The Art of a Christian Empire

IF EARLY CHRISTIAN archaeology before Constantine is largely confined to funerary monuments of a religious minority at Rome and a few scattered sites elsewhere, after the Edict of Toleration it is concerned rather with the achievements and material possessions of the living; of men and women of different races and traditions all over the Roman Empire and the lands immediately outside it. On the physical plane, the Christians of both periods lived just like their pagan contemporaries, and in their clothes, food, houses and furniture they would not have differed from the rest of the community. So, strictly speaking, any monument or object of the Christian era from a site known to have numbered Christians among its inhabitants is grist to the mill of the Christian archaeologist, at any rate for comparative purposes. But the line must be drawn somewhere, and in this book Christian archaeology is taken to include material made for a specifically Christian purpose (e.g. a church, an ambo or a thurible), or which was earmarked for the use of a Christian owner by the use of recognized symbols or iconography. Thus, for our purposes, a lamp decorated with a chi-rho is Christian, while an exactly similar lamp without the monogram is not. Such a categorization, however arbitrary, has the merit of containing the subject within reasonable bounds, and even so the amount of material is embarrassingly large. Before Constantine, the word 'art' is used, too freely perhaps, of almost any Christian venture into stone-carving or painting. Later on, one can be more selective, since in almost any category of object or monument an example of outstanding merit is easily found. Thus, this chapter, though properly concerned with evidence regardless of aesthetic consideration, is also


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The Early Christians


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