legitimize their position of power, they both made use of ideological instruments to interact with various types of communities within the Empire. This paper focuses on one particular medium of communication employed by both types of leaders: the construction of churches. It examines imperial and episcopal church building in the fourth century AD by mapping 1) the numbers of churches that were built by emperors on the one hand and bishops on the other and 2) the ideological messages which these churches communicated through their size, location, dedication and iconography. By way of a comparative analysis of this particular aspect of imperial and episcopal representation, the relationship between emperor and bishop will be further explored and I will argue that the fourth-century imperial and episcopal church building policies reflect changes in the balance of power between emperor and bishop in this particular period.

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