Thursday, 7 February 2019

Travis Proctor: Environmental Change and Christianization in Ancient Ephesus

In the late Roman and early Byzantine eras, the city of Ephesus experienced monumental environmental challenges. Rising sea levels and erosion led to the silting of Ephesus’ deep-water harbor and the outward expansion of its coastlines, and several earthquakes in the first, second, and fourth centuries brought extensive damage. The combined strength of these environmental disasters forced Ephesians to abandon their unusable harbor and dilapidated Roman settlements, in favor of a smaller (and more easily defensible) fortified settlement on what would come to be called Ayasoluk Hill. Concurrent with these environmental changes was a gradual shift in Ephesian "religious" culture, from the dominant polytheistic cults of the Greco-Roman world to Christianity. My presentation aims to show how Ephesus's environmental and cultural changes were mutually informative. Specifically, I note how the changing coastlines and landscapes of Ephesus were shaped by and contributed to the increasing centralization of the holy sites associated with the apostle John, whose tomb cult and eventual Basilica became the focal point of an increasingly-Christianized Ephesus. I supplement this environmental analysis with exploration of late antique Patristic and "apocryphal" traditions regarding the activities of John. Ultimately, the case of Ephesus in late antiquity provides an important opportunity to reflect on how the "Christianization" of Mediterranean cities entailed not only important shifts in religious belief and practice, but complex environmental, spatial, and topographical changes.

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