Controlling Contested Places: Late Antique Antioch and the Spatial Politics of Religious Controversy

Controlling Contested Places: Late Antique Antioch and the Spatial Politics of Religious Controversy

Controlling Contested Places: Late Antique Antioch and the Spatial Politics of Religious Controversy

Controlling Contested Places: Late Antique Antioch and the Spatial Politics of Religious Controversy

Synopsis

From constructing new buildings to describing rival-controlled areas as morally and physically dangerous, leaders in late antiquity fundamentally shaped their physical environment and thus the events that unfolded within it. Controlling Contested Places maps the city of Antioch (Antakya, Turkey) through the topographically sensitive vocabulary of cultural geography, demonstrating the critical role played by physical and rhetorical spatial contests during the tumultuous fourth century. Paying close attention to the manipulation of physical places, Christine Shepardson exposes some of the powerful forces that structured the development of religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the late Roman Empire.

Theological claims and political support were not the only significant factors in determining which Christian communities gained authority around the Empire. Rather, Antioch's urban and rural places, far from being an inert backdrop against which events transpired, were ever-shifting sites of, and tools for, the negotiation of power, authority, and religious identity. This book traces the ways in which leaders like John Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Libanius encouraged their audiences to modify their daily behaviors and transform their interpretation of the world (and landscape) around them. Shepardson argues that examples from Antioch were echoed around the Mediterranean world, and similar types of physical and rhetorical manipulations continue to shape the politics of identity and perceptions of religious orthodoxy to this day.

Excerpt

From constructing new buildings to describing places controlled by their rivals as morally and physically dangerous, early Christian leaders fundamentally shaped their physical environment and thus the events that unfolded within it. Historical narratives that overlook the manipulation of physical places have obscured some of the powerful forces that structured the development of early Christianity. Mapping the city of Antioch (present-day Antakya, Turkey) through some of the topographically sensitive vocabulary of cultural geographers will demonstrate the critical role of physical and rhetorical spatial contests in this city during the tumultuous fourth and Fifth centuries C.E. The strength of theological claims and political support were not the only significant factors in determining which of the Roman Empire’s competing Christian communities gained authority around the Mediterranean. Rather, Antioch’s urban and rural places, far from being an inert backdrop against which events transpired, were also ever-shifting sites of, and tools for, the negotiation of power, authority, and religious identity.

Antioch offers a particularly fruitful site for studying the processes through which Christian orthodoxy developed. Indeed, it is difficult to exaggerate the religious and political complexity of Roman Antioch, or the historical impact of the fourth century, as all later Christians are defined by the creeds and doctrines that resulted from fourth-century negotiations. Antioch was one of the largest cities in the later Roman Empire, a winter residence for emperors, and home to one of the most influential Christian bishoprics in the world. The voluminous Antiochene writings of the Greek teacher Libanius (ca. 314–94) and his student the Christian preacher John Chrysostom (ca. 347–407), among others, provide an unusual wealth of literary material for the fourth-century city, in addition to . . .

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